THE PARTNERS: Inside America's Most Powerful Law Firms by James B. Stewart

THE PARTNERS: Inside America's Most Powerful Law Firms

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Informed portraits--not key-hole exposÉs--of eight of the nation's best-known (most powerful?) law firms, all but two of them New York-based, each portrait centered on the handling of a specific case or project. ""It is only at times when the stakes are high that a law firm stretches to the full limits of its power,"" says Stewart, and his account of Cravath, Swaine & Moore's representation of IBM in government and private antitrust lawsuits over the past decade shows how awesome that power can be. Lawyers may not necessarily agree that Cravath's work for IBM represents the ""most brilliant and sustained legal representation in history,"" but it must certainly rank as one of the all-time, all-out efforts. The strategy, especially in the private cases, was to overwhelm the plaintiff with paper and organization. It led to an unbroken series of victories, and fees of over $15 million a year from IBM alone, but at a human price (intense internal competition, broken marriages) paid by many of the Cravath lawyers involved. And an all-out effort may not lead to a win, as Chicago's Kirland & Ellis learned in the Westinghouse uranium litigation (disqualification due to a conflict of interest), or as New York's Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine found out in the Kodak antitrust case (a debacle in which one Donovan partner suppressed evidence, committed perjury, and ended up in jail). Stewart shows that corporate transactions can also stretch even the best firms to their limits: the extremely complex Chrysler debt restructuring, handled by New York's Debevoise & Plimpton; the Iranian assets negotiations, in which Shearman & Sterling represented Citibank and, in an unofficial but very real sense, the US government as well; or the initial stock offering by Genentech, a leader in the new genetic engineering industry, represented by San Francisco's Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. Though all of this reads more like eight articles than a book, Stewart provides very detailed accounts of the cases and transactions covered--the chapters on the IBM cases and Chrysler are particularly good, and the Iran-negotiations chapter is far more complete than the account in Paul Hoffman's recent Lions of the Eighties (p. 533). Clear enough for a lay audience, far more solid than the Hoffman book--but likely to appeal chiefly to lawyers, regardless.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster