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When is a law firm glad to come in 128th out of 159 firms? When the firm is Clifford Chance, and the move is the result of the largest percentage increase in score on our annual midlevel survey. In 2002 Clifford Chance finished in last place on the survey, with an overall score of 2.74. It fared poorly in nearly all categories, and came in last in training and guidance, communication regarding partnership chances, and emphasis on billable hours. After the results were published, many Clifford Chance associates circulated a memo that detailed their complaints. Among them: pressure to bill, partners’ perceived disdain for pro bono cases, and general indifference toward associates. The memo also made concrete suggestions for instituting a fairer assignment system, improving job reviews, and encouraging pro bono work. After the memo was leaked, Clifford Chance became the subject of unflattering press. This year Clifford Chance’s score rose to 3.398, an increase of 24 percent. It’s a long way from first place, but respondents seem to feel better about the firm, and suggest that partners are trying harder. One respondent said the firm has finally convinced associates that it takes their concerns seriously. Another lauded the revocation of the 2,420-hour billables requirement, but added that “the firm has a long way to go to convince associates that hours are no longer the most important performance factor.” John Carroll, Clifford Chance’s regional managing partner for the Americas, calls the firm’s relationship with its associates “a work in progress.” Partners, he says, devote more attention to the assignment system; associates no longer bear the full burden of seeking out their work, and partners give more guidance along the way. The firm is also instituting an improved feedback system, beginning with upward reviews, so that partners face the same sort of scrutiny as associates. In addition, Clifford Chance is developing nontraditional career paths. “We lose a lot of people because of family obligations,” Carroll says. “Wouldn’t it be intelligent to find a way to keep some of that expertise, and let people sort of strike a balance with their family in the way that they want?” The firm with the second-greatest percentage increase in the survey was Pittsburgh’s Buchanan Ingersoll; its score improved 20 percent, to 3.989 from 3.32. Chief operating officer Thomas Van Kirk says 2002′s poor showing was an aberration. The firm took steps, nonetheless, to strengthen relations with associates, through improving training and mentoring and otherwise trying to give associates more individualized attention. On this year’s survey, respondents praised Buchanan Ingersoll for the amount of client contact they get and the amount and fairness of the feedback they receive. Other firms that posted increases included Fish & Neave; its score of 3.329 was 16 percent higher than last year’s 2.87. Like Clifford Chance, the New York intellectual property shop had nowhere to go but up — in 2002 it finished second-to-last on our survey. The fourth-largest increase, 15.2 percent, was that of Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski, which rose to 3.639 from a weak showing last year, when it had a score of 3.16 and finished in 128th place. In San Francisco, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe’s score climbed 14.5 percent, to 3.870 from 3.38 last year. Among firms whose scores declined, none posted a more dramatic drop than Boston’s Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault. In 2001 Testa Hurwitz finished in first place in the survey, with an overall score of 4.50; since then, this tech specialist’s rankings have tumbled, along with the New Economy. Though Testa Hurwitz received high marks this year in such key areas as training and guidance and lack of pressure to bill, associates placed the firm near the bottom on questions measuring perceived dedication to diversity, fairness of evaluations, and confidence in firm leadership. In written responses, associates characterized Testa Hurwitz as having a top-heavy partnership. “Get rid of the deadweight,” wrote one respondent. “Dismiss partners who are miserable to work with, obstructionistic, not bringing in clients, or never lift a pen,” wrote another. At press time firm leaders had not responded to requests for comment. The second-largest drop, 15 percent, was posted by Washington, D.C.’s Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky; its score was 3.098, compared with 3.64 in 2002. Dickstein respondents complained about the compensation system and gave the firm a last-place finish in the area of communication regarding partnership chances. The third-largest decline was Dewey Ballantine’s 14 percent drop, to 2.959 this year from 3.43 in 2002. Dewey respondents criticized the firm’s partnership as unresponsive. On our question asking what they they think of their firm as a place to work overall, they gave an average score of 3.17, ranking it 157th among 159 firms on that question.

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