Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison History

Address:
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10019-6064
U.S.A.

Telephone: (212) 373-3000
Fax: (212) 757-3990

Website:
Private Partnership
Founded:1923
Employees: 1,052
Gross Billings: $185 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 541110 Offices of Lawyers

Company Perspectives:

Our objectives are, by pooling our energies, talents and resources, to achieve the highest order of excellence in the practice of the art, the science and the profession of the law; through such practice to earn a living and to derive the stimulation and pleasure of worthwhile adventure; and in all things to govern ourselves as members of a free democratic society with responsibilities both to our profession and our country.

Key Dates:

1923:
Louis Weiss and John F. Wharton open a law firm that soon merges with an older one.
1950:
Simon Rifkind joins the firm and quickly establishes his leadership.
1957:
Adlai Stevenson is the first of several prominent Democrats to join the firm.
1989:
Arthur Liman, now the firm's leading partner, represents junk-bond king Michael Milken.
1994:
Jeh Johnson becomes Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison's first black partner.

Company History:

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is a globally oriented, full-service law firm with headquarters in New York City and other offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. The firm's core practice is concentrated in the areas of litigation and corporate law, including mergers and acquisitions and public and private financing. It is also prominent in such fields as antitrust, communications, corporate reorganization, employee benefits and executive compensation, entertainment, environmental regulation, intellectual property, new media and the Internet, personal representation, real estate, and tax and bankruptcy.

Progressive Politics: 1923-50

Jewish lawyers who entered practice in New York City a century ago found it difficult to join non-Jewish law firms and impossible to become partners; instead they formed their own all-Jewish ones. The firm that eventually became Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison was founded before World War I as a general commercial practice for a small group of wealthy Jewish entrepreneurs of German origin, such as the Straus family, who owned Macy's department store, and the Cullman family of tobacco merchants later associated with Philip Morris Companies. One of these lawyers was Samuel William Weiss. In 1923, his son Louis started his own firm with a Columbia University Law School classmate, John F. Wharton, a Protestant. They intended their firm, Weiss & Wharton, to be one in which Jews and Gentiles could work together as partners, employees, and clients. They merged with the earlier firm a few years later, and it now became Cohen, Cole, Weiss & Wharton. Wharton was a specialist in theatrical law who became the sole trustee of the trusts that controlled the rights to Cole Porter's songs after the composer's death.

With the coming of the Roosevelt Administration's New Deal, Cohen, Cole,Weiss & Wharton emerged as a firm stocked with partners identified with liberal politics and the fortunes of the Democratic party. One of its lawyers, Walter Pollak, represented the "Scottsboro Boys"--four young Alabama black men convicted of raping a white woman and sentenced to death in a cause celebre of the 1930s. Lloyd K. Garrison, great-grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and former dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, joined the firm in 1945 and represented such clients as poet Langston Hughes, playwright Arthur Miller, and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer in cases involving their left-of-center political views. Another acquisition was Randolph Paul, a tax lawyer who left the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1944 and, along with Garrison, added his name to the firm. This brought the firm's roster of lawyers to 13.

Paul, Weiss became the first major New York law firm to take a woman partner, Carolyn Agger--albeit in the firm's Washington office, established in 1946, rather than in New York. In 1949, it hired William I. Coleman, Jr., a black graduate--first in his class--of Harvard University Law School who had served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. A Philadelphia native, Coleman came to New York because, he said, no firm in Philadelphia would hire him, and went to work at Paul, Weiss mainly because no other New York firm offered him a job. Also in 1949, Paul, Weiss became the first major Wall Street firm to move its headquarters to midtown Manhattan.

A Galaxy of Stars: 1950-80

A major impetus to the firm's growth and prosperity was the entry of Simon Rifkind in 1950. Rifkind drafted New Deal legislation in the 1930s and served as a federal judge in the 1940s before leaving the bench to buttress his family's finances. When he joined Paul, Weiss, the firm had a dozen partners but only one engaged in trial work. Rifkind extended the firm's presence in litigation and was invaluable as a "rainmaker" bringing in new business for the firm. He never retired and died in 1995 at the age of 94. It was at Rifkind's urging that Adlai Stevenson, after the second of his two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. presidency, combined his small Chicago law firm with Paul, Weiss in 1957. This alliance dissolved after John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, because Stevenson and his three Chicago partners all joined the new administration. About this time the Washington office, directed by Agger, merged with the law firm of her husband, Abe Fortas, who later became a Supreme Court justice. (By 1970 Paul, Weiss had recreated the Washington office, which was mainly devoted to tax practice.)

In his posthumously published autobiography, Arthur Liman, who rejoined Paul, Weiss in 1963, after a brief stint in the Manhattan district attorney's office, recalled that at the time the firm had some 20 partners and about 50 lawyers working out of a single building on Madison Avenue. "The lion's share of the practice was generated by Rifkind himself, and a lot of it consisted of litigation," he wrote. "We had only a few corporate clients, but the younger partners, spurred by Rifkind, wanted to build the firm not just in tax, litigation, and entertainment law, where we already shone, but in the corporate field as well." Rifkind recruited Morris Abram, who had helped argue the cases in which the Supreme Court voided racially discriminatory voting districts and established the one-person, one-vote principle. He also brought in Theodore Sorenson, one of President Kennedy's closest aides. The succeeding Johnson Administration also provided talent in the form of former Supreme Court justice and ambassador to the United Nations Arthur J. Goldberg and Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a Texan whom Rifkind hoped would attract oil companies to the firm.

Paul, Weiss's new stars found it difficult to adjust to the more mundane, although more lucrative, environment of private law practice. Abram resigned to become president of Brandeis University but returned after a brief, tempestuous tenure on campus. Clark's politics had turned far to the left, and he departed from Paul, Weiss after only three years, later telling Benjamin Weiser of the Washington Post, "I found the commercial law practice unpleasant, the role that money played in it unpleasant, and the issues that were chosen by the clients--it wasn't how I wanted to spend my time." Sorenson unsuccessfully sought the Democratic party nomination for the Senate before finding fulfillment as the firm's first international lawyer; in 1993 he drafted a constitution for Tajikistan, one of the new nations emerging from the former Soviet Union. Goldberg--the prize catch who briefly took third place on the firm's name, after "Paul, Weiss"--never really adjusted to private practice. Described in Paul Hoffman's book Lions in the Street as having "an ego as big as the Bronx," he ran unsuccessfully for governor, then left to establish his own Washington practice.

The star system antagonized many of the hard-working associates at Paul, Weiss, who comprised two-thirds of its 110 lawyers in 1970. Plush new quarters on Park Avenue could not obscure the firm's reputation as a "sweatshop" where the associates labored ten or more hours a day in hopes of one day becoming a partner. Still, the firm's prestige remained high among idealistic law students, since it was willing to hire young lawyers despite knowing that they might remain only a short time before going into teaching or government service. Liman wrote that Paul, Weiss remained intensely concerned with political issues as well as making money, representing both "libeled, rich clients who could comfortably afford our services and poor ones who couldn't afford to pay anything. ... We have also taken on pro bono appeals in capital punishment cases. We brought the first environmental cases--opposing a proposed nuclear plant on the Hudson River. We have handled First Amendment and voters' rights cases. Every economical and social upheaval in the country has found its way into our office--the quiz show scandals, the salad oil fraud that nearly toppled American Express, the civil rights movement, the criminal case against Spiro Agnew, the asbestos cases, the back-office crisis on Wall Street in the 1960s, the takeover mania of the 1980s." Even Goldberg shook up the status quo by representing Curt Flood in a lawsuit that eventually established free agency for major league baseball players.

Liman credited Rifkind for a collegial atmosphere at Paul, Weiss, which had no managing partner to run the firm either alone or at the head of a small executive committee. "In his view," Liman wrote, "every associate who came to work at Paul, Weiss should have the same opportunity to become a partner and to build a practice, and each partner, even the newest, should be free to choose and develop his or her own clients, subject only to the rules of conflict of interest. This open-door policy has clearly been one of the reasons Paul, Weiss has consistently been able to attract top law school graduates, and why, conversely, we have never lost a partner to another firm."

The Liman Years and After: 1980-2000

By the 1980s, Liman himself was becoming as legendary a lawyer as Rifkind as well as his successor in rainmaking. In the words of another attorney, Liman was the glue binding Paul, Weiss together. By the time he appeared on the national stage in 1987 as special counsel to the Senate select committee that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, Liman had acquired a reputation as perhaps the most outstanding white-collar defense attorney of his generation. (He later recruited a committee member, Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, for the firm.) Among Liman's clients were mutual-fund embezzler Robert Vesco; John Zaccaro, the husband of vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who was accused of misusing funds from court-entrusted estates; magnates such as Steve Ross of Warner Communications Inc. (and subsequently Time Warner Inc.) and Herbert Siegel of Chris-Craft Industries, Inc.; and such especially rough diamonds as corporate raiders Carl Icahn and Ronald Perelman.

Writing for Institutional Investor in 1989, Frederic Dannen declared that Liman had "the ineffable aura of a star for the simple reason that he rarely loses a case." At the head of a ten-lawyer team, Liman defended wealthy junk bond consultant Michael Milken against insider-trading charges. This case contributed to record profits for Paul, Weiss, but did not enhance his reputation. His client eventually pleaded guilty to five of the 98 felony charges on Liman's assurance that the two-year sentences would run concurrently. Instead, Milken was sentenced to serve time consecutively, although in the end he only spent 22 months in custody.

Paul, Weiss suffered a more severe blow to its reputation in 1993, when federal regulators investigating the extensive savings and loan failures that marked the end of the 1980s accused the firm of fraud and misappropriation of funds in connection with the demise of Miami-based CenTrust Savings Bank, whose collapse cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion. Beginning in 1983, more than 55 Paul, Weiss lawyers represented CenTrust at a cost of $12 million and, according to the government, became involved in the shady investments and financial dealings of the bank's chairman (who later went to prison) at the expense of depositors. Paul, Weiss denied any wrongdoing and settled the case at a cost of $45 million. Most or all of that sum was covered by an insurance pool formed in 1971 by 21 New York law firms.

Paul, Weiss had 333 lawyers in 1988, of which 82 were partners. The firm grossed about $161.5 million that year and netted $65 million, according to the magazine the American Lawyer. The ensuing recession ended the Wall Street hyperactivity that had brought so much business to the firm in the 1980s, and about 40 associates were let go. Even so, Paul, Weiss remained among the nation's 15 most profitable big law firms in the mid-1990s, according to the American Lawyer. Among its major clients were such powerhouses as Continental Grain, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Time Warner, Viacom, and Sumitomo Corp.

Liman died of cancer at the age of 64 in 1997 but left behind such well-regarded protegees as Mark Belnick, Martin Flumenbaum, and Robert Schumer. Management of the firm remained decentralized. Instead of appointing a managing partner, it continued to be headed by a managing committee, elected each year, which in turn appointed the other committees that together ran the firm. A small committee of influential partners--also elected annually--determined each partner's share of the profits.

In his autobiography, Liman wrote that when he entered the firm in 1957, his "class" consisted of five associates, four of whom eventually became partners, but that by the late 1990s, out of an incoming group of between 30 and 40 associates, only five would make it to partner. In 1957, there was only one woman associate in New York, and she was also the firm's only African American lawyer. By 1997, he declared, "Paul, Weiss now has nine female partners and more than 75 female associates--not a perfect ratio, but better than where we were." But a national survey that year asking 1,255 female lawyers at 77 large firms to assess working conditions for women ranked Paul, Weiss dead last. Its response was to hire a management consultant in order to try to improve its image. The firm did not have a black partner until 1994, when Jeh Johnson--a protegé of Liman and Abram--was promoted. Another African American lawyer, Ted Wells, was named partner and co-chairman of the firm's 150-lawyer litigation department in 2000. Described as one of the nation's premier trial lawyers, he was the first partner in 30 years to be brought in to Paul, Weiss from another firm.

Paul, Weiss had about 500 lawyers in 2001. In 1999, it signed a ten-year lease renewal for 391,975 square feet of space at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, an office building between West 51st and 52nd streets in midtown Manhattan.

Principal Competitors: Cravath Swane & Moore; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Proskauer Rose LLP; Shearman & Sterling; Simpson Thacher and Bartlett; Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom; Sullivan & Cromwell; Weil Gotschal & Manges.

Further Reading:

  • Barrett, Paul M., and Dean Starkman, "Legal Beat: Paul Weiss Faces Future After a Star Partner's Death," Wall Street Journal, July 29, 1997, pp. B1, B6.
  • Dannen, Frederic, "Arthur Liman for the Defense," Institutional Investor, December 1989, pp. 116+.
  • Dorsen, David, "Paul, Weiss, Goldberg--What Kind of Ticket Is That?" New York, April 13, 1970, pp. 44-6.
  • Galen, Michele, "Got Big Deals, Big Problems, Big Bucks? Get Arthur Liman," Business Week, May 15, 1989, pp. 112, 114.
  • Goldstein, Matthew, "Better Representation for Women?" Crain's New York Business, June 15, 1998, p. 16.
  • Himelstein, Linda, and Gail DeGeorge, "The Mud on a Fancy Law Firm," Business Week, August 16, 1993, pp. 91-2.
  • Hoffman, Jan, "Outsider? Insider? A Lawyer Wins As Both," New York Times, January 12, 2000, p. B2.
  • Hoffman, Paul, Lions in the Street. New York: Saturday Review/Dutton, 1973.
  • Jensen, Ruth Henley, "Paul Weiss Pact Remains Puzzling," National Law Journal, October 11, 1993, p. 9.
  • Kaufman, Jonathan, "As Blacks Rise High in the Executive Suite, CEO's Often Are Jewish," Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1998, pp. A1, A12.
  • Liman, Arthur L., Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy, New York: Public Affairs, 1998.
  • Weiser, Benjamin, "Putting Power into Practice," Washington Post, March 27, 1994, pp. H1, H6.
  • Wetzler, Cynthia Magriel, "Theodore Sorenson Maintains Optimism," New York Times, April 23, 1995, Sec. 13 (Westchester), p. 21.

    Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 47. St. James Press, 2002.