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by Vault Law Editors | September 09, 2020

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Vault is pleased to announce the 2021 rankings for the Vault Law 100, Best Law Firms by Practice Area, and Best Law Firms by Region. This year the Vault Law 100 has a new No. 2—read on to see which firm clinched second place and for more details on this year's prestige rankings (including our two new regional rankings).

2021 Vault Law 100

The 2021 Vault Law 100 ranks the 100 most prestigious law firms in the country, and for the fifth straight year, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP is ranked No. 1. Cravath’s prestige rating rose this year to 9.040, up from 9.016 in the 2020 rankings.

The Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms based on Vault’s Annual Associate Survey for 2021 are:

  1. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
  2. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates
  3. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  4. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
  5. Latham & Watkins LLP
  6. Kirkland & Ellis LLP
  7. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
  8. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
  9. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP
  10. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

 

Cravath is synonymous with prestige in the legal industry—associates outside of the firm describe it as the “gold standard,” “the benchmark,” and “the undisputed top-of-the-market firm.” Survey respondents also acknowledge the firm’s strong influence on the industry, with such insights as “industry thought leadership” and “sets the scale for associate bonuses.”

“Cravath is the undeniable leader in the legal field, as the top firm in our ranking for five years running and the only firm to achieve a prestige score above ‘9’ this year,” said Mary Kate Sheridan, Vault’s Senior Law Editor. “Associates at peer firms recognize Cravath not only for how elite it is, but also for its consistent leadership when it comes to industry practices and standards, such as associate compensation and training.”

The Vault Associate Survey

The Vault Law 100 ranking is based on scores from more than 20,000 law firm associates surveyed earlier this year, who were asked to rate law firms on a scale of 1 to 10 based on prestige. Survey respondents were not allowed to rate their own firms and were asked only to rate firms with which they were familiar. In addition to the industry-wide ranking of overall prestige, Vault also asked associates to rate the local prestige of law firms in their region and to select the strongest firms in their specific areas of practice. From this data, Vault produced 16 regional prestige rankings, including rankings for Boston, Chicago, New York (both for large firms and midsize firms); Northern and Southern California, Texas (both for large and midsize firms); Washington, DC; and more. Vault also produced 27 practice area prestige rankings, including rankings for Antitrust, Commercial Litigation, General Corporate, Intellectual Property, and Private Equity, among others.

Skadden Clinches the No. 2 Spot for the First Time Ever

Making Vault rankings history, Skadden has overtaken Wachtell as the No. 2 firm in the 2021 Vault Law 100. Skadden earned a score of 8.577—a mere 0.010 points above the No. 3-ranked Wachtell, which earned a score of 8.567.

“Skadden is a legal powerhouse and has long been a mainstay in the top five of the Vault Law 100, oscillating between No. 3 and No. 4,” said Sheridan. “In recent years, Skadden has shown more consistency—holding the No. 3 spot from 2015 through 2020—and for the past three years, the firm’s prestige score has put it right on the heels of the number-two ranking.”

Associates at peer firms acknowledge Skadden’s “strength across the board.” Respondents also describe the firm as “esteemed,” “excellent all around,” and “top of the field.”

Skadden’s silver medal in the Top 100 isn’t the only splash it made in this year’s Vault rankings. The firm also jumped up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4 in the New York regional ranking, secured the No. 2 ranking in White Collar Defense & Internal Investigations, and broke into the Labor & Employment ranking.

West Coast Firms Move Up, as New York Firms Lose Ground

The 2021 Vault prestige rankings saw the rise of West Coast firms—more than one-third of firms that moved up two or more spots in the Vault Law 100 were based in either California or Washington state: Cooley LLP (No. 24); Perkins Coie LLP (No. 43); Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP (No. 72); Fenwick & West LLP (No. 73); Davis Wright & Tremaine LLP (No. 87); and Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, LLP (No. 90).

One California firm to keep an eye on is Cooley. In addition to its Top 100 jump, the firm also launched seven spots in the New York regional ranking to settle at No. 33 and moved into the top 30 in the Washington, DC, ranking. The firm also broke into the top 10 for Clean Tech/Renewable Energy.

New on the Vault Law 100 scene is Gunderson Dettmer, which snagged the No. 90 spot. One of the top firms in Northern California, Gunderson Dettmer holds the No. 3 spot in Vault’s Emerging Companies & Venture Capital practice ranking and moved up seven places in the General Corporate Practice ranking this year.

While firms based in NorCal, SoCal, and Seattle saw gains in prestige this year, approximately half of the firms that dropped two or more spots were those based in the Big Apple. Aside from Willkie, Farr, & Gallagher LLP—which jumped seven spots in the Vault Law 100 to No. 44—no firm with New York as its main headquarters moved up more than one position this year.

“Over the past several years, we have noticed a trend of firms in markets outside of New York moving steadily up the rankings, while many quintessential New York firms remain at the same level or drop,” said Sheridan. “The advances among West Coast firms this year isn’t a big surprise—practices focused on venture capital, privacy, and technology, as well as niche practices like cannabis, are particularly popular, and many firms on the West Coast are leaders in those areas.”

Vault Introduces Its New Midsize Texas & Florida Rankings

This year, Vault has launched a new regional ranking for the Best Midsize Law Firms in Texas. While Vault has long ranked the top law firms in Texas, this new ranking features the most prestigious midsize law firms in Texas based on votes from associates who work in the state. Coming in at No. 1 is Susman Godfrey LLP, which received an impressive 53.77 percent of the votes, followed by Porter Hedges LLP (No. 2); Beck Redden LLP (No. 3); Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mending P.C. (No, 4); and Gray, Reed & McGraw, P.C. (No. 5).

“Texas is a bustling market right now, with more and more firms moving into the space and jobseekers showing significant interest,” said Sheridan. “While many BigLaw firms have already set up shop here and continue to do so, Texas is home to exceptional midsize firms—especially litigation boutiques and energy all-stars. Vault’s new ranking highlights these firms, which are integral players in the Texas legal market.”

Vault also expanded its Miami ranking to include all of Florida. Holland & Knight snagged the No. 1 position in the Best Law Firms for Florida. This expanded ranking also included five newcomers who had not previously placed among the top firms in Miami.

The remaining regional rankings had a few shake-ups at the top. Gibson Dunn moved back into its prior No. 1 spot in the Mountain States ranking, after dropping to No. 2 for the last two years. The South Atlantic ranking also saw a new leader with King & Spalding LLP climbing one spot from its previous position at No. 2.

Vault’s No. 1 firms in each region are:

Atlanta: King & Spalding LLP

Boston: Ropes & Gray LLP

Chicago: Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Florida: Holland & Knight LLP

Mid-Atlantic: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates

Midwest: Jones Day

Mountain States: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP

New York: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

New York - Midsize: Pryor Cashman LLP

Northern California: Morrison & Foerster LLP

Pacific Northwest: Perkins Coie LLP

South Atlantic: King & Spalding LLP

Southern California: Latham & Watkins LLP

Texas: Vinson & Elkins LLP

Texas - Midsize: Susman Godfrey LLP

Washington, DC: Covington & Burling LLP

To view Vault’s full set of 16 regional rankings, click here.

White & Case Reclaims Its No. 1 Ranking for International Practice

After falling out of the No. 1 spot nine years ago in the 2012 rankings, White & Case LLP has reclaimed its position at the top of Vault’s International Practice ranking. Known for its cross-border work, White & Case has remained steady at No. 2 in this ranking since 2012. The firm received 35.73 percent of associate votes this year.

Vault has released 26 other Practice Area rankings, with no other changes to the ranking leaders. To view all of Vault’s 2021 Practice Area rankings, click here.

Vault’s Annual Associate Survey & the Coronavirus Pandemic

As is the case every year, Vault’s rankings are derived solely from the Vault Annual Associate Survey and are based on associates’ perceptions of peer law firms as well as their experiences at their own law firms. Vault’s most recent Annual Associate Survey took place from late January 2020 to early April 2020. While the survey window overlapped for a short time with the coronavirus pandemic’s spread through the U.S., the majority of responses were submitted prior to state-mandated lockdowns and shelter in place restrictions. With regard to the 2021 rankings in light of COVID-19, Vault’s rankings are based on information gathered from associates during the specific survey window and are not adjusted based on subsequent events.

To address COVID-19 and its impact on the legal community, Vault responded quickly and created a comprehensive resource on Coronavirus & The Legal Industry, which includes advice articles, video panels, infographics, and industry charts. Among the main areas covered are timely advice for law students, practicing lawyers, and laterals and tips on remote work, virtual networking and interviewing, and mental health and well-being. Vault also published an in-depth guidebook: Vault Guide to Navigating Your Legal Career in the Time of Coronavirus, which is available in e-book on Vault’s website (and free for law students from Vault partner schools via Vault Campus). And Vault has included COVID-19 statements from law firms in the firm profiles.

About Vault

Vault is the most comprehensive and trusted resource for law students and laterals to research law firms. Vault’s law firm rankings and profiles deliver the insider perspective and essential information candidates need to make successful career decisions. Each year, Vault surveys thousands of associates to understand what life is like for attorneys at the nation’s top law firms. Vault ranks law firms by prestige, region, and practice area as well as top firms for quality of life using its annual survey results. Additionally, Vault publishes other valued resources including the Vault Guide to Summer Associate Programs and Interviewing, Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas, the Vault Guide to First Year of Law School, and Law Firm Diversity Profiles. This year, Vault also released the Vault Guide to Navigating Your Legal Career in the Time of Coronavirus. Through Vault’s law school platform, thousands of students from nearly 100 partnering law schools across the country have unlimited access to this critical information.

Questions? Contact Vault's Senior Law Editor, Mary Kate Sheridan: msheridan@vault.com

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