David W. Quinto: On partnership, pacing yourself and Harvard Law

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<<A graduate of Harvard Law School, Mr. Quinto has been at Quinn Emanuel, the largest business litigation firm in the country, since it was founded in 1986.

Q: How do you define partnership quality?

We have a litigation firm; therefore, we look at people only from a litigation perspective. Among the qualities we look for when considering somebody for partner is the ability to think on one's feet, persuasiveness when conducting oral arguments, whether this person has trial experience, seems capable of running a complex case. Quality of work counts very highly. Hours billed is a factor, but it's not an important factor. Our firm is organized differently than most firms. We don't have teams. Partners don't have clients; we consider every client a firm client. Therefore, associates are not really judged on business-generation potential.

Q: What advice would you give an associate who is feeling overwhelmed?

Just say no. Partners always want the best associates to do their work. As a consequence, any associate who's really good is likely to be overworked and overwhelmed. It's very important for the associate to know his or her limits and to say no to new assignments. Partners will always remember work that's done well, and they will always remember work that's done poorly. If you take on too much, the quality of your work starts to slip, and, unfortunately, partners will remember that.

Q: Are associates sometimes reluctant to say no because they're afraid they won't seem dedicated?

I made a different mistake as a young associate. I thought I would impress the partners by showing everybody how quickly I could do things. I wanted to leap on every assignment and get it done in warp speed. Don't turn your work in to a partner until it's as good as it can be. Take the time you need and do the best job you can.

Q: What's something they don't teach in law school?

Keep the partners you're working for informed. Partners oversee a great number of cases and spend relatively little time on each case. If they don't hear from you, they will worry. If you send the partner a note saying, ''Just wanted to let you know I'm going to have draft responses to all the interrogatories in two days; as you know, they're due in another two weeks,'' the partner thinks, ''The associate's on top of this. I don't have to worry.'' As a litigation partner, you're always in fear that something's going to slip through the cracks. To know there's an associate keeping track of everything, that's just invaluable.

Q: What distinguishes a junior associate from a senior?

I expect a junior associate will do as I ask and do it well—in other words, will carry out orders. Obviously, you expect everybody to think, and I certainly welcome suggestions from junior associates. I expect a senior associate will show me that they're ready to become partners. They will demonstrate that they're ready to run a case. They will show me they can think not just tactically but strategically. A senior associate will be trying to assume more responsibility.

Q: You went to Harvard Law School. Did ''The Paper Chase'' get it right?

''The Paper Chase'' very accurately described the Harvard Law School that existed before World War II. However, it was set in the '70s. Several things changed. Prior to World War II, the dean would address the incoming first year class and say, ''Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won't be here next year.'' Back then, the admissions standards were relatively lax. What changed? Several things. First, many students deferred law school to fight in World War II. When they came back from World War II, they were older than students had been before—and they had been shot at. They weren't about to take the kind of abuse from professors that their pre-war brethren might have taken. Secondly, the admissions standards became tighter, so it became less necessary for the school to flunk out students. Third, the 1960s arrived at Harvard Law School during the 1970s. People who had gone through school in the '60s started becoming professors in the 1970s, and they brought with them a new ethic, a new sympathy for students.

Harvard Law School.


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