Law Firm Rankings 2012: Vault Law 100

Law Firm Rankings 2012: Vault Law 100




The Vault Law 100 has been released, and for the ninth straight year, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz has dominated the rankings as the number one firm in the country.  The firm's repeated appearance on top represents a theme in this year's Top 10, with little else changing outside of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton moving up one spot to No. 8; Williams & Connolly dropping out of the Top 10; and Kirkland & Ellis moving into the Top 10 at No. 9.  The real stories lie with the changes in the Bottom 90.  

Vault is the source of employer ratings, rankings and insight for law students.  Its Vault Law 100 is considered the "bible" for law students, associates, partners and law firm recruiters, providing a detailed perspective on the criteria considered by candidates when evaluating law firms.  This year, 16,000 law associates rated law firms on a scale of 1 to 10 based on prestige (associates were not allowed to rate their own firms and were asked to only rate firms with which they were familiar). 

The Top 10 firms based on Vault's Annual Law Firm Associate Survey are:

1.    Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz

2.    Cravath, Swaine & Moore          

3.    Sullivan & Cromwell      

4.    Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

5.    Davis Polk & Wardwell                                                  

6.    Simpson Thacher & Bartlett                   

7.    Weil, Gotshal & Manges 

8.    Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton                     

9.    Kirkland & Ellis 

10.  Covington & Burling 

Survey respondents called Wachtell "the pinnacle," "the benchmark," "peerless," "the cream of the crop," and "in their own league" - words that have become synonymous with the firm in recent years. 

"Wachtell continues to hold a tight grip on the top spot, proving that you don't need to be the biggest to be considered the best. No firm has been able to oust Wachtell since it beat out Cravath for the number one ranking in 2003," said Mary Kate Sheridan, law editor for  "If you're looking for significant changes, just keep moving down the list."

The Return of Latham & Watkins

Three years ago, Latham & Watkins was ranked No. 7 in the nation, but in February 2009, the firm laid off 440 attorneys and became the poster-child for the recession's impact on the legal industry.  As a result, Latham & Watkins dropped 10 spots to No. 17 in the Vault Law 100 for 2010.  Fast forward two years later, and the firm is pushing its way back toward the Top 10, coming in at No. 11.

"Latham has been successful in putting the layoffs in the rear-view mirror," said Sheridan.  "It might not be long before the firm fully regains its past standing."

Latham & Watkins still has some work to do, with survey respondents noting that it is "still a solid firm, but a better punch line."  Still, others noted that the firm has been "trying to regain their prestige," and had "bounced back up from horrific layoffs."

The Ascension of Litigation-Focused Firms Continues

Last year was no fluke.  After jumping from No. 43 in 2009 to No. 19 in 2011, Quinn Emanuel continues to shine, jumping up three places to No. 16 in this year's rankings.  Nipping on its heels is another litigation-focused firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which jumped six spots from No. 23 to No. 17. 

"In the past few years, we've seen the rise of litigation boutiques, as well as larger litigation-only firms, such as Quinn Emanuel and Boies, Schiller & Flexner and these types of firms are increasingly attractive career options for top law students," said Sheridan.   

Ranking Drops for Hogan Lovells and SNR Denton After Transatlantic Mergers

Two big ranking drops followed the transatlantic mergers - and name changes - of D.C.-based Hogan & Hartson with London-based Lovells to form Hogan Lovells and Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal with London-based Denton Wilde Sapte to form SNR Denton.  Hogan Lovells dropped to No. 51 after enjoying a spot at No. 28 in its previous incarnation.  Law associates stated that they are "still waiting to see how the merger works out," and claimed that "people are fleeing like crazy; everyone left is miserable." 

The decision to become a global powerhouse backfired even more for SNR Denton, which dropped completely out of the Top 100 from No. 64 to No. 123, with law associates calling the firm "lost" and chastising it for a "bad name."  Both firms faced tough criticism from survey responders who stated that they "haven't heard of them," and believed both firms were "going downhill." 

"With the high number of law firm mergers in recent years and the trend toward one-name monikers, firm branding has been a big focus lately. These decisions are critical given the importance of name recognition in the legal world," said Sheridan. "Whether or not these firms' names impacted their rankings, we can't know for sure. But we'll be interested to see how they stack up in the 2013 ranking."

View the entire Top 100 Law Firm Rankings. is the source of employer and education ratings, rankings and insight for highly credentialed, in-demand candidates. Vault's editorial mission is to empower candidates with unbiased research needed to evaluate the professions, industries and companies they aspire to join.  


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