Not everyone has the necessary intellect and discipline to be a lawyer. But even among lawyers, there are the elites, and the elites within the elite. Of the half-million practicing law in the early 1980s, James B. Stewart tells us, only 3,000 work in the blue-chip corporate law firms "which occupy the pinnacle of the profession."
These men (women for the most part came later) were set apart by their education (Ivy was good, Harvard Law better), achievement (law review editor also a plus), and sheer dedication.
In the best of the eight essays which make up the book, we meet attorneys at the firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, who are representing IBM in an anti-trust case and happen to be Stewart's own old firm. Working through weekends and vacations is small beer to these guys, as Stewart writes: "When Sahid scored another triumph by billing 24 hours in a single day, Rolfe - in a move that became the subject of legend in the firm - flew to California, worked on the plane and, by virtue of the change in time zones, managed to bill 27 hours in one day."
Forget about getting home early to pick up your kids. Divorce was a common casualty, and a certain casual cruelty prevailed, unusually harsh even for the American workplace. One of the more easygoing partners at Cravath counsels an associate: "You tell people their work isn't good, even if it's perfect. Find something and make them redo it, or they'll give you anything."
This is hog heaven for any John Grisham enthusiast. The rest of "The Partners" isn't nearly so entertaining. But it's a very illuminating look into the world of high-pressure corporate law in all its varied facets, like public offerings, hostile takeovers, government bailouts, even estate planning. I felt I learned a lot reading each one of the essays, even if it was sometimes work keeping awake, especially as Stewart likes to show off his technical aptitude now and again.
At times, this has the feeling of a college textbook. There's an opening chapter which features efforts by the legal community to help liberate the U.S. embassy personnel held against their will in Iran from 1979-1981, where Stewart seems to forget that the lawyers' work had nothing to do with the hostages' liberation. He also writes up the Chrysler bailout saga from a legal standpoint, then at the end sheepishly admits it was really a political issue at the end. The writing is often dry, and this book is a product of another era almost a whole generation gone by.
But Stewart knows what he writes about, and you will feel the vigor of the law as practiced at its highest level. You may not know these cases from reading about them in the news, media reporting on business law is pretty spotty unless it's Enron. But as Stewart makes clear, in writing about what could have happened if IBM had been broken up by the government, that "the government antitrust case is as close as litigation ever comes to social and economic planning."
In other words, these cases may well decide more about the quality and value of the lives we live here in America than does any single presidential election. So it's nice to have a learned explainer like Stewart to put it all down for you. He has gone on to more-heralded things as a writer since this, his first book, but he was off to a fine start.
on October 21, 2002
This was James Stewart's first book which portended the talent that would give us "Den of Thieves" and "Blood Sport," among others. Mr. Stewart is a great story teller - he can make a seemingly mundane subject into a real page-turner. The Partners offers fascinating insight into the rarified world of white-shoe New York law firms. Especially interesting is the story of Cravath, Swain and Moore - where attorneys work 10 years without a day of vacation and one attorney gets passed over for partnership because he rode a motorcycle to work. Yikes!
I haven't yet read the new James Stewart book about 9/11 but all of the others are very interesting, fair balanced accounts of the chosen subject matter. Highly recommended.
on June 12, 2001
This book, while based on incidents now over two decades old, is an interesting look into the oft-secret world of high-power, blue-chip law firms. Each chapter comprises a case study of a selected firm and its relationship to a corporation through a precis of a particular case. Various kinds of law, from takeovers, to trusts and estates, to litigation, and more, give the book a rounded view. Along with The Paper Chase and L-100, a must read for any prospective law student.