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Cravath, Swaine & Moore has elected a lateral partner, its first in more than six decades. Andrew W. Needham, a tax partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, has been accepted into the partnership at Cravath. He is expected to join the firm in April. In a Feb. 28 memo announcing the move internally, Robert D. Joffe, the presiding partner at Cravath, called the hiring a “nearly unique event” and said it would remain so. “It represents a rare exception to, and not a change in, our normal practice of selecting partners only from among our associates,” he continued in the memo. “That practice has served the firm well for many years and will continue to be our practice in the future.” Though the hiring of lateral partners has become practically routine, the most elite New York firms have remained largely averse to the practice, fearing the dilution of their firm cultures. These firms, which in addition to Cravath include Sullivan & Cromwell; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Davis Polk & Wardwell, have mostly argued that only partners who have trained together, preferably from their earliest years as associates, can rely on each other to maintain high standards of work quality and agree to a lockstep system of compensation in which partners are paid according to seniority rather than business origination. But even these firms have occasionally resorted to lateral hiring to boost capabilities or to enter new markets. Simpson Thacher recently hired white-collar litigator Mark Stein from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Sullivan & Cromwell has hired lateral partners to launch local practices in Europe. Joffe said Thursday there was not an absolute bar on lateral hiring at Cravath, but the firm had to be convinced of both the necessity of the hire and the rightness of the candidate. In this case, he said, the firm had determined that it needed another veteran tax partner to fill a gap in the practice left by the departure of partner Lewis Steinberg, who left earlier this year to become a managing director at UBS, an investment bank. Joffe said partners at the firm had worked with Needham on matters and the firm had also conducted due diligence on the candidate. Joffe declined to describe Cravath’s due diligence process. A very small number of lateral partners did not pose a threat to firm culture, he said. “The idea is, if you make one or two, you can make the effort and take the time to integrate them into the firm,” he said. The firm has hired a handful of lateral partners in the past, mostly in the relatively small tax practice. The firm hired Herbert L. Camp, also a tax partner, from the now-defunct Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine in 1987, but he is not considered a true lateral because he had previously been a Cravath associate. The last true lateral at the firm was Roswell Magill, a former Treasury Department official, who became a Cravath tax partner in 1943. Needham, 44, became a partner at Willkie in 1997. In addition to a law degree from Georgetown, he also holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance.

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