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Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward has landed the coveted title of best U.S. law firm to work for in a new survey of law firm associates. Cooley is one of a handful of San Francisco Bay Area firms that fared well in the latest “VaultReports.com Guide to America’s Top 50 Law Firms,” an annual report that provides snapshots of working conditions at U.S. firms. Cooley was joined by four other San Francisco Bay Area firms among The Vault’s list of the 20 best places to work. Morrison & Foerster was fourth, Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich ranked fifth, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison ranked 12th, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati was 14th. Only MoFo appeared on the same list last year. Wilson Sonsini also scored another plum spot, landing among the top 10 most prestigious firms. Wilson edged out New York’s Weil Gotshal & Manges for 10th place on the list. Cravath, Swaine & Moore, also a New York heavyweight, ranked first. The report surveyed associates at 78 law firms seeking rankings and opinions on 13 quality-of-life categories. Law.com is affiliated with American Lawyer Media Inc., which has a minority interest in Vault.com, publisher of the “VaultReport.” In all, 11 California firms landed among the top 50 most prestigious firms, including Latham & Watkins, which landed one spot above Wilson. Also making the cut were Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (17th), O’Melveny & Myers (19th), MoFo (22nd), Brobeck (24th), Cooley (32nd), Venture Law Group (37th), Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian (38th), Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker (41st), and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe (42nd). “The 20 Best Law Firms to Work For,” which Cooley topped, is a sub-category of the massive report. And for Cooley’s recruiting partner Richard Climan, who is in New York this week interviewing law students, the top ranking was good ammunition in the battle for top student candidates. Students, he said, are asking more questions this year than in prior years about quality-of-life issues within the firm. “They’re very inquisitive about things like relations between partners and associates and professional development programs,” Climan said. The queries may reflect concerns that this year’s salary increases have translated into heavier workloads for associates, Climan added. In determining the best places to work, Vault.com considered how associates scored the firms in 10 different categories. They included partner-associate relations, overall satisfaction, hours demanded, and the firm’s attention to training. “Everyone has their moments — partners, associates and staff alike — but people here are respectful and act like human beings,” wrote one Cooley first-year. With Silicon Valley firms leading the nation in technology clients and setting salaries, firm guides are becoming increasingly important to law students trying to make a decision, said recruiting partners. “Coming from law school, it’s not like they’ve been out in the marketplace,” said Molly Lane, a Brobeck partner who heads the firm’s recruiting committee.

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