Law firm holiday parties aren’t what they used to be. In bygone days, the booze-fueled blasts yielded up tales of M&A lawyers making out with each other in darkened corners, partners dancing drunkenly with paralegals young enough to be their daughters and similarly dubious behavior.
In recent years, however, stories of scandal have become less common. Perhaps guests are more afraid of public embarrassment, now that cellphone photos of carousing legal eagles can be uploaded to the Internet in minutes.
“People are well behaved, on their guard,” says one partner, who describes his own firm’s party as “very civilized.” An associate who has worked at two different firms observes that “the profession isn’t as racy as it once was.” We assume he means in a relative sense.
But even if they’re not as wild and crazy as they used to be, law firm holiday parties still reflect, in ways large and small, the cultures and personalities of the firms throwing them. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
The fantastically successful M&A firm—known for paying gargantuan bonuses to associates, whose meals are brought to them at their desks by a uniformed kitchen staff—spares no expense to make its lawyers’ lives pleasant. Or as pleasant as a life can be when you’re billing 3,000 hours a year.
So too with its holiday parties. This year’s bash, on Dec. 12, will take place at the swanky St. Regis in midtown. But in keeping with the firm’s legendary intensity and secretive nature, check the outside world at the door: no spouses or significant others allowed.
(In Wachtell’s defense, many other law firms no longer permit outside guests at their holiday parties. But most of these places are mega-firms, with hundreds of lawyers and thousands of employees, where a holiday party with guests would have to be held in the Javits Center. In contrast, Wachtell is probably small enough, and rich enough, to throw a party with plus-ones.)
Several years ago, a stir was caused by the presence of scantily clad, Rockette-style dancers, who made their appearance near the end of the party. Some guests were scandalized. They should have been grateful that the firm left the dancing to professionals. Says one former attendee: “A few partners would bust a move on the dance floor, with disturbing pelvic motions. I’ve tried to suppress those memories.”
Cravath, Swaine & Moore
“We do the same thing every year,” says a lawyer at tradition-bound Cravath. “The Rainbow Room. Lots of partners go; it’s a big production.”
The Rainbow Room is a fitting venue for the classy, white-shoe law firm. And it’s just a few blocks away from the Death Star, a.k.a. the firm’s offices at Worldwide Plaza, in case lawyers need to bill more hours postparty.
In recent years, the Cravath party has featured such entertainment as a caricature artist, people on stilts and not one but two rooms of dancing: a jazz room and “a more crazy-dancing kind of room.” Because you know you want to see merger maven Faiza Saeed shaking her groove thing.
Sullivan & Cromwell
Unlike Wachtell and Cravath, the more old-fashioned Sullivan & Cromwell doesn’t have a holiday party with lawyer-staff mixing. Instead, the firm holds a black-tie event for its lawyers (and their spouses or significant others) to which staff are not invited.
The festivity is technically not a holiday party: It’s a “lawyers’ dinner dance.” This year’s gala, held on a Saturday night (Dec. 1), was at Cipriani on 42nd Street. According to one attendee, the dance floor was “jam-packed.”
Not inviting staff might seem exclusionary (although perhaps not surprising for S&C; until a few years ago, the firm cafeteria had separate sections for lawyers and nonlawyers). But don’t be too quick to pity the staff as Cinderellas, scrubbing the floors while their wicked associate stepsisters dance the night away. According to one S&C lawyer, the staff members are happy not to be invited: “They spend enough time with us already.”
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Fratty Skadden is famous for its “work hard, play hard” culture—which extends to its holiday party, known as one of the wilder ones in town. Alcohol flows like Aquafina, and the dance floor is kept pitch-dark. Because, aside from Faiza Saeed, do you really want to watch lawyers dance?
The festivities are held at the firm’s Four Times Square headquarters, with a conference room floor given over to the occasion. Skadden associates never leave the building (see, e.g., freshly laundered workout gear, emblazoned with the Skadden logo, in the firm’s gym), so why let them out for the holidays?
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
Like Skadden, Cadwalader hosts its own holiday party. If the premises are good enough for Cameron Diaz, who recently filmed a movie there, surely they’re good enough for America’s top securitization lawyers. Unlike most firms, which imbue their events with generic holiday cheer, Cadwalader picks a nontraditional theme for its festivities (which a lawyer at a rival firm dismisses as “very high-school prom”).
This year’s inspiration: the Wild West. Yee-haw? “I will be offended if they play country music the whole night,” says one associate, who may trot out a rhinestone-studded cowboy hat for the occasion.
But will this year’s party be as much fun as last year’s, with its Carnivale theme? It will be hard to top drag-queen party girls, silver-clad dancers and albino boa constrictors.
“I wasn’t really aware how over the top it would be,” reports a guest at last year’s party, “until during my work day, when I walked into the women’s bathroom and saw a shirtless man putting makeup on. Imagine my surprise! We had a good conversation, though, so it was cool.”
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Catering by Cipriani appears to be the holiday-party equivalent of a $160,000 starting salary, or a “special bonus” for 2007: Everybody’s doing it. In addition to S&C, Simpson Thacher, and Cravath (the Rainbow Room is operated by the Cipriani family), Fried Frank holds its holiday party at a Cipriani venue. (The firm also turns to Cipriani for a holiday mixer, held one week earlier, attended by a sizable chunk of the New York real estate industry.)
This year the firm’s holiday party is taking place on Dec. 13 at Cipriani on Wall Street. But will it suffer a Cadwalader-esque letdown from last year’s event? The jury is out.
“This year’s invite was a bit lacking,” reports one past and future guest. “Last year the party was also at Cipriani, but the invite was pretty cool. It had plastic poker chips attached to it, which were exchanged for more chips at the party. These were used to play at the gambling tables that were set up, and there were prize giveaways. This year it doesn’t seem like they are doing anything like that.”
No surprise there. In light of the uncertainty taking hold of the economy, who’s in the mood for gambling?