For most casual observers, Kirkland & Ellis and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz represent the pinnacle of success in Big Law. Kirkland capped off a fairytale decade with $6.04 billion in revenue in 2021 and $7.4 million in profits per equity partner. Wachtell retained pole position—for the 15th year in a row—in per-lawyer metrics with $3.9 million in revenue per lawyer and $8.4 million in PEP.

But the two firms take starkly different routes to prestige and profit. Kirkland is a powerhouse megafirm with head count exceeding 3,000, a two-tier partnership and the most aggressive growth strategy in the business. Wachtell has remained small and mighty, with fewer than 300 lawyers in a single office in New York, zero nonequity partners, and a lockstep compensation system.