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The System’s History

From its introduction, our system was designed to produce lawyers with breadth, sophistication and a deep working knowledge of a wide variety of practice areas.

While there are many things that make Cravath a unique place, one of the most fundamental is the Cravath System. What sets the Firm and its lawyers apart is this century-old system, created to develop great lawyers who are equipped to deliver the highest possible quality legal work to clients. The system combines a distinctive way of approaching the hiring, training and compensation of lawyers.


Throughout the Firm’s history of two centuries, Cravath helped shape and continues to influence the world’s business, political, economic and legal landscape. In the early twentieth century, when Paul Cravath was a young lawyer, the structure of American law firms was quite different from today’s. Associates were often trained as apprentices to another solo practitioner, and made a living based on the clients that they could bring into their practice. Paul Cravath recognized the inefficiency and shortcomings inherent in that prevailing law firm structure and decided he wanted to change it.

He believed that the Firm should pay all associates a salary and only hire top graduates from the best law schools. Besides placing a strong emphasis on law school grades as an indicator of legal aptitude, Cravath also looked for other qualities—a passionate dedication to the practice of law as a profession, a willingness to work hard and meticulous attention to the quality of the work.


Once at the Firm, associates were required to go through rigorous and extensive training, not in one specialized field but in several, in order to develop critical skills and a breadth of knowledge that would better service the Firm’s clients and their increasingly complicated business needs. Associates would work with a partner and a team of associates and then rotate to another group to learn other disciplines. Over time the most talented of the associates would become partners, but only after being well-versed in the many aspects of the Firm’s practice.

Paul Cravath’s innovative system created a self-sustaining meritocracy and produces lawyers with a deep and sophisticated working knowledge of a wide variety of practice areas. The rotation path fosters collaboration and eliminates the need for associates to compete for work, clients, training or bonuses. The Cravath System places a premium on efficiency and quality of work that no other firm matches, and it was through this value system, which we still use today, that Cravath created a new model for American law firms.


Businesses realized the benefits of the legal services offered by the Firm and competing law firms also recognized the success of the Cravath System. They followed suit by adapting versions of the system for themselves, focusing on educational credentials and using a salary structure that reflected the Cravath principles. We have remained true to the basic tenets that Paul Cravath articulated. Over the past century, the name “Cravath” has become synonymous with excellence. In these challenging times, that is one thing that will not change.


For our clients, the system enables them to obtain the very best legal thinking from lawyers who have trained not only in a host of industries, but also in a wide range of practices. It also ensures that clients will always get the best possible advice on their matter, regardless of who their key partner contact is at the Firm. Firm clients are Cravath clients, not the client of one particular partner. As a result of the lockstep structure, two partners will never disagree over origination credits, as none exist. Our clients are served by lawyers steeped in the distinctive traditions and environment of the Cravath System. For lawyers starting out at the Firm, the system ensures that associates who join the Firm will receive the very best training that is available, through numerous experiences with various practice areas.