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Cravath: Letter from Karin DeMasi

June 18, 2019

Greetings, Penn Law students! I hope that you are enjoying your summers. As a Penn Law alum, I remember going through the interview process and struggling with the decisions that lay ahead. Perhaps, like I did, you are approaching the interview season thinking about different cities, different types of firms – and whether to explore private practice at all. In preparing for my interviews, one of the most difficult tasks was trying to differentiate among firms. That is why, even though I am actually a technophobe, I am trying my hand at blogging to share some information about Cravath, where I have worked for over 20 years.

For starters, just a few things about me:  I grew up in Vermont and attended undergrad at Northwestern University.   Following my graduation from Northwestern, I went straight to Penn Law, where I graduated in 1996.  After a one-year clerkship in the federal district court in Portland, Maine, I joined Cravath in the Fall of 1997 – and have been there ever since. I now live on the Upper West Side with my husband, who is also a lawyer, and our four energetic sons. After serving as the Litigation Hiring Partner at the Firm for three years, I transitioned into the role of Managing Partner of the Litigation Department where one of my primary responsibilities is overseeing associates. 


When I was in your shoes, the best advice I received was that the single most important aspect of my first legal job was the training.  Although I wasn’t sure what type of law I wanted to practice long-term, I knew I wanted to have the best experience and training opportunities, so that I could build a strong foundation for whatever path my career followed.  As a result, when I began my law firm search, I was looking for a firm that would provide me with excellent training in an environment like the one I enjoyed at Penn Law – challenging, but always collegial. I found that in Cravath, along with a few other things that make Cravath unique. 


This year, Cravath is celebrating our 200th year.  Even after two centuries, the development of our lawyers is our most important long-term objective.  Our fundamental strength – the rotation system, also known as the Cravath System – has remained intact because we, and generations of partners before us, believe that a personal investment in our associates is the best way to train and cultivate talented lawyers.  Because we do not hire associates laterally, our partners come almost exclusively from the ranks of our own associates.  Our approach is to select the most talented law students and have our partners directly train a small group of associates in a team model.  Partners make a huge investment in their associates’ professional development. Through our rotation system – a system in which associates rotate from one partner (in the case of Litigation) or practice group (in the case of Corporate) to another – associates work directly and closely with a team of partners and associates.  Additionally, we have an Associate Director of Professional Development at the Firm who, in addition to the partners with whom associates work, focuses on providing associates with advice and counsel regarding their career development, training and advancement.  This focus on professional development ensures our associates achieve the career milestones that will set them up for success in any legal environment. 


The rotation system prepares associates as generalists who are well-equipped to handle any type of complex deal or litigation.  Corporate associates spend roughly 12 -15 months developing an in-depth knowledge of a subject area – such as capital markets, M&A or banking and credit – and then transfer the skills that they have learned to another subject area.  In Litigation, associates work directly with one partner during each of their 18-month rotations, receiving hands-on training from an experienced lawyer who serves as a mentor from the moment they join the team.  Our litigators also remain generalists throughout their career – exposing each lawyer to a wide variety of areas, including antitrust, bankruptcy, commercial litigation, intellectual property, investigations/white collar and securities. 

Regardless of the department you select, the benefits of the rotation system are the same:  a partner will always directly oversee your development, and each rotation will help you master the skills you need in any practice.  When it comes time to rotate to a new team, special care is taken to ensure you will be challenged in a new way.  You will also always have the opportunity to work with lots of different partners on many different matters, ensuring that you don’t plateau in your development. Just by way of example, although I had five rotations in my seven years as an associate, I worked with 19 of the Litigation partners and several Corporate partners on a wide variety of matters, including five trials and numerous depositions beginning in my second year at the firm.

In addition to training, every aspect of the rotation system promotes collaboration and teamwork. Unlike a general assignment or free-market system, the rotation system eliminates the need for associates to compete for work, the attention of partners, visibility or bonuses – producing an environment that, while demanding due to the nature of our cases, is also uniquely team-oriented and cooperative. You will work hard when necessary, but never for the sake of appearing busy and never because you need to achieve any billable hour target.  You will work with – not against or in competition with – your fellow associates.

Training is one of the many hallmarks of Cravath – the people are another. As a Firm we are committed to devoting our time, energy and resources to implementing and supporting initiatives that not only promote the professional development of our associates, but also encourage our associates to feel more connected to the Firm and to one another. These initiatives range from our formal mentoring program to our Women’s Initiative to our affinity groups, including affinity groups for our African American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, LGBTQ+ and South Asian associates.  Each of these groups has at least one partner liaison who actively seeks input from members on topics such as future programming and Firm sponsorships, as well as general feedback about the members’ experiences at Cravath. In addition to individual affinity group programming, we identify opportunities for members of our affinity groups to come together as a larger community. For example, on an annual basis, members of our Diversity Committee host joint affinity group class dinners that provide a forum for associates to share their experiences and insights as they relate to our diversity and inclusion efforts.

In addition to promoting a culture of inclusivity through our programming and affinity groups, we are committed to having women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ+ represented throughout all seniority levels at the Firm. Faiza Saeed, who was previously Co-Head of the Firm’s M&A practice, is the Firm’s Presiding Partner, making Cravath one of only a small handful of BigLaw firms led by a woman.  Also, I am delighted to share that 9 out of 14 of our most recently elected partners have been women, and two of our last three partnership classes have been comprised 100% of women.  On top of that, our 2019 summer associate class is composed of 56% women, 38% people of color and 6% LGBTQ+. 

Cravath also has a long tradition of dedication to pro bono work, and the New York community, like Philadelphia, is rich in opportunities to help others. At Cravath, you will be encouraged to handle pro bono matters from the moment you walk in the door. There are at least three ways to do pro bono work at Cravath: (i) being assigned pro bono work on your team, (ii) taking on a pro bono matter of your own, which can be supervised by any partner in the Firm, and (iii) working on one of our many Firm-wide pro bono programs. As an associate, I took advantage of all three avenues, including spending my first six months at the Firm working almost exclusively with a team of Cravath partners and associates on a pro bono jury trial (with Penn’s own Professor Struve, who was a colleague of mine at Cravath). I now offer my associates a number of pro bono opportunities, and am also one of the partners who supervises our Children’s Hospital Program, through which the Firm assists children in need of legal services to support their medical care.

I hope this information is helpful as you start the interview process, and I hope that you will sign up to interview with us during our on-campus interviews at Penn on July 30. In the meantime, if you have any questions, I am always delighted to hear from Penn Law students and would be happy to talk to you further, as would our other Penn Law alums. Feel free to contact me at kdemasi@cravath.com, or any of my Penn Law colleagues at Cravath:

Name

E-mail Address

Sam Blaustein

sblaustein@cravath.com

Matt Boggess

mboggess@cravath.com

Jim Canning

jcanning@cravath.com

Melanie Cook

mcook@cravath.com

Tyler Cook

tcook@cravath.com

Nathan Denning

ndenning@cravath.com

Cole DuMond

cdumond@cravath.com

Mark Greene

mgreene@cravath.com

Keith Hallam

khallam@cravath.com

Marc Khadpe

mkhadpe@cravath.com

Emma Kolesar

ekolesar@cravath.com

Matt Ploszek

mploszek@cravath.com

Kendra Sandidge

ksandidge@cravath.com

Evan Schladow

eschladow@cravath.com

Colleen Schmalberger

cschmalberger@cravath.com

Brittany Sherman

bsherman@cravath.com

Johnny Skumpija

jskumpija@cravath.com

Madalyn Vaughn

mvaughn@cravath.com

Michael Weil

mweil@cravath.com

Enjoy the rest of the summer and I hope to meet you soon!

Karin