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Choosing a New York Law Firm

Published: Nov 20, 2023

 Education       Grad School       Job Search       Law       
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You’ve decided that you want to work in the biggest, most prestigious legal market in the United States. Given New York’s cultural and financial significance, it should come as no surprise that Vault’s New York prestige rankings tend to track closely with the Vault 100 prestige rankings. You can review the full list of top-ranked New York firms, as well as find detailed profiles for each of them, on Vault’s New York rankings page. This article will highlight the five most prestigious firms in New York that are also headquartered in the city: Cravath; Wachtell Lipton; Davis Polk; Skadden; and Sullivan & Cromwell. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Cravath

Our top-ranked New York firm—and #1 in the Vault 100—we don’t need to tell you that Cravath is the most prestigious law firm in the country. This reputation for excellence is paired with a (relatively) small headcount, with fewer than 500 attorneys. While it has no billable hour requirement, the firm’s culture is mostly focused on the work, and associates here report extremely demanding hours. Cravath is dominant across a wide variety of Vault’s practice area rankings as well, holding the #1 spot in General Corporate Practice and breaking the top five in seven other areas. While making partner here is unlikely, having Cravath on your resume is a ticket to work almost anywhere you want.

Wachtell Lipton

Wachtell Lipton sits at #2 in both the 2024 Vault 100 and New York rankings, and commands this level of prestige out of a single New York office. This firm has the distinction of being the top-ranked firm for associate compensation, as well as being the most prestigious M&A firm in the country. Wachtell Lipton also cracks the top five in General Corporate Practice, Securities Litigation, and Private Equity. Much like Cravath, although the firm has no billable hour requirement, associates tend to work far in excess of any threshold the firm might set. Career prospects within this firm are good, with counsel and partner roles reportedly achievable.

Davis Polk

Coming in at #3 in Vault’s 2024 New York prestige rankings, Davis Polk is additionally distinguished by claiming the top spot in the practice area rankings for both Banking & Financial Services and Securities & Capital Markets. Davis Polk is a much larger firm than Cravath or Wachtell, with over 1,000 attorneys across three U.S. and seven international offices. Like those firms, Davis Polk has no formal billable hour requirement, and also like those firms, the hours are sufficiently demanding that such a requirement would probably be superfluous. Salary and bonuses are lockstep here, and it is worth noting that Davis Polk has, in recent years, been a market leader and mover on compensation (when Milbank raised first-year associate salaries in 2021, Davis Polk was the first firm to follow suit and establish that scale as the new market normal). The firm has extremely prestigious transactions and litigation teams, so virtually any kind of work is available here.

Skadden

Ranked #4 for New York prestige and #3 in the Vault 100, Skadden is huge, with over 1,500 attorneys in eight U.S. and 13 international offices. Skadden is the most prestigious tax firm and the most prestigious securities litigation firm in the country, and cracks the top five in nine of our other practice area rankings. It also boasts one of the top 50 summer programs in the country, and inhabits the top five in a whopping seven of our regional rankings (including New York). Skadden has a very social culture, with weekly happy hours and many other firm-sponsored events. It has a low billable hour requirement for a firm of its size and stature—1,800 hours per year—and it counts all pro bono hours toward this billable goal.

Sullivan & Cromwell

Sullivan & Cromwell is the fifth most prestigious firm in both New York and the Vault 100. In keeping with this reputation, it also ranks in 14 of our practice areas, the highest being #4 in Securities Litigation. The firm pays market salary and bonuses and, like many others in this post, has no formal hours requirement but has plenty of work to go around. The firm promotes balance by supporting remote work,  and while it is difficult to make partner, solid exit opportunities abound. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this firm is its focus on creating competent generalists as it trains associates, reputedly giving them the most well-rounded work experience it can.

Others

The five firms discussed above just happen to be the top-ranked New York firms for 2023. Jobseekers should review all of the New York-ranked firms’ full profiles, including the second half of the top ten: Simpson Thacher; Latham; Paul, Weiss; Kirkland; and Debevoise.

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While some things are universal in the BigLaw experience, each of these firms differs from the others in myriad ways. If you’re interested in maximum prestige, which remains a viable focus in the legal industry, you can simply go to the most prestigious firm that makes you an offer. If you want to do tax work, consider Skadden; if you want a market mover in compensation, check out Davis Polk. You can research all of these firms (and many others) through Vault’s law firm profiles and the firms’ websites, as well as through other rankings and legal news options. Think carefully about what matters most to you, because every law firm will have tradeoffs.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!

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