News & Politics

Great Places to Work: Six Top Law Firms

Big money, big perks

Want a top-paying job in plush surroundings? Law firms provide that and more. Except that the "more" can be a problem.

Hundreds of law firms in Washington offer generous pay and benefits. More than 42,000 lawyers practice in DC, almost half in large firms. Attorneys in Maryland and Virginia push the region's total to around 80,000.

There is generally a one-to-one ratio between lawyers and support staff. Latham & Watkins, a 222-lawyer DC outpost of a Los Angeles firm, employs 210 nonattorneys, mostly paralegals, secretaries, mailroom staff, and messengers.

Many of the biggest firms, like 1,000-lawyer Hogan & Hartson, hire as many as 200 new employees a year. Such turnover is higher than one might expect from seemingly cushy employment, but these jobs come with a cost. Hours are long, stress high, bosses demanding. Travel can be required on the spur of the moment, as a case or a big deal nears completion.

A high-powered law firm is not going to be a relaxing place to work, but it will be challenging and possibly rewarding for type-A personalities.

A lot of firms provide stress counseling and psychiatric help as part of their benefits. Other common perks: in-house gyms and saunas, childcare facilities, and transportation subsidies.

Pay scales are among the highest of any industry. Paralegals make up to $80,000 a year, and newly minted "associate" lawyers start at $135,000 a year or more.

Here are six great places to work:

Arnold & Porter

One of Washington's most prestigious homegrown firms, Arnold & Porter does everything first-class. But nothing it does is more impressive than the firm's commitment to pro-bono work, free services given to indigent clients.

If there is a firm with a heart, Arnold & Porter is the one. It provides long-term nursing care to retired employees, has a generous health plan, and was DC's first law firm to offer full-time on-site childcare. Adopt a child, and the firm gives you three months off–paid. A career-development officer makes sure no one gets stuck in a dead-end job.

Arnold & Porter, 555 Twelfth St., NW, 202-942-5000; 1600 Tysons Blvd., Suite 900, McLean, 703-720-7000;

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Since its merger with a Boston firm, the shorthand for this firm is Wilmer Hale rather than Wilmer Cutler. Whatever the name, Wilmer maintains its well-deserved reputation for being one of the least stuffy law firms. How long that will last after partnership with lawyers from Boston remains to be seen. Wilmer attorneys hope their DC culture will prevail.

The firm provides van service from the Metro, Friday-night socials, and season tickets to sports events. Like Arnold & Porter, Wilmer has a long commitment to pro-bono work.

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, 1455 and 1899 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-663-6000; 1600 Tysons Blvd., Suite 1000, McLean; 703-251-9700;

Latham & Watkins

Latham is one of three Los Angeles firms with big Washington offices; the other two are Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and O'Melveny & Myers. All have wonderful benefits and luxurious offices, but of the three, Latham may best exemplify the spirit of laid-back California. Among the benefits: free use of a gym, breakfast on Friday, and an employee fun day at King's Dominion.

The firm pays more than lip service to gender equality. It has one of the best records in town for hiring and promoting women.

Latham & Watkins, 555 Eleventh St., NW; 202-637-2200;

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson

It's not every firm that has its own rock band, but Fried Frank isn't a typical law firm.

The cast of characters is led by Harley-riding guitarist Tom Vartanian. Employees have monthly parties and play together on softball and basketball teams. If the work gets too tough, Fried Frank provides free psychological counseling. The firm subsidizes health-related activities including Weight Watchers.

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-639-7000;

Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky

One of the most profitable local law firms, Dickstein is noted for its "work hard, play hard" mentality. Average profits per equity partners in several years have been more than $1,000,000. The firm has spread the wealth to employees through generous bonuses.

Dickstein has a walking club, yoga, seated massages, and softball games. It has been known to offer cooking classes and winetastings as well as Texas Hold 'Em poker lessons.

Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, 2101 L St., NW; 202-785-9700;

Finnegan Henderson

Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner is the world's largest intellectual-property firm. Just as impressive: its sleek new headquarters, with lots of glass, a fitness center, and a cafeteria with monument views.

Other reasons to work here, say staffers: high pay and a noncutthroat atmosphere.

Finnegan Henderson, 901 New York Ave., NW; 202-408-4000;