Last month, we spent a week in D.C. doing reporting for “Why Lawyers Make So Much Money,” a piece we — used literally in this case, as it’s bylined by Kash and Lat — wrote for Washingtonian Magazine. We managed to find our way into the office of Robert Bennett, newly arrived at Hogan & Hartson from Skadden Arps. He gave us a tour of his memorabilia, though was miffed when he couldn’t find a photo from a fishing trip with Sandra Day O’Connor. (If you’ve read our piece, this story is a familiar one.)
While we were there, Bennett gave us a signed copy of his autobiography, In The Ring: The Trials of a Washington Lawyer. We mention this not to boast but so as not to run afoul of any blogger disclosure laws.
The book offers a retrospective on Bennett’s star-studded legal career, which includes stints as special counsel to the Senate during the Keating Five investigation; as defense attorney for Bill Clinton, Caspar Weingberger, and Judith Miller; and as a partner at Skadden Arps for twenty years, working on white collar crime cases.
A friend told us a story about D.C. power player autobiographies. When they come out, everyone rushes to the book store to get the book… then immediately flips to the index to see if they’re mentioned, and never opens the book again. This friend claims a journalist once put a piece of paper in the middle of a stack of books at the bookstore with his name and number and a message that said, “I don’t think people actually read these. Call me if you did.” Supposedly, his phone never rang.
Well, we did read Bennett’s book. It came out in 2008, so it’s already gone through a round of reviews, but we found it interesting to read in light of his unexpected move from Skadden to Hogan this year. From the tone of the book, one would have thought he was staying at Skadden forever.
We bring you some of the most interesting tidbits and words of wisdom from one of the greats in the legal field, after the jump.
A joke Bennett made that we put into our Washingtonian piece was this:
Bennett’s first job as a corporate lawyer was at Hogan in the early 1970s. “I tell young associates worried about making partner that it took 35 years for Hogan to offer me partnership,” says Bennett.
After reading his book, that joke strikes us as a bit more scathing. Bennett complains in his book about Hogan & Hartson passing him over for partnership when he was a young associate there decades ago:
When I learned that the partner who was supposed to be my primary advocate didn’t attend the partner selection meeting to argue my case, I was furious. I marched into the office of Ed McDermott, a member of the firm’s executive committee, and told him I would leave. Ed, a wonderful guy, urged me to stay and told me that he was sure I would get a partnership the next year. But all things considered, I felt my future was elsewhere.
Bennett became a name partner at a smaller firm, Dunnells, Duvall, and Porter. Skadden scored him after that, and he was a powerhouse for the firm for almost 20 years. When this book came out in 2008, Bennett likely thought he would end his career at Skadden. He wrote:
I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that I was very pleased, years later, when Hogan approached me and asked if I had any interest in rejoining the firm as a key partner. I happily declined.
Obviously, 2009 changed Bennett’s mind about that.
Bennett told us that he wrote this book because his children asked him to write his memoirs. Initially, he said he wrote it very candidly, for his children and grandchildren’s eyes, without intending to publish it. He says that it’s much more revealing in many ways for that reason.
We cherry-picked some words of wisdom from Bennett, and impart them to you here:
Bennett’s job over the last 40 years has often involved working with the media, presenting his clients in the best light. And he has many complaints about us media types in the book, especially our desire to sensationalize legal stories and create villains — in many cases, his clients. He also says early on that it annoys him that so many journalists used to invoke stories of his boxing days as a child in Brooklyn:
When some of my high-profile cases got my name in the paper, reporters loved to tell of my boxing history as it fit well with the image of being a tough trial lawyer. The stories did not usually report that I was only a kid at the time and I did not really give up a career in the ring for the law. But some reporters never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
And some legendary litigators don’t let little annoyances like that prevent them from titling their autobiography, “In The Ring.”
Earlier: Breaking: Bob Bennett Leaving Skadden for Hogan & Hartson