2017 Best Law Firms to Work For

July 14, 2016

Vault’s 2017 Quality of Life rankings are here, and there’s a new Best Law Firm to Work For. O’Melveny & Myers tops the overall quality of life ranking, knocking previous champ Paul Hastings from the No. 1 position. O’Melveny earned that ranking in part by topping two Quality of Life categories—Satisfaction and Hours—while coming in second in three more areas key to associate happiness—Firm Culture, Leadership Transparency, and Substantive Work. O’Melveny’s associates report to Vault that “O'Melveny has a culture of caring about each other and truly seeing our work together as a team activity” and that “the people are what make OMM the best!”

The competition at the top is intense; Ropes & Gray is putting up a strong fight to reclaim the top spot. Ropes topped the Best to Work For list in 2011 and has been No. 2 since then, trailing O’Melveny by just 0.07 points this year. After three years at the top, Paul Hastings falls four places to the No. 5 spot.

The Law Firm Quality of Life Rankings are derived from Vault’s Law Firm Associate Survey, in which more than 18,000 associates rated and commented on various aspects of their work life. This year’s Best 25 Law Firms to Work For rankings were calculated using a formula that weighs associate ratings in a dozen different areas: Overall Satisfaction (25%); Firm Culture (10%); Hours (10%); Substantive Work (10%); Compensation (10%); Business Outlook (5%); Career Outlook (5%); Associate/Partner Relations (5%); Leadership Transparency (5%); Informal and Formal Training (5%); Pro Bono (5%); and Overall Diversity (5%).

Based on this formula, the Top 10 Best Law Firms to Work For are:

“As law school enrollment has dropped the last few years, law firms are competing even more fiercely for the top candidates, and this generation of law school graduates care about more than just prestige,” said Matt Moody, Law Editor at Vault. “The associates currently working at a law firm offer the best window into what life is really like at any particular firm, and Vault’s Quality of Life Rankings and firm profiles summarize this information so that law students and laterals can carefully weigh their options.”

Summer Superstars

In addition to its top position as the Best Firm to Work For, O’Melveny & Myers is also the new No. 1 firm in Vault’s Best Summer Associate Program ranking, moving up one spot from its second place finish last year. Vault asked first- through third-year associates who had worked as summer associates at their current firms to rate the program both in terms of how well it prepared them for full-time practice and how much fun they had; the average of these two scores determined which firms ranked on the Best Overall Summer Associate Programs list. Former O’Melveny summer associates noted that the “summer program was amazing” and while it was “really fun,” the firm “also went out of its way to give summer associates meaningful assignments.”

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has been voted as having the Summer Associate Program that Best Prepares for Practice.  One Orrick associate reported: “The work assignments slowly built up over the summer. They started as fairly discrete tasks, but by the end we were directly interfacing with clients and running deals and projects (under the supervision of our mentors).”

Shook, Hardy & Bacon repeats as the No. 1 firm with the Most Fun Summer Associate Program. One Shook Hardy associate told Vault: “Our summer program is simply unmatched,” adding that incorporate the program encourages “camaraderie among not only summer associates, but associates and partners alike.”

Rising Stars and Two Additions to Top 10 Best Law Firms to Work For 

Among firms with notable score increases across numerous categories were Fried, Frank and Williams & Connolly. “While both Fried, Frank and Williams & Connolly have historically earned high quality of life ratings from their associates, both made significant jumps on the Best to Work For list this year,” said Moody. “Fried, Frank climbed thirteen spots to land at No. 4, while Williams & Connolly moved up six positions and is now No. 7.” Williams & Connolly is also the top firm in three Quality of Life Categories—Associate/Partner Relations, Business Outlook, and Integration of Laterals/Clerks. Thompson & Knight is the only other firm to match that feat, topping Substantive Work, Career Outlook, and Informal Training, Mentoring & Sponsorship.

The No. 1 firms in Vault’s Individual Quality of Life categories are…

Overall Satisfaction: O'Melveny & Myers

O’Melveny moves up two spots from the No. 3 position last year to top the category.  As one O’Melveny associate stated when asked about overall job satisfaction, “I'm very happy with the firm. Working in big law can be tough. It's great to be at a place that cares about associate satisfaction and actually listens to associates’ feedback to try to improve procedures and practices.”

In other news in this category, Thompson & Knight (No. 4); Fried, Frank (No. 5); and Orrick (No. 6) are all ranked in the top 10 after being unranked last year. 

Firm Culture: Ropes & Gray

Ropes & Gray defends its title in Firm Culture, having claimed the No. 1 spot in this category last year. Associates at Ropes note that “the firm’s culture is excellent” and “there is a significant emphasis on being a courteous team player for your co-workers.” One associate told Vault, “I came to Ropes & Gray for the firm culture, and I've found it exactly what I pictured: collaborative, fast-paced, respectful, and fun. My colleagues, both attorneys and non-attorneys, are extremely bright and competent, and a pleasure to work with.”

Hours: O’Melveny & Myers

Overall Quality of Life champion O’Melveny & Myers also tops the hours category, repeating its performance from last year’s ranking. One O’Melveny associate told us, “O’Melveny truly is not a ‘face-time’ firm, and I love it. No one tracks where you are, or cares when you are in the office, as long as you get your work done. You may work with whatever schedule is most productive for you.”

Substantive Work: Thompson & Knight       

Thompson & Knight jumps all the way from being unranked last year to top the substantive work category this year. One Thompson & Knight associate told Vault, “Compared to my colleagues at other firms, I have handled a significantly greater amount of substantive work on real cases years before they did.”  Among other firms that made big strides in this category were Orrick (No. 5); Fried, Frank (No. 8); Morrison & Foerster (No. 12); and Cravath, Swaine & Moore (No. 15), none of which ranked last year.

Compensation: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Wachtell reigns supreme in compensation for the fourth straight year. Wachtell associates raved that they receive “unrivaled compensation and benefits,” and “the partnership demonstrates its appreciation for associates through annual bonuses.”

After its Top 10 debut last year, BuckleySandler moved up one spot to No. 2, unseating last year’s runner up, Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Orrick (No. 9) and Williams & Connolly (No. 10) appear in the Top 10 after being unranked last year. Overall Prestige champion Cravath did not rank in the top 25 this year, but that may soon change. The firm kicked off a flurry of associate raises among BigLaw firms when it announced a new pay scale in June, after data has already been collected for our 2017 rankings.

Business Outlook: Williams & Connolly

Williams & Connolly moves up two spots to top the category, barely edging out No. 2 firm Gibson Dunn. One Williams & Connolly associate summed it up:  “As far as I can tell the firm never lacks work. Because we don't have practice groups and attorneys are encouraged to practice in many areas of law, it's easy to redeploy attorneys based on where the work is.”

Last year’s winner in this category, Wachtell, drops to No. 7. Kirkland & Ellis makes an impressive ten-spot jump from last year to land at No. 3, while Skadden fell ten places to No. 16.

Career Outlook: Thompson & Knight

Thompson & Knight knocks Williams & Connolly from the top spot that it had held since the Career Outlook  category was created four years ago, though Williams & Connolly only fell one spot to No. 2. A Thompson & Knight associate remarked that “T&K is a firm where, if associates do what is asked of them and commit themselves to their clients and the firm, then they can (and are expected to become) partners.” Another associate noted that the firm “has less attrition than other big firms,” but that associates who do leave “go on to other firms, to government jobs, or to in-house counsel positions.”

Sullivan & Cromwell makes a big move from No. 15 all the way up to No. 7. An S&C associate noted “promotion to partnership is hard, but realistic. S&C is one of the few firms that still promotes associates to partner at eight years. And having S&C on your resume opens almost any door in the country if you want to leave, particularly in U.S. Attorney's Offices.”

Associate/Partner Relations: Williams & Connolly

They must be doing something right to foster relations between associates and management at Williams & Connolly, which is at the top of the Associate/Partner Relations category for the fourth straight year. The Vault survey asks whether individual partners generally seem to value associates and treat them with respect, and the sentiment at Williams & Connolly is that “partners always treat associates with respect, giving them real work and investing in them to ensure they have the opportunity to grow their skills.”

Leadership Transparency: Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz

Baker Donelson tops the Transparency ranking for the fourth year in a row, with one associate stating, “The firm has taken tremendous steps to promote transparency. Associate hours and financials are released on a monthly basis for all attorneys to see. Management prepares an annual report that conveys how the firm is doing financially, top clients, strategic goals for the coming fiscal year, etc.”

Boston-based Choate Hall jumped from unranked all the way to No. 3 this year, with one associate commenting that “there is a new transparency surrounding performance reviews and upward reviews for partners/upper-level associates.”

Formal Training: Ropes & Gray

For the fifth year in a row, Ropes & Gray’s formal training program earns the highest scores of any firm, with one survey respondent stating, “Ropes prides itself on the quality and quantity of its formal training programs, and these are usually well attended. I appreciate the regularity with which training is scheduled, which means it is easier to attend a session every few weeks instead of losing several days at a time.”

Informal Training, Mentoring & Sponsorship: Thompson & Knight    

Thompson & Knight is the top firm in Vault’s ranking for Informal Training, Mentoring & Sponsorship, jumping all the way to the top after being unranked last year. One Thompson & Knight associate said, “The firm goes above and beyond to help young attorneys transition from students to practitioners of law,” while another noted that “informal mentoring opportunities are encouraged and promoted.”

Pro Bono: Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler

Patterson Belknap repeats as champion in the pro bono category after unseating Squire Patton Boggs last year. One associate said that Patterson Belknap “has had 100% pro bono participation by all attorneys and legal staff for 12 straight years.” Another associate noted, “I have worked on a criminal defense appeal, a veteran's discharge upgrade, and a case to get an individual off the state child abuse registry who was wrongly included.”

Munger, Tolles & Olson makes a huge jump this year from No. 18 all the way up to No. 6.  One MTO associate told Vault: “The firm takes a lot of pride in its pro bono efforts, and celebrates those wins as much as or more than its paid successes. I have been on the mediation team for a San Francisco preschool involved in a real estate dispute. I also recently helped draft a Supreme Court amicus brief.”

Integration of Laterals/Clerks: Williams & Connolly

Williams & Connolly repeats as the No. 1 firm in in the ranking of the Best Law Firms for Integration of Laterals/Clerks. As one associate remarked: “Most W&C associates come here after one or more clerkships and almost half of our incoming class didn't summer here. Whatever your background, you're welcomed with open arms.”

Morrison & Foerster, moves up an impressive 21 spots from No. 23 to be runner up this year. One MoFo associate noted: “I “The integration process has been smooth and the firm found appropriate partner and associate mentors for me.”

Selectivity in Hiring: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Prestigious Wachtell claims the top spot as the Most Selective Law Firm, moving up one spot from last year’s No. 2 ranking. Associates told Vault that Wachtell “looks for passion for corporate law in the candidates” and only hires “the best of the best.” One associate said “The firm considers only a handful of top-tier law schools. Grades are extremely important. Journal experience is a plus, though not required. In addition, candidates must be articulate and personable.”

by Matt Moody 

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