The decision to leave a high-profile partnership at a megafirm to become the GC of a tiny investment bank might seem mysterious. Butfor Michael Lacovara, 40, who recently left Sullivan & Cromwell, the seeds of change were planted five years ago, during the very case that made him a legal superstar.
In 1999, Lacovara's name was all over the media as he wenttoe-to-toe with famed litigator David Boies in the Microsoft antitrusttrial. Lacovara's success in preventingthe company from being broken up won accolades. In 2000 New Yorkmagazine named him one of the city's ten "Legal Stars in the Making." InJanuary 2003 he was picked by The American Lawyer (a sibling publicationof Corporate Counsel) as one of America's top lawyers under 45.
Lacovara calls the Microsoft case "a dream for a litigator."But it doubled as his private nightmare. Living for months in a hotel inWashington, D.C., where the trial took place, he struggled with being anabsentee father and husband. In New York, his wife cared for their first childand prepared for the arrival of their second. Lacovara was haunted by visionsof missing the baby's birth. He made it to the delivery, but the near-miss madeLacovara begin to rethink his priorities.
The thing that reinforced this thought ¿ and made thedecision to leave his firm easier ¿ was the time he spent working with Sullivanclient Sandler O'Neill & Partners in fall 2001.
Lacovara, who had by then moved to San Francisco to headSullivan's litigation practice there, flew into New York three days after theSeptember 11 attacks. Sandler O'Neill, a small company with offices high in theWorld Trade Center, was reeling from the loss of 67 of its 180 employees. Overthe next two years Lacovara counseled ¿ in all senses of the word ¿ his client.Late in 2003, Sandler O'Neill's GC, Kate Lawton, decided to take some time off,and Lacovara was offered her job. Thinking about his family, he accepted. (Uponher return, Lawton will work on the bank's business side.)
"As a trial lawyer, I could never tell me wife I could be inSan Francisco for my kid's soccer game, a school recital, or a parent-teacherconference," he says. "I was spending 150 days on the road during the year.This job gives me predictability."
Many colleagues were baffled when Lacovara announced hisplans to leave the firm. "They might not understand," the new GC says. "But Icouldn't be happier."