James Woolery is on the move again. Weve never met, but Im beginning to feel as if I know the guy.
I first covered Woolery in a June 3, 2010, post about a policy change at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The Wall Street Journal had featured the then-41-year-old Cravath partner in an article about the firm's plan to allow lawyers in their 30s and 40s to "make a name for themselves" by taking the lead on client deals. Historically, the Journal reported, Cravath had reserved that role for partners in their 50s.
Six months later, I wrote about Woolery when he left Cravath to become co-head of JP Morgan Chase's North American mergers and acquisitions group. He told The New York Times at the time that he had cultivated a focus on business development and the Chase opportunity would allow him to build on those skills. So much for practicing law.
Now, two years after joining Chase, Woolery has become Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft's first firmwide deputy chaira new position apparently created specially for this prominent lateral hire. In covering Woolery's latest move, the Journal suggested it is a big personal bet for Mr. Woolery. He is jumping back to the legal industry when it is still struggling with a shortage of work, and he is leaving J.P.Morgan just as mergers are showing new signs of life.
Others have speculated on the reasons for Woolerys various moves. I'm more interested in the contrast between where he started (Cravath) and where he has now ended (Cadwalader).
Whatever else people may think of Cravath, it has an unrivaled reputation for attracting first-rate attorneys. It is also a partnership in the truest sense of that concept: A single tier with a lock-step compensation system that resists an undue emphasis on short-term thinking. The Cravath model promotes longer-run values, such as institutional stability.
For example, although a lateral hiring frenzy pervades big law, it hasn't really touched Cravath. The firm focuses on developing talent internally. Its attorneys work hard, run a challenging gauntlet to equity partnership, and reap rich rewards for success.
In May 2007, an American Lawyer interviewer asked Cravath's then-presiding partner Evan Chesler whether partners would stick around if the firm made less money. "I dont know the answer to that," he said. "I think there is more glue than just money."
Cravath's ethos wouldn't appeal to attorneys drawn to Cadwalader's culture. In the mid-1990s, Cadwalader began moving aggressively toward what its new chairman Robert O. Link Jr. called a meritocracy and others call "eat-what-you-kill."
In a February 2007 interview with The American Lawyer [PDF], Link expressed an attitude about firm culture that differed dramatically from Chesler's. "Everyone should wake up in the morning and feel a little vulnerable," he said.