Cravath

Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.

It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.

Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.

So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.

Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?

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Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged two former stockbrokers, Thomas Conradt and David Weishaus, with insider trading. There is a legal angle here (aside from the criminal charges and the civil case being brought by the SEC): Conradt is a lawyer, a member of the Maryland and Colorado bars, and Weishaus graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law a year after Conradt.

To be honest, though, we’re not intensely interested in Conradt and Weishaus. Their alleged misdeeds occurred while they were working in finance, not law; the contours of Conradt’s legal career are somewhat unclear; and as for Weishaus, it’s not clear that he ever passed the bar or practiced as a lawyer.

As regular readers of Above the Law know, we have a weakness for prestige around these parts. So we’re far more interested in the former Cravath associate who, according to law enforceent allegations, made their misdeeds possible….

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Could we be looking at that rara avis, a genuinely suspenseful and surprising Biglaw bonus season?

We haven’t had one for a while. In the past few years, things have followed the usual pattern: the market leader, Cravath, announces bonuses, and everyone else follows.

The last truly interesting bonus season took place in 2008. That year, instead of waiting for Cravath, Skadden moved first and offered generous bonuses (regular year-end bonuses at 2007 levels, just no “special” or supplemental bonuses). The following day, Cravath announced bonuses that were essentially half of Skadden’s. This led my colleague, Elie Mystal, to develop and deploy the term “Half-Skadden” to refer to the bonuses offered by Cravath and its (many grateful) followers.

But this year raises an interesting question: Could Cravath get… Cravathed? Could this be the year of “Half-Cravath” bonuses?

UPDATE (11:00 AM): Or maybe not. Note the update at the end of this post about one leading firm that just matched Cravath.

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* Chief Justice John Roberts gave a Solicitor General’s Office attorney a vicious tongue-lashing for failure to be upfront about policy changes between presidents. Now that’s what we’d call a verbal benchslap! [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* When asked if they’d be following Cravath’s bonuses, a dozen Am Law 100 firms didn’t even care to respond or discuss the matter. It seems the partners would rather keep their associates squirming with suspense a while longer. [Am Law Daily]

* Watch out, world, because Catholic University of America just hired a Biglaw senior partner to lead its law school. Say hello to Dean Daniel Attridge, formerly managing partner at the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis. [National Law Journal]

* A federal judge ordered tobacco companies to disclose in product warnings that they chemically induce smoking addictions to turn a profit, but those fools will keep puffing their cancer sticks anyway. [WSJ Law Blog]

* This just in from Flori-duh: you know you’re probably going to have a bad day in court when the judge won’t declare a mistrial even though the prosecutor technically wasn’t a member of the state Bar. [Miami Herald]

Lat here. Earlier this month, I wondered: could the bumper crop of new partners at Cravath bode well for bonuses? Although firms like Cravath generally make partnership decisions with a focus on the longer term, as opposed to based on short-term financial performance, a class of five partners is one of the largest Cravath has had in years. It certainly seems to reflect a good degree of confidence about the firm’s future.

Now we have our answer as to the size of Cravath bonuses. The firm just announced its year-end bonuses for 2012, and they’re not simply a cut-and-paste of last year’s numbers. This year’s bonuses are more generous than last year’s, which is great news (at least for associates trying to pay off their law school loans; partners might be less enthused).

Sit up and take notes, since the Cravath bonus scale sets the bar for most other major law firms….

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Time to start practicing the Cravath walk? (Google it if you’re not familiar.)

In an excellent essay reflecting on his time at Cravath, lawyer turned author James B. Stewart had this to say about the associates who made partner: “They weren’t necessarily the brightest…. They weren’t, as I had expected, the hardest-working…. They weren’t the most personable…. Finally it came to me: The one thing nearly all the partners had in common was they loved their work.”

Move over, Virginia. Cravath is for lovers — of work.

The firm just named its latest class of lovers. How many new partners did CSM just make, and what might this suggest about the firm’s market-setting bonuses?

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Greetings from San Francisco, home of the world champion Giants, surprisingly noisy trolley cars, and the faint smell of cannabis pretty much everywhere. We’re in town to attend Ark Group‘s conference on “The Brave New World of Entry-Level Recruiting,” which examines how the world of law student recruiting by firms has changed (and will continue to evolve) since the onset of the Great Recession. Moderated by Bruce MacEwen, who kicked off the proceedings by framing the day as an opportunity for “frank conversation” between schools and firms, the conference featured an absolute Murderers’ Row of industry thought leaders, including Orrick‘s Ralph Baxter, legal academia’s apostate Paul Campos, NALP’s Jim Leipold, Indiana/Maurer‘s Bill Henderson, three Biglaw hiring partners, and deans from Berkeley, Stanford, and Hastings.

Read on for some highlights and takeaways from yesterday’s conference.

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Goutam U. Jois

I remember when I first started practice, a Cravath partner said that you have to make it a priority to go on trips, see friends, and have a life.

Goutam Jois, a litigation associate at Gibson Dunn, commenting on where he got his inspiration for achieving work/life balance in Biglaw. Jois leads a double life, practicing law by day, and performing stand-up comedy by night. He recently won the title of America’s Funniest Attorney after winning a contest at the Gotham Comedy Club.

Unless you are working on fixing this, you might not be ‘essential’ today.

I was feeling pretty goddamn sorry for myself yesterday afternoon. I was working when it felt like everybody else on the Eastern seaboard had the day off. I wanted to sit in bed and watch Homeland instead of writing whatever the hell I wrote yesterday. I couldn’t even get a pizza delivered. When New York City immigrants aren’t out there trying to make a buck, you know things are shut down.

But then a crane nearly fell down and I realized that a bunch of people were “remoting in” and trying to work or appear to be work, and it made me feel better. Who are these clients that needed “service” yesterday? What the hell do they want today? Honestly, the worst part about being a lawyer with clients is that I believe “client” is Greek for “unreasonable omega-hole.”

Did you work yesterday? What is your firm’s “storm plan” to keep you billing hours instead of taking A DAY OR TWO off? There are some fun stories about Cravath’s and Orrick’s emergency keep working plans. Let’s take a look and take a poll to see who is really working today…

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Around here, one can’t mention the concept of something being “overrated” without reference to one of the weirdest and most enduring ATL comment memes, a play on the late, great Hitch’s assertion that the four most overrated things in life are “champagne, lobster, anal sex, and picnics.” So who are the, um, lobsters of Biglaw?

Last week, we had a look at what our audience considered to be the most underrated Biglaw firms, by practice area. Today, inevitably, we turn it around and have a look at what you’re telling us are the most overrated firms.

Among other things, our ATL Insider Survey asks attorneys to nominate firms with overrated practices within the respondent’s own practice specialty. Litigators nominate litigation departments, etc.

To be sure, these survey results need to be taken with some buckets of salt — we realize that, for some, answering this question might be a chance to take an easy shot at a more successful rival or competitor. Of course, there are crazy people who will tell you that such paragons as Benjamin Franklin or Tom Brady are “overrated,” but that probably says more about the person making that statement than anything else. But that said, these survey responses are a fun glimpse at which firms Biglaw attorneys think are more sizzle than steak….

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