Surveys, surveys, surveys. We seem to be awash these days in surveys. It’s hard to keep track of them all, much less vouch for their validation.
But the results from a recent one from Law360 Pulse caught my eye. Law360 is generally pretty reliable because of the number of subscribers and customers to which it has access and the methodology it typically uses.
The Survey is entitled Prestige Leaders 2021, and the results were released yesterday. It was designed to measure how firms’ marketplace reputations measure up to one another. It’s a first for Law360 and, as far as I know, one of the first of its kind.
The Survey and accompanying Report was based on information obtained from some 700 law firms. Firms were scored on four pillars:
- Financial health (profits per partner)
- Desirability (among perspective associate employees).
- Number and nature of editorial awards. (Law360 awards for Practice Groups of the Year, Titans of the Plaintiff’s Bar, Rising Stars, Regional Powerhouses, MVPs of the Year, etc.).
- News representation (examining the amount of positive media coverage firms get).
Law360 added up the scores from these four indexes to develop the overall score. Law360 ranked the top 100 firms.
I recently talked with Kerry Benn, Director of Series, Surveys and Data at Law360, about the methodology and the scoring. Benn told me her team first envisioned this Report sometime ago. Says Benn, “we asked ourselves what is everything you would need to know about a firm to determine its reputation?” They came up with some 75 items but then had to determine which of those could actually be quantified with data in a relevant way. This led to the four pillars.
According to Benn, “it was a daunting task.” The team pulled together data from previous Law360 financial and summer associate surveys to score the first two pillars. The awards score was based on awards from Law360 and the media coverage score was based on an examination of various legal publications.
And the winner: Kirkland and Ellis, followed closely by Latham and Davis Polk. The bottom firms–for what its worth– were Cohen Milstein, Eversheds, and Kilpatrick.
Interesting approach. Indeed, there are some issues with the Study, as some commentators have pointed out. Firms that did not submit the necessary financials did not get any credit in the financial category. This failure then brought down their overall score (Not sure what else one could do with the non-submitters, though). And to be included at all, a firm had to meet one of the following criteria: submit the requisite financial data, win at least one award, receive one positive news story, or be chosen by as least one potential summer associate. Firms that did not meet one of these criteria were not included at all, leaving a number of firms off the list. And one can quarrel that the four measures do not truly measure a firm’s prestige in the marketplace. Certainly, reputation amongst clients ought to be a key–albeit hard to measure–consideration.
In all fairness, Law360 seems to recognize that the methodology is a bit of a work in progress. According to its Report, “In coming years, we will continue to review our methodology with an eye toward how the industry is evolving. We welcome thoughts and comments from our readership on how this critical evaluation can be refined.” Benn herself noted the concept “was meant to be dynamic.”
Perfect should not be the enemy of the good.
But the numbers and rankings in the specific categories are worth noting. Among the listed firms, Kirkland and Latham still ranked at the top in the editorial awards category, for example. So did Covington (16th overall), Skadden (28th overall), and Mayer Brown (24th overall). All still ranked in the approximate upper quarter. Again, Kirkland, Latham, and Davis Polk were listed at the top in the media coverage category. Other high rankers in this category were Simpson Thacher (7th overall), Cooley (11th overall), and DLA Piper (15th overall). Again all high rankers. The same seems true for the financial health and desirability categories. Firms scoring high here generally scored high elsewhere as well.
The bottom line: there seems to be some consistency in the rankings among the top firms. Firms that scored high in one category seem to score high in the others, suggesting some correlation between the categories and a good overall score.
This synergy suggests to me that those firms scoring high are simply well managed firms. Firms that tend to place importance on various factors–not just financials-in trying to grow and maintain reputation do the best. Benn agrees: “there is more to being a well rounded firm than strong financials.”
In the world of law, it’s sometimes good to try to confirm the obvious
So I think the Survey is valuable. Is it perfect? No. Does it comprehensively rank all the firms in the country on all possible factors? No. Many factors can’t be quantified even if we could all agree on what all factors go into a law firm’s reputation. But the Survey does suggest some relationship between financial performance, appealability to future associates, awards, and positive media coverage. All these factors and more are taken into account by well managed firms which, not coincidentally, have sterling reputations. Which perhaps is stating the obvious. But in the world of law, it’s sometimes good to try to confirm the obvious.
And although not perfect, the Benn and team are legitimately trying to objectively evaluate law firms’ reputations, something that has not been quantified before. Perfect should not be the enemy of the good.