Best Legal Employers

But the worst seems to be over. Law firm recruitment on campuses is up, albeit still below levels prior to 2008. Still, many law firms still struggle with low morale among associates — as evidenced by a recent survey. Above the Law surveyed its associate readers and found that more than 74 percent felt morale was either the same as last year or worse. The American Lawyer reported recently that associate satisfaction is at its lowest level in six years.

But not all law firms report dismal numbers. In fact, The American Lawyer, in the same study, highlights those firms that are standing out from the crowd.

Experts advise that finding a firm that invests in its employees is more paramount than ever before. 

So what makes a great legal employer? The question has been answered in many ways by different sources. Some take a wide approach, like Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and compare legal employers to other companies. Some are focused just on law firms, such as Vault’s prestige and quality of life rankings and American Lawyer’s summer associate rankings. And some are focused in a niche, such as Working Mother’s “Best Law Firms for Women.”

We have chosen to highlight four law firms that have ranked high — one in each of the abovementioned publications.

Any survey that requires client or employee input should be considered closely, said Andrews Kurth Recruiting Co-chair and Partner Tammy Brennig. This relatively objective data truly tells a story about the firm being honored, she said.

“It is one of the best ways to get recognition in our industry,” Brennig said.


Vault - Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto

Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, with offices in New York, Washington D.C. and Orange County, Calif., was ranked high by Vault for having a high quality of life for its associates, partners and staff. Its office space got particular kudos from employees, who ranked it No.1 among the nation’s law firm. They noted that the award-winning workspace gives each associate their own office and “the décor is modern yet comfortable.”

Vault, which was founded by two law graduates in 1996, has been ranking law firms for prestige and quality of life since 2005. The web-based resource for employer information surveys 15,000 associates. Law firms are only eligible if a large percent of associates participate in the survey.

The rankings provide a detailed perspective on each law firm with an insider’s perspective, revealing information on compensation, culture, training, diversity and other pros and cons of associate life, as well as “The Buzz,” or external perceptions of each firm.

This attention to employee satisfaction, especially from a Web site like Vault, is something Fitzpatrick prides itself on, said Firm Managing Partner Colleen Tracy. Vault also ranked Fitzpatrick as No. 4 on the list of the best 20 law firms to work for and No. 2 in terms of hours.

“We are a firm where we do high-level work for high-level as well as small clients,” Tracy said. “But we pride ourselves on not being a factory. It’s more a genteel environment. We try to strike a balance.”

Founded in 1971, the firm has grown to 175 attorneys practicing in all areas of intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, unfair competition and trade secrets.

Tracy, the firm’s first female managing partner, said her goals have been to improve the firm’s diversity, create a robust pro-bono program and encourage employees to develop a strong work/life balance.

“Every law firm like every corporation has its own personality, its own culture,” Tracy said. “We want people to know the Fitzpatrick firm is like [via these surveys] because we want people to come here and be happy. We want them to find it fits their personality.”

Working Mother magazine - Andrews Kurth

Andrew & Kurth’s attention to employee retention, particularly among its female attorneys, is what gained its placement on the Working Mother magazine list for the best place to work in both 2008 and 2009. It is an honor the firm is “flattered and honored” to receive, said Recruiting Co-chair and Partner Tammy Brennig.

The New York-based firm was noted in particular because of its flex-path partnership track. This allows associates and counsel who show a long-term commitment to the firm to reduce their hours during the years they are raising a family. They enjoy their home life, and the firm holds onto valued employees, Brennig said.

The program’s roots span back to 2004 when Andrews Kurth formed a Women's Initiative Team (WIT) with the goal of recruiting, developing and retaining the firm's women lawyers. WIT now offers quarterly luncheons, various professional development and networking opportunities as well as mentoring programs. The firm also offers 18 weeks of maternity leave for primary-care providers, which is longer than most of its industry peers.

“We’re proud that so many attorneys have been able to advance their careers through these programs,” Brennig said.

Andrews Kurth, which has more than 400 attorneys, also prides itself on its commitment to young lawyers. In an associate’s first and second year on the job, they work directly with partners through a one-on-one mentoring program. The associates are knee-deep in deals and cases that they normally would not touch at other firms.

“We have a collegial atmosphere,” Brennig said. “We expect attorneys in our firm to come in and work together. So young lawyers are a valuable part of our team, and I think they realize that early on.”

Fortune magazine - Bingham McCutchen

Read the Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, and Bingham McCuthen is associated with many of the companies found within the pages.

“If you’re a law student, it’s a great opportunity to come to a place where you’re going to be working for clients that you read about in big newspapers,” said Ari Katz, national director of national recruiting.

This is the sixth time Bingham has been on Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies” list, which Katz described as the “crown jewel” in the firm’s list of accomplishments. This year, it ranked No. 12 on the list, up from 30 in 2009. It is the highest-ranked legal employer on the list, which is topped by SAS, Edward Jones, Wegmans Food Markets and Google. Alston & Bird is the second highest legal employer at number 30.

The firm goes out of its way to ensure its inclusion in these lists, including those in individual cities where its offices are based, Katz said. Indeed, its list of recognitions from magazines, Web sites and the like is significant; honors for its individual attorneys is so vast it covers several pages of its firm site.

“We take great pride in participating and doing these surveys,” he said. “It’s something like a badge of honor. We want to do this. If you walk the halls here, you’ll see our attorneys have that sense of pride. They feel like they’re happy to work here and the opportunities it grants them, no matter what level they are at.”

Katz also emphasized that despite its size — 1,100 lawyers in the United States, Europe and Asia — Bingham has a collaborative work environment. It also brings in smaller associate class sizes, which allows for more hands-on work.

“You’re not just a cog in the wheel here,” he said. “You have a voice and you have a chance to do great things based on your individual talent. We want all of our attorneys to feel they are stakeholders. That is the kind of environment we seek to create. You want to go to a firm where people are going to succeed and have opportunities to do well.”

The American Lawyer - Cozen O’Connor

Of the many accomplishments celebrated last year at Cozen O’Connor, one of the most important was its commitment to its summer associates.

“When firms were canceling summer programs, withdrawing offers and deferring classes, we ran our usual summer program and our entry-levels started as planned,” said firm CEO Tad Decker.

That is one reason The American Lawyer ranked the Philadelphia-based firm No. 1 in the nation for its 2009 summer associate program, and No. 4 for 2010. And in September, Cozen learned it had been named tops in the city and ninth nationally, up from 28, in The American Lawyer’s mid-level association satisfaction.

The American Lawyer surveys 3,000 summer associates at 101 law firms for its summer associate ranking. Scores are based on responses in nine areas, including training and guidance, interest level of the work, how accurately the firm portrays itself in interviews and how it rated overall as a work place.

“We invest a great deal of time and capital into our young attorneys,” Decker said. “When we hire our entry-level attorneys, we do so with the hope and intention that they will spend their legal careers with the firm.”

Cozen O’Connor, which has 550 attorneys in 23 cities, is a leader in the areas of litigation and dispute resolution, focusing mainly on business law.

Cozen recently returned to the Am Law 100 — The American Lawyer’s ranking of the most profitable law firms.

“It’s great to be back [but] what was so significant to us is why we got back on the list. … Our growth and diversity allowed us to achieve the greatest increase in gross revenue of all the AmLaw top 100 firms,” Decker said.

Over the past 18 months, the firm has added 66 attorneys from Wolf Block, which dissolved, and another 40 from other top-tier law firms.

But it’s not all about the Benjamins. Additionally, its entry-level attorneys receive long-term training and mentoring. They also are eligible to become members of the firm after just six years.

“We invest in the future of our young attorneys, both as young professionals and as members of their community,” Decker said.

He also noted the firm’s commitment to diversity and other work/balance issues that are key to up-and-coming lawyers.

“We have numerous substantive legal training programs, including the Cozen O'Connor Trial Academy, Cozen O'Connor Deposition Training, and other business lawyer and business development training programs,” Decker said. “In addition to those formalized training programs, we strongly believe that a diverse culture at the firm benefits our attorneys and our clients.”