The American Lawyer‘s annual list of America’s best law firms is out, and perpetual No. 1 Debevoise & Plimpton has dropped out of the top spot thanks to a bunch of unsatisfied associates, who evidently weren’t happy making more money this year:
The American Lawyer: Our methodology for determining the A-List is relatively simple. We rank firms in four categories: revenue per lawyer, pro bono hours, associate satisfaction, and diversity representation. The higher the rank, the more points a firm scores. Revenue per lawyer and pro bono scores count double…
After a four-year reign, Debevoise surrendered its crown in 2008, falling to fifth place on the A-List. Despite the drop, the New York-based firm had its richest year ever in 2007. Revenue per lawyer increased to $1,195,000, from $1,005,000 the year before, and the firm finished eighth in this category among The Am Law 200. (In 2006, Debevoise was nineteenth in revenue per lawyer.) The firm also increased its diversity ranking in 2008.
So what went wrong? Blame the associates. Some Debevoise associates, according to our annual Midlevel Associates survey [August 2007], were burned out. Common complaints included “intense client demands,” “heavy workloads,” and “stressful atmosphere.” A handful also mentioned that they were tired of working on internal investigations, a Debevoise specialty. (The Siemens AG fraud investigation was particularly taxing.)
Those concerns translated into particularly low scores on two of our questions. When asked if they expected to be at the firm in two years, 21 of the 53 third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates who answered the survey indicated that they expected to work somewhere else by then. (Only eight respondents gave Debevoise the highest score in that area, suggesting that they strongly believed they would stay at the firm.)
The associates also gave Debevoise poor marks in an area that tends to be a bugaboo for most law firms: “how clearly your firm communicates what it takes to make partner.” On a scale of 1 to 5, the average response to this question was 2.7. In an e-mail to The American Lawyer, Debevoise presiding partner Martin Evans wrote: “We are committed to excellence in all aspects of the professional experience of our lawyers, including fostering associate development and clear communications among our lawyers.”
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