Early each year and usually with great fanfare, The American Lawyer releases its 100 list, which ranks law firms by various financial metrics.
Another list, less ballyhooed but still significant list within legal circles, is Am Law’s A-List, which was released this week. This list combines measures of firms’ diversity, revenue, associate satisfaction and pro bono work. While the list may not necessarily determine the nation’s best law firm, it provides a measure of quality that goes beyond price.
“I think for the average person saying, ‘I want to know who are the most overall respected firms in the industry’ – which is not necessarily the same as the people who lead in profits per partner – I think it gives them an insight,” said Lee Feldman, a spokesman for The American Lawyer.
While the Los Angeles-based Munger, Tolles & Olson landed the top spot for the third consecutive year, 7 of the 20 firms on the list are based in New York.
Hughes Hubbard & Reed, maintaining its No. 2 ranking from 2008, led the New York firms. It was followed by Debevoise & Plimpton, which jumped to third from seventh, and Davis, Polk & Wardwell, which stayed at fourth.
Daniel H. Weiner, a litigation partner at Hughes Hubbard, compared the ranking and the World Cup.
“There’s a reason why Paraguay, Uruguay and Ghana are still in it,” he said. “Those guys play as a team. This shows the firms that play as a team and keep their eyes on the ball. And the ball is quality of service to the client and the quality of the environment in which we provide that service.”
This year’s list featured dramatic movement: 4 firms fell off the list, 4 joined, and 6 of the 13 firms that changed ranks from 2009 moved by 6 or more places, according to Am Law.
And there are several others in the top 20 that maintain their largest offices in New York. One of them — the 10th-ranked Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker — is on the list for the first time since Am Law began putting it together eight years ago.
“They say that that listing determines the firms that best reflect success in the legal community,” said Seth M. Zachary, the chairman of Paul, Hastings. “For us, I think it validates our strategy.”
In recent years, the firm has placed a heavy emphasis on expanding its pro bono work and building stronger times between management and associates, Mr. Zachary said.
The financial crisis that has shaken up the business has left many associates unsettled, and Mr. Zachary said that opening lines of communication with them was a big help.
“People feel better when the management of a firm get up and talk about it, answer questions, anticipate questions,” Mr. Zachary said.
About five years ago, Mr. Zachary said, the firm took aggressive steps to improve its pro bono work. It developed relationships with organizations that had a steady stream of pro bono clients, sought more pro bono appellate cases and “suggested” to every lawyer in the firm, from top to bottom, that they take up pro bono work, Mr. Zachary said.