Law firms tout collaboration and collegiality so frequently they might sound a bit shopworn. Until you listen to Robin Bergen talk about a recent case that suggests quite the opposite.
A client called with an urgent request: produce disclosure summaries for some 50 transactions in time for their board meeting. Which, as it happened, was in two days. Faced with a virtually impossible deadline, Robin sent an e-mail requesting help to her colleagues in Washington and New York.
The result? On an hour's notice, some 40 lawyers volunteered, many working well past midnight. Which pleased her client on a couple of counts: not a summary missed the mark, and Cleary Gottlieb delivered a small miracle right on time.
"After everyone got some sleep, I sent a thank you note that in so many words summed up my feelings: isn’t this exactly the kind of effort that makes Cleary Gottlieb great?"
Jeremy Calsyn recalls arriving at Cleary Gottlieb with the notion of being a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. Yet, he is now one of our leading antitrust lawyers. This year, for example, Jeremy led the antitrust clearance effort that helped Alpha Natural Resources quickly complete its $7.1 billion acquisition of Massey Energy. The deal has now closed, making Alpha one of the largest coal companies in the United States.
How did Jeremy find his niche? It's a story with a Cleary Gottlieb ring to it.
"When I was a new associate, I struck up a conversation in the hallway with some lawyers who were doing antitrust work. I asked them to keep me in mind for their next project, which they did. Although I hadn't considered becoming an antitrust lawyer, I found the work exciting, challenging, and wide-ranging – soon, I was taking on as much antitrust work as I could handle."
In 2008, with Wall Street financing all but frozen, Chantal Kordula joined a Cleary Gottlieb team that nonetheless pulled off a $2.5 billion transaction for Grupo Bimbo, the international baked goods company. Last year, however, she faced an even stiffer challenge on Grupo Bimbo's behalf.
Her task: lead a diverse team of some 30 lawyers negotiating the purchase of Sara Lee's baked goods division, a deal requiring 16 intellectual property agreements. And do it all inside 24 days. The results: Cleary Gottlieb hit its deadline, and Grupo Bimbo will become the largest company of its kind in the world – earning Chantal an American Lawyer "Dealmaker of the Week."
"I’d never managed a team that large on my own, but Cleary Gottlieb lawyers not only are exceptional, they work together. We negotiated during the day, and turned around documents at night. And everyone inside Cleary Gottlieb was available to us – we called with a question, they found us an answer."
As captain of the Cleary softball team, David Oliwenstein always enjoys a challenge. It’s no surprise, then, that he always wanted to be a litigator. At Cleary Gottlieb, that experience came fast and early: as a first-year associate doing litigation and government enforcement work, David was entrusted with difficult and challenging assignments, from writing briefs and court filings to defending depositions at the SEC. Now, as a third year associate, he has learned to appreciate the strategy and planning that go into defending a client in a major litigation or regulatory investigation. Among the things David most enjoys about his work is his ability to actively interact with more senior lawyers in strategic decision-making and problem-solving.
“You’ll get substantive work early in your career. All of the partners at Cleary that I’ve worked with have liked to hear that I want to be challenged more. They like that enthusiasm, and when they see it they reward it by giving you more challenging work to do. It prepares you well for wherever your professional path might take you.”
When Jennifer Kennedy Park joined Cleary Gottlieb in 2003, she anticipated working on cases that resonated, and playing a role that mattered. Expectations met: she is now working with the litigation team defending Bank of America in lawsuits arising from its merger with Merrill Lynch, and was part of the team that handled the federal and state investigations of the bank during the financial crisis.
Caught in the media glare of too-big-to-fail issues, and seeking a firm with reputation for solving apparently unsolvable problems, Bank of America had turned to Cleary Gottlieb.
"At Cleary Gottlieb, you get the chance to think about big, interesting issues. Bank of America is a perfect example -- because what might win you the litigation might also garner you a bad press day. When your client is on the front page, you have to find a creative approach."
After serving as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office, and teaching at New York University Law School, Breon Peace decided to resume private practice. While he could have gone to other prestigious firms, he chose to return to Cleary Gottlieb. One of the many factors influencing his decision: the substantial growth and depth of the firm's litigation practice. When Breon was a junior associate, some 50 lawyers worked in the New York litigation group. When he rejoined the firm, that number had doubled – and now it has tripled. Another measure of the group's stature? The buzz beyond the numbers:
"Pick up The Wall Street Journal and look at their coverage of pending significant government investigations and corporate litigation. Are we involved with those cases? Absolutely. Leading corporations are regularly turning to us to handle their most important litigation and enforcement matters. For example, after the Madoff Ponzi scheme was revealed, several clients hired us to represent them in Madoff-related litigation and investigations. Billions of dollars are at stake. When I was a junior associate, we didn’t often work on those kinds of matters. We do now."
While Steve Wilner is considered one of the country's best real estate lawyers, he also maintains a strong hand in several other practices. Indeed, if there is a subtext to his career, it might be this: opportunities presented, opportunities seized. Not sure which area of the law suited his interests, he explored and thrived in more than a few – real estate, mergers & acquistions, and private equity. Next up: a five-year assignment abroad, where he teamed with other Cleary Gottlieb offices to represent a group of Malaysian investors. Settled back in New York in 2006, he brought a fresh perspective of his own career – and Cleary Gottlieb.
"Stepping away from the mother ship, if you will, really gave me a sense of how unique this firm is. You can be a senior associate negotiating with a partner, or a young partner negotiating with senior partner. The more willing you are to take up a challenge, the more likely you are to succeed."
When Pamela Marcogliese left Paris to return to the practice of law, she had only one requirement: it had to be international. Five years later, her active capital markets and corporate governance practice puts her in daily contact with clients around the world, requiring her to navigate national differences in language, culture and regulation. The result? She’s never bored—each transaction brings new challenges and opportunities. Indeed, a recent Mexican deal forced the Canadian native, who is already fluent in English, French and Italian, to dust off her high school Spanish textbook and immerse herself in yet another culture.
“I enjoy the international dimension of my work because it broadens the range of issues you need to take into account when crafting a solution. It forces you to be creative and find a compromise that satisfies everyone at the table. But most of all, what I really love about my job is the interpersonal aspect, where negotiating the best deal means aligning the diverse interests of all those involved.”
Asked to describe his most interesting cases, Derek Bush makes an interesting point in return: at Cleary Gottlieb, run of the mill matters are few and far between. He points to the privatization of a Korean bank that Cleary Gottlieb led – a case as memorable to him for the political and culture considerations as the legal ones.
Derek also worked on the team that pulled a Puerto Rican bank away from the threshold of bankruptcy and back to business. It was a case so threaded with issues – regulatory matters, corporate governance, capital market disclosure, civil litigation, bankruptcy, M&A, private equity – that it might serve as a working definition of a multi-disciplinary matter.
"Lawyers from every part of the firm joined in conference calls trying to figure out how to get our client through the woods. We pulled it off – but I can't begin to imagine handling that kind of matter without Cleary Gottlieb's teamwork. It was remarkable."
Listening to Liza Lenas talk about her career at Cleary, one theme quickly emerges: the importance of building relationships. Liza mentors new associates entering the firm, ensuring that they are engaged in firm life from day one. Meanwhile, her private equity group holds twice-monthly “office hours,” where the team gets together in an informal setting to discuss their experiences on current projects and developments in this rapidly evolving area. These sessions have proved invaluable in navigating the new regulatory environment for clients and their investors worldwide. Liza considers law a “people profession” and with good reason. “There is nothing more satisfying than watching junior associates grow and gain confidence in their abilities. I make it a priority to put junior associates in front of the client. They have a fresh perspective and intuit things differently, and they work well with the private equity firms’ junior folks—the decision-makers of tomorrow. It’s a win-win for senior and junior lawyers alike.”
Les Silverman began at Cleary Gottlieb in 1974 doing corporate finance work for the airline industry. His career really took off when he was encouraged to develop a practice in international capital markets. He expanded the London office and built its business in cross-border offerings, then returned to New York to focus for a decade on transactions in Latin America, including the groundbreaking privatization and IPO of Telmex. Today, his practice concentrates on domestic transactions, including representing Morgan Stanley in the joint venture broker-dealer it established with Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank and American Express in offerings under TARP. Recognized among the country’s best capital markets lawyers, Les publishes widely, including co-authoring the treatise U.S. Regulation of the International Securities and Derivatives Markets.
“What I enjoy most about Cleary Gottlieb is the intellectual challenge of solving complex problems on a daily basis. We have very bright, collegial people here who are willing to stretch to help one another, which allows us to interact in a really rewarding way.”
Keeping careers fresh is one part of Cleary Gottlieb life that Mary Watson, our Director of Professional Development, knows a thing or two about. Mary started her career as a litigator, before making a move to arbitration and employment issues. What's more, her career has ventured outside of the firm: she recently took a sabbatical to serve as the dean of the faculty at a private school in Brooklyn, where she once chaired its Classics department.
As it's turned out, that kind of mobility has kept Mary in one place – Cleary Gottlieb – for seventeen years and counting.
"One thing I love about Cleary Gottlieb is doing new things, really re-engaging with my career. Which is hardly unusual. People here are surprised at how much they like their work, surprised at how much they like the people they work with – and are surprised at how long they stay."
A settlement rejected, a trial looming. That is the short version of the challenge facing Shawn Chen and the Cleary Gottlieb team defending Bank of America in a case brought by the SEC during the financial crisis. Adding to the pressure: scrutiny coming from Congress and the mainstream media, as well as pundits across the blogosphere. In short order, Shawn and Lewis Liman, the other lead partner on the case, managed to negotiate a new settlement – one that included changes to the bank's corporate governance, and also resolved a second line of inquiry by the SEC. All of which allowed the bank to sidestep litigation – and won a round of kudos for Cleary Gottlieb. "We generally work on the most difficult, intractable problems that our clients face. Finding answers usually means approaching the case in ways that are interesting and unique – and not intuitively obvious. Handling these kinds of cases is one of the reasons I’ve been so happy working at Cleary Gottlieb."
Jeff Karpf could not have started his relationship with Citigroup at a better time. Some thirteen years ago, he was seconded to Travelers Group during its mega-merger with Citicorp – the union creating Citigroup, which in 1998 became the world’s largest financial services company.
Fast forward to the 2008 financial crisis and he could not be advising Citigroup at a more demanding moment: its exposure to subprime mortgages had left the bank reeling. Drawing on his long experience representing Wall Street investment banks, not to mention advising the Russian government on its debt restructuring, Karpf led Citi's negotiations with the U.S. Treasury. The result: the bank quickly repaid the government and shed TARP supervision. All of which earned Jeff an American Lawyer "Dealmaker of the Week."
"The breadth of experience at Cleary Gottlieb is invaluable. As an associate I worked on mortgage-backed securities, and never expected to hear the term again. A dozen years later, I tapped every bit of financial knowledge I’d gained."
As a new associate in 2003, Amy Shapiro was eager to become involved in corporate finance and acquisition transactions — Cleary gave her the opportunity to jump in with both feet. For several years she worked closely with one of the leading telecom companies in the Americas on tender offers, syndicated loans and securities offerings. A subsequent project featured a down-to-the-wire bond refinancing and high-stakes shareholder meeting, encouraging her to take on greater challenges and responsibilities within the firm’s supportive and collegial culture. Having benefited from mentors at Cleary, she's now mindful to return the favor: "Associates look at my habits and how I interact with clients and counterparties. As an example, I try to make time to explain why I take a certain approach, because one of the most important things they can glean is a sense of the bigger picture. That way, when they step up on the next deal, they will do so having benefitted from a better sense of what we are doing and why we are doing it."
Litigation careers don’t come more exciting than Victor Hou’s—racketeering, terrorism, drug trafficking, murder and securities fraud represent just a few of the cases he tried as a federal prosecutor. Since joining Cleary Gottlieb in 2007, Victor has helped lead the rapid growth of the firm’s litigation group: an expansion he attributes to its ability to mobilize quickly, public-mindedness and extraordinary depth of experience. The group includes numerous former prosecutors and general counsels of the SEC. Recent litigation matters have involved Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Madoff-related matters. Perhaps more importantly, associates are encouraged to engage quickly, and initiative is rewarded.
“What sets Cleary lawyers apart is our comittment to client causes, creativity, love of the law and a spirit of cooperation…that’s the fabric of our firm, across all offices and practice areas. New York is one of the world’s most exciting legal markets, but having an integrated worldwide partnership means the sun never really sets on our reach.”
Lisa Vicens sees life through an international lens. Before becoming the first lawyer in her family, she earned a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. Now she enjoys the complex, international dimension of her work at Cleary. Lisa’s litigation practice covers a range of issues, including enforcement and securities, and she often represents Latin American clients. She thrives on Cleary’s high-profile, cutting-edge cases, where international clients depend on the firm’s nuanced understanding of the effects of U.S. litigation and government investigations on their businesses. As the mother of a toddler, Lisa also loves the firm’s supportive mentoring group for new parents, where colleagues share how best to balance work and life. “Cleary appreciates the unique interests and background that every attorney brings and is looking for candidates who also appreciate a diversity of experience, because that is what our firm reflects—people who are talented, smart, and interesting in their own ways.”
Ask Arthur Kohn to distill Cleary Gottlieb's approach to diversity and this is what he will tell you: individuality is respected, opportunities to shine are a given. As chair of our Committee on Diversity Issues, Arthur notes that the firm’s make up has evolved: our lawyers have different backgrounds, different histories, different perspectives. And notes our tradition of diversity that dates back to the founding of the firm in 1946.
Yet, for all the changes and differences, Arthur points out that lawyers here share a frame of mind. One that has propelled his own career as one of the leading lawyers in the area of employee benefits and executive compensation.
"Following the model -- doing things the way they've always been done -- works well for a lot of firms. But that's not Cleary Gottlieb. We encourage people to think. Which means, let me pause for a minute and consider whether there's a better way to do it today than there was yesterday."
Building a practice in corporate and financial transactions at Cleary has led Cyrus Ghavi down an intriguing career path. His reputation as a skilled debater first suggested a future in litigation. But taking advantage of the opportunity to try a variety of work at the firm revealed new interests he was just as eager to explore. Cleary provides this flexibility with its range of practice areas and open architecture. Now a mid-level associate, Cyrus advises clients on corporate governance matters, compliance with new financial regulations, and the preparation of IPOs and debt offerings, including sovereign debt. And with the firm’s encouragement, he even makes time to litigate pro bono asylum cases, too. “Cleary has a strong, flexible practice across the board, and trusts that the people they hire are qualified, smart, and capable. With that in mind, they want to make sure you’re happy, because you’ll do the best possible work under those circumstances. They’re genuinely interested in me as a person, my career goals, and what’s best for my future.”
When Francesca Odell handled her first assignment for Petrobras, the leading oil company in Brazil, the country was gaining stability and taking a prominent role in Latin America. In the short space of four years, Francesca not only earned more business with Petrobras, but also won several other clients for Cleary Gottlieb, blazing one of the premier practices in Brazil.
Timing was hardly all that mattered, however. Francesca learned Portuguese on the fly, took the reins of a capital markets team for the first time, and perhaps most importantly, resolutely built one relationship after the next.
"I made sure that I got to know the right people — the CFOs and CEOs who were entering the IPO market — and started developing a list of clients. We’d handle a deal for one team of bankers, solidify our relationship with them, and they’d hire us for another transaction. So our business really picked up momentum — from 2005 through 2007 alone, we handled some 30 IPOs."
Engage Jorge Juantorena in a conversation about Cleary Gottlieb, and teasing out his feelings about the firm will not be an issue. It is, in his words, a special place to practice. A point he makes by taking a page from his own career.
As a senior associate, Jorge joined a team advising the Mexican government on the privatization of its airports. Recognizing his growing capital markets expertise, the two partners on the assignment stepped back and allowed him to be the day-to-day leader of the assignment. Their confidence was hardly misplaced: All told, Cleary Gottlieb successfully closed three IPOs as part of the assignment with an aggregate value of about $2 billion.
"Law students who want to be corporate lawyers aspire to be leaders at the negotiating table. That’s exactly the opportunity at Cleary. Because of our culture, compensation and taking credit for a transaction aren’t issues here. You are allowed to handle as much as you are capable of."