May 17, 2020

Law students complain that O'Melveny's Vault rankings are misleading

       One topic that keeps reappearing here is the Vault rankings, specifically the best firm to work for, best summer program, and best firm for diversity rankings. As explained previously, they are self-graded. Law firms give themselves a grade, and Vault uses these grades to rank the firms. For example, if a firm gives itself the highest possible score on diversity, Vault will rank it as the #1 firm in the world for diversity. I know that sounds incredible but that's how it works. Vault is using the honor system, expecting honesty and sincerity from lawyers. 

       I can't go so far as to say that O'Melveny lies when grading itself, as I do not have the data, but in the past I gave you a way to check their sincerity. First, you can compare the "best firm for diversity" ranking with actual diversity data. Second, you can compare the "best firm for compensation" sub-ranking with actual compensation data. Third, you can compare the "best firm for hours" sub-ranking with actual hours data. If a firm ranks itself high on diversity, compensation, and hours -- when the objective data states otherwise -- you can conclude that the firm's attorneys were lying when they filled out the Vault survey. And this wouldn't be a trivial discovery. If lawyers would lie to win an award -- what would they do in other situations?

       With that background we can get into the substance of this post. Due to the coronavirus crisis, law students are worried about their summer associate programs (these are essentially paid internships, where they work for law firms over the summer.) To calm their worries, they prepared a public chart listing every firm, and what it did with its summer program. They updated the chart every day as they received letters from their firms. Of particular concern was whether firms cut pay. It's only three months of pay but, remember, these are students so every dollar counts.

       Since O'Melveny is ranked as Vault's #1 summer associate program, equivalent to the Rolls Royce of programs, you would think that its summer associates have nothing to worry about. No, of course they do. A self-graded ranking has little predictive power. And the students learned this. According to their chart, O'Melveny cut summer associate pay. If the students want the same amount of money they would have received in prior years, they have to take out a $10,000 loan against their future income. The law students were not happy:
  • Another student responded by "shaming O'Melveny [because they took] weeks to give a substantive update and then [reduced summer associate pay] when most others in [their] tier are offering full salary." They also criticized the "facade of [Vault's] 'highest-rated summer program' and 'best culture'" ranking.
  • A third law student did their own ranking of law firms, based on how they treated summer associates, and used an expletive to rank O'Melveny in the fourth of its five tiers (pages one and two).
  • A fourth student said it was "really not a good look for ... O'Melveny." 
  • A fifth student was "shocked by O'Melveny."

       A few days later, O'Melveny issued another press release noting that they are "a repeat winner in Vault’s Law Firm Rankings, most recently earning #1 across three key measures—'Best Firm to Work For,' 'Best Overall Diversity,' and 'Best Summer Program'—a trifecta of honors that no other law firm has achieved."

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