Shiny, Happy Lawyers

“Our customers are Cravath’s clients, attorneys and each other worldwide! When we serve all customers well, our own success follows… . We are the legal industry’s equivalent of a ‘5-star’ hotel.”
– from an internal “Administrative Staff Service Principles” memo

Lawyers at the venerable law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore have suddenly found themselves in the midst of a social experiment of sorts. Robert Joffe, the presiding partner who took over the firm’s leadership in January, is trying to improve office life by viewing Cravath lawyers as customers of the firm’s services. It didn’t take Joffe long to hear grumbling from the ranks – complaints, for instance, about bad coffee, car-service delays, and a less-than-swift fax-delivery system. If Cravath were more like Kinko’s, with a chirpy, efficient staff making copies, or like Starbucks, with baristas providing a constant flow of tasty, fresh, hot drinks, wouldn’t the high-stress law firm be a better place to work?

Joffe believes that “lawyers who are not grouchy and unhappy will serve their own clients” – which at Cravath include IBM, Time Warner, and DreamWorks – “with more enthusiasm.” He was inspired, he says, by an early camp-counselor job, where he noticed that “the staff were unaware that the purpose of camp is to make life better for the campers.”

Last fall, Joffe circulated a 27-page survey that asked Cravath’s approximately 400 lawyers to rate numerous aspects of life at the firm – “the attractiveness of food presentation” in the cafeteria and pantries, the “helpfulness” of the security staff, the “timeliness” and “reliability” of the mailroom guys, and so on. The results have been tallied, and phase one of the Cravath response is being instituted.

Cravath lawyers now get to drink an unlimited amount of Starbucks coffee in the cafeteria, according to an earnest internal “Action/Benefit” memo. For those who want to freshen their drinks without taking the elevator, additional ice machines are being installed throughout the firm. The volume of the paging system, meanwhile, is being adjusted to “a moderate, comfortable level.” (The benefit? “Ensures audible yet non-disruptive pages.”) On the car-service front, exhausted lawyers are being reminded that they can save time by using Cravath’s carpooling option – and can rate their drivers using a handy evaluation form on their car vouchers. And Joffe also took the unusually democratic step of listing partners alphabetically – instead of by seniority – on the firm’s internal directory.

A key lieutenant in Joffe’s campaign to improve Cravath’s quality of life is the firm’s executive director, Harry Silver. Silver has added traditional marketing touches to motivate those who serve the newly coddled lawyers: After the completion of a tough computer project, for instance, Cravath’s techies got commemorative T-shirts. The firm’s nonlegal staff now follows a set of principles Silver wrote, including “Customer i.e., lawyer complaints and criticisms are good” and “We do ‘whatever it takes’ to get the job done.”

“We don’t want to turn our lawyers into little princes and princesses,” says Joffe. “We just want to get rid of those things that impede their performance.” Indeed, it turns out that Cravath’s high-performance lawyers have proven surprisingly easy to please. “A lot of people’s lives have changed,” says one associate. “It makes a big difference that there is a plastic spoon on every floor if you’re too busy to go to the cafeteria.”

Shiny, Happy Lawyers