There are more than 750,000 lawyers in the United States. Some work by themselves handling the disputes that crop up in everyday life, whether a divorce or a small claims case between a business and a customer. Others work for governments large and small, prosecuting crimes or enforcing business regulations. Still others smooth the way for the functioning of the global economy.
But some are better than others, and they provide the highest level of service to their clients. These are the legal practitioners who work at America’s “Best Law Firms.” For the second year in a row, U.S.News & World Report and Best Lawyers have joined to rank the best law firms in the country based on evaluations from clients and lawyers, as well as a review of additional information provided by the firms. Of nearly 11,000 law firms eligible to be ranked, more than 9,600 firms—including a large number of one-person firms—received rankings.
Firms are ranked nationally in 75 different practice areas, while as many as 119 practice areas are represented in rankings that are arranged by metropolitan area. For the first time, one firm in each of the 75 national practice areas received the designation “Law Firm of the Year.”
Among the topics of evaluation were a firm’s expertise, responsiveness, cost-effectiveness, and civility, and whether it deserved to be recommended for work.
The past few years have been difficult for the legal profession. A survey by Northwestern University’s law school earlier this year found that large firms had cut 15,000 lawyer and legal staff positions since 2008. Some sectors of the industry have rebounded, among them top New York firms that handle complex mergers and acquisitions and Washington practices that specialize in government-related work. But overall the profession is struggling along with the rest of the country in dealing with a weak economy.
The 2011-2012 “Best Law Firms” rankings, however, show that even in hard times, some firms manage to excel.