Executive Q&A from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
What makes Cleary Gottlieb unique?
The global nature of Cleary Gottlieb’s practice is unsurpassed. As one of the first U.S.-based firms to establish an office in Paris and among the first international firms to hire and promote non-U.S. lawyers as equal partners around the world, Cleary Gottlieb is the preeminent international U.S. law firm. Today, approximately half of its lawyers are based outside of the United States.
While it is a global organization, the firm offers a truly integrated “one firm” culture that promotes and emphasizes collegiality and respect. This guides everything from whom we hire to our “lock-step” compensation system, which means that Cleary Gottlieb lawyers, from the most junior associate to the most senior partner, are compensated based solely on seniority. Hours billed and the amount of business generated have no effect on any Cleary Gottlieb lawyer’s compensation; lawyers are rewarded just as much for helping their colleagues as they are for helping themselves. We believe that the best work product results from talented people working in a common enterprise, sharing their knowledge, time and experience with colleagues and that compensation based in whole or in part on other metrics create incentives that detract from the Firm’s objective of providing premier legal services in a culture of collegiality.
Cleary Gottlieb’s open architecture among practice groups and work assignment system provide more flexibility than other firms. We have no formal departments because we want lawyers to follow their interests and abilities in developing their practice and careers. Under the close supervision and guidance of senior lawyers charged with monitoring and fostering the professional development of associates, new associates can choose to specialize from the beginning or explore different practice areas. This freedom broadens your knowledge and perspective and deepens your confidence as a lawyer—no matter what your ultimate career path. Having senior lawyers actively participate as guides ensures that your path will be one that promotes your professional development and satisfaction.
Finally, as a firm, we place a premium on the unique perspectives of individuals from a range of backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences. We believe this tradition helps to keep the firm an open and exciting place to work. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we promote an environment where women and men of different races, national origins, religions and sexual orientations can practice law in a collegial and effective manner.
How would you describe the firm’s partnership?
Cleary has a single, world-wide partnership. As of January 1, 2011, the firm had 196 partners. More than one-third of our partners have served in more than one of the firm's offices, and 84 partners are currently based in our offices outside the United States. The firm remains dedicated to strengthening our practice primarily through internal growth – approximately 90% of our current partners joined the firm as associates.
We strive to admit to the partnership lawyers who have demonstrated the qualities of character, leadership, intelligence and legal skills that will enable them to contribute significantly to the firm’s practice over the long term, irrespective of the immediate needs of particular practice areas. Candidates for partnership are considered by the entire firm, as opposed to being “nominated” or selected by a department or practice group. To promote the full application of the firm’s resources to best serve our clients’ needs, all partners share in firm income solely on the basis of seniority, and unlike many firms, all partners have access to the firm’s financial data.
How is the firm governed?
The partnership operates as a participatory democracy. Partners as a whole decide important firm matters, while committees of partners and counsel under the guidance of the managing partner conduct the day-to-day management of the firm. Committee memberships generally rotate every three years. All partners act on the admission of new partners and counsel and on the election of the managing partner. Most of our retired partners serve as senior counsel to the firm, continuing to attend meetings and other firm functions.
Associates actively participate in a number of important committees in various offices, including the mentoring committee, the committee on diversity issues, the community legal assistance committee, the information technology committee and the summer program committee.
What are some of the most interesting new developments at the firm?
- Cleary Gottlieb recently announced that Mark Leddy has been elected the firm’s new Managing Partner, effective January 1, 2011.
- The firm is expanding its geographic reach, having recently announced that it will launch an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as well as a local law practice in Hong Kong.
- We have been ranked in the top 10 of The American Lawyer’s “A-List”—a measure of associate satisfaction, revenue by lawyer, pro bono and diversity—every year since the list’s inception in 2003.
- The firm is ranked in the top 10 in Vault’s Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms.
- In 2010, Chambers USA listed Cleary as one of the leading law firms in the United States, with 35 top-ranked practices. Seventy-six of our lawyers have been distinguished as leaders in their respective fields, many in more than one area of expertise.
- The firm was ranked a “Top Ten Innovative Law Firm” in the Financial Times’ inaugural U.S. Innovative Lawyers Special Report, which focuses on the state of innovation in the legal industry as evidenced in recent landmark matters.
- The firm was ranked as a “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality” in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for 2011, which rates Corporate America’s treatment of LGBT employees.
- Cleary has kept quite busy through the recent financial crisis and has added 15 partners worldwide since the beginning of 2009.
Are associates assigned to departments?
Cleary Gottlieb offers broad exposure to the practice of law and unsurpassed career flexibility. We believe that this freedom, coupled with active guidance from senior colleagues, provides the optimal environment for career development and growth. We have no formal departments because we want lawyers to follow their interests and abilities. Under the close supervision and guidance of senior lawyers charged with monitoring and fostering the professional development of associates, new associates can choose to specialize from the beginning or explore different practice areas. This freedom broadens your perspective and deepens your confidence as a lawyer—no matter what your ultimate career path. Having senior lawyers actively participate as guides ensures that your path will be one that promotes your professional development and satisfaction.
How is work assigned?
The work we take on at Cleary Gottlieb is, by its nature, demanding. Recognizing this, we have an infrastructure of senior lawyers charged with dividing assignments evenly, so that everyone has as balanced and interesting a workload as possible consistent with their areas of interest, career aspirations and the needs of our clients.
Is there a minimum billable hour requirement?
While other law firms count hours, we focus on achievements. We do not employ minimum billable hour requirements—we never have. By working in teams, our lawyers support one another to achieve a common goal—an excellent work product for the client. This means you may be called on to pitch in to ease the burden of others at times, and that, similarly, others will come to your aid when necessary.
To help our lawyers balance their work and personal lives, they can take advantage of industry-lauded policies governing reduced/flexible work schedules, telecommuting and parental leaves. We offer reduced/flexible scheduling to associates who are primary caregivers, as well as for other personal reasons.