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29 July 2008


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Bill Henderson


This is a fair comment. My only rejoinder is that it is important to evaluate the theoretical coherent of Cravath system according to the terms specified by the people who created and honed it. On that measure, the Cravath system makes sense.

During the early 20th century, Cravath and other firms were free to hire only Type I Protestants males from local law schools. A note the Yale Law Journal in 1964 documented that Jews were just not getting hired by Wall Street law, which suggest that a subtle screen was not really necessary.

But if a liberal arts education was a real plus, Harvard, Columbia and Yale could deliver on that measure, because those schools generally had the stringent pre-law requirements.

Adam Levitin

Bill, I'd pause before accepting Swaine's claim that Cravath used strong college performance as an important measure of associate potential. This might be true, but an emphasis on strong college performance (from Ivy League schools) would also have had the effect of screening out many immigrant and first generation lawyers whose admission to Ivies was limited by quotas.

Bill Henderson


I think your criticisms are fair. The portion of Swaine's history that quote Cravath's 1920 Harvard Law speech is pretty frightening. In a nutshell, creative people need not apply -- they scare clients. So do it our way, or don't apply.

I do not think, however, that social networks are NOT the key to this model. The social networks grew up around this model, but the networks themselves were not intended to be a key part of the Cravath system. Cravath explicitly disavowed advancement based on social or family connections. He viewed these as corrosive to the ethos he was trying to build.

The analogy that I think applies here is first generation versus second generation versus third generation money. The worldview of the third generation is seldom that of the first generation. The third generation is likely to view their station in life as part of the natural order of things. We need to avoid buying into that view.



There is a charity and a facism to this model.

Charity in that, for the first X years of associate development, the partnership is making less per associate than it could if it ran a sweatshop. Many will say, training is cheaper than turnover, but what you describe in this post is more expensive "training" than all but one or two firms currently employ.

Fascism in that, the model demands servitude and submission to organizational will. Even outside interests are subject to review and metering. There is a certain type of "man," prone to joining social fraternities, secret societies, and hierarchical private organizations, for whom the Cravath system will feel like home. But entrepreneurial innovators will chafe at even the suggestion of submitting to this kind of control from above. Egalitarians and anti-authoritarian geniuses will want to burn the building down. The Cravath system is colonial, old money, network based, and inherently conservative.

I could never be a Cravath man, having grown up in and embraced the ethic of the "live free or die" self-starting Pacific Northwest. The question that interests me is, since the Cravath system has certain obvious cultural affinities, do any of those affinities line up with socio-cultural differences in a way that makes the model discriminatory? Are there genders or orientations or ethnic cultures or national cultures for which this model is, on balance, anathema? I know that the concept of cultural differences is controversial, but it should not be controversial to assert that the Cravath system was designed to appeal to WASP male business ethics.

Because I feel like an outsider to this model, I am also suspicious of evangelizing the Cravath system too aggressively. I do not know how to compete with Cravath on its own terms without access to a hundred-year-old "elite" alumni network. I like elements of the model, namely the culture of loyalty to junior employees, and the focus on training that is engendered by that culture. But I don't think we need the rest of it to have more employer loyalty.

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