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by Vault Law Editors | February 28, 2024

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Appellate litigators work on appeals in both federal and state courts. It can be difficult to build a practice that is purely appellate work, especially outside of larger markets, but many general litigators also practice at the appellate level. Purely appellate litigators do not deal with developing a factual record through document discovery or depositions, so the work is focused on legal research and writing. Appellate litigation is the most direct application of what law students learn in their 1L core curriculum. Cases tend to be much shorter in duration than those handled by general litigators and can require practitioners to delve into arcane issues. Law students interested in practicing in this area should get law review or other journal experience in law school and try to get a federal clerkship, especially at an appellate level.

The five top-ranked Appellate Litigation firms based on Vault’s 2024 Appellate Litigation prestige rankings are Williams & Connolly; Gibson Dunn; Jones Day; Kirkland; and Paul, Weiss. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Williams & Connolly LLP

Williams & Connolly operates just a single office in Washington, DC, and employs over 250 attorneys. In addition to being the top Appellate Litigation firm, Williams & Connolly is #22 in the overall Vault Law 100, and is #1 in Business Outlook, #1 in Selectivity, and #20 overall in our Best Law Firms to Work For rankings. Associates here describe the culture as pleasant and respectful, with no billable hour requirement and total flexibility as to when and where work is done. Partnership here is transparent and realistic, with the firm almost exclusively promoting partners from within. Additionally, exit opportunities are strong, be they in-house or government jobs.

Gibson Dunn

Landing at #2 in Vault’s 2024 Appellate Litigation prestige rankings, #10 in the overall Vault Law 100, the #10 Best Law Firm to Work For overall, and the #28 overall Best Law Firm for Diversity, Gibson Dunn is flush with accolades. The firm employs over 1,500 attorneys out of ten U.S. and ten international offices. Associates describe the culture as warm but professional, and the billable hour requirement as challenging but achievable. Partnership is realistic and transparent, but the track is difficult and longer than average.

Jones Day

Ranked at #3 in Vault’s 2024 Appellate Litigation prestige rankings, Jones Day is #25 in the overall Vault Law 100 and the firm with the #45 best overall Summer Associate Program. They employ over 2,000 attorneys out of 18 U.S. and 22 international offices. Associates describe the culture as social and kind, and the firm doesn't have a set billable hour requirement, although there is an (admittedly informal) push to work from one of the firm's offices. Partnership is realistic with a difficult but transparent path, and exit opportunities are robust.

Kirkland & Ellis

Kirkland sits at #4 in our Appellate Litigation prestige rankings, and is also #7 in the overall Vault Law 100. They are also the country's top firm in Bankruptcy & Restructuring, Private Equity, and Products Liability, as well as the most prestigious firm in both Chicago and the Midwest according to our Regional prestige rankings. The firm employs over 3,500 attorneys out of 11 U.S. and seven international offices. Associates describe the culture as upbeat and energizing. The firm has very high billable hours despite the absence of a requirement, but balances this with good flexibility as to when and where work is done. Partnership is realistic and transparent, but quite difficult. Non-partner roles are scarce, but exit opportunities are very strong.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

Paul, Weiss sits at #5 in our Appellate Litigation prestige rankings, and is also #9 in the overall Vault Law 100. Apart from their appellate practice, they are a top five firm in Bankruptcy/Restructuring (#3), White Collar Defense & Internal Investigations (#3), General Commercial Litigation (#5), and Securities Litigation (#5). The firm employs over 250 attorneys out of just two U.S. and one international offices. Associates describe the culture as affable and helpful. The firm has no billable hour requirement, but hours are long nonetheless, and there is an expectation of three in-office days per week. Partnership is realistic but difficult, and exit opportunities are good.

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Obviously, there is a huge amount of overlap between the country's best Appellate Litigation firms and the most prestigious firms overall. If you have both the pedigree to get offers from these firms and an interest in this respected practice area, any one of these five firms should be of significant interest to you.

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

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