Biglaw, Fabulosity, Partner Issues, Partner Profits

New Partner Watch: Incoming Partner Classes at 10 Top Firms

Partnership: Biglaw’s ultimate brass ring.

Becoming a Biglaw partner does not necessarily mean you’ll live happily ever after. It doesn’t even guarantee financial security. Indeed, some partners end up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But that’s an anomalous case. Partnership at a major law firm might not guarantee you happiness — sometimes you have to leave the partnership to follow your bliss — but it generally brings with it tremendous pay and prestige.

That’s especially true of partnership at the nation’s 10 most prestigious large law firms. Most of them have only a single partnership tier — equity or bust, baby — and sky-high profits.

Who are the new partners at these 10 firms, and what do their selections reveal about Biglaw today?

We’re going to do what we did last year and look at the new partner classes at the top 10 most prestigious law firms, as ranked by our friends at Vault. Prestige might be overrated, and it doesn’t make you incapable of committing truly terrible acts (which, for the record, we condemn in the strongest terms).[1] But for better or worse, prestige matters a great deal in the status-conscious legal profession.

(Of course, we are open to writing about new partner classes at firms outside the Vault 10 or “V10,” as long as there’s something interesting about the announcement — say, a juicy behind-the-scenes power struggle getting reflected in partner picks. If you think you have possible fodder for us, please email us and explain what you view as the noteworthy partner news.)

Now, on to the partner classes. If you click on each firm’s hyperlinked name, you’ll be taken to the firm’s profile in the Above the Law Career Center (where firms get letter grades for their “Insider Rating” and “Industry Reputation”).

1. Wachtell Lipton: The firm’s prestige and profits are matched by its discretion; it’s not easy getting information out of WLRK (see, e.g., bonus info). Unlike most firms, Wachtell doesn’t post new partner announcements on its rather minimalist website. But as an alumnus I did get the firm’s holiday card, which contained the following information:

Please join us in congratulating Graham Meli, Greg Pessin, Carrie Reilly and Mark Veblen who will become members of the firm on January 1, 2014. Best wishes to you and yours for wonderful holidays and a happy and healthy new year!

We’ll say what we said last year: “an impressive group, with glittering résumés, although a bit short on diversity.” Three out of the four are 2005 graduates of Harvard Law School (except for Pessin, a 2005 Chicago grad). But there are some noteworthy differences from the prior partnership class. Last year’s class was 75 percent corporate, while this year, there are two litigators (Meli and Reilly), one restructuring and finance lawyer (Pessin), and just one corporate attorney (Veblen) — even though Wachtell is most famous for its M&A work (also the firm’s most lucrative practice).

Last year’s partner class was all male, while this year there is one woman, Carrie Reilly. This blonde, Harvard-trained litigatrix is like a real-life Elle Woods — except replace Woods’s undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising with a B.S. from Wharton, summa cum laude.

2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore: We previously discussed the new CSM partners back in November. There were six of them, five men and one woman, representing Cravath’s largest class in years. As for practice areas, there were two transactional lawyers, two litigators, a tax lawyer, and a trusts and estates lawyer. Read more about them in our prior post.

3. Sullivan & Cromwell: Last year was a good one for S&C. The firm reclaimed the #3 spot in the Vault rankings from Skadden and named a whopping nine new partners. In a departure from prior practice, they apparently didn’t post the news on their website, but an S&C source filled us in:

S&C made 9 partners. One woman. 6 litigation to 3 gen practice. Werner Ahlers (General Practice), Justin DeCamp (Litigation), Christopher Dunne (Litigation), Benjamin Walker (Litigation), Jared Fishman (General Practice/Financial Institutions), Laura Oswell (Litigation), Michael Torkin (General Practice/Bankruptcy), Alexander Willscher (Litigation), Christopher Viapiano (Litigation).

What does it all mean? We defer to our tipster: “It reflects firm’s strong financial health and how busy litigation has been, picking up the slack of GP [General Practice – S&C-speak for “corporate”].”

4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom: As we’ve mentioned before, Skadden names new partners in April, instead of November or December. In April 2013, the firm made eight new partners:

Katherine D. Ashley — Mergers & Acquisitions — Washington, D.C.
Eben P. Colby — Litigation — Boston
Michelle Gasaway — Corporate — Los Angeles
David Herlihy — Litigation & International Arbitration — London
Laura A. Kaufmann Belkhayat — Corporate Finance — New York
David B. Leland — Litigation — Washington, D.C.
Sven G. Mickisch — Financial Institutions — New York
Gavin A. White — Tax — New York

Eight is a smaller group than 2012’s class of 11, but it’s in line with historical standards at Skadden (8 in 2011, 6 in 2010). As was the case in 2012, when 5 of the 11 partners were women, almost half the new partners are women — 3 out of 8. The 2012 class skewed towards New York geographically, with 8 of the 11 in NYC, but the 2013 class highlights Skadden’s global reach. The 11 new partners come from 5 different offices, and only 3 are from New York-based.

5. Davis Polk & Wardwell: Back in July 2013 — like Skadden, Davis does partnership elections a bit differently — DPW named three new partners: Greg D. Andres, Meyer C. Dworkin, and Paul S. Mishkin. The picks reflect a focus on white-collar litigation, an area of focus for Andres, a former federal prosecutor, and Mishkin (who lateraled into the firm from Wachtell, interestingly enough). Dworkin, a corporate lawyer, joined DPW straight out of HLS. Note the absence of women (for the second year in a row).

Now, on to the next five firms….

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