Vault rankings

Believe it or not, Biglaw isn’t all about prestige, especially when looking at the legal profession through the lens of the “new normal.” These days, in a supposedly post-recession world, working at a large firm is an aspirational stepping stone on the way to a debt-free life. Associates willingly offer their wrists for Biglaw’s golden handcuffs in the hope of some day being able to escape them for happier pastures.

But for prospective Biglaw employees who have an embarrassment of riches available to them (i.e., offers from multiple firms), wouldn’t it be nice to be able to choose the firm where you’ll have the best quality of life? Or any life at all? Such a thing does exist within the hallowed halls of large law firms, and there’s even a ranking to prove it.

Hot on the heels of its prestige rankings (which still matter to the people who care so very deeply about just how impressive they are), Vault has released its annual quality of life rankings. Sure, some firms may be more prestigious than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good places to work.

After a major shake-up in the rankings, which firms made Vault’s top ten this year?

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Another week has come and gone. We’re post Independence Day, so strap in for the long grind to Labor Day before you get any rest. If you need a break, I suppose you can take some summers for a 3-hour lunch, assuming anyone still does that.

But the real importance of the week’s end is that it’s time again to compile my look at some notable stories from the week in legal news. Bring on “5 Thing Friday” or “Working for the Weekend” or something like that.

This week, we had Justice Ginsburg’s declaration that she’s not retiring, the Zimmerman trial continued on its tragically absurd course, Vault released its annual law firm rankings, the NFL got burned in court — twice — and Harry Reid figured out that there’s this thing called a filibuster and the Republicans are really good at it…

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* Apple has lost the e-books trial. Didn’t see that coming after Apple’s lawyers ripped the government’s witnesses. [New York Times]

* Vault released its Regional and Practice Area rankings. Yeah, we get it Wachtell, you’re awesome. [Vault]

* Who ever said losing at the Supreme Court was the end? Myriad is suing to enforce its patents in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. [Patently O]

* Woman caught on camera planning her husband’s murder because it’s “easier than divorcing him.” Fair enough! [Lowering the Bar]

* Senators pledging to block court nominee “irrespective of [her] very fine professional qualifications.” Oh. [The Blog of the Legal Times]

* Some jurisdictional nerdiness regarding EPIC’s original filing seeking mandamus, prohibition, or certiorari from SCOTUS to review a FISA judge. [Lawfare]


In this economy, in the “new normal,” the most prestigious firm is the one that has given you a job offer. Sure, there are still students and grads who are lucky enough to be juggling multiple job offers from major firms in multiple cities. And to those people we say, “OMG, I hate you, shut up and go away.”

For those experiencing an embarrassment of job offer riches, here are the Vault rankings. Yay. Take a look at them, by yourself, under the covers, where nobody else can see that you have options….

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Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From the ATL Insider Survey: Overlooked Firms and Schools”

This is the time of year, every year, where most of us pause and reflect a bit on the past year, the year ahead, and what really matters anyway (see, e.g., this guy). And with the horror and pain of last week still fresh, this need for reflection is bound to be more pronounced.

Many thoughtful people are urging serious reflection on the part of the legal industry about how to address its basic structural problems. Not to put too fine a point on it, but does anybody disbelieve that the industry — both its educational and professional wings — is facing a sort of existential crisis? As has been endlessly rehearsed here and elsewhere, the cost of legal education is, for most, completely, utterly out of whack with the potential ROI. And longstanding assumptions underlying the business model of law firms are being challenged by technological advances, commoditization, and the growth of LPOs.

One concept threading through any discussion of the legal industry is this nebulous thing called “prestige.” Generally speaking, lawyers as a group dislike uncertainty, and “prestige” serves as a sort of organizing principle, letting everyone know where they stand. For instance, the U.S. News “T14” shows no sign of ever being shaken up. And the Biglaw hive mind consistently orders firms in precise ways. The Vault rankings are remarkably stable from year to year, to such a degree unlikely to be attributable to some self-reinforcing cycle caused by the rankings themselves. An arbitrary and typical example: Schulte Roth, which came in at #77 overall in 2010, ranked 80, 77, 76, and 82 over the previous four years. Another: Alston & Bird, which came in at #55, ranked 57, 61, 59, and 57 over the same period.

But apart from its role as a social validator or organizer, this idea of “prestige” can be used as a dubious metric in driving some truly momentous decisions. Law students make hugely important career choices based on little else but the Vault and U.S. News rankings. Some law schools lie in order to game the U.S. News rankings. It is at least partially underlying Dewey & Leboeuf’s push to join the more rarefied ranks of the S&C’s and Cravath’s. (Meanwhile, the ATL commentariat goes beserk at the slightest whiff of “TTT” anywhere within its sights.)

After the jump, let’s hear from a couple disparate sources about the baleful effects of prestige-obsession on the legal industry, and then let’s have the Harvard guy defend it….

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Rock me sexy Jesus?

* Vault just released its rankings for the best summer associate programs. Who’s at the top? I have my money on Fitzpatrick Cella. [Vault]

* If Paul Campos were asked to give a law school graduation speech, here’s what he would say. Long story short, I don’t think he’ll ever be asked. And that is why you should read this. [Lawyers, Guns and Money]

* What do we want? Booze! When do we want it? Now! Where do we want it? The grocery store! [Courier-Journal]

* I don’t know, maybe this guy just really, really loves Jesus. Like, really a lot. Maybe too much. Ewww. [Wave3]

* You know those online net price calculators for figuring out tuition? Well, turns out they might be misleading too, just like every other flipping aspect of financing your education. [Inside Higher Ed]

* You say tomato, I say tomahto. You say law student, someone else says escort. What’s the big deal here? [Daily Mail]

Who wants to do some document review?

We’re entering on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student going through OCI, or if you’re a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting process, be sure to check out Above the Law’s new law student career center, a repository job search resources, and our law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories.

One area that interviewees are always interested in is diversity. Diverse attorneys — okay, that’s a bad way of putting it — minority attorneys want to know where they’ll feel welcome. Even lawyers who aren’t minorities want workplaces that are open and inclusive. And corporate clients are increasingly keen on sending their work to firms that show a commitment to diversity.

So which Biglaw firms are the biggest on diversity? Let’s check out the latest rankings….

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Which law firms are the best law firms to work for? The ones that pay salaries (ideally in excess of $10,000 a year). In a still-challenging job market, law students and young lawyers will generally work for whichever law firm will have them.

But some prospective employees of Biglaw have the luxury of choosing between multiple employers. And for these privileged and talented few, things like quality of life — to the extent that one can have a quality of life, or a life at all, while toiling away at a top firm — do matter.

Last month, our friends at Vault issued their closely watched Vault 100 rankings, ordering the nation’s major law firms by perceived prestige. Now they’ve followed them up with their annual “quality of life” rankings, expressed as a list of the best law firms to work for.

Which firms made the top ten?

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The new Vault Rankings are out. It’s a fun day for large law firms — a day when their prestige is matched against that of their peers.

The day is even more significant this year, since it appears that so-called “top” Biglaw firms are now paying bonuses largely in “prestige points.”

Vault ranks the prestige of firms based on nearly 17,000 surveys sent to law firm associates all across the country. Just by looking at the top ten firms, I think we can agree that associates who fill out these surveys have no memory and have really enjoyed this period of salary stagnation.

As I mentioned last week when talking about associate hours, it seems Biglaw partners really know what they’re doing. Whether we’re talking about prestige or associate hours, partners have figured out that associates will take less money and like it….

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