Big Law:A Novel(2)By: Ron Liebman
I was just beginning my second year as a newly minted partner at Dunn & Sullivan. I had spent eight years working day and night as an associate attorney at the firm. Trust me when I tell you I was far from a shoo-in to make partner, let alone to last the full eight years as an associate.
Dunn & Sullivan’s main office was in Manhattan. It also had offices in just about every major city in this country and throughout the world. At the time of this story, there were over twenty-five hundred lawyers on the payroll and another three thousand staff employees of one kind or another.
So my involvement with the story began on the day I was summoned to Carl Smith’s office. Carl was the firm’s chairman.
At the time I had only a nodding relationship with Chairman Smith. He’d nod to me in the elevator, in the firm’s cafeteria, in the halls. Never said a word. Did he even know my name? Turns out he did.
I got to his office at the appointed hour. His door was shut. His secretary was away from her desk. I stood there deciding, should I knock or should I wait for the secretary to return?
I decided to knock, and just as I raised my fist, the door flew open and a bull of a senior partner named Richard Miller stormed past me with enough force that we knocked shoulders.
When I was still an associate, I had worked on several of Miller’s cases. What a miserable prick. He brutalized everyone who worked under him. Around the office he was known as “Mad Dog” Miller.
I watched him bombard his way down the hall. He seemed to be clutching a single sheet of paper. He was a big guy, barrel-chested, with steel-rimmed glasses and a Teddy Roosevelt mustache. Like I said, a bull of a man. I’ve seen Miller in the locker room of our firm’s fitness center. (Yes, we have our own fitness center in the building.) Naked, he’s got a pair of chicken legs holding up that massive upper frame.
“Mr. Blake? Carney?”
I turned at that. Carl Smith calling my name. I poked my head in his open doorway.
“Sir?” I said, feeling stupid. We were law partners. Shouldn’t I be calling him Carl?
“Come in. Have a seat.”
So I did.
Mr. Smith . . . Carl . . . was seated behind this massive, ornate partner’s desk. Something Napoleon could have owned.
Dunn & Sullivan’s New York office, the command center for the entire firm, was located in this spanking new glass-and-steel tower stuck right smack in the middle of Times Square. This was the new Times Square. Gone were the strip joints and porn emporiums. It had become a choice business address.
Carl Smith’s office looked like the nineteenth century embedded in the twenty-first. There must have been a small fortune of antique furniture in there.
I sat on one of the two needlepoint chairs across from him. At first, Smith said nothing. He seemed to be studying me. Considering.
“You’re a third-year, right?”
“Second.” (I think I mumbled “Sir.”)
Smith shrugged. He looked at me some more. Did he need a third-year partner for whatever he had in mind? Was I about to be dismissed?
I leaned forward, sort of ready to spring to my feet and leave, when Smith reached over to the corner of his desk and picked up an iPad.
I watched as he did some forefinger tapping on the screen. Then I heard the whoosh.
“Sent you a file.”
He kept looking at me. I kept looking at him. What was on his mind? And why was I so fucking nervous?
Carl Smith was a legend in his own time. He came from humble beginnings. Like me.
His father was a German immigrant, a laborer, so the story went. His mother came from a large Staten Island working-class Italian family. She was the one with the smarts. Carl back then was still Karl Schmidt Jr. After his father, Karl Sr.
Carl cut a wide path around his stern father but adored his mother, who raised him in the Catholic faith. Until he entered Yale (on scholarship), Carl was very Italian, a mama’s boy with a German name. The Ivy League changed all that. He became a synthetic patrician. The full monty. That was when he legally changed his name.
After law school (Harvard), followed by his clerkship for a United States Supreme Court justice, he joined Dunn & Sullivan as an associate. Made partner after five years. No one had done that before, or has since.