Six months ago, I wrote about a new development at Cravath. (http://thebellyofthebeast.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/a-better-alternative-or-a-leap-from-the-frying-pan/) The Wall Street Journal reported that the firm was allowing lawyers in their 30s and 40s to “make a name for themselves” by taking the lead on client deals. Tradition dictated deference to elders in such matters, but Cravath’s lock-step system meant that “older attorneys didn’t mind because the pay they received didn’t get cut” as younger attorneys gained a higher profile. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703630304575270472434024454.html)
“‘We’re more aggressive than we used to be,’ said 41-year-old Cravath partner James Woolery. ‘This is not your grandfather’s Cravath.’ He said the new approach means more ‘hustling for loose balls’ than in the past.”
When the article appeared, I wondered if Cravath’s experiment would backfire, leading young partners to consolidate clients, billings, and power for personal gain — even, perhaps. chafing at Cravath’s vaunted lock-step system. After all, financially motivated defections now pervade big law.
Alternatively, I speculated that allowing eager lawyers to run with client batons could be a win-win situation. If they remained loyal, the upstarts could grow the entire pie in true partner-like fashion.
I missed the obvious: Some rising young partners at Cravath didn’t want to be lawyers anymore. Woolery himself is now leaving to co-head JP Morgan Chase’s North American mergers and acquisitions. ((http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/cravaths-woolery-to-join-jpmorgan-as-senior-deal-maker/)
“I’ve had a business management focus, even at Cravath, and this opportunity allows me to expand that,” Wollery told the Times. He said the move would allow him to build on skills that he’d been honing, including business development.
He elaborated for the Am Law Daily:
“Woolery points to his experience running Cravath’s business development group as the driving factor behind his decision to move to J.P. Morgan. In the five years that he has led the group, it has evolved from a pitch book operation to a more substantial research and development group consisting of 30 professionals — corporate and litigation attorneys, and analysts.
“‘Doing that work was what led me to wanting to do this job [at J.P. Morgan].'” (http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2011/01/woolery.html)
From the University of Kentucky College of Law to Cravath partner, he now moves to a position that doesn’t even require a law degree. Maybe there’s more behind Woolery’s move — more money, more challenges — who knows? But a successful young lawyer in search of more clients found a client in search of him, albeit not for his skills as an attorney.
Big firm lawyers are increasingly assuming non-attorney corporate positions. (http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2010/12/lawyers-ceos.html) It’s additional proof of the profession’s transformation to a business: Many large law firms have developed cultures that make them training grounds for corporate leaders. Fully corporatized lawyers don’t even need an MBA to advance. (Woolery doesn’t have one.)
As an educator of students tracking themselves toward the law, I wonder how rising legal stars now leaving the profession altogether would answer these questions:
ON LAW SCHOOL
Why did you attend law school in the first place? Like many others, did you view it as the last bastion of a liberal arts major who couldn’t decide what to do next? Did you regard it as a circuitous path to a corporate career? If so, wouldn’t getting an MBA have been more efficient?
ON THEIR JOBS
Did your legal work and resulting career match your expectations? If not, in what ways — good and bad?
Have you enjoyed a satisfying career? Have changes in you, your firm, or the profession played a role in your departure from the profession? It’s not just about money, is it?
Most big law attorneys say they’re too busy billing hours to consider these questions at all, much less on a regular basis. It reminds me of Yogi Berra’s response to his wife’s complaints as they got lost while he drove to Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“I know we’re lost,” he finally admitted, “but we’re making good time!”
Yogi arrived at his desired destination. Too many lawyers never think about theirs — and then wonder why they’re dissatisfied professionally.