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Apparently, there are still some happy law firm associates in the Silicon Valley, and they probably work for the Palo Alto, Calif., office of San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster. The Bay Area’s biggest firm is also the most popular among its associates, according to the latest Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms. MoFo came in as the No. 1 firm at which to work. Where the happy people don’t work is Palo Alto’s Cooley Godward. The law firm that topped the Vault Inc. rankings in the last two years got pounded down to 46th place in the 2003 edition. San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Palo Alto’s Fenwick & West; Menlo Park, Calif.-based Venture Law Group and Palo Alto-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati also got hammered. All of them lost their slots in the Best 20, and VLG didn’t even make the list of top 100 firms. MoFo chairman Keith Wetmore is quite smug, saying that a lot of firms looked good during the boom. “It’s easier to make people look happy in boom times and maybe you find out more about a place when fortunes are not so bright,” Wetmore said. And in dishing kudos to their firm, MoFo associates demonstrated just how smart they are, Wetmore added. “It’s a tribute to the flexibility the firm has tried to bring in the current economic downturn,” Wetmore said. “They appreciate there are trade-offs to be made.” Layoffs, performance-related firings and virtual bonuses that have characterized the Valley firms in the past year have not tainted everyone. Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich still landed in the top 20, placing 15th. And San Francisco’s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen scored a coveted slot on the Best 20 Firms list, landing in seventh place. The firm is now Bingham McCutchen, having merged with Boston’s Bingham Dana since Vault Inc. conducted its surveys. For its fifth annual guide, Vault Inc. relied on surveys taken from 9,584 associates at 123 law firms during March, April and May. They were asked to rate their own firms on eight quality-of-life issues, like treatment by partners, hours, pay and diversity. The associates in the surveys were also asked to rank other firms and their specific practices on the basis of prestige and overall impressions. Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins won most prestigious law firm in the state.

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