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This week, the publisher Vault.com released its third annual version of the lawyers’ Social Register, an insider’s guide to the top 50 law firms, based on how attorneys ranked their prestige. And, for the third straight year, the firms deemed most prestigious were New York City stalwarts Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; and Sullivan & Cromwell. In fact, New York firms once again dominated the prestige rankings, with 19 out of 50 firms to make the cut based in Manhattan. While this is a slight drop from last year, when 23 Gotham firms made the A-list, status seekers can take comfort in the fact that the top eight firms are still based in New York City. This year’s top eight firms were identical to last year’s. Law.com is affiliated with American Lawyer Media Inc., which is in partnership with Vault.com. Vault.com compiled the report through surveys and interviews with 4,880 lawyers nationwide. Associates provide information on salary, hours, and partnership prospects, as well as incidentals ranging from in-house cafeterias to office decor. (For the record, Shearman & Sterling’s “worn out puke-beige rug” was considered a minus.) Not surprisingly, most New York associates felt their hours were too long. Although high in prestige, Wachtell sources told Vault that 3,000 hours a year would not raise eyebrows. And at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, one associate reported that their motto was, “What lives?” Buoyed by the cache of dot-com work, not to mention associate salary increases, northern California firms have shot up in stature. For the first time, Menlo Park’s Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian — which set off a national salary war by raising first-year salaries to $145,000 last December — made the list, placing at number 38. Palo Alto’s Cooley Godward and Menlo Park’s Venture Law Group were also newcomers to the top 50. Vault also ranked firms based on “quality of life.” Here, unlike the prestige list, New York firms were all but absent from the top 20, with only Davis Polk & Wardwell making the list; the firm ranked 20th. The New York firms that dropped off last year’s quality of life top 20 are Fish & Neave, Debevoise & Plimpton, Shearman & Sterling, Chadbourne & Parke, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The surveys can be found at www.vault.com.

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