A year and a half ago, on a Tuesday night in October, an ambitious young lawyer named Aaron Charney was working late on the 28th floor of 125 Broad Street—the pin-striped skyscraper near the southern tip of Manhattan that houses the world headquarters of the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. Eric Krautheimer, a partner at the firm, was there, too, along with an associate named Gera Grinberg. They were all hustling to meet a deadline on the same project—part of a deal that no one will name because, even now, it’s still pending. No matter, that project would turn out to be the least interesting thing about what happened that night.
Working on the 28th floor means you’re among the elite at Sullivan & Cromwell. Of the firm’s 600 lawyers, fewer than 60— 23 partners and a few dozen associates—are part of the mergers-and-acquisitions group, a sort of firm-within-the-firm that each year advises and executes close to a trillion dollars in deals and earns tens of millions of dollars in fees. All the stereotypes about life at a stodgy white-shoe firm—the masochistic hours, the glorified grunt work, the borderline abuse at the hands of the partners—seem magnified to the young associates there, if for no other reason than that the firm’s blue-chip clients, like AT&T and AIG and Goldman Sachs, need their lawyers on call night and day to meet sudden-death deadlines. To get this kind of work done quickly and accurately, you need a certain tunnel vision—and, when tempers flare, a very thick skin. (more…)