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To be counted among the nation’s elite, law firms need more than sheer size or money. They need the right mix of revenues, pro bono performance, satisfied associates and workplace diversity. Balance may be the X-factor that separates the top tier of the legal profession from the rest of the pack. You can’t be on The American Lawyer‘s A-List — our annual ranking of the best of the best among the nation’s top law firms — without it. We compile the list by measuring performance of Am Law 200 firms in four key areas: Financial success is one component, commitment to pro bono is another. A firm must attend to the morale and training of its associates and do something more than pay lip service to the idea of a diverse workplace. Our goal here is fairly straightforward. We aim to determine, as objectively as possible, the firms that have been able to build successful practices without abandoning the profession’s core values. As our scores show, the best law firms find a way to balance it all. They marry good business with good works, treat associates decently and work hard to promote diversity. A-List scores are based on data collected from our annual Am Law 200, pro bono, associate satisfaction surveys and the Diversity Scorecard compiled by our sibling publication, Minority Law Journal. Some core values are more equal than others. We double the value of revenue per lawyer — our proxy for the ability to attract the best work from the best clients — and pro bono scores. It is, by definition, difficult to make the cut: The A-List is composed of just 20 firms, or 10 percent of The Am Law 200. And as we noted last year, the bar for making the grade continues to rise. This year, the cutoff for the list rose another 19 points — that’s on top of a 19-point jump in 2004. Mass is not a barometer of A-List success. It’s not how big you are that matters, it’s what you do. Consider: Eleven U.S.�based firms have more than 1,000 lawyers, but just three of them made The A-List: Latham & Watkins; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The average size of an A-List firm this year is 690 lawyers. By contrast, the average size of a firm in the top 20 of The Am Law 100 was 1,211. Repeat players dominate the list. Thirteen have made it each of the three years: Arnold & Porter; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Covington & Burling; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Debevoise & Plimpton; Heller Ehrman; Latham; Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Skadden; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Debevoise has finished atop the chart for two consecutive years. We also find lessons from two firms that make their A-List debut: Shearman & Sterling and Cooley Godward; and two that have returned to the fold: Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and Weil Gotshal. Being an A-List firm takes balance and will.

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