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Just a year ago we began to answer this question: Which are the best law firms in the land? We introduced The American Lawyer’s A-List, a carefully weighted ranking based on our surveys of The Am Law 200, the highest-grossing U.S.- headquartered firms. The top 20 firms-the top 10 percent-made The A-List, a ranking we called the new elite, or the top tier. Many of the firms that made the list applauded the idea. Those who missed either tried harder, didn’t care, or wished the list would just go away. We’re back with the news that this year it was even harder to make the list: The cutoff was 19 points higher. There were 15 returning firms and five new ones. Eight climbed into the top 50. This is not a huge turnover for a group that tends to find its own level, but it gives real hope to the aspiring and caution to the complacent. Why are we doing this? Because we take seriously the work and stated values of our audience and think that the profession will be well served by measuring that which lawyers say they hold dear. And we want to talk about more than money. As we said a year ago, our Am Law 100 and 200 financial reports should not be the only standard for a self-respecting profession. Instead, we sought a list of core professional values-values that lawyers proclaim as their own-that we could assess objectively. We found four: successful law practices; pro bono performance; decent treatment and development of young lawyers; and diversity of workplace. As it happens, we already measure each of those qualities over the course of the year. Specifically, the standards are: Revenue per lawyer RPL is both a fair measure of the success of a firm’s practice and a surrogate for client quality and satisfaction. Important clients can retain any firm; their willingness to pay top dollar is a rough measure of what they think a firm is worth. The rankings come from our July and August 2004 issues. Pro bono Providing high-quality, free legal services to the poor and to organizations that serve the poor is a bedrock professional value. We ask firms to report their activities each year, and we rank them by a formula that includes both per capita hours and the number of firm lawyers who performed at least 20 hours of service annually. Associate satisfaction Training and developing the next generation of lawyers is one of the profession’s key missions. To assess how firms fulfill that duty, we survey third- and fourth-year (midlevel) associates every Spring. We score the firms using the answers from their junior lawyers. The associate rankings come from our October 2003 issue. Diversity Each fall our sibling publication The National Law Journal conducts a census of law firms to prepare its NLJ 250 list. From that data, another of our publications, The Minority Law Journal, compiles a diversity scorecard, which ranks the firms on percentage of minority lawyers. The rankings we used for The A-List were published in the MLJ’s Spring 2004 issue. In each survey, each firm was ranked, usually one to 200. For The A-List, we assigned a point total for each of those ranks. For example, the firm that finished first in revenue per lawyer received 200 points; the firm that finished last received one point. On the pro bono, associate and diversity surveys, firms that did not participate did not receive any points. From the raw scores, we used a weighted formula to compile the A-List rankings. We doubled the scores for both revenue per lawyer and pro bono and added them to the scores from the associate satisfaction and diversity surveys. (Expressed as a formula, it would be: [RPL score x 2] + [PB score x 2] + AS score + D score = Total Score.) Then we ranked the firms by their total scores. The top 20 form The A-List. Our weighting system makes a value judgment. As we said last year, we think that revenue per lawyer-as a reflection of the health of a firm’s practice and its success at serving clients-and pro bono work are the most important of the four categories. We think that a firm’s primary duty is to its clients-both its paying and needy ones. These rankings are a measure of firms as firms. This is not a tally of who has the best lawyers. But it signals to clients which firms are the true leaders of the profession. It is a guide for recruits and laterals seeking to join the profession’s elite. And it is a scorecard for the firms themselves. We mean this to be a challenge to the also-rans. Full rankings are posted at www.americanlawyer.com What’s different on our list this year? We have a new top-ranked firm: Debevoise & Plimpton, which improved its ranking in three categories-RPL, pro bono, and diversity-and its total score by 44 points. “These [A-List] firms have an institutional commitment to client service,” says Martin Frederic Evans, the presiding partner at Debevoise. “All the factors that are measured-collegiality, public service, diversity-make the firms better and contribute toward achieving excellence in client service.” Last year’s leader, Davis Polk & Wardwell, finished seventh this year. Five were new to the list: Howrey Simon Arnold & White; Hughes Hubbard & Reed; Morrison & Foerster; Munger, Tolles & Olson; and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. For Munger, Morrison, and Hughes, the difference was as simple as participating in the associates survey. Last year all three firms finished in the top 50. Howrey improved its score in each category, while Robins was up in three. Five fell off the list: Bingham McCutchen; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Hale and Dorr; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Willkie’s score improved from last year, but the competition was stiffer and the firm slipped to twenty-second. Hale and Dorr’s fall was the most pronounced-from thirteenth to forty-first-which reflected a decline in all four categories. In mid-year Hale merged with Wilmer Cutler Pickering, a returning A-List firm. Most improved among the firms in the top 50: Shearman & Sterling jumped from eightieth to twenty-fifth, thanks to both an improved pro bono score and its participation in the diversity report. There is little magic in making this list but a great deal of will. We are not measuring good intentions-otherwise, the list would number nearly 200. Instead, the list is a proxy for commitment and execution. It’s instructive to look at the new firms on the list. Steven Schumeister at Robins, Kaplan says that his firm is committed to “giving back” to the community, a formulation we hear from all law firm leaders. Having a firm that ranks in the top quarter of our pro bono ranks separates Schumeister from the pack. “For us, it’s important to have actions that follow our intentions,” he says. And his firm’s improved score helped lift it onto The A-List. Diversity is a challenge for every firm; most have some sort of pledge, even if it is the result of a gun-at-head demand from a crusading client. This is now a normative goal. But at Munger, Tolles, which ranks in the top quarter on diversity scores, it appears to be more than a remote target. The firm has started a program for small groups of first-year minority law students recruited from leading schools. “We want to do better,” says co-managing partner Robert Johnson, “and we’re working at it.” At Morrison & Foerster, making The A-List meant trying to live up to its promises. MoFo’s Keith Wetmore explains, colorfully: “You are what you recruit. If we don’t deliver on our reputation as a land of milk and honey, we have a lot of disappointment to manage. When you recruit people on the basis that they’re going to make a fabulous amount of money, you’d better make a lot. When you recruit based on an element of psychic compensation from what they do, you have to deliver.” Hughes Hubbard and Howrey Simon made it onto the list as a result of unrelenting focus. We described at great length a year ago ["Second Wind," August 2003] the turnaround process at Hughes, one built on careful management and husbanding of good internal values. Howrey’s achievement is less celebrated. When we ran the numbers retrospectively over four years, no other firm has moved up so sharply. Four years ago, the firm ranked sixty-seventh. This year, it’s eighth. Managing partner Robert Ruyak points to firm decisions to excel in a handful of practice areas-IP, antitrust, complex litigation-and to move its pro bono efforts into the same league as the other first-tier Washington firms. “All the consultants told us we were too specialized,” he recalls with a chuckle. “But the clients we spoke to said the exact opposite: they wanted more depth and strength. We decided to listen to our clients.” Listening and executing. It is a deceptively simple business. There are 20 leaders. Who has the will to join them next year? The A-List Rounding Out the Top The Remainder of the Am Law 200 E-mail: [email protected].

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