Brad Karp: From Dreams of Congress to Chair of Paul Weiss

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Brad Karp

Chairman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison


Brad Karp, chair of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, has worked at the firm his entire professional career. Today, his clients include major banks such as Citigroup and the National Football League, and he continues to practice while growing the firm, which was the second most profitable in the U.S. in 2016. Below is Karp’s story in his own words. 

 

Education

John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore, New York, graduated 1977

Karp attended high school in Long Island, graduating in a class that included fashion designer Michael Kors. His parents Sandra and Marvin were both litigators at their own firm, Karp & Karp, a commercial litigation and general practice firm in New York City.

“Formal debate was not especially important, but informal debate was an integral part of my day-to-day life,” Karp said.

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Union College, Schenectady, New York, graduated 1981

At a small liberal arts school, Karp majored in political science and spent a lot of time writing and working on his analytical skills. He remembers “Political Theory” and “The Supreme Court in the New Deal Era” as important classes. Karp said he toyed with running for Congress, but decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

“I loved reading and writing and was fascinated with our political system, albeit not quite as fascinated as I have been in recent months,” Karp said. “By the time I graduated, I was very confident in my ability to write, reason and argue.”

 

Harvard Law School, graduated 1984

In 1981, Harvard Law School admitted Karp. At the time, his father, Marvin, was in the hospital dying of leukemia. As soon as the acceptance letter arrived in the mail, he drove four hours to see his father and share the news in person. Karp remembers they both shared a long cry. Both his parents had attended Brooklyn Law School.

“This was very important to my dad, which made it enormously important to me,” Karp said.

Two months later, his father died. Karp thought about taking a year off to look after his mother and even considered attending Yale Law School, which also had accepted him, because it was closer to home. But his mother urged him to attend Harvard and his section included Elliot Spitzer, who would go on to become New York’s Attorney General and Governor, and also Loretta Lynch, the current U.S. Attorney General.

Among the many things Karp took from his education was not to settle on the first solution to a problem: If you parse a problem from different angles, the obvious answer looks less obvious.

“It’s very good advice for life,” Karp said.


Work experience

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, summer associate, 1983

While working toward his degree at Harvard Law School, he spent the summer in New York at Paul Weiss working with name partner Arthur Liman — a “firm icon,” as Karp put it.

He contributed to an antitrust merger analysis, worked with attorneys representing Hollywood studios locked in a multi-billion dollar dispute with television networks and loved the environment and the people.

“I immediately realized that I wanted to return to Paul Weiss full time,” Karp said. “I fell in love with the practice of law that summer.”

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Clerk for Judge Irving Kaufman, then chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, for the Second Circuit, in New York City, May 1984 to July 1985

After graduation, instead of starting at Paul Weiss, Karp clerked for the New York judge who was famous for handing down a death sentence to the U.S. citizens convicted of being spies for the Soviet Union, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Karp remembers working 14-hour days — including weekends — writing bench memos and assisting with various articles that the tough, task-making judge wrote. Kaufman was so demanding that Karp had to secure special permission from him to leave the clerkship and attend his graduation from Harvard Law School.

“I learned an extraordinary amount during my clerkship, but it was a demanding year,” Karp said.

 

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, associate, 1985 – 1992

After the clerkship, Karp was thrust into the firm’s representation of Pennzoil in its purchase of a large part of Getty Oil. Pennzoil was suing Texaco for improperly interfering in the deal, and the case wound up at the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with their client. It put him under the tutelage of two name partners, Liman again as well as Simon Rifkind.

“They told me to work hard, to enjoy the experience and not to be afraid to share my thoughts and judgments,” Karp said. “I learned more during that two-year stretch than I have at any other time in my professional life.”

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Partner, 1992 - present

Karp’s first big client was Smith Barney & Company, which he represented in a sexual harassment case. Eventually after a series of mergers, it became part of Citigroup and Karp worked as its primary outside litigator, representing the bank in connection with Enron entanglements and other multi-billion dollar cases.

“I came to appreciate that industries and companies that are demonized at various points in time have a special need for zealous representation in order to level the playing field,” said Karp.

Karp, with his wife and two children in the Oval Office with then-President Bill Clinton.
Karp, with his wife and two children in the Oval Office with then-President Bill Clinton.
Chairman, 2008

Just as his mother was struggling with lung and breast cancer, in 2008, Karp was named chairman of Paul Weiss. She would succumb to the diseases that year, but he recalled she was over the moon when he told her his good news.

“We had a long, joyous cry over how it all turned out,” Karp said. “It was a pinch-yourself moment, quite reminiscent of the moment I had with my dad 25 years earlier.”

Karp likes to say he litigates full time — one of his clients is the National Football League — and chairs the firm on the side. It’s an arrangement he says enhances his credibility with his partners.

“I literally feel their pain and understand their challenges since, like them, I’m in the trenches with my clients every day,” he said.

Karp, after arguing a case for his client, the NFL.
Karp, after arguing a case for his client, the NFL.

Karp tells his partners and associates to seize every opportunity, provide clients with extraordinary service, give back to the community and understand that working at Paul Weiss is a privilege.

“We are blessed to be able to practice law surrounded by brilliant and collegial colleagues and to represent the most important companies in the world in their complex matters,” Karp said. “Never take this for granted.”

Karp, who once harbored dreams of becoming a professional golfer, on the links with hockey legend Mark Messier.
Karp, who once harbored dreams of becoming a professional golfer, on the links with hockey legend Mark Messier.