The rankings are out. For the twelfth year in a row, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz headed Vault Law’s list of the most prestigious law firms in the country. But it was a horse race. Let’s get to the stats. By a margin of just .021 points, Wachtell beat the firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which has now narrowed their second-place gap over last year by .065 points. Cravath, considered by one poll respondent to be the “Gold Standard”, held the lead for several years up to 2004 until brushed back by Wachtell. Vault Law’s latest annual poll, published June 18th on their website, vault.com, surveyed the ranks of 17,000 law associates to sift out the Top 100 firms. Associates are not allowed to rank their own firms. They award scores between 1 and 10 based on perceived prestige, and are allowed to rank only those firms they know.
A showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 may be set for the next round with both firms receiving high praise. Cravath was described as the “best of the best”, and one respondent ranked Cravath and Wachtell as equal “icons” within the industry. The rest of the Top Ten jostled for position around Davis, Polk & Wardwell, which hung on firmly to fifth place again this year. Two traded places; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Sullivan & Cromwell, now at No. 3 and No. 4 respectively. The big slide went to Weil, Gotshal & Manges, landing at No. 8. Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett took their place at No. 6. Stepping up a notch to No. 7 was Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. The bottom two rungs in the Top Ten remained well-guarded by the same firms from last year’s ranking; Kirkland & Ellis at No. 9 and Latham & Watkins at No. 10.
The rankings point to an upward trend for firms embracing innovation, whether they specialized in practice areas such as technology, or showed flexibility in internal areas related to human resources. Boies, Schiller & Flexner, Cahill, Gordon & Reindel and Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan attracted a more sophisticated clientele. One “tech-savvy” firm, Cooley, LLP, of Silicon Valley, had the distinction of making the biggest jump in the survey. They attracted attention, leaping ten places from the Top 100 into the Top 50, as they steadily expand into areas of litigation and intellectual property. Cooley may lead other Silicon Valley firms into the Top 100 as the years progress. The firm of Duane Morris, LLP, of Philadelphia, managed a leap almost as impressive as Cooley’s, moving up eight slots to No. 91.
Litigation is a trademark strength for other movers in the survey. Quinn Emanuel’s reputation as “innovative” and “feared” supported its No. 1 ranking for General Commercial Litigation last year in 2014. Now with over 2,000 trials to its credit, their high victory rate keeps them at No. 15 for 2015. Boies moved up by two to claim No. 13, partially due to being credited with strong litigation skills in the corporate arena. It also doesn’t hurt that Boies has a nice buzz going for them by offering the “best compensation.” Watchwords for 2016: Innovation and Litigation.
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By: Joel Applegate