A&O and CC get US associate thumbs up

Magic circle firms Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy (A&O) have risen in the esteem of their US associates, according to the latest associate satisfaction survey by The American Lawyer.

A&O was the highest ranked non-US firm, moving up seven places to fifteenth out of 159. Associates awarded the firm the top spot for its realistic billing targets, and lauded its quality of work and fairness of evaluations.

Clifford Chance has leapt 31 places from the last position in 2002 to 128th this year – the biggest increase of any firm. The 2002 results prompted the infamous associate memo, which detailed a litany of complaints – hostility to pro bono work and poor training among them.

In the wake of the memo, management have made concerted efforts to mollify associates, revoking the 2,420 billable hours target and making pro bono a core part of the associate appraisal process.
New York managing partner John Carroll told The Lawyer that although he was happy with the progress, the firm still has some way to go. “In the coming year, we’ll be focusing on increasing training, finding ways to mentor more of our associates and stepping up our pro bono commitment,” he said.

Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld was bestowed the dubious honour of being the worst firm to work for in the US, relieving Clifford Chance of the title.

Akin Gump associates slammed the firm in areas including partner-associate relations, billing targets, training, quality of work and methods of assigning work.

At Reed Smith, the strain of an aggressive expansion policy may be taking its toll on associates, with the firm plummeting more than 50 places to 157th. Managing partner Gregory Jordan admitted that the firm could do better, but vowed to improve. “In the hustle and bustle of running a firm in this economy, we haven’t been doing the job we should be doing,” he said.

The survey confirms that onerous working hours do not necessarily preclude associate happiness – associates at Wall Street powerhouse Wachtel Lipton Rosen & Katz bill a whopping 62.9 hours per week, but rate their firm first for quality of work and job satisfaction.

US associate satisfaction rankings
2003 rank 2002 rank Firm
1 28 Bracewell & Patterson
2 Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett
3 1 Alston & Bird
4 2 Goulston & Storrs
5 6 Faegre & Benson
6 5 Carlton Fields
7 13 Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi
8 62 Winston & Strawn
9 3 Susman Godfrey
10 64 Miles & Stockbridge
15 22 Allen & Overy
128 132 Clifford Chance
149 96 Kelley Drye
150 Fitzpatrick Cella Harper & Scinto
151 Kaye Scholer
152 124 Brown Raysman
153 Perkins Coie
154 112 Wilson Sonsini
155 68 Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky
156 96 Cahill Gordon & Reindel
157 102 Reed Smith
158 102 Dewey Ballantine
159 Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
Source: The American Lawyer, October 2003