The 500 Largest Law Firms in the United States
Ed. Note: This column originally appeared on Original Jurisdiction, the latest Substack publication by David Lat. You can learn more about the original jurisdiction on the “About” page, and you can sign up through this login page.
Like many lawyers, I’m a sucker for rankings. In the world of Biglaw, some of the most notable rankings are the Am Law 100 and Am Law 200 rankings, which rank the largest law firms in the country by total revenue (and also include data on metrics such as earnings per equity partner) and the Vault 100 rankings, the companies classify according to prestige.
Not to be missed, however, are the NLJ 500 rankings, in which the National Law Journal lists the 500 largest law firms in the United States by number of lawyers – the firms that rate the “big ones” in “Biglaw”. They may not be as sexy as company rankings based on profitability or prestige, but they are important nonetheless.
First, the NLJ 500 rankings remind us that large U.S. law firms, even if unlisted, can be bigger than any but the largest by generating billions in sales and employing thousands of people, including not just lawyers, but also legal assistant. Paralegals and other professionals. Second, the rankings also show how many careers and lives are associated with a particular company, and in that sense they reflect a company’s influence and importance within the biglaw ecosystem.
As I’ve mentioned on these pages, I’ve been a little distracted over the past few weeks with our family’s big move from Manhattan to the suburbs of New Jersey. So I missed the latest NLJ 500 rankings when the National Law Journal published them late last month. I would like to take this opportunity to come back and discuss them.
Here are the top 10 companies in the NLJ 500, that is, the top ten largest companies in terms of headcount based on 2020 data. I calculated myself and added two calculation columns that I thought might be of interest Might – Partners as a percentage of the total number of lawyers in a law firm and Equity Partners as a percentage of the total number of lawyers in a law firm:
Some brief observations:
- The number of employees at the largest law firm, Baker McKenzie, is an incredible 4,699 – 700 lawyers more than the second-placed DLA Piper. And the number of employees at Baker McKenzie, actually decreased last year by 2.3 percent, making it even bigger in 2019.
- In the top 10, DLA Piper is the law firm where equity partners make up the smallest percentage of the total workforce, where they make up just over 10 percent of all lawyers.
- I was surprised at how high the percentages of the partners were in relation to the total attorneys. The title “partner” doesn’t mean as much as it used to, as the ranking of non-equity partners (a group that has grown 3 percent over the past year despite the total number of lawyers at NLJ-500 law firms around 0.1 percent). Nevertheless, I was surprised that in most of the top 10 law firms around a third of the lawyers carry the title “partner”.
- I wasn’t shocked to see that at Kirkland & Ellis, where you get the title of (nonquity aka “nonshare”) partner if you hold out for six years or so, more than 40 percent of the lawyers have the partner title. But K&E wasn’t even the best in that regard; at Greenberg Sad, more than half of the lawyers are partners (or “shareholders” in GT parlance).
- In the top 10 largest companies, Jones Day is the only company with a one-step all-equity partnership. So in some ways, becoming an Equity Partner with JD is easier, but it could mean less if you do: The Profit Per Equity Partner (PPEP) at Jones Day was just under 1.3 in the latest Am Law 100 rankings Million US dollars, which is pretty low by Biglaw standards in 2021. And under the company’s “black box” compensation system, Jones Day can pay many partners well below this average PPEP.
The full ranking, plus extensive color commentary, can be accessed by jumping over to the National Law Journal. Here are a few other highlights from other parts of the NLJ 500, including the cities and states with the most NLJ 500 lawyers.
Read on under Original place of jurisdiction.
David Lat, Founding Editor of Above the Law, is a writer and speaker on law and legal matters. You can read his latest writings on law and advocacy by subscribing to Original Jurisdiction, his Substack newsletter. David’s book, Supreme Ambitions: A Novel (2014) has been described by the New York Times as “the most acclaimed novel of the year” among legal elites. Prior to entering the media and recruiting world, David worked as a federal attorney, trial assistant at Wachtell Lipton, and a clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District. You can connect with David on Twitter (@DavidLat), LinkedIn, and Facebook and reach out to him by email at [email protected]