The Most Prestigious Firms In America (And How They Make Their Money)

Vault’s annual survey has been ‘updated,’ at least with new numbers, if not any new rankings.

Corporate counsel has updated its annual survey of who represents the Fortune 100, and in what fields.

Shall we cross-reference Vault ranking by corporate clients?

1    Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz   

Corporate Transactions for Altria; Bank of America; Cardinal Health; Home Depot; Sears Holdings; Walgreen’s;

Labor Litigation for Citigroup; Travelers;

2    Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

Corporate Transactions for Citigroup; IBM; JP Morgan Chase; Kraft; Pfizer;

Commercial Litigation for Alcoa;

3    Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Corporate Transactions for Goldman Sachs; Medco Health; United Technologies; Wachovia; AT&T; AIG;

Torts / Negligence for Goldman Sachs;

IP / Patent Litigation for Morgan Stanley;

4    Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates

Corporate Transactions for AT&T; Abbott Laboratories; Alcoa; American Express; Bank of America; Citigroup; Coca-Cola; Delphi; Ford; Merrill Lynch; News Corp; PepsiCo; Travelers; Disney;

Commercial Litigation for Merrill Lynch; Washington Mutual;

Torts / Negligence for Chevron;

Employment / Labor Law for Citigroup;

IP / Patent Litigation for Morgan Stanley;

5     Davis Polk & Wardwell

Corporate Transactions for Aetna; Altria; American Express; CVS Caremark; Comcast; Hartford Financial Services; Honeywell; IBM; Kraft; Morgan Stanley;

Torts / Negligence for Altria;

Employment / Labor Law for Bank of America;

Commercial Litigation for Comcast;

IP / Patent Litigation for Comcast;

So there you go. All the cool firms represent banks in corporate transactions, notwithstanding the late labor law talk.

Probably the most intriguing chart is this one, tabulating overall mentions of firms in particular areas. Wachtell is mentioned once, at the bottom of corporate transactions. Cravath doesn’t appear at all.

That says a lot about the role of prestige in legal business. Based on Vault alone, you’d think Wachtell and Cravath would have a lock on certain segments of the market, or at least would keep up contacts amongst all the largest corporations.

In fact, they both have the same mix of clients — some blockbusters, some low-profile repeat customers, some one-time-only (e.g., Walgreen’s for Wachtell) — rolling through like the rest of us. Indeed, the most profitable company in America has most of its connections well down the "prestige" list, and Wachtell actively focuses on single-transaction representation.

There’s a lot to be said on this score, in due time. For now, the key point is: these firms don’t make their money and prestige off of "position" alone.

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