Upper East Side

Chief Judge Loretta Preska

According to Black’s Law Dictionary (affiliate link), a judicial diva is “a particularly confident, skilled, and physically attractive female judge.” By this definition, Chief Judge Loretta Preska (S.D.N.Y.) is a judicial diva. She is highly regarded, as both a judge and an administrator, and she never looks anything short of fabulous.

I’ve been fascinated by Judge Preska for years. I had this to say about her back in 2004 at my first website, Underneath Their Robes: “Magnificent. Tall, thin, elegant. Great bone structure, perfectly coiffed silver hair. Note to self: nominate for superhotties contest next year?”

This gorgeous judge now owns a gorgeous apartment. Chief Judge Preska and her husband, a partner at one of the nation’s most profitable law firms, just paid almost $9 million for a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side….

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What lies behind this door?

On New York’s Upper East Side, just down the street from my high school, sits a magnificent mansion. As my classmates and I walked past on our way to gym class in Central Park, I’d wonder: who lives at 7 East 84th Street?

A titan of finance, like a bulge-bracket banker or a hedge-fund god? The CEO of a Fortune 100 company? A reclusive heir or heiress?

Actually, no. It’s the home of a landlord/tenant lawyer. And not even a landlord-side lawyer, but a champion of tenants’ rights.

The scourge of New York City landlords is a lord himself — with a $30 million castle. Can you believe it?

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor has earned millions of dollars in royalties from her bestselling book, My Beloved World (affiliate link). Maybe it’s time for her to upgrade from that perfectly nice but far from lavish D.C. condo.

But she’s still far from being able to purchase the home of her former boss, George Pavia, who hired Sotomayor after she left the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (and later promoted her to partner). The patrician Pavia, managing partner of the Pavia & Harcourt boutique firm, just sold his magnificent townhouse on the Upper East Side for $19.5 million.

Pavia’s former residence is an elegant five-story, red-brick, neo-Georgian townhouse. It sits on a quiet, tree-lined block between Fifth and Madison Avenues, just steps away from Central Park and luxury shopping.

It would be many a Manhattanite’s dream home. But it actually comes with a nightmarish history….

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1010 Fifth Avenue is just steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (visible in the background).

Biglaw isn’t the only source of big bucks. In fact, some of the wealthiest lawyers in America are plaintiffs’ lawyers who work on their own or in small law firms.

But you don’t need to be a plaintiff-side lawyer from Texas to strike it rich. A partner at an elite litigation boutique in New York just bought an apartment once owned by a famous business mogul.

Let’s see what $12.5 million buys in the Big Apple these days….

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The facade of 1067 Fifth Avenue (via Bridge and Tunnel Club).

Each week, the Big Ticket column in the New York Times real estate section records the most expensive housing deal of the prior week. The most recent column focused on a $16.25 million condo on the 42nd floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower — a two-bedroom apartment, so that works out to a little more than $8 million per bedroom. Welcome to the world of high-end Manhattan real estate.

The second-place sale, clocking in at $8.325 million, took place across town on the Upper East Side. The apartment in question, once inhabited by a notable New York lawyer, will now welcome a high-ranking partner at a top international law firm.

Oh, and he clerked for the Supreme Court, too. Some people truly do lead charmed lives. And wait until you see the pictures of his new residence….

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Contrary to popular belief, many lawyers who toil in Biglaw actually enjoy what they do. This is especially true of partners (as opposed to associates who just pass through on their way to in-house or government opportunities). Some partners enjoy their work so much that they’d do it for free — or at least for much less than the millions they typically receive.

Of course, even if you find fulfillment in the work you do as a law firm partner, you can’t deny that the other benefits are nice. Being a Biglaw partner certainly allows you to provide an upscale lifestyle for your family. And it might permit you to enjoy an early retirement for yourself.

When you earn millions of dollars a year in partner profits, with lucrative retirement benefits on top of that (assuming your firm doesn’t do a Dewey), you don’t need to work until you’re 65 or 70. Instead, you can get an early start on your golden years, pursuing all of the hobbies and interests that you never had the chance to explore while billing 2000-plus hours a year.

That’s exactly what a retired Skadden corporate partner, James Freund, has been doing. Freund, who is now 77, retired from SASMF back in 1996, around the age of 61 (a little early, but not hugely so).

A few years ago, Freund scaled back his lifestyle. He traded in his $5 million townhouse for an apartment — one that cost a mere $3 million. Being a retired Skadden M&A partner is a tough life, but somebody’s got to live it….

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1112 Park Avenue

Partners at high-powered Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where profits per partner in 2010 clocked in at almost $2.4 million, appreciate the finer things in life. These include $6 million houses in the Hamptons and the company of former Playboy models (who used to date movie stars like Matt Dillon).

Now, fabulous though they may be, beach houses in the Hamptons and Playboy model girlfriends sound… a bit flashy, a trifle arriviste. Some might view them as not very white-shoe, and not what you’d expect from partners of the oldest continuing Wall Street law practice in the United States. (Sure, some old-money people have places in the Hamptons, but these days the locale appeals more to celebrities.)

Thankfully there are some CWT partners who are kicking it old school. They live in exclusive prewar coops on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. No lofts in Tribeca or Soho — or, God forbid, Brooklyn — for these genteel types.

Let’s look at the Lawyerly Lair that a senior Cadwalader lawyer recently acquired — on Park Avenue, one of the world’s legendary thoroughfares — for just a shade under $6 million….

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1185 Park Avenue

We recently took a peek at a $1.7 million apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in a story entitled Lawyerly Lairs: Cravath Cribs (Part 1). (By the way, we’ve updated that post with the condo’s floor plan, as well as information about what it means to be a practice area attorney at Cravath.)

We called the story “Part 1″ because we knew, at the time, that we’d be bringing you a “Part 2.” Think of Christine Raglan’s UWS penthouse as the appetizer — or maybe even just the amuse-bouche. Now it’s time for the entrée, something far more substantial.

Let’s fly across Central Park and alight in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side, where a Cravath partner recently sold his ultra-luxurious residence — for a whopping $4.6 million. Interestingly enough, the buyer is a lawyer as well, in-house counsel at a major media company.

Who are the parties to this transaction? And what does a $4.6 million apartment look like?

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(Partner parts with Park Avenue property.)