What makes Cleary Gottlieb unique?
With offices around the globe, one cannot deny Cleary Gottlieb’s international scope. But don’t call it a U.S. firm with overseas offices—this is an “integrated global partnership” that promotes and emphasizes collegiality and respect across all offices and practice areas. This guides everything from whom we hire to our “lockstep” compensation system, which means that Cleary lawyers, from the most junior associate to the most senior partner, are compensated based solely on seniority. Hours billed and the amount of business generated have no effect on any Cleary lawyer’s compensation; lawyers are rewarded just as much for helping their colleagues as they are for helping themselves, because the focus is always on helping clients. We believe that the best work product results from talented people working in a common enterprise, sharing their knowledge, time, and experience with colleagues, and that compensation based in whole or in part on other metrics creates incentives that detract from the firm’s objective of providing premier legal services in a culture of collegiality.
In a constantly changing legal environment, we believe clients are best served by confident, creative, and well-rounded lawyers who join practice groups based on both their preferences and our clients’ needs, Under the close supervision and guidance of senior lawyers charged with monitoring and fostering the professional development of associates, new associates gain broad experiences and training that will lay the foundation for a successful future no matter the career path.
Finally, as a firm, we place a premium on the unique perspectives of individuals from a range of backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences. We believe this helps to keep the firm an open and exciting place to work. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we promote an environment where women and men of different races, national origins, religions, and sexual orientations can practice law in a collegial and effective manner.
How would you describe the firm’s partnership?
Cleary has a single, world-wide partnership and remains dedicated to strengthening our practice primarily through internal growth – approximately 90 percent of our current partners joined the firm as associates.
We strive to admit to the partnership lawyers who have demonstrated character, leadership, intelligence, and legal skills that will enable them to contribute significantly to the firm’s practice over the long term, irrespective of the immediate needs of particular practice areas. Candidates for partnership are considered by the entire firm, as opposed to being nominated or selected by a department or practice group. To promote the full application of the firm’s resources to best serve our clients’ needs, all partners share in firm income solely on the basis of seniority, and unlike many firms, all partners have access to the firm’s financial data.
How is the firm governed?
The partnership operates as a participatory democracy. Partners as a whole decide important firm matters, while committees of partners and counsel under the guidance of the managing partner conduct the day-to-day management of the firm. Committee memberships generally rotate every three years. All partners act on the admission of new partners and counsel and on the election of the managing partner. Most of our retired partners serve as senior counsel to the firm, continuing to attend meetings and other firm functions.
Associates actively participate on important committees in various offices, including the mentoring committee, the committee on diversity issues, the community legal assistance committee, the information technology committee, and the summer program committee.
Is there a minimum billable hour requirement?
While other law firms count hours, we focus on achievements. We do not employ minimum billable hour requirements—we never have. By working in teams, our lawyers support one another to achieve a common goal—an excellent work product for the firm’s clients. This means you may be called on to pitch in to ease the burden of others at times, and others will come to your aid when necessary.
To help our lawyers balance their work and personal lives, they can take advantage of industry-lauded policies governing reduced/flexible work schedules, telecommuting, and parental leaves. We offer reduced/flexible scheduling to associates who are primary caregivers and for other personal reasons.
How would you describe the firm’s commitment to public service?
Cleary’s longstanding commitment to public service dates back to three of our founders:
- George W. Ball, undersecretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
- Fowler Hamilton, director of the Agency for International Development
- Henry J. Friendly, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
This commitment continues today. Many of our senior lawyers have held prestigious government and public sector posts, including:
- Former general counsel of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and former SEC division directors
- Former assistant U.S. attorneys
- In the U.S., former senior officials of the Department of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Air Force
- In Europe, a member of the Commission Bancaire et Financière, the Belgian banking and supervisory authority
- In Asia, a deputy chairman of the Takeovers and Mergers Panel and a member of the Takeovers Appeal Committee of the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong
Cleary lawyers also have trained as judicial clerks, including for justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice. Others direct community-planning organizations; are active within national and international bar associations; serve on the governing boards of municipalities, schools, and hospitals; and participate in civic organizations committed to the arts, community welfare, civil rights, education, and the environment.