Hence, my answer to "how do you rank is?"..... are you crazy? I would rank the firms by "where the hell might I get a job?" This is not a law student/associate market. Did you miss that? I'm sorry, but those days are over. Hopefully, the firms going on campus in fact have slots to fill and hopefully they are being very careful with their numbers. I know hiring partners and recruiting staff who have already called law schools (yes, even top 25 law schools) and indicated they are not coming on campus this fall. So, if you've got firms coming on campus, I presume they have some slots to fill. And, at the end of the day, if you wind up with multiple offers, then great for you. At that point (when you have offers), I would start the "ranking" process -- where do I feel comfortable, what is the firm's reputation in the area (for possible movement later, for instance), what do legal and other news say about the firm? This is when we would consider lay offs. For me, if it is a choice between a lay-off firm and one that hasn't done layoffs, I think I would lean toward the non-layoff firms, but you need to do some homework - how are the departments staffed, do they seem overstaffed? How did the associates seem, did morale seem good? Perhaps you can talk to someone who spent the summer there this past summer. Do your homework. But that is when you have an offer.
At this point, before you have an offer, go fishing. Throw that net out far and wide. The days of the law firm world as your oyster are over. Ranking will be for after the offer. Take the interviews you get and go in with a positive attitude to all - even if maybe it's not your first choice -- it may be your only choice. Sorry to be harsh, but that is the way of the law firm market today.