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It’s easy to get stuck in a rut: Just do the same thing over and over again. Every spring we conduct a survey of the go-to law firms for America’s biggest corporations, feeling a bit like the characters in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. For the past several years, the same marquee firms have topped the list with reassuring regularity. But there were a few problems. For one thing, we realized that our methodology needed a tune-up. For the past few years, we’ve asked law departments to name their seven top firms in four different practice areas. But some departments didn’t want to offend their firms, or had trouble playing favorites by limiting their top picks. So this year, in the hopes of getting more comprehensive data, we tried a more objective approach. We combed through public records � court papers, filings, etc. � to tally which law firms were being used by Fortune 250 companies. And guess what? Despite the change in methodology, the same major law firms topped our lists of the most-mentioned. This might bother some people � all these changes for nothing? � but not us. It actually proves our thesis. For all their talk of convergence, for all the time, ink and computing power lavished on requests for proposals, for all the beauty contests and, well, you get the idea, there’s one essential truth at big law departments. Reputation and firepower matter most when something’s really important. Just as a cardiac patient will seek the best doctor, companies in litigation or seeking protection of their intellectual property will hire the best, and they won’t sweat the hourly rate.

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