Photo: Shutterstock.

 

Editor’s note. After this column was published Wednesday afternoon, Sullivan & Cromwell provided a list of new partners as of Jan. 1. They are Jake Croke, Dustin Guzior, Nicole Friedlander, Bachir Karim, Jud Littleton, Ryne Miller, Aisling O’Shea and Evan Simpson.

Since when did information about a law firm’s new partnership class become a state secret? I’m asking because I’ve been trying to get a response from the esteemed firm of Sullivan & Cromwell about its newest members.

So far: I’m getting nowhere. And I’ve asked around—the folks in media relations and marketing, as well as partners.

I reached out to the firm repeatedly: at least a half dozen emails and phone calls to three of its public relations and marketing people, as well as two different partners.

On Wednesday, I finally got Rick Pepperman, a partner, on the phone. When I asked him about new partners, he said:  “If no one is telling you, I can’t either.” I then reached Karen Braun, the firm’s executive director, who said, “I don’t have [the information] in front of me.” She said that she’d get back to me. (We’ll update when and if she does.)

I even asked a friend to ask a friend who’s a partner there, and the reply my friend got was, “Sorry, I can’t talk about it.”

Seriously, you’d think I was sniffing around about the partners’ sexual proclivities or their tax shelters!

All this might have escaped my attention except that I’ve been keeping an informal tab on diverse partners. (See my “Unicorn Watch” on new black partners.)

Plus, Above the Law’s Joe Patrice noted that Sullivan & Cromwell has gone silent about its latest batch of new partners, in contrast to previous years when the firm traditionally announced them at the beginning of the new year.

So why all this mystery about a bunch of boring new partners? I might be wrong, but I suspect (as did Patrice) that Sullivan & Cromwell has probably elected a white, male slate and doesn’t want to face the public shaming that Paul Weiss got this year when it announced its dozen new partners (11 white men and one white woman).

And it’s true, Paul Weiss got reamed for its lack of diversity this year. Though we and other news outlets had covered the firm’s homogeneous new partners quite extensively, once the New York Times put the story on the front page (above the fold, no less!), you knew that firm was going to get slammed bigly.

Was it fair to make Paul Weiss the example of what’s wrong with the profession? Maybe not. I doubt it’s the only major firm that elected a nondiverse class of new partners. In fact, Davis Polk’s last crop of new partners, announced in July, is also quite white and male (seven men and one woman). But unlike Paul Weiss, it didn’t make the public relations boo-boo of publishing a photo of its 12 dazzling white partners on LinkedIn (since removed).

In any case, let’s take a moment to assess how Paul Weiss handled the fallout. To its credit, it didn’t dodge the press or its critics. The firm’s chairman, Brad Karp, made himself available and did what he had to do: fall on his sword. He admitted the problem and pledged to do better. After that, who’s going to beat a dead horse?

Which brings up how Sullivan & Cromwell is managing the situation. It’s frankly a bit surprising that the firm isn’t handling all this with more finesse. You have to wonder what it’s hiding by not answering a basic question like its new partnership class. Sooner of later, it has to come out.

“It needs to put on its big boy pants and own it,” says a former managing partner of a Big Law firm.

 

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter @lawcareerist.