Best Law Firms for Your Career

Vault Publishes 2020 Ranking of Top Firms for Law Careers

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Vault published its 2020 lists of the best law firms for your career: "Best Law Firms to Work For" and "Best Midsize Law Firms to Work For." Associates at these firms rated their employers on job satisfaction, work culture, hours, substantive work, and other criteria. Whether you are a soon-to-be or recent law school graduate, or an established attorney who wants to change jobs, use these rankings to discover firms that offer the best career opportunities.

How to Use Vault's Rankings

The following are the top 10 firms from Vault's lists of 25 Big and 20 Midsize firms. From Vault's site, you can get more information about each one. See how each firm ranked on other Vault lists and what associates said were "uppers" and "downers" about them. Also, read about the firms' histories and see what news they are making today.

Q&A takes you to excerpts from "Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas," and "Why Work Here" gives descriptions from the firm. Survey Says is a premium content area that has further information about the quality of life, career advancement, and salary and benefits. It is for subscribers only, but students at some law schools can access it for free. Non-subscribers can also learn about diversity initiatives at each firm by clicking the Diversity tab.

Vault's Best Firms to Work For

Each of the law firms included on "Vault's 2020 Best Law Firms to Work For" has upwards of 250 lawyers on its staff, but many have at least 500. Some even employ over 1,000 attorneys:

  1. O'Melveny & Myers LLP
  2. Latham & Watkins LLP
  3. Clifford Chance US LLP
  4. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
  5. Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
  6. Ropes & Gray LLP
  7. Paul Hastings LLP
  8. Jackson Walker LLP
  9. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
  10. Choate Hall & Stewart LLP

Pros and Cons of Working for a Large Law Firm

Large firms pay much higher salaries and bonuses, and associates get experience working on more diverse cases. Also, having a well-known employer on your resume can help you gain future employment and further your career. The disadvantages include having to work longer days and complete specialized tasks rather than having a variety of job duties. Large firms also typically have a more formal environment.

Vault's Best Midsize Firms to Work For

None of the firms included in "Vault's 2020 Best Midsize Firms to Work For" employs more than 200 attorneys and most have fewer than 100:

  1. Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC
  2. Nelson Hardiman, LLP
  3. Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson, P.A.
  4. Bookoff McAndrews PLLC
  5. Susman Godfrey LLP
  6. Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz
  7. Cades Schutte LLP
  8. Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP
  9. Hueston Hennigan LLP
  10. Wolf, Greenfield and Sacks, P.C.

Pros and Cons of Working for a Midsize Law Firm

A midsize law firm doesn't have the same name recognition as a large law firm and, therefore, may not be as eye-catching on a resume; however, it comes with some benefits. A smaller staff typically means associates have the opportunity to work on all aspects of cases. Additionally, there may not be as much required overtime, and the atmosphere will probably be less formal than in larger firms. The downside is that the practice areas are not as diverse, and salaries are lower.

Large or Small to Midsize Firm

While Vault classifies firms with over 200 lawyers as large and those with 200 or fewer as small to midsize, Georgetown University Law School has a different definition. It says a large firm has more than 100 lawyers and more than one office location. The terms small and medium-midsize, according to the school, are relative, depending on its market or region within the United States. For example, the size of a small or medium firm in New York City or Washington, D.C. is different than one in Denver or Cleveland. 

Georgetown Law goes on to explain that a smaller firm typically employs 20 or fewer lawyers. Some have diverse practice areas, but others, called boutique firms, specialize in one area. Large firms usually serve corporations as opposed to individuals and have a wide range of practice areas. While they pay their associates more, large firms also require working more hours each day.

Your decision goes beyond choosing between a large or midsize firm. Firms can be broken down into smaller categories, according to BCG Attorney Search, a legal recruiter. In an article titled "Which Type of Law Firm Is Best for Your Career," author Harrison Barnes advises attorneys who are searching for jobs to decide if they want to work in main offices of large firms, branch offices of large firms, mid-sized firms, boutique firms, or newer fast-growing firms. 

Geography and Practice Area

Job seekers who are willing to relocate have more options than those who want to limit themselves to a particular region. Many lawyers also choose to specialize in a specific practice area such as antitrust law, elder law, copyright law, and biotechnology law. If you have a preference for location or practice area, you can search by these criteria on U.S. News and World Report's "Best Law Firms."

Bottom Line

Take the time to consider your career goals and those firms that can best meet them. For example, if you are looking for more diverse experience serving individuals, a mid- to small-size firm may be right for you. However, if you wish to work in a more formal atmosphere serving corporations, then a large firm may be the right fit.