International Report: Thacher Proffitt & Wood

“If you can avoid being a jerk as well as doing good business, then that’s something you can be proud of,” says Thacher Proffitt & Wood chairman Paul Tvetenstrand.

Tvetenstrand is chairman of a five-person executive committee that is elected every four years.

“The plan is to make Thacher the place everyone wants to be for the next 20 years. After that we can all drink scotch on my porch,” he says.

In 2006 that plan involves growing the firm. Thacher is currently looking for 20 associate hires and has an incoming class of 40 trainees.

Lateral hires in the last year included partners from Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and Shearman & Sterling and the firm aims to increase its present 277 lawyers to 300-325 by the end of the year, says Tvetenstrand.

Some of these hires will strengthen the firm’s numerical weaknesses in bankruptcy, IP and commercial litigation, while another goal, says Tvetenstrand, is to attract more “pure corporate, smokestack clients” rather than financial institutions.

Big deals in recent months include advising Hudson City Bancorp on its $4bn (£2.32bn) IPO.

Domestically the firm has no plans for new offices. Tvetenstrand claims: “The way technology is moving, the need to be in different places has fallen off. You have to be in New York City, but you don’t really have to be anywhere else.”

Despite that, the firm will not be closing any of its offices. “Why bother?” says Tvetenstrand. “You have to house your lawyers somewhere.”

The firm also has no plans for further offices abroad. Instead, Thacher prefers best friend relationships with firms in Asia and Europe.

“We have friends in those markets, and ultimately the client doesn’t care who’s acting: they care about the cost and the quality of work,” Tvetenstrand argues.

Thacher is also definitely not looking for merger partners. “We’ve fended off mergers from pretty much every firm in Chicago and many others,” says Tvetenstrand. “I’ve watched other firms do it, seen their cultures disappear and asked myself, ‘why did they do that?’.

“I’m 100 per cent sure it never works for the acquired firm. Friendship relationships give you everything you need.”

Tvetenstrand places an emphasis on attentive management. “I look at my partners at 69 different business units and I need to go around making sure they have all the support and to work out how resources can help better,” he explains.

Profit per partner has increased by a minimum of 24 per cent for the last four years running, Tvetenstrand says, but the firm aims to maintain loyalty among associates through more than just cash.

“We want to be a firm that works with people, not for people,” he stresses. “Clients give our associates enough pressure – we don’t want the partnership to add more. We also need to ensure that our associates feel they’re at a firm where they’re growing professionally – it’s not just about money.”

That said, Tvetenstrand says Thacher nevertheless pays associates “top dollar” and was one of the firms caught up in the recent wave of salary hikes, raising first-year salaries to the new standard of $145,000 (£83,500) – although this may be reallocated in the form of bonuses.

Chairman: Paul Tvetenstrand

Turnover: $157m (£89.6m)

PEP: $1.3m (£750,000)

Total number of lawyers: 277

Total number of equity partners: 64

Main practice areas: Structured finance, real estate, banking, shipping

Key clients: Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Hudson City Bancorp, Lehman Brothers, Lloyd’s of London, Merrill Lynch, UBS

Number of offices: Five

Locations: Mexico City, New York City (HQ), Summit (New Jersey), Washington DC, White Plains (New York State)