The Firms

January 30, 2012 5:56 PM

The Strongest Law Firm Brands in the Land

Posted by Aric Press

Which law firms have the strongest brands in the United States, the world's largest legal market? According to a study released this week by Acritas, the brand research company, Skadden, followed by Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis, Sidley Austin, and Wachtell, lead the big-firm pack.

Acritas compiled its list based on answers to phone interviews with 902 clients, 667 headquartered in the U.S. These are big clients: 58 percent report revenues of at least $1 billion. They answered the following inquiries:

        • What are the first five law firms that come to mind?
        • Which three firms do you feel the most favorable toward?
        • Which firms are you most likely to consider for major M&A work?
        • Which firms are you most likely to consider for bet-the-company litigation matters?
        • Which firms do you use most for "high-value" work?
        • And for overseas clients: Which firms do you use most in the U.S.?

Each mention was worth a point on the Acritas ranking except for the top-of-mind question. On that question firms earned five points for being mentioned first, four for second, etc.  Skadden has the most first mentions—40—followed by Jones Day (24); Sidley (16); Baker & McKenzie (14); Mayer Brown (13); and Hogan Lovells, Kirkland & Ellis, and Sullivan & Cromwell (12).

The fame and favorability rankings were similar but not identical. On that ranking Jones Day placed first with 45 mentions followed by Skadden (39); Sidley (33); Morgan Lewis (32); Baker & McKenzie (30); DLA Piper and Fulbright & Jaworski (25); Hogan Lovells (24); Kirkland (23); and Gibson Dunn and Wachtell (22).

A list of the top 25 ranked firms is included at the end of this story. Acritas is a leading legal research company based in Newcastle, England. Much of its data is collected by phone interviews each year with general counsel and their deputies around the world.  Full disclosure: ALM Legal Intelligence sells the Acritas suite of products in the United States. Both The American Lawyer and ALM LI are part of ALM Media. For a copy of the Acritas US Brand Index, go to or request one by e-mail from [email protected].

Law firms have brands, the only question is whether they are strong or weak. That truism is not universally recognized, however. "At the most basic level, strong brands have the power to help firms win business, build client loyalty, and generate client referrals," says Lisa Hart Shepherd, the chief executive at Acritas. "Why would a law firm ignore an easily accessible aid to securing these important growth factors? Yet so many do so."

Norm Rubenstein, a partner at the Zeughauser Group, specializing in branding and marketing, is another interested party. In his view, clients are "finally objecting to the seeming fungibility of [law firm] marketing and law firms are awakening to the importance of differentiation. Firms that effectively communicate their strengths ultimately can earn the new holy grail: the short-listing advantage of unaided, top-of-mind name awareness." Or, to put it a bit more simply, clients can't hire firms they haven't heard of.

Not all clients are created equal and the Acritas rankings vary a bit based on their size. For instance, among the 122 clients interviewed with revenues greater than $6 billion, the top-of-mind order was: Skadden, Sidley, Kirkland, Gibson Dunn and Jones Day (tied), Cravath, and Morgan Lewis.

For all the effort and talk about building national—and international—firms, some old regional differences continued to be seen in the answers. In the western region, for instance, Gibson, Latham & Watkins, and Morrison & Foerster scored the highest, while in the south, three Texas firms—Baker Botts, Fulbright & Jaworski, and Vinson & Elkins—vied with Skadden and Jones Day for most mentions.  And traditional powerhouses showed up in certain practice areas. Most likely to be considered for big-ticket litigation: Skadden, Kirkland, Jones Day, Gibson, and Sidley. Most likely to be considered for major merger and acquisition work: Skadden, Wachtell, Jones Day, Sullivan, and Latham.

The report also underlines, again, the splintered nature of the big-firm legal marketplace. The clients were asked to name three firms they’ve used for "high-value" work. Together the top five—Skadden, Kirkland, Baker & McKenzie, Jones Day, and Sidley—were mentioned by only 12 percent of the clients.  That leaves a lot of clients to go around, assuming, that is, they know your name.


The Leading U.S. Law Firm Brands 2012

1. Skadden
2. Jones Day
3. Kirkland & Ellis
4. Sidley Austin
5. Wachtell
6. Latham & Watkins
7. Baker & McKenzie
8. Morgan Lewis
9. Gibson Dunn
10. Sullivan & Cromwell
11. DLA Piper
12. Mayer Brown
13. Hogan Lovells
14. Fulbright & Jaworski
15. Cravath
16. Weil Gotshal
17. Baker Botts
18. Shearman & Sterling
19. K&L Gates
20. Vinson & Elkins
21. White & Case
22. Morrison & Foerster
23. Davis Polk
24. Wilmer
25. Simpson Thacher
























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