The Management

April 29, 2008 5:18 PM

Cravath Hires a Strategy Director

Posted by David Bario

William Johnston, the first-ever director of strategic planning at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, has a pretty impressive resume. He spent 11 years at Hildebrandt International, where, as a vice president and director, he consulted on strategy with law firms of all sizes. With that broad knowledge of the market, Hildebrandt says, Johnston should be a great asset to a firm like Cravath.

We figured the firm would be happy to talk about the new hire and share some details on Johnston's charge going forward. When we reached presiding partner Evan Chesler by phone, he dismissed our interest in the comings and goings of what he calls “administrative people.” Johnston is "a very nice guy," says Chesler, though he didn't recall his new strategist's title.

"This is just a support job to help us out in our work," says Chesler, who explained that a group of nine Cravath partners, which he chairs, will continue to formulate firm strategy. "The strategy is entirely set by the partners of the firm," he insists. Johnston, reached at his new office, declined to comment. His immediate boss at Cravath, executive director Steven Speiss, did not respond to phone calls.

So what does Cravath need with a director of strategic planning, anyway? After all, the "Cravath system" has kept profits so high and its partner gene pool so pure that the rare lateral hire sets legal heads clucking nationwide. The firm’s partnership inspires fear in opposing counsel and associates alike, and its profits per partner have been among the highest in the nation since The American Lawyer began its rankings nearly 25 years ago.

"[Johnston will be] gathering information, doing the staff work, the kind of stuff that any committee would have a person doing the staff work for," says Chesler. "We have a very busy administrative staff [and] people were simply overburdened by trying to do that in their spare time."

Despite the addition, Chesler says that Cravath's strategy is the same as it has always been: to remain the country's best law firm. "That was the strategy, by the way, when I got here 33 years ago," Chesler adds. "So I don’t want to see a headline that says that we just came up with that idea."

Bill Johnston, we imagine, has already been briefed.

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Money is the least of the issues requiring a new hire. There are other social and cultural issues to be addressed such as the the dearth of minority partners. It is still primarily an old boy's network. Cravath has more important problems to deal with including the elitist corporate culture which fosters strange behavior that is a matter of public record. Check out the NY Daily News on some of the happenings there.

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