Law Practice

Cravath in 1952: No Billables Pressure, No Fancy Offices and No Women


An associate who went to work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 1952 experienced a more genteel law firm, with no pressure to bill and plenty of mentoring. He was expected to wear a Brooks Brothers suit and a hat. His office was stark, with no expensive furniture.

There was no dress code for women at the firm—because there were none. Charles Reich, the former Yale law professor who wrote The Greening of America, recounts his experiences as a young associate in a letter published by American Lawyer. It is addressed to a friend’s daughter going to work for the firm today.

Women weren’t allowed at Cravath in 1952 because they were considered a distraction. Assignment deadlines were important, but there were no billing pressures and no annual tally of billable hours.

Reich got little face time with the senior partner of his division. When he was ushered in to meetings, the partner was often talking on the phone while having his shoes shined. Two male secretaries often rushed in and out of the office. Meetings were brief.

Cravath partners did not call attention to themselves. “Their work was all that mattered,” Reich writes. “They did not do politics, they did not do public relations, they did not even go to court very often.”

Reich looks back fondly on the experience, if only because the focus on business provided “satisfying relief from the uncertainties and ambiguities of human relationships.”

“For me, it was a great experience to be a man of few words and no personality, not amusing, no philosophy of life or law, no nonsense, no time to spare and All Business—two initial caps,” he writes.

Article updated at 8:50 AM on 12/21/2007 to correct a typographical error.

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