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As they crowd into classrooms once again this week, students’ thoughts will no doubt occasionally flit to the summer just past and the lazy, hazy days they spent at camp or on the beach, making new friends and dreaming big dreams. Within the offices, conference rooms and hallways of the world’s largest and most profitable law firms, perhaps managing partners’ minds will wander to similar places as they think back on the glorious summer days they spent together on Martha’s Vineyard. From Aug. 6 to Aug. 8, the managing partners of 26 of the largest firms from New York, London, Los Angeles and elsewhere gathered on the Massachusetts island resort for a program of social and educational events hosted by Danilo DiPietro, the head of the law firm group at Citigroup Private Bank. Held for the first time last year, the Citigroup Law Firm Leaders Council is shaping up as the A-list event in an increasingly crowded year-round, cross-country itinerary of law firm management conferences, panel discussions and other assorted confabs. Though comparisons to media moguls’ annual gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, or financiers’ World Economic Forum spring to mind, DiPietro, whose group provides financial services to most of the firms in the American Lawyer‘s AmLaw 100, resists characterizing his conference as the legal community’s power summit. “It’s really just a courtesy to our clients,” said DiPietro, though he added the seaside setting and relaxed atmosphere distinguish the leaders council from other conferences, many of which he also attends. A number of partners brought their spouses or families and combined the conference with a vacation, as did DiPietro, who spent most of August at his house on Martha’s Vineyard. But exclusivity also set the Citigroup gathering apart. This year, invited firms were asked to send their most senior partner or no one at all; last year, many firms sent their number-two or number-three partner. At other law firm conferences, the number of firm leaders is dwarfed by the audience of smaller-firm partners, vendors, administrators, consultants, headhunters, legal journalists and others. “Everybody [at the Citigroup conference] was a participant,” said Robert D. Joffe, presiding partner of New York’s Cravath, Swaine & Moore. “There was no audience.” DiPietro declined to provide the guest list, but known attendees included Tony Angel of Linklaters; David W. Heleniak of New York-based Shearman & Sterling; John Rink of New York’s Allen & Overy; Kenneth M. Doran of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. of L.A.’s O’Melveny & Myers; Ralph Baxter of San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Thomas D. Yannucci of Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis; Michael H. Rauch of New York’s Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Robert Dell of L.A.-based Latham & Watkins and Cravath Swaine’s Joffe. SEMINARS AND SOCIALIZING A number of partners said the discussion topics on the program were more thoughtful and provocative than are often the case. Joffe said a discussion on fostering law firm diversity led by Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy was particularly interesting. O’Melveny’s Culvahouse agreed, noting that his firm was considering a more formalized assignment system similar to that recommended by Kennedy, who is the author of the recent book, “Nigger: the Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.” Other presentations were made by Philip Bobbitt, a University of Texas law professor and author of the weighty international relations tome, “The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History”; and Hamid Biglari, the head of corporate strategy for Citigroup, both of whom addressed issues related to globalization. DiPietro also gave his own presentation based on the survey of law firms’ economic performance his group is conducting. But whatever they may have learned in such sessions, most attendees said the opportunity for informal socializing with their counterparts from other firms was the chief benefit of the gathering. Though conspiracy theorists might imagine that top partners have long met on a regular basis to plan associate pay, hourly rates, world domination and the like, many of the partners assembled on the Vineyard had never met in person before. Joffe said he had previously met only about half the attendees. “Now when I need to talk to the head of Fried Frank, I’ll know who to call,” he said. Gibson Dunn’s Doran said conversations over cocktails and dinner were quite candid. “The fact that it was a smaller, more intimate group was conducive to dialogue, candor and a personal touch,” he said. But Culvahouse said the convivial atmosphere did not lead to a round of deal-making between, say, London Magic Circle firms and possible U.S. merger partners, at least as far as he knew. “If they were doing that,” he said, “we were clearly not one of their targets.” UNIQUE AMONG CONFERENCES Law firm management conferences, panel discussions and roundtable discussions have become a common facet of the industry landscape, as law firms struggle with consolidation, globalization and other weighty strategic and economic issues. Orrick Herrington co-hosts one of the more well known conferences with Hildebrandt International, the law firm consultancy. The next Law Firm Leaders Forum is scheduled for March in San Francisco. Earlier this year, New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy co-chaired the Law Firm Leadership Institute. Shearman & Sterling recently chaired a globalization seminar in Salzburg, Austria. Orrick Herrington’s Baxter said the Citigroup meeting was “unique” in its intimate setting and the fact that all attendees were the heads of large, high-income firms. He said his experience on Martha’s Vineyard had reinforced his belief that people from outside the profession often have the most interesting perspectives. Political scientist Joseph S. Nye, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, will give the keynote address at Orrick Herrington’s San Francisco conference. But if Citigroup’s Martha’s Vineyard gathering has the velvet ropes — or at least ferry gates — up against smaller players and interlopers, Baxter said the leaders forum will be more open and accessible to small- and mid-sized firms, many of whom are dealing with the same difficult issues as their larger counterparts. “Stoll, Keenon & Park will be there,” he said. “They’re a very big firm in Kentucky.”

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