Williams & Connolly

[Brendan] Sullivan and his law firm certainly have their work cut out for them. [Rupert] Murdoch may have thought the damage was contained, but it appears this scandal will persist for quite a while.

– Professor Peter J. Henning, commenting on the decision of News Corp. to hire renowned litigator Brendan Sullivan and his powerhouse law firm, Williams & Connolly, to handle the U.S. component of its massive (and metastasizing) phone-hacking scandal.

The world of large law firms isn’t all about prestige and pay. Although the Vault 100 prestige rankings and the Am Law 100 profit-per-partner rankings are closely watched, there are other ranking schemes out there — and some of these frameworks adopt a kinder, gentler outlook on Biglaw.

For example, take the American Lawyer’s A-List. Although the A-List rankings take law firm financial performance into account, they also factor in diversity, pro bono work, and associate satisfaction.

Associate satisfaction: that’s the driving force behind another important set of rankings, Vault’s just-released “Best Law Firms to Work For” list. The notion of “quality of life” at a law firm might seem laughable to some — but let’s face it, some firms are generally better workplaces than others. (Of course, your mileage may vary: some lawyers have great experiences at firms known for being awful, and some lawyers have awful experiences at firms known for being great.)

Let’s check out the Vault top ten, shall we?

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On February 27, 2009, Latham & Watkins laid off 440 associates and staff. These official layoffs came after months of quietly and stealthily laying off employees.

That year, Latham fell from #7 to #17 on the Vault 100 list of the most prestigious law firms. It was one of the biggest single year drops ever on the Vault list. At the time, I asked: “Is this as far as [Latham] will fall?”

Two years removed from that question, I’m staring at the brand-new Vault 100 rankings. Latham & Watkins is ranked #11.

Memory, my friends, is not something they screen for on the LSAT…

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We will have a new winner in this year’s Coolest Law Firm contest. When Above the Law first ran this bracket back in 2008, you picked Latham & Watkins as the victor. This time around, they got… Lathamed, in the first round. Cravath crushed Latham by a 60% – 40% margin. That was the second-highest margin of victory among all of the first-round match-ups.

So, for those playing along at home, paying a spring bonus is “more cool” than not paying a spring bonus.

As we move into the Elite Eight, some of our readers are asking us to give a more clear definition of what is “cool.” We respectfully decline to do so. It’s up to you to tell us what makes a top law firm cool. Is it job security, making maximum bank, prestige points? It’s really up to you. Personally I think the coolest law firm would be the one most likely to represent bad-ass clients on the correct side of moral issues, but… eeek, that’s not really what Biglaw is all about.

So bring your own prejudices to the table when you vote in the next round of the Coolest Law Firm Tournament. Use whatever reasoning makes sense to you. Just don’t go with chalk because you can’t be bothered to actually form an opinion — don’t be boring, son….

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Now that you’ve figured out what to give your secretary this holiday season, what about the lawyers in your life? Many of you have friends or family members who are lawyers or law students, and if you haven’t done so already, you need to get them — forgive the expression — Christmas presents (or holiday gifts, if you prefer).

Lawyerly types can be tough to shop for. As we’ve previously discussed, lawyers aren’t great about giving gratitude, and they’re often very critical — so your gifts might not be warmly received. Also, many lawyers earn good incomes, meaning that when they actually need or want something, they often just go out and buy it themselves (or let their firm to buy it for them — e.g., the iPad).

So what should you get for the lawyers in your life this holiday season? We have some suggestions….

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Partnership: the proverbial brass ring.

‘Tis the season — for new partner elections at large law firms. Although there are some exceptions, most firms pick and announce their new partner classes around November and December, with partnership effective on January 1 of the following year.

These partnership announcements sometimes contain interesting information, if you read between the lines. As we’ve previously observed, “Partnership decisions often shed light on the current state of a firm, its prospects for the future, and its priorities. How many new partners did a firm make? How does the number of new partners this year compare to past years? In which practice areas did it make new partners? How many of the new partners are women or minorities?”

After the jump, we look at new partner news from ten top firms — perhaps you know some of these law firm superstars (and soon-to-be millionaires)? — and we invite you to discuss the new partners at your firm….

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Earlier this week, I had the chance to sit down with David Tanenholz, one of the co-founders and partners at Hardinger & Tanenholz LLP (H&T), which is one of the few firms — if not the first — to promote itself solely as “discovery counsel.” And with their experience as Biglaw alumni, the two founders may represent a glimpse into the future of how lawyers can carve out a niche by fusing technology and project management.

So what is it that puts them ahead of the curve? Let’s find out….

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What are the differences between Washington lawyers and New York lawyers? One broad generalization — crude, but largely accurate — is that D.C. attorneys are all about power and prestige, and NYC attorneys are all about money.

It’s certainly true that, in the Biglaw world, New York-based law firms generally enjoy higher profits per partner than Washington-based firms. But D.C. attorneys aren’t doing too badly for themselves.

The latest issue of Washingtonian magazine, available now on newsstands, is the salary survey issue. It’s all about who makes what in the D.C. metro area, from the president to police officers to pediatricians.

And given the proliferation of lawyers in the nation’s capital, there’s a whole section on lawyers and judges. Thankfully for us, Washingtonian has made this portion available online….

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Forget about prestige (momentarily). Which firms have the best quality of life?

Vault has compiled its annual Law Firm Quality of Life Rankings, based on associate surveys. Associates were asked to rate their firms on “overall satisfaction, associate/partner relations, firm culture, hours, compensation, office space, training, and pro bono and green initiatives.”

Williams & Connolly managed to get into the top ten on both the quality of life (#2) and prestige (#8) lists. (UPDATE: Vault sent along a new list without ties.) Here are the top five on the “Quality of Life” list:

1. Ropes & Gray
2. Williams & Connolly
3. Morrison & Foerster
4. Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto
5. Shook, Hardy & Bacon

At which two other firms can you let your hair down, but keep your nose in the air?

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If you haven’t already done so, check out Vivia Chen’s series of interviews with hiring partners over at The Careerist. They’re fun and interesting reads. (Our favorite was her unintentionally hilarious interview of Steven Glaser of Skadden.)

Recently Chen sat down with Alan Vickery of litigation powerhouse Boies Schiller (which scored a major victory in the Prop 8 case). Here’s how Vickery described the Boies lawyer:

What’s typical is the diversity of personality and style at the firm. David [Boies] has a broad scope of interests and abilities; he sends a strong signal that individualism is tolerated and encouraged. For instance, there’s lots of support for our work on Prop 8 [where the firm is arguing against the ban on gay marriage in California], but there are also lots of Federalist Society members here.

(Well, in fairness to the Fed Soc, many of its members are libertarian rather than social conservatives, and as such sympathetic to gay marriage — at least as a policy matter, if not necessarily a matter of constitutional law.)

Who are your competitors in the hiring game?

The usual suspects: Wachtell, Davis Polk, Cravath. And if they’re looking for a [litigation] boutique, it’d be Susman Godfrey, Williams & Connolly, or Quinn Emanuel.

Speaking of the competition, Vickery got in a good dig at Davis Polk….

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