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There was no such thing as an IPO when William Godward started his career at the firm that bears his name. “If you wanted to issue stock, you just went down to the stationery store, got something flashy and sold it,” says the Cooley Godward partner. Now 88 years old, Godward remembers a world with few regulations. His world was one where firms rarely paid first-year associates a dime, let alone entered bidding wars over them. When Godward graduated from the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1937, the country was still stranded in the middle of the Depression, and people did whatever they could to get by. Since firms didn’t have summer associate programs, law students worked odd jobs during the summer. “I worked in the slaughterhouse,” he says. “I was in the bunkhouse, and I worked from 3 in the morning until I was finished. You had to do these things in order to survive.” Godward graduated with just 60 of the original 165 students he started with at Boalt. He says the low graduation rate was due, in part, to more people flunking out. The other component was the Depression — Godward says people just couldn’t afford to go to law school. They had to get out and work. Unlike Boalt’s graduates today, Godward faced job prospects of low or no pay. He earned $50 a month at a small firm he started with in Santa Rosa, Calif., and considered himself lucky since he also got an office and a part-time secretary. But since his lawyer’s salary didn’t provide enough to support himself and his family, he took a night school teaching job as well. In 1941, Godward joined Cooley, Crowley & Supple, which would eventually be named Cooley Godward. He was the firm’s sixth attorney. Long before specialization came into vogue, the firm practiced just about everything: real estate, litigation, sales of businesses, insurance defense, automotive accidents, malpractice cases. At the time, there were no mammoth mergers or acquisitions. Just two years later, World War II erupted. “Everything was so flat in World War II. Nothing was going on in the legal profession. All the firms collapsed, practically,” he says. “And all of a sudden, everyone came back and wanted to start up the old family business, and the population began to grow. It became a whole new world with a whole new outlook for the legal profession and its finances.” Later, technology revolutionized the practice of law. In some ways, Godward says, that was for the worse. When he first started out, very little was pro forma. Each new matter meant heading to the library and drafting a memo to explain what you learned. “It was more law than it is now,” he says. Now, he says, “people just print the thing they did last week — you just change the names.” But perhaps his saddest observation is that he’s seen motives change for legions of business attorneys over the years. “I went into the practice because I felt you could make it in a profession, which people tell me it isn’t anymore; that you could do things to assist in a positive sort of way,” he says. “You could assist … for example, in starting a new company. That you could assist somehow in the legal part to make sure that they were on the right track. And you could also be in a position, on the cutting edge, where you could sort of affect and maybe stop something that wasn’t appropriate.” Godward also wishes first-year attorneys didn’t feel the need to impress partners with so much, so fast. Part of the freedom Godward had out of law school was to try new things and make mistakes. That way, he says, he learned what worked and what didn’t and he was better off in the long run. But today, there’s a “tendency for young lawyers to want to flash quick. And so they’re very apt to do the same thing over and over again and not spread their wings,” he says. “You can do marvelous snow plows on the bunny slope, but for God’s sake, get on some high mountains and fall on your face a couple of times. See what happens. You may find you kind of like it.”

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