the outlook for holiday parties.jpgLast month, we wondered if law firm holiday parties would be happening this year, in light of the Great Recession and the difficulties it has created for Biglaw. Sure, the economic situation seems to be improving — but is there really that much to celebrate as 2009 draws to a close?
Based on our informal survey of a few leading law firms here in New York, it seems that Christmas / holiday parties are happening, but have been scaled back from prior years. For example, take Weil Gotshal. The firm weathered 2009 better than most other top shops, thanks to its booming bankruptcy practice, but didn’t go all out in the party department. From Am Law Daily:

[Weil] held its holiday party [last] Thursday night on a semi-abandoned floor in its Manhattan headquarters. Instead of a live band, someone brought an iPod for background music. And the firm turned to its regular cafeteria catering service — Sodexo — for the food, though the menu (which included sushi and other goodies) was high-quality, says Barry Wolf, the firm’s newly elected executive partner.

“It was appropriately scaled down and it was fantastic,” says Wolf, who confirms descriptions of the party we heard from several Weil sources earlier today. “And it was convenient. Attendance was better.”

Weil isn’t alone in toning down the holiday glitz. Let’s look at what other New York firms are up to this season.


Here are a few top New York firms and their holiday party plans:

  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore: Say farewell to the Rainbow Room, the traditional venue for CSM holiday parties. This year’s shindig is taking place tonight, on the 48th and 49th floor of Worldwide Plaza — because Cravath associates don’t already spend enough time in the Death Star. “Sure to be a blast, partying at the old office,” says a tipster.

  • Debevoise & Plimpton: No firm-wide holiday party. But this is how things have been at Debevoise for the past few years; it’s not a concession to the recession. Individual departments will have their own celebrations. (Have a photo of Mary Jo White shaking her moneymaker? Please email us.)
  • Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: Tonight, at Cipriani — nice! Seems like business has picked up nicely since June.
  • Skadden Arps: Already happened, at the firm, on the conference room floors — not a very glamorous setting. But this is also not a recession concession; SASMF has been holding its holiday party in-house for some time now.
  • Wachtell Lipton: It happened last night, at the Hilton, conveniently located across the street from the office — and several steps down from The Pierre and the St. Regis, which hosted past parties.

Are these muted holiday party plans a sign that firms are in bad shape? Or are firms downsizing their festivities not because they’re suffering economically, but because they don’t want to be subjected to populist outrage?
Perhaps the latter. Just like the New York office, the Boston office of Weil held its holiday party in-house, in a conference room. But the decision wasn’t made to save money, according to the ABA Journal:

Instead, it was about being mindful of the hardships faced by clients and employees during the economic downturn, office managing partner Jim Westra told the Boston Globe. “It just seemed to us inappropriate to have a more extravagant or indulgent party when there were a lot of people having difficulty making ends meet,” he said.

Or take a look over at the world of finance. Even though Goldman Sachs is having a great year, the bank is going Grinch, by not hosting an official holiday party (and telling employees not to hold their own self-funded festivities).
We’ve given you an idea of what’s going on here in New York. What about law firms outside of NYC? Some cities have weathered the economic downturn better than finance-focused Gotham — e.g., Washington. Are D.C. firms having more extravagant holiday parties than New York this year?
So, readers, fill us in: How is your firm celebrating the holidays? Feel free to share in the comments — or, if you have a particularly juicy write-up, email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Holiday Party”).
Thanks, and Happy Holidays!
Even Weil Tones Down the Holiday Party [Am Law Daily]
Weil Gotshal’s Boston Holiday Party Was in the Conference Room [ABA Journal]
Earlier: Holiday Parties Open Thread: Are They Happening This Year?


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