Chapter 2

The five-story building had been built a hundred years earlier by a cotton merchant and his sons after the Reconstruction, during the revival of cotton trading in Memphis. It sat in the middle of Cotton Row on Front Street near the river. Through its halls and doors and across its desks, millions of bales of cotton had been purchased from the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas and sold around the world. Deserted, neglected, then renovated time and again since the first war, it had been purchased for good in 1951 by an aggressive tax lawyer named Anthony Bendini. He renovated it yet again and began filling it with lawyers. He renamed it the Bendini Building.

He pampered the building, indulged it, coddled it, each year adding another layer of luxury to his landmark. He fortified it, sealing doors and windows and hiring armed guards to protect it and its occupants. He added elevators, electronic surveillance, security codes, closed-circuit television, a weight room, a steam room, locker rooms and a partners' dining room on the fifth floor with a captivating view of the river.

In twenty years he built the richest law firm in Memphis, and, indisputably, the quietest. Secrecy was his passion. Every associate hired by was indoctrinated in the evils of the loose tongue. Everything was confidential. Salaries, perks, advancement and, most especially, clients. Divulging firm business, the young associates were warned, could delay the awarding of the holy grail - a partnership. Nothing left the fortress on Front Street. Wives were told not to ask, or were lied to. The associates were expected to work hard, keep quiet and spend their healthy paychecks. They did, without exception.

With forty-one lawyers, was the fourth largest in Memphis. Its members did not advertise or seek publicity. They were clannish and did not fraternize with other lawyers. Their wives played tennis and bridge and shopped among themselves. Bendini, Lambert & Locke was a big family, of sorts. A rather rich family.

At 10 A.M. on a Friday, limo stopped on Front Street and Mr. Mitchell Y. McDeere emerged. He politely thanked the driver, and watched the vehicle as it drove away. His first limo ride. He stood on the sidewalk next to a streetlight and admired the quaint, picturesque, yet somehow imposing home of the quiet Bendini firm. It was a far cry from the gargantuan steel-and-glass erections inhabited by New York's finest or the enormous cylinder he had visited in Chicago. But he instantly knew he would like it. It was less pretentious. It was more like himself.

Lamar Quin walked through the front door and down the steps. He yelled at Mitch and waved him over. He had met them at the airport the night before and checked them into the Peabody - "the South's Grand Hotel."

"Good morning, Mitch! How was your night?" They shook hands like lost friends.

"Very nice. It's a great hotel."

"We knew you'd like it. Everybody likes the Peabody."

They stepped into the front foyer, where a small billboard greeted Mr. Mitchell Y. McDeere, the guest of the day. A well-dressed but unattractive receptionist smiled warmly and said her name was Sylvia and if he needed anything while he was in Memphis just let her know. He thanked her. Lamar led him to a long hallway where he began the guided tour. He explained the layout of the building and introduced Mitch to various secretaries and paralegals as they walked. In the main library on the second floor a crowd of lawyers circled the mammoth conference table and consumed pastries and coffee. They became silent when the guest entered.

Oliver Lambert greeted Mitch and introduced him to the gang. There were about twenty in all, most of the associates in, and most barely older than the guest. The partners were too busy, Lamar had explained, and would meet him later at a private lunch. He stood at the end of the table as Mr. Lambert called for quiet.

"Gentlemen, this is Mitchell McDeere. You've all heard about him, and here he is. He is our number one choice this year, our number one draft pick, so to, speak. He is being romanced by the big boys in New York and Chicago and who knows where else, so we have to sell him on our little firm here in Memphis." They smiled and nodded their approval. The guest was embarrassed.

"He will finish at Harvard in two months and will graduate with honors. He's an associate editor of the Harvard Law Review." This made an impression, Mitch could tell. "He did his undergraduate work at Western Kentucky, where he graduated summa cum laude." This was not quite as impressive. "He also played football for four years, starting as quarterback his junior year." Now they were really impressed. A few appeared to be in awe, as if staring at Joe Namath.

The senior partner continued his monologue while Mitch stood awkwardly beside him. He droned on about how selective they had always been and how well Mitch would fit in. Mitch stuffed his hands in his pockets and quit listening. He studied the group. They were young, successful and affluent. The dress code appeared to be strict, but no different than New York or Chicago. Dark gray or navy wool suits, white or blue cotton button-downs, medium starch, and silk ties. Nothing bold or nonconforming. Maybe a couple of bow ties, but nothing more daring. Neatness was mandatory. No beards, mustaches or hair over the ears. There were a couple of wimps, but good looks dominated.

Mr. Lambert was winding down. "Lamar will give Mitch a tour of our offices, so you'll have a chance to chat with him later. Let's make him welcome. Tonight he and his lovely, and I do mean lovely, wife, Abby, will eat ribs at the Rendezvous, and of course tomorrow night is dinner at my place. I'll ask you to be on your best behavior." He smiled and looked at the guest. "Mitch, if you get tired of Lamar, let me know and we'll get someone more qualified."

He shook hands with each one of them again as they left, and tried to remember as many names as possible.

"Let's start the tour," Lamar said when the room cleared. "This, of course, is a library, and we have identical ones on each of the first four floors. We also use them for large meetings. The books vary from floor to floor, so you never know where your research will lead you. We have two full-time librarians, and we use microfilm and microfiche extensively. As a rule, we don't do any research outside the building. There are over a hundred thousand volumes, including every conceivable tax reporting service. That's more than some law schools. If you need a book we don't have, just tell a librarian."

They walked past the lengthy conference table and between dozens of rows of books. "A hundred thousand volumes," Mitch mumbled.

"Yeah, we spend almost half a million a year on upkeep, supplements and new books. The partners are always griping about it, but they wouldn't think of cutting back. It's one of the largest private law libraries in the country, and we're proud of it."

"It's pretty impressive."

"We try to make research as painless as possible. You know what a bore it is and how much time can be wasted looking for the right materials. You'll spend a lot of time here the first two years, so we try to make it pleasant."

Behind a cluttered workbench in a rear corner, one of the librarians introduced himself and gave a brief tour of the computer room, where a dozen terminals stood ready to assist with the latest computerized research. He offered to demonstrate the latest, truly incredible software, but Lamar said they might stop by later.

"He's a nice guy," Lamar said as they left the library. "We pay him forty thousand a year just to keep up with the books. It's amazing."

Truly amazing, thought Mitch.

The second floor was virtually identical to the first, third and fourth. The center of each floor was filled with secretaries, their desks, file cabinets, copiers and the other necessary machines. On one side of the open area was the library, and on the other was a configuration of smaller conference rooms and offices.

"You won't see any pretty secretaries," Lamar said softly as they watched them work. "It seems to be an unwritten firm rule. Oliver Lambert goes out of his way to hire the oldest and homeliest ones he can find. Of course, some have been here for twenty years and have forgotten more law than we learned in law school."

"They seem kind of plump," Mitch observed, almost to himself.

"Yeah, it's part of the overall strategy to encourage us to keep our hands in our pockets. Philandering is strictly forbidden, and to my knowledge has never happened."

"And if it does?"

"Who knows. The secretary would be fired, of course. And I suppose the lawyer would be severely punished. It might cost a partnership. No one wants to find out, especially with this bunch of cows."

"They dress nice."

"Don't get me wrong. We hire only the best legal secretaries and we pay more than any other firm in town. You're looking at the best, not necessarily the prettiest. We require experience and maturity. Lambert won't hire anyone under thirty."

"One per lawyer?"

"Yes, until you're a partner. Then you'll get another, and by then you'll need one. Nathan Locke has three, all with twenty years' experience, and he keeps them jumping."

"Where's his office?"

"Fourth floor. It's off-limits."

Mitch started to ask, but didn't.

The corner offices were twenty-five by twenty-five, Lamar explained, and occupied by the most senior partners. Power offices, he called them, with great expectation. They were decorated to each individual's taste with no expense spared and vacated only at retirement or death, then fought over by the younger partners.

Lamar flipped a switch in one and they stepped inside, closing the door behind them. "Nice view, huh," he said as Mitch walked to the windows and looked at the river moving ever so slowly beyond Riverside Drive.

"How do you get this office?" Mitch asked as he admired a barge inching under the bridge leading to Arkansas.

"Takes time, and when you get here you'll be very wealthy, and very busy, and you won't have time to enjoy the view."

"Whose is it?"

"Victor Milligan. He's head of tax, and a very nice man. Originally from New England, he's been here for twenty-five years and calls Memphis home." Lamar stuck his hands in his pockets and walked around the room. "The hardwood floors and ceilings came with the building, over a hundred years ago. Most of the building is carpeted, but in a few spots the wood was not damaged. You'll have the option of rugs and carpet when you get here."

"I like the wood. What about that rug?"

"Some kind of antique Persian. I don't know its history. The desk was used by his great-grandfather, who was a judge of some sort in Rhode Island, or so he says. He's full of crap, and you never know when he's blowing smoke."

"Where is he?"

"Vacation, I think. Did they tell you about vacations?"


"You get two weeks a year for the first five years. Paid, of course. Then three weeks until you become a partner, then you take whatever you want. The Firm has a chalet in Vail, a cabin on a lake in Manitoba and two condos on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman Island. They're free, but you need to book early. Partners get priority. After that it's first come. The Caymans are extremely popular in. It's an international tax haven and a lot of our trips are written off. I think Milligan's there now, probably scuba diving and calling it business."

Through one of his tax courses, Mitch had heard of the Cayman Islands and knew they were somewhere in the Caribbean. He started to ask exactly where, but decided to check it himself.

"Only two weeks?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah. Is that a problem?"

"No, not really. The firms in New York are offering at least three." He spoke like a discriminating critic of expensive vacations. He wasn't. Except for the three-day weekend they referred to as a honeymoon, and an occasional drive through New England, he had never participated in a vacation and had never left the country.

"You can get an additional week, unpaid."

Mitch nodded as though this was acceptable. They left Milligan's office and continued the tour. The hallway ran in a long rectangle with the attorneys' offices to the outside, all with windows, sunlight, views. Those with views of the river were more prestigious, Lamar explained, and usually occupied by partners. There were waiting lists.

The conference rooms, libraries and secretarial desks were on the inside of the hallway, away from the windows and distractions.

The associates' offices were smaller - fifteen by fifteen - but richly decorated and much more imposing than any associates' offices he had seen in New York or Chicago. spent a small fortune on design consultants, Lamar said. Money, it seemed, grew on trees. The younger lawyers were friendly and talkative and seemed to welcome the interruption. Most gave brief testimonials to the greatness of The Firm and of Memphis. The old town kind of grows on you, they kept telling him, but it takes time. They, too, had been recruited by the big boys in Washington and on Wall Street, and they had no regrets.

The partners were busier, but just as nice. He had been carefully selected, he was told again and again, and he would fit in. It was his kind of firm. They promised to talk more during lunch.

* * *

An hour earlier, Kay Quin had left the kids with the baby nurse and the maid and met Abby for brunch at the Peabody. She was a small-town girl, much like Abby. She had married Lamar after college and lived in Nashville for three years while he studied law at Vanderbilt. Lamar made so much money she quit work and had two babies in fourteen months. Now that she had retired and finished her childbearing, she spent most of her time with the garden club and the heart fund and the country club and the PTA and the church. Despite the money and the affluence, she was modest and unpretentious, and apparently determined to stay that way regardless of her husband's success. Abby found a friend.

After croissants and eggs Benedict, they sat in the lobby of the hotel, drinking coffee and watching the ducks swim in circles around the fountain. Kay had suggested a quick tour of Memphis with a late lunch near her home. Maybe some shopping.

"Have they mentioned the low-interest loan?" she asked.

"Yes, at the first interview."

"They'll want you to buy a house when you move here. Most people can't afford a house when they leave law school, so loans you the money at a lower rate and holds the mortgage."

"How low?"

"I don't know. It's been seven years since we moved here, and we've bought another house since then. It'll be a bargain, believe me. The Firm will see to it that you own a home. It's sort of an unwritten rule."

"Why is it so important?"

"Several reasons. First of all, they want you down here. This firm is very selective, and they usually get who they want. But Memphis is not exactly in the spotlight, so they have to offer more. Also, is very demanding, especially on the associates. There's pressure, overwork, eighty-hour weeks and time away from home. It won't be easy on either of you, and The Firm knows it. The theory is that a strong marriage means a happy lawyer, and a happy lawyer is a productive lawyer, so the bottom line is profits. Always profits.

"And there's another reason. These guys - all guys, no women - take a lot of pride in their wealth, and everyone is expected to look and act affluent. It would be an insult to if an associate was forced to live in an apartment. They want you in a house, and after five years, in a bigger house. If we have some time this afternoon, I'll show you some of the partners' homes. When you see them, you won't mind the eighty-hour weeks."

"I'm used to them now."

"That's good, but law school doesn't compare with this. Sometimes they'll work a hundred hours a week during tax season."

Abby smiled and shook her head as if this impressed her a great deal. "Do you work?"

"No. Most of us don't work. The money is there, so we're not forced to, and we get little help with the kids from our husbands. Of course, working is not forbidden."

"Forbidden by whom?"

"The Firm."

"I would hope not." Abby repeated the word "forbidden" to herself, but let it pass.

Kay sipped her coffee and watched the ducks. A small boy wandered away from his mother and stood near the fountain. "Do you plan to start a family?" Kay asked.

"Maybe in a couple of years."

"Babies are encouraged."

"By whom?"

"The Firm."

"Why should care if we have children?"

"Again, stable families. A new baby is a big deal around the office. They send flowers and gifts to the hospital. You're treated like a queen. Your husband gets a week off, but he'll be too busy to take it. They put a thousand dollars in a trust fund for college. It's a lot of fun."

"Sounds like a big fraternity."

"It's more like a big family. Our social life revolves around, and that's important because none of us are from Memphis. We're all transplants."

"That's nice, but I don't want anyone telling me when to work and when to quit and when to have children."

"Don't worry. They're very protective of each other, but does not meddle."

"I'm beginning to wonder."

"Relax, Abby. The Firm is like a family. They're great people, and Memphis is a wonderful old town to live in and raise kids. The cost of living is much lower and life moves at a slower pace. You're probably considering the bigger towns. So did we, but I'll take Memphis any day over the big cities."

"Do I get the grand tour?"

"That's why I'm here. I thought we'd start downtown, then head out east and look at the nicer neighborhoods, maybe look at some houses and eat lunch at my favorite restaurant."

"Sounds like fun."

Kay paid for the coflee, as she had the brunch, and they left the Peabody in the Quin family's new Mercedes.

The dining room, as it was simply called, covered the west end of the fifth floor above Riverside Drive and high above the river in the distance. A row of eight-foot windows lined the wall and provided a fascinating view of the tugboats, paddle-wheelers, barges, docks and bridges.

The room was protected turf, a sanctuary for those lawyers talented and ambitious enough to be called partners in the quiet Bendini firm. They gathered each day for lunches prepared by Jessie Frances, a huge, temperamental old black woman, and served by her husband, Roosevelt, who wore white gloves and an odd-fitting, faded, wrinkled hand-me-down tux given to him by Mr. Bendini himself shortly before his death. They also gathered for coffee and doughnuts some mornings to discuss firm business and, occasionally, for a glass of wine in the late afternoon to celebrate a good month or an exceptionally large fee. It was for partners only, and maybe an occasional guest such as a blue-chip client or prospective recruit. The associates could dine there twice a year, only twice - and records were kept - and then only at the invitation of a partner.

Adjacent to the dining room was a small kitchen where Jessie Frances performed, and where she had cooked the first meal for Mr. Bendini and a few others twenty-six years earlier. For twenty-six years she had cooked Southern food and ignored requests to experiment and try dishes she had trouble pronouncing. "Don't eat it if you don't like it," was her standard reply. Judging from the scraps Roosevelt collected from the tables, the food was eaten and enjoyed immensely. She posted the week's menu on Monday, asked that reservations be made by ten each day and held grudges for years if someone canceled or didn't show. She and Roosevelt worked four hours each day and were paid a thousand each month.

Mitch sat at a table with Lamar Quin, Oliver Lambert and Royce McKnight. The entree was prime rib, served with fried okra and boiled squash.

"She laid off the grease today," Mr. Lambert observed.

"It's delicious," Mitch said.

"Is your system accustomed to grease?"

"Yes. They cook this way in Kentucky."

"I joined this firm in 1955," Mr. McKnight said, "and I come from New Jersey, right? Out of suspicion, I avoided most Southern dishes as much as possible. Everything is battered and fried in animal fat, right? Then Mr. Bendini decides to open up this little cafe. He hires Jessie Frances, and I've had heartburn for the past twenty years. Fried ripe tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, fried eggplant, fried okra, fried squash, fried anything and everything. One day Victor Milligan said too much. He's from Connecticut, right? And Jessie Frances had whipped up a batch of fried dill pickles. Can you imagine? Fried dill pickles! Milligan said something ugly to Roosevelt and he reported it to Jessie Frances. She walked out the back door and quit. Stayed gone for a week. Roosevelt wanted to work, but she kept him at home. Finally, Mr. Bendini smoothed things over and she agreed to return if there were no complaints. But she also cut back on the grease. I think we'll all live ten years longer."

"It's delicious," said Lamar as he buttered another roll.

"It's always delicious," added Mr. Lambert as Roosevelt walked by. "Her food is rich and fattening, but we seldom miss lunch."

Mitch ate cautiously, engaged in nervous chitchat and tried to appear completely at ease. It was difficult. Surrounded by eminently successful lawyers, all millionaires, in their exclusive, lavishly ornamented dining suite, he felt as if he was on hallowed ground. Lamar's presence was comforting, as was Roosevelt's.

When it was apparent Mitch had finished eating, Oliver Lambert wiped his mouth, rose slowly and tapped his tea glass with his spoon. "Gentlemen, could I have your attention."

The room became silent as the twenty or so partners turned to the head table. They laid their napkins down and stared at the guest. Somewhere on each of their desks was a copy of the dossier. Two months earlier they had voted unanimously to make him their number one pick. They knew he ran four miles a day, did not smoke, was allergic to sulfites, had no tonsils, had a blue Mazda, had a crazy mother and once threw three interceptions in one quarter. They knew he took nothing stronger than aspirin even when he was sick, and that he was hungry enough to work a hundred hours a week if they asked. They liked him. He was good-looking, athletic-looking, a man's man with a brilliant mind and a lean body.

"As you know, we have a very special guest today, Mitch McDeere. He will soon graduate with honors from Harvard - "

"Hear! Hear!" said a couple of Harvard alumni.

"Yes, thank you. He and his wife, Abby, are staying at the Peabody this weekend as our guests. Mitch will finish in the top five out of three hundred and has been heavily recruited. We want him here, and I know you will speak to him before he leaves. Tonight he will have dinner with Lamar and Kay Quin, and then tomorrow night is the dinner at my place. You are all expected to attend." Mitch smiled awkwardly at the partners as Mr. Lambert rambled on about the greatness of The Firm. When he finished, they continued eating as Roosevelt served bread pudding and coffee.

Kay's favorite restaurant was a chic East Memphis hangout for the young affluent. A thousand ferns hung from everywhere and the jukebox played nothing but early sixties. The daiquiris were served in tall souvenir glasses.

"One is enough," Kay warned.

"I'm not much of a drinker."

They ordered the quiche of the day and sipped daiquiris.

"Does Mitch drink?"

"Very little. He's an athlete and very particular about his body. An occasional beer or glass of wine, nothing stronger. How about Lamar?"

"About the same. He really discovered beer in law school, but he has trouble with his weight. The Firm frowns on drinking."

"That's admirable, but why is it their business?"

"Because alcohol and lawyers go together like blood and vampires. Most lawyers drink like fish, and the profession is plagued with alcoholism. I think it starts in law school. At Vanderbilt, someone was always tapping a keg of beer. Probably the same at Harvard. The job has a lot of pressure, and that usually means a lot of booze. These guys aren't a bunch of teetotalers, mind you, but they keep it under control. A healthy lawyer is a productive lawyer. Again, profits."

"I guess that makes sense. Mitch says there's no turnover."

"It's rather permanent. I can't recall anyone leaving in the seven years we've been here. The money's great and they're careful about whom they hire. They don't want anyone with family money."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"They won't hire a lawyer with other sources of income. They want them young and hungry. It's a question of loyalty. If all your money comes from one source, then you tend to be very loyal to that source. The Firm demands extreme loyalty. Lamar says there's never talk of leaving. They're all happy, and either rich or getting that way. And if one wanted to leave, he couldn't find as much money with another firm. They'll offer Mitch whatever it takes to get you down here. They take great pride in paying more."

"Why no female lawyers?"

"They tried it once. She was a real bitch and kept the place in an uproar. Most women lawyers walk around with chips on their shoulders looking for fights. They're hard to deal with. Lamar says they're afraid to hire one because they couldn't fire her if she didn't work out, with affirmative action and all."

The quiche arrived and they declined another round of daiquiris. Hundreds of young professionals crowded under the clouds of ferns, and the restaurant grew festive. Smokey Robinson sang softly from the jukebox.

"I've got a great idea," Kay said. "I know a realtor. Let's call her and go look at some houses."

"What kind of houses?"

"For you and Mitch. For the newest associate at Bendini, Lambert & Locke. She can show you several in your price range."

"I don't know our price range."

"I'd say a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand. The last associate bought in Oakgrove, and I'm sure he paid something like that."

Abby leaned forward and almost whispered, "How much would the monthly payments be?"

"I don't know. But you'll be able to afford it. Around a thousand a month, maybe a little more."

Abby stared at her and swallowed hard. The small apartments in Manhattan were renting for twice that. "Let's give her a call."

As expected, Royce McKnight's office was a power one with a great view. It was in one of the prized corners on the fourth floor, down the hall from Nathan Locke. Lamar excused himself, and the managing partner asked Mitch to have a seat at a small conference table next to the sofa. A secretary was sent for coffee.

McKnight asked him about his visit so far, and Mitch said he was quite impressed.

"Mitch, I want to nail down the specifics of our offer."


"The base salary is eighty thousand for the first year. When you pass the bar exam you receive a five-thousand-dollar raise. Not a bonus, but a raise. The exam is given sometime in August and you'll spend most of your summer reviewing for it. We have our own bar study courses and you'll receive extensive tutoring from some of the partners. This is done primarily on firm time. As you know, most firms put you to work and expect you to study on your own time. Not us. No associate of this firm has ever flunked the bar exam, and we're not worried about you breaking with tradition. Eighty thousand initially, up to eighty-five in six months. Once you've been here a year, you'll be raised to ninety thousand, plus you'll get a bonus each December based on the profits and performance during the prior twelve months. Last year the average bonus for associates was nine thousand. As you know, profit sharing with associates is extremely rare for law firms. Any questions about the salary?"

"What happens after the second year?"

"Your base salary is raised about ten percent a year until you become a partner. Neither the raises nor the bonuses are guaranteed. They are based on performance."

"Fair enough."

"As you know, it is very important to us that you buy a home. It adds stability and prestige and we're very concerned about these things, especially with our associates. provides a low-interest mortgage loan, thirty years, fixed rate, nonassumable should you decide to sell in a few years. It's a one-shot deal, available only for your first home. After that you're on your own."

"What kind of rate?"

"As low as possible without running afoul with the IRS {Internal Revenue Service Current market rate is around ten, ten and a half. We should be able to get you a rate of seven to eight percent. We represent some banks, and they assist us. With this salary, you'll have no trouble qualifying. In fact, The Firm will sign on as a guarantor if necessary."

"That's very generous, Mr. McKnight."

"It's important to us. And we don't lose any money on the deal. Once you find a house, our real estate section handles everything. All you have to do is move in."

"What about the BMW?"

Mr. McKnight chuckled. "We started that about ten years ago and it's proved to be quite an inducement. It's very simple. You pick out a BMW, one of the smaller ones, we lease it for three years and give you the keys. We pay for tags, insurance, maintenance. At the end of three years you can buy it from the leasing company for the fair market value. It's also a one-shot deal."

"That's very tempting."

"We know."

Mr. McKnight looked at his legal pad. "We provide complete medical and dental coverage for the entire family. Pregnancies, checkups, braces, everything. Paid entirely by The Firm."

Mitch nodded, but was not impressed. This was standard.

"We have a retirement plan second to none. For every dollar you invest, matches it with two, provided, however, you invest at least ten percent of your base pay. Let's say you start at eighty, and the first year you set aside eight thousand. The Firm kicks in sixteen, so you've got twenty-four after the first year. A money pro in New York handles it and last year our retirement earned nineteen percent. Not bad. Invest for twenty years and you're a millionaire at forty-five, just off retirement. One stipulation: If you bail out before twenty years, you lose everything but the money you put in, with no income earned on that money."

"Sounds rather harsh."

"No, actually it's rather generous. Find me another firm or company matching two to one. There are none, to my knowledge. It's our way of taking care of ourselves. Many of our partners retire at fifty, some at forty-five. We have no mandatory retirement, and some work into their sixties and seventies. To each his own. Our goal is simply to ensure a generous pension and make early retirement an option."

"How many retired partners do you have?"

"Twenty or so. You'll see them around here from time to time. They like to come in and have lunch and a few keep office space. Did Lamar cover vacations?"


"Good. Book early, especially for Vail and the Caymans. You buy the air fare, but the condos are free. We do a lot of business in the Caymans and from time to time we'll send you down for two or three days and write the whole thing off. Those trips are not counted as vacation, and you'll get one every year or so. We work hard, Mitch, and we recognize the value of leisure."

Mitch nodded his approval and dreamed of lying on a sun-drenched beach in the Caribbean, sipping on a pina colada and watching string bikinis.

"Did Lamar mention the signing bonus?"

"No, but it sounds interesting."

"If you join our firm we hand you a check for five thousand. We prefer that you spend the bulk of it on a new wardrobe. After seven years of jeans and flannel shirts, your inventory of suits is probably low, and we realize it. Appearance is very important to us. We expect our attorneys to dress sharp and conservative. There's no dress code, but you'll get the picture."

Did he say five thousand dollars? For clothes? Mitch currently owned two suits, and he was wearing one of them. He kept a straight face and did not smile.

"Any questions?"

"Yes. The large firms are infamous for being sweatshops where the associates are flooded with tedious research and locked away in some library for the first three years. I want no part of that. I don't mind doing my share of research and I realize I will be the low man on the pole. But I don't want to research and write briefs for the entire firm. I'd like to work with real clients and their real problems."

Mr. McKnight listened intently and waited with his rehearsed answer. "I understand, Mitch. You're right, it is a real problem in the big firms. But not here. For the first three months you'll do little but study for the bar exam. When that's over, you begin practicing law. You'll be assigned to a partner, and his clients will become your clients. You'll do most of his research and, of course, your own, and occasionally you'll be asked to assist someone else with the preparation of a briefer some research. We want you happy. We take pride in our zero turnover rate, and we go the extra mile to keep careers on track. If you can't get along with your partner, we'll find another one. If you discover you don't like tax, we'll let you try securities or banking. It's your decision. The Firm will soon invest a lot of money in Mitch McDeere, and we want him to be productive."

Mitch sipped his coffee and searched for another question. Mr. McKnight glanced at his checklist.

"We pay all moving expenses to Memphis."

"That won't be much. Just a small rental truck."

"Anything else, Mitch?"

"No, sir. I can't think of anything."

The checklist was folded and placed in the file. The partner rested both elbows on the table and leaned forward. "Mitch, we're not pushing, but we need an answer as soon as possible. If you go elsewhere, we must then continue to interview. It's a lengthy process, and we'd like our new man to start by July 1."

"Ten days soon enough?"

"That's fine. Say by March 30?"

"Sure, but I'll contact you before then." Mitch excused himself, and found Lamar waiting in the hall outside McKnight's office. They agreed on seven for dinner.

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