Law School Up Close

"Big Law" in NYC - Largest Firms in the Big Apple

Among law school students, the most coveted positions are with the "Big Law" firms. "Big Law" is intriguing not only because of the higher retainers and hourly rates, but also because it is where many of the big companies do business. New York City is one of the most competitive cities in the country to be a lawyer. The Bureau of Economic Analysis concluded in 2017 that there were 89.2 lawyers per 10,000 residents in the "Big Apple".

So now that we've established what is probably already obvious, that NYC attracts the cream of the crop of attorneys, as it does in many other professions; let's take a look into some of the biggest firms in the city. This list is comprised of the top law firms by revenue, who are headquartered in New York City. All of them have offices all over the globe.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

  • Number of Attorneys: ~1,700
  • Founded: April 1, 1948
  • Revenue: $2.41 Billion

Coming in with the fifth highest revenue in the country is Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. When this company was founded on an April Fool's day of yester-year, it was just Skadden, Arps, Slate and an American Dream to make it in the city that never sleeps. Fast forward to 2015, when Skadden became the first firm to top $1 Trillion worth of deals, and it makes you think "wow, what have I done with my life".

Skadden commands such a massive fortune by sticking to a book that is, while diversified, focused on the mergers and major threats faced by massive companies. And when I say massive, the NASDAQ is one of the clients that has come through the door at Skadden. Time Warner Cable is among the many other big names that have reached out to the firm for assistance.

While Skadden's Glassdoor reviews are speckled with excellence, there are some who say that it is nothing more than a typical law firm. The firm's NYC office is currently in Time Square, so I guess if you think that living in the heart of the grandest city in the United States is typical, then you may not see the intrigue.

White & Case

  • Number of Attorneys: 1,878
  • Founded: 1901
  • Revenue: $1.5 Billion

Another heavyweight in the realm of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) is White and Case. A company with a strong international presence, White and Case is that old vinyl classic, located on the famous Sixth Avenue. In fact, when White and Case first started the company in 1901, they each pitched in a handsome sum of $250 to launch the company. Now, they probably spend much more than that on paper clips.

The firm leverages its international presence to assert its place in an era of new international problems that large businesses are having to deal with more and more often every day.

The firm is held in relatively high regard on the often negative world of Glassdoor, with many glowing reviews. The negatives that come up seem to be symptomatic of large, dug-in companies regardless of industry. Some say the company is slow-moving, others say that they don't get enough attention from management. At the end of the day, those are the lumps that you may have to deal with if you want to work for a big firm.

Sullivan & Cromwell

  • Number of Attorneys: 792 (2015)
  • Founded: 1879
  • Revenue: $1.31 Billion

Compared to the previous two firms on the list, Sullivan and Cromwell posts a much higher revenue per attorney number, with less than 800 lawyers. The company immediately became involved with some of the biggest deals in the country. From helping J.P. Morgan to start up General Electric in 1882, to representing Microsoft in the landmark Novell v Microsoft case, this company just seems to be their for the big guys. They are also known for having a pioneering impact on international affairs.

Many of the firm's employees had great things to say about the company on Glassdoor, noting that the work is hard, but fulfilling. Unsurprisingly, the complaints came on the other side of that coin. "The work is too hard", the culture is stifling.

Honestly, I will probably never get the opportunity to work for one of the most elite firms in the country, but if you do get the chance, you are there because you worked harder than everyone else. I'm surprised to see these kind of complaints coming from some of the country's most elite individuals, and that is probably a telling indication of the standard of work that has made them such a renowned law firm.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

  • Number of Attorneys: 832 (2013)
  • Founded: 1884
  • Revenue: $1.27 Billion

Another firm in the 800 range as far as practicing attorneys, Simpson Thacher and Bartlett is a firm that is not only huge by revenue, it also boasts being one of the most profitable large law firms in the country, based on an AmLaw 100 survey in 2017. So how do they rake in the big bucks? Google, Facebook, and Tesla are just a few among the many big names that have come to Simpson Thacher and Bartlett with some of the most complex cases in the country.

In news that is interesting to me as someone who rights a lot of code, Simpson is assisting Microsoft in it's $7.5 Billion acquisition of the powerhouse in version control, Github. This may seem crazy to the average person, but anybody who works in the world of software knows that this is a BIG DEAL, and a big price tag.

Reviews on Glassdoor seem to reflect well on Simpson, even by those who saw it as a "Big Law Grind". The common complaints seem to be that work can get overlooked because of the size or politics at play. Similarly some reported conflict from politics.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

  • Number of Attorneys: 1200+
  • Founded: 1946
  • Revenue: $1.21 Billion

Another international firm, Cleary Gottlieb is a massive firm whose tentacles span the globe. They are well-known for being the first firm to be qualified to practice law in Japan. The firm often compiles its massive value by working for national governments, with a particular specialty in sovereign-debt cases (debt related to bonds). So, I guess when you are advising the country Argentina on how to manage their 81.5 billion dollar debt, they can still find the money to "pay the piper" so to speak.

The firm had similarly glowing reviews on Glassdoor, and I was not able to find any common negative complaints. Most of the middle of the road reviews just reiterate what so many say about Big Law, it's cookie cutter and it's hard work.

It's Not Always about the Pie in the Sky

I am by no means trying to say that these big law firms are the best places to work for every individual, or that people that work there are somehow superior beings. The reason that I am discussing the "Big Law" companies is because they are well-known, well-documented, and there are already compiled lists to go off of. If you work for a great company in NYC not on the list and want to give them a shout out, contact us!


Ted Rand