The Score

September 15, 2010 10:16 AM

The U.S. News Rankings Are Out!

Posted by Zach Lowe

The highly anticipated U.S. News  & World Report law firm rankings are out, and the initial reaction was a combination of disappointment and relief (depending on who you were talking to) over the fact that the magazine didn't rank the firms numerically from top to bottom--as it does with law schools. It instead divided the rankings into practice areas and grouped the firms into tiers within those practice areas, with Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 being the bottom tier, according to the rankings, which you can read here.

There were a few reasons behind that decision, and some ranking skeptics happily said the tier system would prevent individual firms from crowing about "being number one" in a particular practice area or region, according to our colleague Karen Sloan at The National Law Journal, one of our sibling publications. "Don't expect firms to brag about securing the overall top spot," Sloan wrote. Stephen Younger, president of the New York State Bar Association, told the NLJ the tiered system "slightly alleviated the concerns that law firms would go around saying, 'We're the best firm in New York City or Buffalo.'"

So much for that. It took Sidley Austin less than eight hours to put out a press release claiming it had essentially won the rankings by achieving Tier 1 status in 20 different practice areas--the most of any firm. (Sidley put out the release in conjunction with Best Lawyers, which joined U.S. News in compiling the rankings.)

In any case, the rankings are a massive thing. They include 81 practice areas and 8,782 firms and solo practitioners, according to the NLJ. The two publications surveyed 9,000 clients and "almost as many lawyers," the NLJ reports, and they also examined about 3.1 million individual lawyer evaluations in the Best Lawyers database. 

We've been looking over the rankings this morning, and we can't say we see any huge surprises. The firms with the best reputations in individual practice areas are in Tier 1 in those areas--at least in the areas we've had time to examine so far. Let us know if you notice any surprising omissions or higher-than-expected rankings. 

The question now becomes: Will these rankings have any impact in which firms clients choose? "I don't think that this additional ranking, in and of itself, is a game changer," Jeffrey Stone, cochair of McDermott Will & Emery, told the NLJ. "When clients are selecting attorneys, there is no single source of information that is dispositive. They look at rankings, client experience, and word of mouth." 

Is Stone right? Or are these rankings a game changer? Tell us what you think.


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I think you're right - rankings play a part of the overall research; you'd be mad if you only looked at rankings and selected a firm on the basis of that.

Most intelligent people would also look at multiple rankings sources to get a more balanced picture.

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