In a sign of a legal market where competition for work is stiffer than ever, a survey of legal buyers’ preferred Big Law brands has a new No. 1 for the first time in its six-year history.
Jones Day topped the Acritas U.S. Law Firm Brand Index, released Monday, after finishing in second place for the previous five years to the same firm: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. This year, Skadden ranked second and the top five was rounded out, in order, by the newly re-branded Baker McKenzie, Latham & Watkins and DLA Piper.
The survey, which had 765 in-house respondents at the senior level, tracks six metrics, such as consideration for top-level deals and litigation, aimed at ranking the firms viewed most favorably and hired most often by large company legal services purchasers.
The survey by Acritas, a U.K.-based market research firm, is also notable for a number of “challenger firms” shooting up the rankings due to a combination of their expansion and a market where clients are more eager to search out value, said Elizabeth Lizzy Duffy, vice president of Acritas US Inc. Four new firms made the Top 20 list: Littler Mendelson and Ropes & Gray, which tied with Sullivan & Cromwell and Norton Rose Fulbright at 13th; Dentons as No. 18; and No. 20 King & Spalding.
“The challenger brands can more clearly articulate their value proposition for clients more often,” Duffy said. “That makes clients understand why they’re a good choice, and that is one of the ways they’re able to win work and steal market share” from the typically elite brands.
The four firms disappearing from the Acritas list this year were Morrison & Foerster; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Mayer Brown, which last year were ranked Nos. 16, 17, 17 and 19, respectively.
Ropes & Gray jumped 26 places from a year ago, marking the largest leap among Top 20 finishers. That was followed by Littler, which rose 17 spots, and Dentons, which picked up 11.
Jones Day had traditionally scored well in three categories Acritas measures: “Top of mind awareness,” “favorability,” and “top of mind for litigation.” This year, the firm increased in two more components of the survey: “Consideration for major M&A deals” and “inbound use of the firm by international clients.”
There were other signs that competition has bunched up among the top brands in Big Law.
For instance, in 2012, when the Acritas survey was first released, only two firms scored within 50 percent of the top firms for both awareness and favorability. This year, there were 10 such firms.
“The market is becoming more crowded at the top end,” Duffy said. “The clients have a greater choice of larger and credible firms for a wider range of their work.”
The six factors the Acritas survey inquires about are: top of mind awareness, favorability, consideration for top-level deals and litigation, overall usage among U.S.-based clients and inbound usage among international clients. The firm mentioned most frequently is given a score of 100, and firms are indexed against that top score.
The full Top 20 list, according to Acritas:
• Jones Day
• Baker McKenzie (In a separate survey, the firm was named the top elite global brand by Acritas last year)
• Latham & Watkins
• DLA Piper
• Hogan Lovells
• Morgan Lewis
• Sidley Austin
• Kirkland & Ellis
• K&L Gates
• Reed Smith
• Foley & Lardner
• Norton Rose Fulbright
• Ropes & Gray
• Sullivan & Cromwell
• McDermott Will & Emery
• King & Spalding
Contact Roy Strom at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RoyWStrom.