Can you imagine what would happen if somebody who used to be an extra on Saturday Night Live tried to make a go of it as a Biglaw associate? I think it would be a spectacular failure. Law firms don’t usually reward things like “creativity” and “humor.” Biglaw values drones, and in many situations, you have to check your personality at the door.
But what if you got in on the “ground floor” of a firm that was growing into a Biglaw power? If you got lucky, you might stick, things might work out for you. And in that happy circumstance, you might end up being a partner in Biglaw who can let your personality flourish in all sorts of ways.
Today, we have a story about that kind of would-be comedian turned law firm partner. And somebody gave him an email account….
A tipster sent in an email chain that includes a response from a Schulte Roth & Zabel partner, Howard Godnick. Somebody spammed him and a bunch of lawyers around the country. Many people sent reply-all emails demanding to be taken off the list (many more people sent single reply emails asking to be taken off the list, because there are two reply options, partners). Godnick decided to use the opportunity to have a little reply-all fun. Here was his initial response:
I, too, have no clue what this matter is about – nor do I care to find out. But, before I bid my adieu, and as long as I have so many learned folks assembled in one place and on one email string, let me put to the group a question that has been plaguing me for some time and, perhaps, I can finally resolve:
With Tony laying mortally wounded on the cold, wet pavement of a Hell’s Kitchen playground, having been struck down by a single bullet from Chino’s gun, why did Maria choose to sing “Somewhere” to the supposed love of her life instead of dropping a dime in the pay phone outside of Doc’s store and calling for an ambulance?
Howard O. Godnick
If you don’t get the West Side Story reference, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the greatest show that’s too racist to be performed anymore. And you know me, I’m always up for a discussion about Good Samaritan liability.
But I suppose I can understand the lawyers that find funny reply-alls just as annoying as spammy reply-alls. I’m just not one of them. Neither is Godnick. In a different reply-all, he continues the theme:
Ok, as long as we’re all here together, let’s sing a song: plaintiffs’ counsel take the part of the Jets, defense lawyers will sing the role of the Sharks, government lawyers take the role of Anita, Maria will be sung by those appearing here pro se. I will sing Riff’s part and whoever started this string will sing the part of Tony. The role of Ice will be played by Ice.
He then pastes in the entire Rumble song.
Godnick also sent out emails referencing the movie The Jerk.
That’s about when tipsters started emailing in. Some of the subject lines were funny: “Biglaw partner loses it.” Some seemed to appreciate the joke: “Partner doesn’t keep it cooley cool boy.”
So I emailed Godnick to see if was as crazy as he sounds. He responded, but before he allowed me to call him, he gave me homework. Because he’s a partner, and I guess telling people what to do comes very naturally to him now. He made we watch the following video before we talked:
Okay, so the guy has a personality. Back in the day he wanted to be a comedian and was a recurring extra on Saturday Night Live. But he’s been a litigator at Schulte Roth since 1985, and is now a partner with the firm. He told me that he tries to “seize every opportunity to have fun.” Apparently he sends these kinds of reply-alls internally at Schulte often enough. This one just went to a wider audience that maybe wasn’t familiar with his sense of humor.
The conversation made me think about how different Schulte probably was back in the 80s. It made me think about how different all of these “Biglaw” firms probably were when they started out. The bigger firms get, the more these kind of personality flourishes get stamped out, often just by self-selection because certain kinds of people chafe under large corporate structures.
My report is that Godnick is not crazy. He’s just a reminder that not every Biglaw partner got there by doing things in a conventional way.