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Oy Vey! Milbank Mistakenly Touts ‘Only Orthodox Jewish Woman Partner’ in Biglaw

This is not the case for Biglaw partnership (and hasn't been for quite some time).

As mentioned yesterday in Non-Sequiturs, the white-shoe law firm of Milbank Tweed, in a recent press release about its new partnership class, gave a special shout-out to Atara Miller. It identified Miller as “likely the only Orthodox Jewish woman partner at a major Wall Street firm” (emphasis in the original).

The release continued: “Milbank has four other Orthodox partners who cope with the same issues, but each of them has a wife to run the household and children, while Ms. Miller takes on those duties at home.”

A big shot in Biglaw, and a baleboste to boot — that’s nice, very nice. But is it accurate to assert that Miller is unique?

Atara Miller

The claim that Atara Miller is the only Orthodox Jewish woman partner at a major firm struck me as a bit… off. Just off the top of my head, I thought of Rachelle Silverberg, an Orthodox Jewish litigatrix at my former firm of Wachtell Lipton. She made partner back in 2000 — and I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t the first Orthodox Jewish woman to make partner at WLRK.

Now, Wachtell could be considered an “historically Jewish law firm” (even though it has diversified over the years). Perhaps Milbank’s reference to a “major Wall Street firm” should be read to exclude Wachtell (which is also smaller in size than many of its peers, so maybe it’s not “major”).

But Milbank’s claim wasn’t correct even when limited to the world of large, historically WASPy law firms. From Thomson Reuters News & Insight:

Summary Judgments called around, and quickly refuted the claim — however hedged — that Milbank made. Indeed, the first woman ever promoted to the partnership at Davis Polk & Wardwell, in 1971, was the Orthodox woman, Lydia Kess, according a Davis Polk spokesman. I’m told that there are high-powered Orthodox women at other so-called white shoe firms, too.

Law firms don’t get more white-shoe or WASPy than Davis Polk. Of course, DPW has also grown more diverse over the decades; it now hires hot attorneys of all colors and creeds.

In fairness to Milbank, there are reasons why an Orthodox woman making partner at a Biglaw firm might still be newsworthy, as explained by Carlyn Kolker of Thomson Reuters:

[O]bservant Jews, male and female, have work-schedule related issues that secular lawyers do not; according to Jewish law, they must not engage in any work (that includes phone calls, emails, BlackBerry checks, iPhone updates, and the like) during the Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, and they frequently observe other religious holidays (Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Shavuot to name a few) in which they are similarly offline.

This explains why, if you work at certain firms, your BlackBerry will start going crazy as soon as the sun goes down on Saturday. When I worked at Wachtell, I always took my BlackBerry with me when I painted the town; it was guaranteed to get something vibrating in my pants on a Saturday night.

Most top New York firms have at least some Orthodox Jewish partners, so they know the drill. But occasionally Sabbath observance creates issues for firms. Back in 2008, an observant Jewish lawyer named Norman Schoenfeld sued his former firm, alleging that Allen & Overy discriminated against him for his observance of the Sabbath. (That lawsuit was settled, terms undisclosed.)

Back to Kolker’s account:

When I spoke to Atara Miller, the Milbank litigation partner, by phone today, she pointed out that Orthodox women face societal pressures that make balancing a demanding career and family particularly tough. In her time with Milbank, Miller says she typically has billed between 2,100 and 2,500 hours a year, which is in line with the general floor of 2,000 billable hours for associates who want to make partner at a big New York firm. In Miller’s case, the exceptions were the years when she took maternity leave — at 33 she has three children and is expecting a fourth.

Let’s do the math: 2500 hours + 4 children = insanity. So kudos to Atara Miller for successfully juggling the demands of Biglaw and Big Family. Now that she’s a partner at Milbank, where average profits per partner hover around $2.5 million, she shouldn’t have any problem hiring household help. (And even paying them on the books, so she’ll never have a “Nannygate” problem if nominated to a high government position someday.)

While we’re on the subject of Milbank partners, let’s do a New Partner Watch write-up for them (as we’ve recently done for incoming partner classes at Cravath, Simpson Thacher, Wachtell Lipton, and Susman Godfrey). In addition to Atara Miller, a New York-based litigatrix who earned her law degree at McGill, here are the freshly minted partners at Milbank:

  • Jacqueline Chan: With a name like Jackie Chan, was there any doubt she’d kick serious butt? Chan, who received her law degree from the National University of Singapore, practices corporate law out of Milbank’s Singapore office.
  • Daniel Michalchuk: This handsome chap does project finance work out of New York. He received his law degree from the Universite d’Ottawa and an LL.M. from Georgetown.
  • Nicholas Smith: Smith, who earned his J.D. at the University of Michigan (go Wolverines!), does transactional work in the technology space. He too is based in New York.

Jacqueline Chan

There’s some nice diversity here: two women, one of them Asian and one of them Orthodox Jewish, and three foreign-educated lawyers (at least in terms of their first law degrees). As for practice areas, the new partners skew corporate: three transactional lawyers, one litigator.

Congratulations to the four new Milbank partners, and especially to Atara Miller. You might not be the first!!! Orthodox Jewish woman partner, but you’ll always hold a special place in our hearts.

Milbank, Tweed touts tapping Orthodox Jewish woman as partner
[Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Milbank Elects Four to Partnership [Milbank Tweed (press release)]

Earlier: Happy Shabbos! Schoenfeld v. Allen & Oy-vey-ry Is Settling
Lawsuit of the Day: The Jewish Version of Charney v. S&C?

ATL Law Firm Directory
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