What do associates at major law firms care about more than money? Prestige, of course. But, at the end of the day, sometimes being a leader when it comes to compensation is enough to boost a firm’s prestige. As luck would have it, the closely watched Vault 100 rankings are here to remind lawyers at the nation’s largest law firms about exactly which ones are considered the most prestigious.
Members of the legal community were worried that the Vault rankings would perhaps have less of an impact in the wake of the site’s takeover by Firsthand, but it looks like the rankings are still going strong.
To that end, in last year’s Vault 100 rankings, Cravath — the firm that brought the associate salary scale all the way up to $415,000 back in February — managed to retain its number 1 spot, while Wachtell Lipton reclaimed second place after being edged out by Skadden for the first time in the history of the Vault rankings. But was Cravath able to keep its cachet as the most prestigious Biglaw firm in the country in this year’s Vault rankings?
Of course it was. Here’s what Travis Whitsitt, Vault’s law editor, had to say about Cravath’s placement in the latest rankings: “Cravath is the standard against which all other firms measure themselves, with the firm securely atop the Vault Law 100 year after year and also within the top 10 of multiple practice area rankings. Cravath moves, and other firms follow. The firm has established industry standards on hiring and compensation for years, and even when it isn’t the first to move, Cravath’s decision to join influences the market—as with this year’s compensation and special bonus announcements. After all, every associate is well aware of the meaning of the term ‘Cravath scale.’”
Cravath continues to remain the namesake for salaries because of its prestigious pull, with survey respondents referring to the firm as an “industry trend setter” and a “compensation leader.”
Although Cravath stayed on top, this year, there was some movement when it came to the Top 10 in the Vault rankings. Here are the Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms based on Vault’s Annual Associate Survey for 2023:
- Cravath, Swaine & Moore
- Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Davis Polk & Wardwell
- Latham & Watkins
- Sullivan & Cromwell
- Kirkland & Ellis
- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
- Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
This is the fifth year in a row that these firms have been in the Top 10, but as you can see, there were some fluctuations in rank among them. Davis Polk — which has become known for its big-money raises and bonuses in recent years — gained three places and moved into the No. 4 spot (up from No. 7 last year), with SullCrom and Kirkland losing ground behind it (down two spots and one spot, respectively). Just outside the Top 10, at No. 11, we find Milbank, the firm that kicked off the 2022 salary wars and made a double-digit leap in the Vault rankings because of it (up from No. 23 last year).
Click here to see the rest of Vault’s prestige rankings.
Congratulations to all of the Biglaw firms that made the latest edition of the Vault 100 rankings. How did your firm do this time around? Email us, text us at (646) 820-8477, or tweet us @atlblog to let us know how you feel.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.