Williams & Connolly

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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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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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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Oh yeah, it’s time to get your prestige on.

The 2011 Vault prestige rankings went live this morning. It’s the time of the year when associates get to make fun of their friends, and partners get to brag to their peers. Law is a prestige-conscious field, and the Vault rankings will set the tone for prestige battles over the next year.

The top five remain the same, but the order has changed:

1. Wachtell
2. Cravath
3. Sullivan & Cromwell
4. Skadden
5. Davis Polk & Wardwell

Sullivan & Cromwell hops back over Skadden this year. I guess Skadden’s Sidebar Plus didn’t have quite enough prestige points.

Moving on, there is one firm that dropped out of the Vault top ten…

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In other words, my homegirl Kagan was saying people could not be aroused by the lyrics “’cause my dick’s on bone” or “me so horny, me f*** you long time.”

– Luther Campbell (aka Uncle Luke of 2 Live Crew) endorsing Elena Kagan in the Miami New Times based on her work on the band’s behalf at Williams & Connolly.

Congratulations to Sutherland. The firm’s band, “Sutherland Comfort,” won the 2010 Battle of the Law Firm Bands in D.C. on Thursday night. Sutherland Comfort defeated a host of worthy challengers — including “Dangerous Communication Device,” the Williams & Connolly band that won the contest in the past two years.

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Today is an exciting day. As we noted earlier, the Am Law 100 rankings for 2010 have been announced. This is a big deal — the Biglaw version of the U.S. News law school rankings.

You can access the various charts via this portal page. Aric Press and Greg Mulligan summarize the results:

It could have been worse. That’s the best that can be said for the performance last year of The Am Law 100, the top-grossing law firms in the nation. Three of the four key categories we’ve measured for 25 years — gross revenue, head count, and revenue per lawyer — fell, while profits per equity partner (PPP) barely increased by 0.3 percent, or $3,463, to $1.26 million.

So PPP was basically stable in 2009 — not a bad result given the continuing economic weakness last year. Perhaps law firm partners are better business managers than they get credit for?

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