In big law, prestige is important.

And an annual survey from career-oriented Web site Vault attempts to gauge just how impressive it is to work at the country’s top firms by asking more than 15,000 associates to rank their prestige factor.

New York firms dominated the top 10 in the list of 100 with two exceptions: Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins came in eighth and Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis came in at No. 10. Two other Los Angeles-based firms made the top 20, with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher at 18 and O’Melveny & Myers at 20. (New York-based Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz took first place.)

Vault asked the 156 participating firms to distribute a password-protected online survey to associates. Then those associates were asked to score each of the firms on a scale of 1 to 10 based on its prestige, ignoring any unfamiliar firms as well as their own.

The survey acknowledges that it’s not about profit, size, lifestyle or number of deals: “We are ranking the most prestigious law firms based on the perceptions of currently practicing lawyers at peer firms,” according to Vault’s Web site.

But associates at Latham say the survey does matter, for internal morale, recruiting and clients.

“It’s certainly important and it is impressive that Latham has the reputation it has,” said Kimberly Posin, a fourth-year associate in Latham’s Los Angeles office. “Clients look to and appreciate the prestige factor.”

It’s also a key factor for law students who are interviewing at various firms and scouring the rankings to help make decisions, she said.

Within the firm itself, it was fun to get the e-mail detailing the results.

“It’s something that’s nice to talk about,” Posin said, “[to] call our friends at competing firms and say ‘Look at this.’”

Kellie Schmitt


In April 2005, a group of five state Capitol veterans left their jobs at various law firms, lobbying groups and trade associations to form an unusual trifecta � three practices, in two businesses, housed under one roof.

Three lobbyists with a combined 50 years of experience, John Dunlap III, Stanley Van Vleck and Amy Brown, joined forces to create the lobbying and communications firm of Dunlap, Van Vleck & Brown.

And Van Vleck, an attorney with long-term relationships in Sacramento, also decided to launch a law firm with two other colleagues, Dale Stern and Stephen Ruehmann. Stern, Van Vleck & Ruehmann opened the doors to its legal practice in the same office as Dunlap, Van Vleck.

While combined law and lobbying firms are not unusual in Sacramento, the three-practice operation at Dunlap, Van Vleck and Stern, Van Vleck appears unique.

The five partners hope to capitalize on their long-time connections and varied experience to create a successful business model in a city with plenty of lobbyists, lawyers and public-relations spinners.

Van Vleck, a procurement specialist who worked in Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration, left his position as managing partner with Kahn, Soares & Conway’s governmental relations practice to start the new venture. On the legal side, Stern represents trade groups and corporations and Ruehmann concentrates on election, health care and employment law.

“Each one of the partners has a specialty or niche that makes us versatile � and well-rounded,” Van Vleck said.

The firms’ partners report billing more than $2 million in their first year. And Dunlap, Van Vleck, the lobbying firm, has seen revenues increase steadily every quarter, finishing the last three months ending in June with recorded payments of $184,557. Its biggest clients include Rent-A-Center, Siemens Corp. and the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians Tribal Council.

“We’re poised for growth,” said Chief Operating Officer Tye Waggoner.

The two firms recently absorbed office space in an adjacent suite in their building across the street from the Capitol. The move adds room for Stern, Van Vleck’s new legal associate as well as space to accommodate the still-developing plans to hire up to four more employees in the lobbying and communications shop.

“We are securing more work than we can handle and need to bring in more experts to help with new projects,” said Dunlap. “Who knows, next year we may have to take over an entire floor.”

Cheryl Miller