For the third year in a row, Munger, Tolles & Olson, Paul Hastings, and Hughes Hubbard & Reed occupy the top three spots on the A-List—although not in the same order. Propelled by an increase in its pro bono score, Munger leaped from third place last year to reclaim the first place ranking that it held consecutively from 2008 to 2010 [see "The A-List"]. "It's nice to be back at the top," says Sandra Seville-Jones, the firm's managing partner. She pointed to matters involving the military's combat exclusion policy and California legislation that targeted gay conversion therapy to explain the spike in the firm's pro bono hours, which went from an average of 72.4 hours per lawyer to 96.6 hours per lawyer. With four first-place notches on its belt, the Los Angeles–based firm is now even with Debevoise & Plimpton for the most A-List first-place rankings since the inaugural A-List in 2003.

While most firms on this year's A-List are holdovers from last year, several have reappeared on the list after being absent for a year or more. Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler returns to the list for the eighth time on the strength of a 22-point increase in its diversity score; the percentage of minority partners at the 180-lawyer firm increased from 5.9 percent to 9.3 percent. Kirkland & Ellis appears on the list for the second time, thanks to a 16-point increase in its pro bono score; a five-point decline in its diversity score was offset by a four-point increase in associate satisfaction. Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of the firm's management executive committee, pointed to firm initiatives in recent years emphasizing pro bono, expanding associate training, and increasing firmwide communication with more town hall meetings. "Many times it requires multiple years before you start to see results," Hammes says. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, back for its fifth A-List appearance, benefited from increases in three of the four categories, including a 12-point RPL score jump. "In recent years we have thought a lot about our value proposition," says Orrick's chair Mitchell Zuklie of his firm's improved financial performance, "and that has led us to focus more on technology, energy and infrastructure, and finance."

The three firms displaced by the newcomers—Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Covington & Bur­ling—rank 22nd to 24th, respectively, on this year's Honorable Mention list. All three were hurt by double-digit drops in their associate satisfaction scores.

Within the A-List itself, Shearman & Sterling made the biggest jump, going from 18th last year to a 10th-place tie with Morrison & Foerster. The firm benefited from a 24-point increase in its asso­ciate score. "We . . . trace this improvement to some very specific steps—like the establishment of a leadership academy for senior associates," senior partner Creighton Condon said in an email. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr went from 12th on the 2012 list to a sixth-place ranking this year, thanks to an increase in its pro bono score. Susan Murley, the firm's co–managing partner, didn't point to any specific matter to explain the increase. "We were extraordinarily busy as a firm last year," Murley says. "It has been my experience that challenging and engaging workloads have a positive impact on everything else."