Over the last few months there have been several attacks of The American Lawyer’s rankings of the 200 highest grossing firms in the country. In a video posted on Bloomberg’s Big Law Business blog, law firm consultant Bruce MacEwen criticized the AmLaw 200, stating: “I've realized over the last few years that I think that category, the AmLaw 200, is increasingly meaningless as a conceptual category. It leads us into the mistake of thinking that all these firms are the same and they're not remotely the same.” MacEwen claimed that a list cannot be both comprehensive and heterogeneous and not involve unspoken value judgments and further that the AmLaw 200 cannot survive scrutiny.
A few weeks later, Kimberly Kleman, Editor-in-Chief of The American Lawyer, struck back with her own video response, saying, “you can compare things that are not alike, people do that all the time. To say that, well, these two things are different … so you can't compare any of them doesn't make sense to me.” She further stated that without publicly available data law firm clients would be sent back to the days of law firms presenting smoke and mirrors and clients not knowing what the basis of their fees was.
MacEwen and Kleman eventually sat down for a cup of coffee together to amicably discuss what the American Lawyer should be covering (it was Kleman’s treat). But soon afterward, Kleman launched another attack, this time strongly suggesting that the data that firms provide to The American Lawyer and that form the basis of the AmLaw 200 is not entirely accurate.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I come down on AmLaw’s side here. To claim you can’t fairly compare large law firms with different business models and geographic footprints is absurd. Large law firms are fundamentally in the same business, are competing for the same pools of clients, and are competing for the same talent. Published data on law firm profitability is an important criterion upon which potential clients and potential associates may judge a law firm.
Just as AmLaw provides an important service in providing profitability data, Vault provides prospective new law firm associates and laterals an opportunity to pull back the curtain and learn what those in the know, the associates working at the firms, have to say about their firm and about the firms with which they collaborate and compete. Our prestige, quality of life, and diversity rankings—when taken together with our survey results and firm profiles—provide the most comprehensive information on what it is like to actually practice law at these firms.
The OCI and callback interview process is difficult on many law students. Students just a year into their law school careers are asked to choose a firm where they will likely start their career and practice for at least a few years. When I was a 2L going through this process, I couldn’t tell the difference between Baker Botts and Baker Hostetler and I treasured the Vault rankings and reviews to cut through the noise. The firms in the Vault Law 100 and the AmLaw200 are very different, and to me, that’s just the point. Because to listen only to the firms and to read just their marketing materials, you often wouldn’t know that. Rankings, survey data, and reviews help law students, attorneys, and clients learn more about law firms, and that transparency is good not only for these groups but also for the firms and the legal industry as a whole.
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