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While firms like Greenberg Traurig and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey spent the year busily scouting out new partners, a few firms simply sat back and watched. And they were happy to be on the sidelines. Not all bragging rights, it seems, stem from mergers and partner acquisition sprees. For Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton; Sullivan & Cromwell; and Cravath, Swaine & Moore, strength still lies within. True to their isolationist traditions, these firms were at the bottom of new partner arrivals in our Am Law lateral survey this year. Taking in a partner from outside the firm would be a measure of last resort, says Peter Karasz, Cleary’s managing partner. In fact, the firm’s October 1999 acquisition of star litigator Max Gitter from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison was its first New York lateral partner in decades. Cleary does this only when no internal attorney can possibly fill a designated niche, a phenomenon much more common in foreign offices. “In the U.S.” says Karasz, “we are already in each area we want to be in, so we can grow our own. But we do lateral hires in Europe because we have not been able to grow our own in certain practice areas there.” Firms that hire laterally often do so to bolster or penetrate new markets. This was the case when Davis Polk & Wardwell opened its Silicon Valley office in fall 1999, says Christopher Mayer of the firm’s management committee. On its face, Davis Polk is just like the “we grow our own” firms of the Am Law 200 survey — all of which are over 50 years old with diverse practices and average profits per partner (1999) of more than $1 million — yet it takes a more liberal stance on the lateral partner issue. The firm was more open to lateral hires in California, says Mayer, because doing so enabled faster growth in its technology practice. Others remain resistant. Not even the lure of a hotshot partner with a packed Rolodex turns the head of Sullivan & Cromwell chairman H. Rodgin Cohen. When recently solicited by just such a rainmaker, Cohen says that his decision was easy: “On paper and from a strictly economic point of view, it may have made sense, but given our firm philosophy, the choice was simple.” Sullivan does not hire laterally in the United States. The firm just hired its first three lateral partners ever this December, in its Paris office. Part of the psychology driving these lateral-averse firms is trust. “We have a very deep culture here,” says Cravath presiding partner Robert Joffe. “Everyone trusts, knows, and can depend on one another.” At Cleary and Cravath, lockstep partnership compensation makes the idea of having someone jump into the hierarchy even less savory. “You would not bring someone into that situation, who you had not grown up with,” says Joffe. But all these holdouts are careful to never say never. “It’s not an absolute Holy Grail,” says Cohen, as is evidenced by his firm’s recent Parisian acquisitions. The prospect here in the States, however, seems much more remote. “We have had only one in New York City in the last 30 years,” says Karasz of Cleary’s lateral partner past. With track records like these, those looking for a new home should send resumes elsewhere.

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