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Jeffrey L. Salinger is on the precipice of partnership at New York-based Shearman & Sterling. Naturally, he is leaving town at month’s end — to join an African expeditionary team in its task of counting hippopotami in Malawi. “The firm is providing me with an opportunity to step away and recharge,” said Salinger, 32, an environmental lawyer in Shearman’s property group. “It’s important to me, and I expect it will be important to the firm. “The fact that we don’t have significant business in Africa now doesn’t mean we won’t in the future.” Rare among major New York firms, Shearman offers monthlong sabbaticals to its comers in the senior associate ranks. In return, Salinger thought it best to “do something legitimate rather than just a safari,” as he put it. Accordingly, he signed on as a volunteer with the African Conservation Trust for its biennial hippopotamus census along the western shores of Lake Malawi. The census is critical, Salinger explained, because of ecological threats to the lake, due to farmers shooing off the enormous — and enormously dangerous — animals who encroach on their lands. “The hippos eat an incredible amount of food, and their feces is the building block to micro-organisms [in Lake Malawi],” said Salinger. “That becomes food for the smaller fish that feed the bigger fish.” On a parallel subject of bigger and smaller fish, some of Salinger’s time in Africa, as he treks some 300 miles around Lake Malawi, will be spent on reflections of the associate life he has led up to now at Shearman versus the partner life to come. He described his junior associate days as “sort of terrifying, exhilarating, boring and maddening all at the same time,” concluding with the realization that “the sun doesn’t rise and fall with you.” That conclusion, he said, led him to concentrate on the substance of his practice area, develop his own business and clientele, and to take a more prominent role in group meetings with colleagues and firm clients. “I am conscious that I’m being evaluated, and that my actions will play a large role in my future at Shearman,” said Salinger. “It’s clearly a transitional period.” Salinger believes that an African expedition is just the ticket for such a journey. “It takes a spirit of adventure,” he said. “And a willingness to get your hands dirty, pitching a tent every evening somewhere in the wild, then breaking it down the next morning and moving on.”

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