If the major presidential candidates were top New York law firms, which ones would they be? It’s not an easy question to answer. Unlike their Washington counterparts, which are unsurprisingly more political—e.g., WilmerHale skews leftward, Wiley Rein leans right—New York firms generally lack strong partisan allegiances. This city is driven by transactional work and commercial litigation, which don’t lend themselves to politics as naturally as, say, Supreme Court and appellate litigation. But even law firms have personalities, don’t they?
Hillary Clinton: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
Everyone talks about the former first lady and junior senator from New York, but nobody wants to be her. When asked which firm best embodies Mrs. Clinton, the most common response was, “Not mine.” So whose is she?
A future summer associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore fingered Cravath’s perennial rival in profits and prestige: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. “She definitely seems to have the most thorough command of the issues, and seems to be the most prepared on all facets of the campaign.”
Sounds like a compliment, but a former Wachtell associate was quick to shoot down the comparison: “Can you picture Wachtell crying?”
A second ex-Wachtellian, when presented with the suggestion that Wachtell might be Hillary, pointed the finger back at Worldwide Plaza: “Hillary is Cravath: establishment, experienced, well financed and generally the favorite.”
Enough, gentlemen. I’m bestowing the Hillary Clinton mantle upon a firm that actually wants it: Paul Weiss.
“Like Hillary, Paul Weiss has a reputation for being a bit of a hard-ass,” said one lawyer at the firm. “But those who know her—and us—know we are ‘good people.’ Both a bit neurotic, but in a healthy way.”
“Also, like Hillary, we’re ambitious,” he added. “And gay-friendly!”
Barack Obama: Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges
Just as nobody wanted their firm to be Mrs. Clinton, nearly everyone tried to lay claim to the senator from Illinois.
One strikingly elaborate analysis came from an associate at Latham & Watkins: “Clearly, Barack Obama would be Latham & Watkins. Born outside the establishment and reared far away from the locus of power, the firm grew to become a major player in [top legal markets], all the while showing that a law firm can be both unpretentious and professional, touchy-feely and effective—dare I say, the future of legal practice?”
Dare I say, a shameless plug? But there’s competition. “Skadden would be Obama,” boasted an associate at 4 Times Square. “New to the field, relatively speaking; spry and flexible; and having a solid vision for the future.”
But neutral observers linked Obama with Quinn Emanuel: the highly driven, super-profitable, rather young litigation powerhouse.
Said a future Cravath summer associate: “Barack Obama seems like he would be Quinn Emanuel, since both seem to be the young, upstart contenders, trying to do things a new way.” A Wachtell lawyer agreed: “Obama is definitely a California firm. Quinn is good. Or maybe Boies Schiller—some place that has a lot of rhetoric, but where things mostly stay the same if you get right down to it.”
John McCain: Cravath, Swaine & Moore
Perhaps due to the Arizona senator’s “maverick” status, opinions about John McCain were all over the map.
A former associate at two large law firms suggested: “McCain might be Skadden: looks kind of fun, but underneath it all, you wonder if he’s not just a total dick.” A future Latham summer associate offered up Dewey & LeBoeuf: “Dewey is super-ass old, McCain is super-ass old.”
Mr. McCain should be worried if voters are as fixated on his advanced age as lawyers apparently are. Said a Cravath associate: “[Cravath] would have to be McCain. Older than all get-out, set in its ways, more aggressive than most and not unrelated to torture.”
I’m giving it to Cravath. In refuting the accusation of Hillary-ness, one Cravath associate made a fair point: “Cravath is more like McCain, because just like him, Cravath is less conservative than it seems. Unlike Hillary, who is more.”
Mitt Romney: Sullivan & Cromwell
This was a cakewalk. Said one former S&C associate of similarities between candidate and firm: “Very picture-perfect. Always willing to go with the highest bidder. Smart. Successful. Kind of apolitical to a certain point, driven much more by ambition, power and money.”
A second ex-Sullivan lawyer agreed: “Polished, always saying the right thing—but coming off as a bit shallow.”
The Romney runner-up: Wachtell Lipton. From a former Wachtell lawyer: “Fabulously wealthy, envied and disliked by some competitors, and on both sides of an issue” (alluding to bank mergers in which the firm represented both parties). Another echoed that sentiment: “Mitt Romney, since they have traditionally regarded themselves as outsiders—Jews [in Wachtell’s case], Mormons [in Romney’s case]—who are richer than everyone else.”
Mike Huckabee: Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison
Is he still in the race? Nobody seems to heart Huckabee these days: Most of the lawyers I spoke to forgot to even mention him, and those who did weren’t optimistic.
“Huckabee would be Kirkland & Ellis,” opined one future Big Law associate. “Lots of crazy conservatives in both these parties, and Kirkland’s free market system [of assigning work] seems close to the Fair Tax in some ways.”
At least Kirkland still exists. A former Skadden lawyer was less charitable: “Huckabee is Brobeck, that S.F. firm that blew up after the dot-com crash: makes a big splash, then goes quietly into the night.”
Ron Paul: Greenberg Traurig
“Ron Paul is Greenberg Traurig,” said a current law student and future Big Law summer associate. “Both are completely crazy.”