January 08, 2008
Law Firm Rankings
Posted by Daniel Sokol

One issue that obsesses law professors is the issue of school rankings. The dominant rankings methodology is US News & World Report, though Brian Leiter and others have attempted rankings based on alternative measurements. The rankings game in law is not limited to law schools. Rather, those in practice seem to constantly get ranked in various publications for both their firms’ and individual acumen in their field. What seems to be the most important guide in terms of rankings (particularly because it covers the entire world) is the Chambers ranking for both firms and individuals. For those not familiar with Chambers, within the world of law firms, these rankings get taken very seriously with firms jockeying to ensure that as many of its partners gets ranked as possible and that the firm itself gets a high ranking.

I want to draw attention to one issue within the Chambers rankings- the growing US (i.e., NY based) firm dominance of corporate work globally.

We lack a good sense of how much money law firms make from their various offices in terms of revenue and profits. Given differences in exchange rates, European operations will look really good this year in terms of revenues vis-à-vis US operations. We also lack a sense of what type of legal business gets sent to these law firms overall from global businesses. The rankings are an indirect measure (since clients get surveyed for the rankings) of how sophisticated clients for legal services view the law firms operating in their jurisdictions. Chambers releases rankings for best firms in the US, UK, Asia and Europe along with a Global Guide. Many law firms have become international because they want to sell clients on their ability to offer seamless legal services across jurisdictions. I thought to take a look at the rankings of “global” practices in a number of highly profitable corporate fields to get a sense of what the breakdown of top firms look like.

In Banking & Finance, 14 firms got rankings. Of these firms four are London based and the other ten are American with all but one (Latham being the exception) NY based. I would note that Latham has a big NY operation.

In Capital Markets Debt, of 14 firms ranked globally, all but three are US (the others are British). Two of the US firms are not NY based but both have large NY offices. Similarly, in Capital Market Equity, of 14 firms ranked all but six are American (the others are British) and of the American firms all but one are NY based.

The M&A rankings list 17 firms. Of these all are either London (six) or NY (eleven) based firms.

These are the global rankings. If you examine only US rankings (done on a state by state basis), no British firms appear whereas with the UK market based rankings there is significant representation by US based firms. In China, France, Italy and Japan, both British and US based firms compete with local firms but the advantage seems to be with the US and UK based firms in all of these markets.

All of these rankings suggest that US based firms have been more effective in creating high end global practices in the corporate area. British firms remain strong… except in the largest market of the US. However, British firms face pressures in their home market from aggressive US based law firms for high end corporate work.   

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