Here’s some consolation for Baker & Mc­Kenzie. Having just been usurped by DLA Piper as the world’s top-grossing law firm, bringing to an end its three-year reign at the head of The American Lawyer’s Global 100 revenue rankings, Baker can at least take comfort from the fact that it still has the market’s most powerful brand.

That’s according to the latest study by global research company Acritas. Its 2013 Global Elite Brand Index sees Baker once again sitting in first place, as it has ever since Acritas first published the survey in 2010.

The index is based on interviews with 815 senior in-house counsel at global corporations with annual revenues of at least $1 billion, who were asked to name the most well-known law firms, those that they perceived favorably, and those they would be most likely to use for multijurisdictional transactions and litigation. It’s a bit like Family Feud for law firms.
The survey results aren’t all good news for Baker, however: Its nearest rivals are catching up. The 2013 Acritas survey identifies for the first time a group of so-called rapid risers—five firms that have seen the largest in­creases in their brand strength over the past four years. This group is led by Kirkland & Ellis and also comprises, in descending order, DLA; Sino-Australian verein firm King & Wood Mallesons; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and K&L Gates.

Five additional firms are singled out as “ones to watch,” having also seen brand strength gains—albeit less dramatic than those of the rapid risers—during the same period. These are: European alliance group CMS Legal; Dentons, which was formed last April through the merger of SNR Denton, Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain, and France-based Salans; Latham & Watkins; Norton Rose Fulbright; and Reed Smith.

Acritas CEO Lisa Hart Shepherd says that the continued globalization of the legal market has resulted in greater competition for cross-border deals and disputes. “The firms that clients think of for multijurisdictional work used to be concentrated in a very small group,” she says. “Now, a lot more firms can offer that international capability. Greater choice means greater competition, which, in turn, will put further price pressure on the market.”

At the other end of the brand performance spectrum, three firms have seen a significant weakening in the power of their brands, according to Acritas: Clifford Chance; Slaughter and May; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Despite that fall, Clifford Chance still placed second overall, with U.K. firms continuing to dominate the rankings. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters take up the next two places, with another Magic Circle firm, Allen & Overy, coming in sixth. Four of the remaining five firms ranked in the top 10 are international combinations involving U.K.–based practices, with DLA in fifth, Norton Rose Fulbright in seventh, Hogan Lovells in ninth, and Herbert Smith Freehills in tenth. In fact, after Baker, Jones Day is the only other U.S.–based firm to feature in the top 10, having achieved the biggest year-on-year rise of any firm included in the Acritas brand survey. (Hart Shepherd says that Jones Day is largely bouncing back from a substantial fall in its brand index score in 2012, when it fell outside the top 10 for the first time.)

“A strong brand provides a critical advantage for law firms when it comes to being considered for a new matter,” Hart Shepherd says. “The international legal market is more competitive than ever before, so it’s essential that you remain top-of-mind with your clients.”