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Davis Polk & Wardwell doesn’t look like a Generation X hangout. Its midtown Manhattan office is quiet, not quirky, and decorated with plush carpet and fine art, not exposed metal and movie posters. But the old-line firm serves Starbucks coffee, the beverage that nourishes the X generation, and supplies its associates with BlackBerry e-mail units, the devices that lubricate communication among the young. There’s been a payoff to the amenities. In The American Lawyer‘s annual Associates Survey, Davis Polk & Wardwell came in fortieth among the 177 ranked firms for overall job satisfaction. That’s the third-best showing of a New York-based firm — only Debevoise & Plimpton and Rosenman & Colin did better. It also tied for third overall with Boston’s Hale and Dorr in our technology survey, in which we ask the same associates to rank their firms’ technology [See Tech Scorecard:Associates Rank Their Firms]. In New York only Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz did better on the technology survey. Most of Davis Polk’s key New York competitors fell to the bottom of the chart. We are not profiling Wachtell because its score of 4.58 (out of 5) was based on the answers of just seven associates. (The firm also declined to comment for this story, except to say that it installs high-speed Internet access at home and makes house calls to install and fix computers.) We could also profile Dallas’s Haynes and Boone, the second-place finisher, except we did that earlier this year [See " The Boonies."] There is no shame in winning bronze. Davis Polk has been pushing the edge of technology for years, and certainly since Michael Mills, a former associate who went on to become a partner at the New York office of Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt, rejoined the firm in 1991 as director of professional services and systems. He’s part manager, part geek, part thinker. Mills has helped the firm develop sophisticated knowledge management tools, including vast document databases and a question-and-answer Web system that helps clients solve their own legal problems. He’s been assisted each step of the way by Steve Saper, director of information systems. Saper has been with the firm more than 20 years, an eternity in a world in which tenure is measured in months. Davis Polk associates like to plug into these systems, but they really like to be unplugged — with their BlackBerrys. Each of the ten associates interviewed for this article (30 overall responded to the survey) mentioned the BlackBerry as a major boon to their practice — and their social life. One litigation associate recalls how he strolled through Central Park on a Sunday while he was waiting for a call on a major case. He got the call, and handled it from the park. (BlackBerrys give an e-mail notification when a voicemail arrives at the office.) Avi Gesser, a fourth-year litigation associate, says he carries his BlackBerry around the firm, so he can send e-mail if he’s stuck in a meeting or waiting while a partner is on the phone. Davis Polk recognizes how much its lawyers benefit from the gadgets — but also recognized their limitations. The BlackBerry does not read e-mail attachments, which is a key shortcoming to many lawyers accustomed to circulating drafts and memos via e-mail. This fall, the firm wrote an applet, or small piece of programming, so that BlackBerrys can display Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and Adobe Acrobat attachments. It makes life easier for an associate like William Aaronson, who can now read the memos that are frequently circulated for M&A deals while he’s on the road. Aaronson says he has no problem reading short memos on the BlackBerry’s tiny screen, but that it can be cumbersome to read a long document. Free BlackBerrys alone don’t keep associates happy. New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, for example, gives associates BlackBerrys, but the gifts didn’t translate into a high technology ranking (99th). With the exception of its technical support ranking (36th), Davis Polk did well across the board. It ranked third in overall technology; eleventh in training; and ninth in using technology to help clients. Curiously, Davis Polk doesn’t have the most splashy technology. It hasn’t fallen for the trend that lawyers should all have laptops rather than desktops. It hasn’t bought the latest portal or Internet software that lets lawyers build My Yahoo-type pages. John Bick, the chairman of the firm’s technology committee, says that Davis Polk actually spends about 20 percent less per head than do other large New York firms. “Paradoxically, I would argue that our investment is less, but that’s because we’ve been investing for a longer period of time,” Bick says. When it comes to training and helping clients, Davis Polk isn’t so low-key about its efforts. During the first two years at Davis Polk, corporate associates perform rotations in a handful of practice groups. They then join a particular practice group permanently. This rite of passage is known in Davis Polk’s sedate hazing lingo as “going above the line.” Davis Polk’s technology prepares them for it. The firm’s intranet, or internal Web site, holds more than 40,000 documents, including precedent and form items, says Mills. They are arranged according to practice group. Each group has an alphabetical list of important topics with precedent, commentary, and clause libraries. These materials are perfect for a young associate who wants to get immersed in, say, the specifics of a private equity deal. “By the time you walk in a partner’s office, you have a real leg up,” says Steven Williams, a third-year corporate associate. “You’re not wading in the middle of the ocean.” Williams remembers when he was working on a deal to set up a limited liability company with a rare stock structure. It was a “strange animal,” he says, and he didn’t know much about it. So he searched through the firm’s intranet and its vast document database, found similar partnership agreements written for other clients, and tracked down the partner who wrote them. Davis Polk also stores the text of in-house legal education seminars on its intranet. It recently posted video versions of them, so lawyers could watch the seminars from their desks. Davis Polk understands that its technology must help lawyers do their jobs better. “If you posit that associates are spending the longest work hours, then everything about technology must be important to them,” says technology committee chair Bick. “My job revolves around document management,” says Sarah Haan, a second-year litigation associate. With a document imaging program called DocuMatrix, Haan has been able to avoid the customary scissors-and-tape approach to document organization. She has sent electronic document images to partners in Japan, who can access them from their laptops even while they’re on the road. Online deal rooms — Web sites where lawyers and their clients put together transactions — are another way for associates to handle documents and improve client contact. “If I’m selling a business, I have to deal with 700, 1,000 documents,” says Alexei Cowett, a corporate associate who uses deal rooms to help companies sell businesses. “Normally they’d be sitting in a [folder] on a table in my room.” When Cowett puts the deal documents online, he can control what material potential buyers can see. He can spend more time talking to his client and potential bidders. And he can make sure his client’s team gets a chance to look at the documents. Davis Polk launched its first online deal room in 1997, well before the deal room craze hit the legal market. It uses its own, homegrown technology, called ClientLink, because it provides more flexibility than the out-of-the-box extranets and deal rooms that most other big firms use. Major clients also have specific extranet pages. The content varies, according to the client’s preference — client contact lists and archives of memos and correspondence are popular. Mills won’t predict the next leap the firm might take. “I’m not good on the future stuff,” he says. But here and now, the associates say he’s doing just fine. FAVORITE TECH STUFF Operating System: Windows NT Document Management: Custom In-house E-mail: Eudora Litigation Support: CaseMap/TimeMap; DocuMatrix; LiveNote/VideoNote Gadget: BlackBerry

Related Chart: Tech Scorecard:Associates Rank Their Firms

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