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by Travis Whitsitt | January 10, 2024


You need a high winter weather tolerance, but speaking from firsthand experience, the food and the work opportunities in the Windy City are unbeatable. The third largest city in the United States holds the headquarters of some of the country's most prestigious law firms and work in any practice area you might desire. This article compares the top five Chicago-headquartered firms from the 2024 Chicago regional prestige rankings. For more Chicago options, you can review Vault’s Chicago prestige rankings and the Vault profiles of any firms you’re interested in.

The five top-ranked Chicago-based firms based on Vault’s 2024 regional prestige rankings are Kirkland & Ellis; Sidley Austin; Mayer Brown; Winston & Strawn; and Jenner & Block. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Kirkland & Ellis

The #1 firm in Chicago and #7 in the 2024 Vault Law 100, Kirkland & Ellis operates 11 U.S. and seven international offices, including its Chicago headquarters.  Kirkland is the #1 firm in three of our Practice Area rankings: Bankruptcy & Restructuring, Private Equity, and Products Liability, and it has eleven other Practice Area rankings in our top five. The firm employs over 3,500 attorneys and associates here describe the culture as upbeat and energizing, with no formal billable hour requirement but plenty of work to go around. Partnership here is transparent but difficult, but other exit opportunities are numerous and strong.

Sidley Austin

Sidley Austin holds the #2 spot in Vault’s Chicago prestige rankings this year and also sits at #11 in the overall Vault Law 100. Like Kirkland, Sidley is huge, with over 2,000 attorneys working out of 11 U.S. and 10 international offices. The firm places in the top ten of seven of our practice area rankings, the highest being Environmental Law, where it sits at #4. Associates call the culture friendly and collaborative. The firm has a total hours requirement of 2,000, of which 1,800 must be billable. Partnership here is difficult, but the in-house and government exit opportunities are very strong.

Mayer Brown

Landing at #5 in Vault’s 2024 Chicago prestige rankings and claiming the #43 position in the Vault Law 100, Mayer Brown is another full-service national powerhouse. Headquartered in Chicago, they have a strong international focus, with over 1,500 lawyers operating from nine U.S. and 18 international offices. The firm cracks the top 20 in five of our Practice Area rankings, their most prestigious being their Project Finance practice at #11. Associates report a relaxed and understanding culture despite the firm's prestige, with a reasonable or standard (for BigLaw) billable hour requirement. Making partner here is realistic, although it will of course require work, but exit opportunities and non-partner roles are strong here as well.

Winston & Strawn

Ranked at #6 in Vault’s 2024 Chicago prestige rankings and at #41 in the Vault Law 100, Winston & Strawn upholds the pattern of this post as a large international concern, employing nearly 1,000 lawyers in 10 U.S. and six international offices. The firm is noteworthy for its highly regarded summer associate program, ranking #14 overall. The firm is also a pleasant place to work, judging by its #26 overall ranking in our Best Law Firms to Work For. The culture is supportive and collaborative, with flexibility as to where and when to meet the reasonable billable hour requirement. Partnership is realistic and the path to it is very transparent from the first year forward.

Jenner & Block

Jenner & Block sits at #7 in our Chicago prestige rankings and at #64 in the Vault Law 100. Smaller than the others on the list, the firm is nonetheless a big one, with over 500 attorneys working from five U.S. and one international office. The firm does very well in our Best Law Firms to Work For rankings at #18 overall, and also does quite well in the DEI space, ranking 20th overall in our Diversity Rankings. The culture is welcoming and social, and the firm is flexible on hours to the point of offering reduced hours schedules to those who need them. Partnership is realistic if difficult, but non-partner roles ands exit opportunities are all strong here as well.


As a jobseeker, it behooves you to study the differences between firms as closely as you can, because despite the overall phenomenon of "BigLaw," they really are unique. As for these five Chicago firms, if you just want the most prestigious, Kirkland & Ellis is an obvious choice. If you want the best place to work, Jenner & Block ranks highly there (and has plenty of prestige in its own right!). You can learn more about all these firms (and many others) through Vault’s law firm profiles and the firms’ websites. Remember: Think hard about your priorities, because no one firm is best at everything.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!