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A Law Firm Job for Spitzer? Not So FastFirms may subject the scandal-tainted Spitzer to a cooling-off period before offering him a job, say partners and recruiters
So what will Eliot Spitzer do next, assuming he escapes criminal prosecution and disciplinary sanction following his alleged involvement with a prostitution ring? If he follows the example of his three living predecessors as governor, he'll join a law firm. But Spitzer's reasons for resigning mark him as something of a different candidate. "It matters how you leave," said the chairman of one New York firm. Agreed the managing partner of another large firm: "He's radioactive in this environment."
New York Law Journal2008-03-13 12:00:00 AM
So what will Eliot Spitzer do next, assuming he escapes criminal prosecution and disciplinary sanction following his alleged involvement with a high-end prostitution ring?
If he follows the example of his three living predecessors as governor, he will join a law firm.
George E. Pataki last year joined Chadbourne & Parke as a counsel in the environmental practice, and Mario Cuomo has long hung his hat at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Hugh Carey survived the 1987 collapse of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey and is now a partner in the Manhattan office of Harris Beach.
But Spitzer's reasons for resigning office mark him as something of a different candidate.
"It matters how you leave," said the chairman of one large New York firm who asked to remain unnamed.
Former governors and other prominent political names generally have a cachet with clients that makes them attractive to firms, he said, but the scandal forcing Spitzer out of office may have exhausted the current governor's quotient of good will.
"He would need to rehabilitate himself first," agreed the managing partner of another large New York firm who also requested anonymity. It would probably be a year or more before any firm would even consider bringing the soon-to-be ex-governor aboard, the partner said.
"He's radioactive in this environment," he added.
Before the prostitution scandal, however, it would have been a different story. If the ambitious Spitzer had even deigned to consider private practice after leaving the attorney general's office, he would "absolutely" have attracted multimillion-dollar offers from firms, said Manhattan legal recruiter Ann Israel.
Indeed, his crusading as New York's top law enforcement official contributed mightily to the growth of white-collar and internal investigations practices in recent years, landing several of his former deputies law firm jobs, not least of whom is his current lawyer, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison's Michele Hirshman.
But Spitzer's outsized reputation as a prosecutor presented problems that the current scandal had amplified, the two firm leaders said. One major issue is that Spitzer's status as a hate figure on Wall Street and elsewhere in the business community would probably limit his client base.
"My sense is he doesn't have a lot of friends he's going to get business from," said the firm managing partner.
Though former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at one time faced similar problems from his days as a federal prosecutor, he spent his later years in political life building bridges to the business community, as well as a more statesmanlike reputation.
Despite Giuliani's messy personal life, Texas firm Bracewell & Giuliani was willing to bring him aboard and adopt his name in a 2005 deal worth $10 million upfront and millions a year thereafter.
In comparison, said the firm chairman, Spitzer's brief time as governor seemed to have created even more enemies to relish his downfall.
"Could Nixon have been hired as a law firm partner after leaving the White House?" he asked. "That's probably the most similar situation." Spitzer, the heir to a real estate fortune, does not need to earn a living, and, in announcing his resignation, the governor said he would seek non-political means "to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children," possibly signaling his intent to work in the nonprofit sector. But he has spent almost his entire adult life practicing law, working at Paul Weiss and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, as well as the Manhattan district attorney's office, since his 1984 graduation from Harvard Law School.
Prior to becoming attorney general in 1999, Spitzer was a partner in the firm of Constantine Cannon, which was founded by close friend and present senior adviser Lloyd Constantine. With the end of the Spitzer administration, returning to the firm could be an option for both men. Constantine did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
But while Spitzer's prospects look bleak now, much could change once the story fades from the headlines, said Israel.
"Only time will tell if people are going to want to touch this guy," she said, "and time can be very forgiving."