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September 15, 2010
U.S. News Ranks Law Firms
U.S. News is out with its Best Lawyers "Best Law Firms" survey. Before I get to the substance, my prediction is that those on top will push the results as confirmation of their excellence while those, uh, farther down on the lists will complain that the results are inaccurate. In other words, it's the law school ranking reaction model all over again. I don't remember any law schools promoting their fourth tier status, and I don't think there will be law firms celebrating 900th tier status either. Fortunately for the 9,000 or so ranked firms, the methodology doesn't put them into one single list. The rankings are geared to areas of practice and metropolitan areas, thus avoiding some direct comparisons.
U.S. News sent out reputation surveys to clients, lawyers, marketing officers, recruiting officers, firms without marketing or recruiting officers, and firm and summer associates. Some of these surveys had a total of 724 questions. The responses, in some cases, provided hundreds of thousands of evaluations. Firms that are ranked nationally had to have an office in one of 40 major metropolitan areas, otherwise local rankings were listed for 171 metropolitan areas and 7 states. Those of you practicing law in, say, Casper, WY, or Bismark, ND (Bismark is in North Dakota, isn't it?) will not escape the unblinking eye of the Sauron that is U.S. News. National firms are ranked against 39 practice areas and local firms are ranked against 81 practice areas. The full methodology details are here. Odd that law school placement directors aren't included. A comment about chopped liver comes to mind.
The rankings are presented as a browsable list (national firms only) and through search (all). The list (by area of practice) will show tiered ranking for that practice area. There is no "top 100" as far as I can tell. Clicking on a law firm name will show all tier rankings for that firm and client comments. Search is by firm name, location, city, and practice area.
These rankings, unlike those for law schools, are not based on metrics that get reported to an accrediting agency. Take them for what they are worth. Prospective clients should find this useful, as should any law student considering a prospective employer. The ABA weighed in on this last February and was not amused. The organization probably hasn't changed its point of view. Lawyers will now know how the law schools have felt all these years. [MG]