New Yorker Cravath holds its perch as BigLaw's principal trendsetter.
PERHAPS more so than any other firm in our guide, Cravath comes with labels attached and a mythology in tow. It's a New York firm with an iconic business model, compact footprint, and a long list of enviable achievements in the world of BigLaw – taken together, that formula has held the attention of the legal market in a mighty grip. The aforementioned business model is called 'The Cravath System', and it sets out a firm philosophy that's focused on enduring success instead of rapid profit and growth. It has shaped Cravath's systems for hiring, training and compensating its attorneys, and you'll notice most firms borrowing from it in some way. A prime example: when Cravath took the decision to raise its first-year salary to $180,000 in 2016, the majority of BigLaw's players followed suit.
The firm's philosophy on growth is demonstrated by its size: it has only one international office – in London – to accompany its sole domestic base in New York, which houses just over 500 attorneys. It's a striking contrast to many of the flag-planting imperialists in BigLaw, but Cravath's ability to tackle stratospheric deals shows that what it lacks in physical size it can more than make up for in coveted expertise (see its recent work on British American Tobacco's jaw-dropping $97 billion acquisition of Reynolds for another perfect example). Chambers USA therefore places Cravath among the very best in the nation for its M&A, capital markets, securities, banking and tax work, while in New York it also snares top rankings for its media & entertainment, environment, and general commercial litigation practices.
Joining Cravath means embracing its rotation system, which requires associates to switch between groups every 12 to 18 months – those in litigation tend to do the longer stints. It doesn't just apply to juniors: attorneys rotate around the houses until they settle down and make partner (some even continue beyond that point). “The rotation system was a big reason for joining the firm,” one associate told us. “It keeps things interesting, and it's not like you're in and out of groups, as multiple practices interact – it's all very interrelated.” The benefits of such a system soon become clear, as this source revealed: “When I interact with corporate attorneys on the other side, their eyes glaze over when it comes to things like financing – in comparison, we are fluent in all aspects of the deal.” While the first month in a new group can be “difficult” as associates get up to speed, juniors didn't feel “left alone in the wilderness: everyone's helpful, and the partners are very aware – they give you direction.”
Out of the second and third-year juniors on our list, almost 50% were rotating in Cravath's corporate practice, while around 40% were doing so in litigation; the rest were split between the tax; trusts and estates; and executive compensation and benefits groups.
“You can effectively run deals.”
Stellar M&A work is the firm's corporate headliner – but that doesn't mean associates working in that department are relegated to a minor role. Sources reported working in small teams on big deals, and highlighted “complete visibility: I was on all of the calls.” Our interviewees quickly progressed beyond due diligence. “As I began to wrap up my rotation I was given ancillary documents, like services agreements, and by the end I was given more significant operative documents to work on. You can effectively run deals, though the most senior person on the deal holds the pen on the main transaction document.” Other groups to sample in Cravath's corporate practice include private equity; capital markets; syndicated lending and restructuring.
Over in litigation, juniors also gave their responsibility levels the thumbs-up. “With every case there's been client interaction: from emailing to speaking with them in person. I've written more briefs than I can count, plus I've led conference calls and prepared witnesses for depositions. I don't know anyone at another firm who has done that.” However, associates reminded us that “it doesn't mean there's an absence of hierarchy. If you're the most junior person on a case you will still be doing some of the more administrative work.” Associates mentioned interesting work on cases related to benchmark-rate litigation and residential mortgage-backed securities claims.
With Cravath's identity wrapped up in its titular 'system,' associates drew lines between their day-to-day experiences and the firm's central tenets. With competition between partners quashed via lockstep bonuses, associates found that “you'll walk into a partner's office and half the time there will be another partner in there talking with them. Because our partners work together, it encourages associates to do the same – it's a tight-knit place” The rotation system produces a similarly cohesive effect. “With associates rotating through groups at different times, the sheer number of people you work with is really high.” The subsequent bonds formed prompted associates to say that “there's very much a small-firm feel.”
Much like the smallest of small towns, Cravath prefers its own people. Associates are never hired laterally, and law school recruitment is meticulously selective. “Everyone knows how we work here: we're completely available when we're working to a deadline and we put absolutely everything into that first draft – everything is very polished. When you deal with folks at other firms, that same drive isn't there. There's something nice about working at a firm that emits a consistent level of quality, competence and dedication to the job.” To sustain this approach, one interviewee affectionately admitted that attorneys tend to be “law nerds, who geek out about the exciting and unique elements of what we work on.” High-level matters mean that “people take their work seriously,” and a businesslike feel extends beyond the clean-cut suits that attorneys wear every day: “People are direct. If they don't like your work product, they will tell you.”
“There's something nice about working at a firm that emits a consistent level of quality.”
To reward that dedication, Cravath puts on some grand social events for its attorneys to enjoy. There's an annual party at Central Park Zoo, which lawyers can bring their families to, and every other year there's the legendary Cravath Prom. “It's like the fanciest wedding you've ever been to!” one associate enthused, while listing previous venues that have included The American Museum of Natural History and a fancy spot on Ellis Island. Themed monthly happy hours in the office provide a more regular opportunity for mingling – as ever the firm sets the benchmark high, bringing in fancy catering from local restaurants for their office drinks. But, given the firm's famous work ethic, we weren't shocked to hear that “this is not the kind of place where people go for a drink every week after work.”
Hours & Compensation
“I encountered resistance to talk about hours during interviews at some peer firms, but people were candid at Cravath. Not everybody will thrive here – they want people who can self-select.” Yes, long hours are on the cards for all of Cravath's associates, but the well-publicized lack of a billing target brings some benefits. “I didn't realize how big of a deal it was until I saw how much anxiety it produces at other firms. I was slow this summer for a couple of weeks: it was great. I read to the end of The New York Times every day and watched every CLE I could. Because of the rotation system – where your work comes from partners rather than a central coordinator – you never have to look for work.”
However, there are also peaks as well as troughs, which are exacerbated because “this is not a traditional setting where they can throw another first-year on a deal. You are responsible.” Throw in the short-term needs of some demanding clients and our associate sources struggled to define a normal day, but a representative associate told us: “I tend to get in around 9.30am, and will generally leave around 9.30pm.” There is no average, though, and associates' hours fluctuated based on the stage of the case. All associates had a handful of all-nighters and forfeited weekends to their name, but didn't question the need to do it – Cravath is, after all, a natural environment for high-achievers. One recalled “a trial that lasted two and a half weeks; everybody was at their desks around 9am, and we wouldn't step away until 4am. Many teams have a healthy and sensible view on what hours we should be working – with others that is less true.” Saving graces include “a concierge service for associates, which can drop off your dry cleaning or pick you up a coffee when you're closing a deal.” And with these demands, there's clearly no need for a face-time culture. Associates also noted an accommodating attitude toward vacation.
All Cravath attorneys share an office until their third year, and tradition dictates that whoever is the more senior occupant has the window desk. Sources told us the firm has recently given up one of the floors it occupies in the building, so “things are getting a little more cramped.” However, Cravath's home still has a rather palatial feel. “We're in a landmark building (Worldwide Plaza) and the interior has its own style. It's not unattractive or ugly, but it's not the modern style you would see in most offices either. If you picture a law firm from an old movie – all dark wood and beige tones – that's it. It has its own charm.” In the cafeteria, the movie theme continues as hungry associates are greeted by “some fun artwork: there are posters of films like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.” With its scarily subsidized prices, sources were pleased to tell us that “the cafeteria is great. Everyone gets on with the cafeteria staff and they put a lot of effort into the food. They do a pasta with stuffed peppers... I so need that recipe!”
Training & Development
New skills have to be learned each time an associate rotates between groups and partners. However, Cravath doesn't weigh down its roaming attorneys with tons of formal training. “Nobody has the time to hit pause and take a month-long seminar in banking,” said time-pressed juniors. “There are plenty of resources online – like precedents and fantastic CLE videos – but actually finding a moment to review them can be tough. You pick it up here and there.” Most learning therefore occurs on the job, and associates found themselves “calling on other people who – since they rotate in a different sequence – have the benefit of experience. That gets you through your first deal. It encourages collegiality and I now have a network of friends and colleagues to ask advice from.”
“If you want to get involved in pro bono then it is there for you,” juniors reported. “There are newsletters that list available matters, including one that's devoted to corporate assignments, which is key given that a lot of pro bono is litigation-heavy.” Sources had also picked up pro bono work directly through the relationships they'd cultivated with partners. However, the general opinion among associates was that “pro bono isn't emphasized as much as it is at other firms. You have to go after it a bit if you want to be involved.” That said, sources still found Cravath to be “respectful of pro bono when you're working on it – the firm won't object to you getting involved.”
The firm works with organizations like the Innocence Project, the Montefiore Children's Hospital and Her Justice. We also heard of juniors working on “immigration cases tied to Trump's executive order and reform to the DREAM Act,” plus an interesting 'fair use' matter involving an artist who had lifted and exhibited other people's photos from Instagram.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 25,838
- Average per US attorney: 51
Interviewees felt that steps were being taken in the right direction on this front. “We have Faiza Saeed, who is our presiding partner now. Having Faiza at the helm is comforting for female associates.” However, our female sources in corporate were particularly keen to see an improvement in gender diversity, with some reporting that they'd “never worked with a woman partner” and were “oftentimes the only woman on the team.” In contrast, those in antitrust said that “the team is mostly female, so I've been lucky to work a lot with other women.”
“Having Faiza at the helm is comforting for female associates.”
Those involved in interviewing “saw candidates of all backgrounds coming through; I hope that we'll continue to see that level of diversity in our incoming classes and that it's maintained as those classes progress at the firm.” Sources also acknowledged that “we get the standard diversity and sensitivity training, which challenges us to address inherent biases.”
Strategy & Future
Though the firm tends not to hire partners laterally, “when it sees fit it won't sleep on opportunities,” associates revealed. There have been very rare partner hires in the past, and at times Cravath has brought in lawyers as counsel instead. One recent example is Evan Norris, who previously served as director of the DOJ's task force that investigated claims of corruption and bribery at FIFA (the international soccer governing body). Despite this strong preference for its own associates joining the partner ranks, sources felt that “most people don't come in eyeing the partnership.” A common target among interviewees was the fifth or sixth-year mark, and with Cravath's prestige, many looked forward to “the excellent exit opportunities.”
"We know what we're good at.”
Associates are kept up-to-date at regular town hall meetings, but when it comes to strategy sources reiterated to us that “the core aspects of the firm don't change much.” Corporate hiring partner Scott Bennett confirms: "We know what we're good at. We don't venture too far afield. If we move into something new, it's more of an evolution; it will be an extension of a product we currently offer."
You'll often hear it said that an interview is as much about the interviewee getting to know the firm as it is an assessment of the candidate. Perhaps that explains Cravath's approach to callback interviews. “It's a whole day,” associates informed us, with one recalling that “they brought me in around 10am and I didn't leave until around 7pm!” But normally they end a couple of hours earlier. Interviewees therefore get plenty of time to measure the firm against any preconceptions they might have. As we mentioned at the outset, Cravath has quite the reputation. “I had heard some not so great things: that it was tense and competitive, and really not my scene,” revealed one source. “But I did the interview, and I found that I got on very well with the people.” The length of these interviews gives candidates a chance to have a more human interaction with multiple lawyers at the firm, and to evaluate Cravath off the back of these meetings.
Making a connection is key, as this associate demonstrated: “I hit it off with a few associates and most people I know who ended up with an offer had an outstanding conversation. I chatted for two hours in one interview: the partner said we'd talk half about work, half about life. We talked for an hour about music and I really learned a lot about him.” The day is loosely structured, with juniors telling us that “they shoot for about five interviews over the course of the day. There's no pre-set schedule of who your interviewers are going to be. It's done on the basis of who is available. More importantly there is no fixed period of time – the interview is as long or as short as the interviewer deems necessary. One of my callback interviews went on for an hour and a half, and someone had to call us to ask us to stop! Another was about 15 minutes long. There's less pressure on both sides. When you know you don't have to talk for X amount of time it makes it a lot easier to have a natural conversation.”
Notable summer events: During previous summers, our social activities have included a party at the Central Park Zoo, Broadway shows, SPiN ping pong tournament, Hudson River Sail, the Apollo Theater, Shakespeare in the Park and opportunities to attend various sporting events, among other gatherings.
Interview with litigation managing partner Karin DeMasi
Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
825 Eighth Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Number of international offices: 1
- Partners (US): 84
- Associates (US): 412
- Main recruitment contact: Lisa A Kalen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partners: Michael A Paskin, D Scott Bennett
- Diversity officer: Kiisha J B Morrow
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 92
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 82, SEO: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: NY 87
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,700/week 2Ls: $3,700/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Berkeley, Boston College/Boston University Job Fair, Brigham Young University New York Interview Program, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell Job Fair, Duke, Emory Job Fair, Fordham, George Washington New York Job Fair, Georgetown, Harvard, Harvard BLSA Job Fair, Howard, Lavender Law Career Fair, LeGaL LGBT Career Fair, Michigan, Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium, Northeast BLSA Job Fair, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas, Texas New York Job Fair, Tulane/Washington University Job Fair, Vanderbilt Job Fair, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Summer associate profile:
Our summer program is designed to provide law students with an experience that mirrors the life of a first year associate. Summer associates experience the day-to-day working life of a Cravath lawyer and gain valuable hands-on experience working directly for, and with, our clients.
Summer program components:
Prior to the summer, we collect department and assignment preferences (type of matter or practice area, specific teams or partners). Upon arrival, summer associates are assigned to a partner from their selected department, along with an associate mentor. This partner is responsible for assigning work, providing feedback, integrating summer associates fully into their teams and ensuring that the experience resembles that of a first-year associate.
Additionally, there are a number of social and cultural activities including a party at the Central Park Zoo, Broadway shows, Hudson River Sail, the Apollo Theater, Shakespeare in the Park and various professional sporting events.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)