It’s A-List season at The American Lawyer. For the sixth year, we applied the A-List algorithm to The Am Law 200 to determine the firms that best embody what it means to be a success in the legal community. As always, there were surprises. There’s a new A-List champ, Munger, Tolles & Olson, which replaced Debevoise & Plimpton. Some firms fell completely off the list (Howrey; Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr). Others climbed back on (Sullivan & Cromwell and Covington & Burling), or made their A-List debut (O’Melveny & Myers). But what is most notable about the 2008 A-List rankings is just how difficult it has become for newcomers to land one of the 20 coveted spots. The 2007 rankings featured seven new firms; the 2008 A-List, just three, and none finished higher than 16th place.

Our methodology for determining the A-List is relatively simple. We rank firms in four categories: revenue per lawyer, pro bono hours, associate satisfaction and diversity representation. The higher the rank, the more points a firm scores. Revenue per lawyer and pro bono scores count double. For would-be A-listers, our rank-based scoring presents a challenge. To move up, they must not only do better, but do better than their competitors. Consider Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, where revenue per lawyer increased to $980,000 in 2007, from $975,000 the year before. The firm actually fell three spots in the revenue per lawyer category when measured against the rest of The Am Law 200. Slight declines in the other A-list categories contributed to a slip on this year’s roster, from seventh to a still impressive 10th place.