The 20 Most Prestigious Law Firms In America

Ted Olson Gibson Dunn Law Firms Gay MarriageTed Olson, who argued one of the gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court, is a partner at one of America’s most prestigious law firms.

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz kept its iron grip on the top slot in Vault’s annual ranking of America’s most prestigious law firms.

The only notable changes in the top 10 was Sullivan & Cromwell retaking the No. 3 spot from Skadden.

Vault’s ranking is based on a survey of nearly 17,000 law associates, featuring comments and analysis about each firm. With their permission, we’ve highlighted the top firms here.

#20 White & Case

#19 Jones Day

The third largest law firm in the world, boasting offices in 19 countries on five continents.

2,400 employees
Washington, D.C. headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Team atmosphere'
  • 'Stability of the firm and its client base'
  • 'Attempt at work/life balance'

Downers

  • 'It's sometimes difficult to navigate the red tape at such a large firm'
  • 'No transparency regarding compensation'
  • 'The firm can be cheap in certain ways'

The Buzz

  • 'Huge'
  • 'International'
  • 'Opaque'
  • 'Fratty'

Read the full report at Vault.

#18 Sidley Austin LLP

1,693 employees
Chicago headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Extremely pleasant place to work'
  • 'Reasonable hours requirements'
  • 'Commitment to diversity'

Downers

  • 'Work flow can be unpredictable and a little unevenly distributed'
  • 'Lack of transparency in bonus system'
  • 'Biglaw is Biglaw'

The Buzz

  • 'Obama worked there!'
  • 'Great in Chicago'
  • 'Hard-working'
  • 'Conservative'

Read the full report at Vault.

#17 Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP

A young, laid-back firm where partners wear flip-flops. Quinn Emanuel goes to trial often and wins 90% of the time.

595 employees
Los Angeles headquarters
Uppers

  • 'You will get trial experience'
  • 'Security in the financial outlook/success of the firm'
  • 'Casual dress code'

Downers

  • 'Extremely long hours and 24/7 availability expectation can be grinding'
  • 'Skimpy perks'
  • 'Unrelenting focus on the bottom line'

The Buzz

  • 'Litigation powerhouse'
  • 'Fun environment'
  • 'Arrogant'
  • 'Crazy hours'

Read the full report at Vault.

#16 Williams & Connolly LLP

Litigation all day, every day for politicians, celebrities, athletes, and other really famous people.

270 employees
Washington, D.C. headquarters
Uppers

  • 'The people are exceedingly smart, decent, and good to work with'
  • 'Substantive work while still maintaining a reasonable lifestyle'
  • 'We actually go to trial'

Downers

  • 'No system of work assignment'
  • 'Hours are too long'
  • 'Could use more women and minorities in leadership roles'

The Buzz

  • 'DC powerhouse'
  • 'Litigation's pinnacle'
  • 'Law review editors only'
  • 'Aggressive'

Read the full report at Vault.

#15 Boies, Schiller, & Flexner LLP

Up 5 spots from last year.

284 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'The paycheck'
  • 'No face-time'
  • 'Working with the best and the brightest'

Downers

  • 'Lack of transparency'
  • 'Brutal hours'
  • 'Few training opportunities'

The Buzz

  • 'Astronomical bonuses'
  • 'Outstanding litigation practice'
  • 'Reputation mostly rests on famous name partner'
  • 'Crazy hours'

Read the full report at Vault.

#14 Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

Paul Weiss's Roberta Kaplan successfully argued the case against the defence of Marriage Act in the Supreme Court.

803 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'A case that is not in The New York Times is the exception rather than the rule'
  • 'Being part of such a strong legacy of commitment to pro bono work and civil rights'
  • 'Very strong economic outlook'

Downers

  • 'Everyone is very intense'
  • 'Too many hours'
  • 'More document review than promised as a first-year'

The Buzz

  • 'Top in litigation'
  • 'Corporate practice is catching up to litigation'
  • 'Crazy hours but interesting work'
  • 'Aggressive'

Read the full report at Vault.

#13 Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

675 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Culture is very supportive and diverse'
  • 'Work is challenging and high-profile'
  • 'Compensation is lockstep with no billable requirements'

Downers

  • 'Lack of transparency'
  • 'The technology is antiquated'
  • 'Passive-aggressiveness'

The Buzz

  • 'Great people'
  • 'Smart and hardworking'
  • 'Boring'
  • 'Nerdy'

Read the full report at Vault.

#12 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

#11 Covington & Burling LLP

890 employees
Washington, D.C. headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Intellectually stimulating environment'
  • 'Reasonable hours expectations'
  • 'Ability to do lots of interesting pro bono work'

Downers

  • 'Lack of transparency on certain issues'
  • 'Too-reserved atmosphere'
  • 'Slightly lower bonuses'

The Buzz

  • 'Intellectual'
  • 'Best in DC'
  • 'Snobby'
  • 'Political'

Read the full report at Vault.

#10 Latham & Watkins LLP

One of the world's largest law firms with 30 offices in the U.S., Middle East, Europe, and Asia and also regular work in Latina America and Africa.

2,000 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'It's all about the people -- they're fantastic'
  • 'Involvement of associates in management of the firm'
  • 'Unassigned program allows young associates to try a great deal of different things'

Downers

  • 'Billiable hours requirement'
  • 'Have to be available 24/7'
  • 'The sheer size of the firm makes some things very inflexible'

The Buzz

  • 'Increasing energy presence'
  • 'Relaxed for a big firm'
  • 'Fratty'
  • 'Overworked associates'

Fun fact: The only firm in the top 20 that doesn't offer automatic pay raises.

Read the full report at Vault.

#9 Kirkland & Ellis

1,660 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Run your own practice'
  • 'Cash money, baby'
  • Training is excellent'

Downers

  • 'No transparency'
  • 'Hours can be brutal'
  • 'Lack of mentorship'

The Buzz

  • 'Excellent training'
  • 'Best in Chicago'
  • 'Crazy hours but huge bonuses'
  • 'Arrogant'

Read the full report at Vault.

#8 Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LPP

Cleary represented Greece in the largest ever sovereign debt restructuring and bond exchange.

1,200 employees

New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Incredible culture of collegiality'
  • 'No face-time requirement'
  • 'Transparent management'

Downers

  • 'Hours can be unpredictable'
  • 'People can be passive-aggressive'
  • 'Unclear expectations'

The Buzz

  • 'Good at everything'
  • 'Incredible for international law'
  • 'Nerdy'
  • 'Brutal hours'

Read the full report at Vault.

#7 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

845 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Extremely collegial atmosphere'
  • 'Wide exposure to a lot of impressive deals'
  • Complex work and real responsibility at an early level'

Downers

  • 'Firm governance is a little opaque to associates'
  • 'Modest partnership potential'
  • 'Unpredictable and long hours'

The Buzz

  • 'Best M&A and private equity lawyers'
  • 'Thanks for $160K!'
  • 'Smug'
  • 'Crazy hours'

Read the full report at Vault.

#6 Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

The go-to bankruptcy firm recently made headlines when it had mass layoffs for the first time in its history.

1,200 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Exposure to complex, varied and interesting transactions'
  • 'Laid-back culture'
  • 'Brilliant colleagues'

Downers

  • 'Always being on call'
  • 'Unclear future opportunities'
  • 'Lack of transparency'

The Buzz

  • 'Elite restructuring group'
  • 'Underrated'
  • 'Fratty'
  • 'Highly competitive'

Read the full report at Vault.

#5 Davis Polk & Wardwell

One of the nation's most comprehensive corporate departments, with a top-notch, white-collar defence team.

809 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Respectful culture'
  • 'The work is cutting-edge'
  • 'Opportunity to learn from the top people in the field'

Downers

  • 'Hours and stress'
  • 'Unpredictable workflow'
  • 'Formal mentoring system has limited utility'

The Buzz

  • 'Classy'
  • 'Excellent work, even better people'
  • 'Stuffy'
  • 'Conservative'

Read the full report at Vault.

#4 Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates

Skadden was the first law firm to report $1 billion in annual revenue.

1,700 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Endless training resources'
  • 'The work is top-notch'
  • 'Global presence of the firm'

Downers

  • 'Hours tend to be long'
  • 'Too few counsel and partner positions available for associates'
  • 'An intense place to work'

The Buzz

  • 'King of M&A'
  • 'Top dog'
  • 'Workaholics'
  • 'Cutthroat'

Read the full report at Vault.

#3 Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

S&C has tasked its Diversity Committee with attracting and retaining female and minority lawyers. As of January 2012, of the 44 partners elected worldwide in the past six years, fifteen are women, eleven are minorities, and two are openly gay.

816 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Commitment to excellence'
  • 'Headline-grabbing cases'
  • 'Early responsibility'

Downers

  • 'Hierarchical structure'
  • 'There is always more work to be done'
  • 'Always being on call'

The Buzz

  • 'Amazingly smart people'
  • 'Goldman's lawyers'
  • 'Interviews are difficult'
  • 'Pretentious but good at what they do'

Read the full report at Vault.

#2 Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

Every Monday at 1:00 p.m., Cravath's entire New York partnership sits down for lunch together, a tradition dating back to the 1920s.

434 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'Early responsibility'
  • 'Top-tier work'
  • 'Amazing exit opportunities'

Downers

  • 'Lack of transparency'
  • 'Uneven mentoring'
  • 'Endlessly on call'

The Buzz

  • 'Corporate powerhouse'
  • 'Market leader'
  • 'Annoyingly prestigious'
  • 'Among the most demanding'

Read the full report at Vault.

#1 Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

This is the smallest firm in the top 20, but it handles a major portion of the world's mergers and acquisitions. Martin Lipton, one of the firm's founders, created the 'poison pill,' a popular strategy to prevent hostile takeovers in publicly traded companies.

244 employees
New York City headquarters
Uppers

  • 'We get the best work'
  • 'Every single day, I learn something new'
  • 'Excellent compensation'

Downers

  • 'On-call 24/7'
  • 'More pressure than you would find at a lot of other firms'
  • 'It's life-consuming'

The Buzz

  • 'The gold standard'
  • 'Huge bonuses'
  • 'Bring a sleeping bag'
  • 'Intense'

Read the full report at Vault.

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