Golf and the Art of Career Maintenance

by | March 10, 2009

Sports may be the ultimate schmoozing activity. The New York Law Journal's "Back Page," a section devoted largely to career management topics for firm associates, features "Off the Bench: scores & standings from the lawyers sports leagues." Apparently, New York lawyers can blow off steam by participating in football, basketball and volleyball leagues.

Football, basketball and volleyball are nice, but when it comes to career management, one sport is another league all together: golf. Take, for example, the somewhat disgruntled commentary of a corporate associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, who complains that the ultra-prestigious firm is "geared toward rewarding good golf scores and old boys more than good, hard work."

Disgruntled or not, Cravath associates aren't alone in evoking the g-word. In fact, the venerable sport turns up regularly in our surveys.

Golf and making partner

From a career management perspective, golf skills seem to come in handiest when it comes to getting the partnership nod. At IP powerhouse Howrey & Simon, a contact in the firm's LA office advises would-be partners to "learn how to play golf."

Associates at Cravath also tend to insist on golf skills. "Women can improve their chances [of making partner] by not getting pregnant," says one corporate attorney, who adds: "Both women and men should golf well." Another agrees: "It helps if you are a man, play golf, or are a relative of an important client." Picking up on the sports theme, a colleague sees "dismal prospects unless you are a golf buddy or a total kiss ass."

Golfing at outings

At the very least, golfing know-how can be put to good use at firm outings. In fact, many firms hold firm-wide outings at golf courses. Palo Alto's Wilson Sonsini, for example, holds its annual retreat at ritzy Pebble Beach each September, an event that one associate calls "the most fabulous thing about Wilson Sonsini." Other firms holding events at golf courses include Cleary Gottlieb, Weil Gotshal ("all day golf and lobster"), Sidley & Austin, and, of course, Cravath Swaine & Moore. In fact, at the annual "Cravath Outing," associates tell of a "a golf contingent that just wants to get out there at 5:45 AM and do 36 holes."

Golf dress and golf offices

By some measures, golf seems to touch just about every aspect of law firm life. At the Washington, DC office of Chicago's Sidley & Austin, one associate notes that the building "has a golf store. It's great!" And, for better or worse, there's always dress. At DC's Hogan & Hartson, a corporate associate reveals that "golf course casual attire is the norm on Fridays."

Golf clients

Finally, golfing can mean time in court. Simpson Thacher's litigation chair, Roy Reardon, took on the representation of golfer Casey Martin in his highly publicized suit against the Professional Golf Association (PGA). Martin, who suffers from a congenital circulatory disorder, sued the PGA after the association refused to let him use a golf cart in the final round of the Nike Open, a lower level circuit tour. Martin was victorious in 1998, when a judge found that the PGA was indeed violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide him with a "reasonable" accommodation for his disability.

Filed Under: Job Search


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