This is part of the Release Day Book Blitz for The Partner Track by Helen Wan.
In the eyes of her corporate law firm, Ingrid Yung is a “two-fer.” As a Chinese-American woman about to be ushered into the elite rank of partner, she’s the face of Parsons Valentine & Hunt LLP’s recruiting brochures–their treasured “Golden Girl.” But behind the firm’s welcoming façade lies the scotch-sipping, cigar-smoking old-boy network that shuts out lawyers like Ingrid. To compensate, Ingrid gamely plays in the softball league, schmoozes in the corporate cafeteria, and puts in the billable hours—until a horrifically offensive performance at the law firm’s annual summer outing throws the carefully constructed image way out of equilibrium.
Scrambling to do damage control, Parsons Valentine announces a new “Diversity Initiative” and commands a reluctant Ingrid to spearhead the effort, taking her priority away from the enormous deal that was to be the final step in securing partnership. For the first time, Ingrid finds herself at odds with her colleagues—including her handsome, golden-boy boyfriend—in a clash of class, race, and sexual politics.
Today, I’m going to share an excerpt from the book, The Partner Track.
This is a legal thriller, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
The Partner Track
By Helen Wan
My office was on the thirty-first floor, along with those of the other senior M&A associates. Hunter’s office was the first I passed on my way from the elevator bank. Hunter F. Russell, read the polished brass nameplate. Next to Hunter was Murph, and next to Murph was a seventh-year named Todd Ames, who’d had his name legally changed from Abramowicz while still in law school. For ease of spelling, I’d once heard him explain.
Hunter, Murph, and Todd’s offices were all clustered together on the good side of the building, in a stretch of hallway known as Fraternity Row. They had scored these sweet offices with their panoramic views by flirting shamelessly with the firm’s office logistics coordinator, Liz Borkofsky. It was rumored that Liz had taken this job in hopes of snagging a male attorney, any male attorney, on track for partner. Finally, last winter, she’d gotten engaged to the firm’s slightly shy, balding director of I.T. The joke went around the office that Liz had slept her way to the middle.
I rounded the corner and got to my own office. It was nice enough, but it faced Madison Avenue, not the park. I’d tried to make it a comfortable place to spend my waking hours, since we did spend almost all of them here. I’d brought in a cheerful vase that I kept filled with fresh flowers. Vintage travel posters for the walls. And a framed photograph of the Manhattan skyline that I’d once taken from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Margo was just getting back from her lunch break. Ridiculously, secretaries were not allowed to eat in the attorney dining room. Margo brought sandwiches from home and ate them in the park.
“Hey, Margo,” I said. “How is it outside?”
“Hot and crowded,” she said, sighing. “All those European tourists, you know. They get the whole damn summer off.”
I loved Margo. She was one of the best secretaries at Parsons Valentine and I was lucky to have her. (I’d lobbied to call her my “assistant” instead of “secretary,” but this had been roundly vetoed by the partners, for setting the wrong kind of precedent.) As a young associate, I’d had a few rocky starts with secretaries who hadn’t worked out, like chain-smoking Dolores who had complimented my “very good English” the first time I’d dictated a letter. Explaining that I’d been born in Maryland didn’t help. After a few more choice comments – I’ve never been a big fan of sushi, no offense – I finally mentioned it to Human Resources, and Dolores had been swiftly reassigned to another practice group. The firm knew a walking liability when it saw one.
“No messages, but here’s your afternoon mail.” Margo handed me a stack of interoffice envelopes, the library routing copies of The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The New York Law Journal, along with a dues notice from the City Bar Association.
The phone on her desk rang. Margo glanced at it and signaled to me that it was my line. I leaned one hip against the ledge in front of her desk and waited, rifling through my mail.
“Good afternoon. Ms. Yung’s office,” Margo said into the receiver. “Hold on, please, I’ll check.” She clicked on the mute button and blinked up at me. “Are you here for Marty Adler?”
Everyone was here for Marty Adler. “I’ll take it in my office.”
“She’ll be right with him,” said Margo to Marty Adler’s secretary.
I walked into my office, nudged the door closed with my heel, and tossed my mail onto the credenza. A tingly adolescent glee bubbled up inside me. He called!
I sat down in my black swivel chair and grapevined my legs around so that I was facing out the window. I took a moment to compose myself. Never mind Murph’s warning at lunch about a “monster deal.” I was very pleased that Adler was calling me. I had worked on a few small projects with him before, but they hadn’t been any of his really high-profile deals. I’d dealt mainly with his senior associate and not Adler himself. But now, in my eighth year, I was the senior associate on my deals.
And associates were rarely called personally by Marty Adler to work on anything. This was news.
I cleared my throat and said in the mellifluous voice I reserved for partners and clients, “Hi, Marty, how are you?”
“Hold on,” said a woman’s gravelly smoker voice. “I’ll get him.”
What an amateur mistake. Of course Adler would be the type of man who waited until his secretary got me on the line before getting on himself. At eleven hundred twenty-five dollars an hour, his time was valuable.
There was a beep, followed by Marty Adler himself. “Ingrid, hello,” he said. His voice was deep and growly, yet I had always thought there was something kind about it, too. I rather liked it.
“So,” he continued without preamble, “I’m wondering about your availability this month. Do you have any time coming up?”
“Well, Marty, I – “
“I’ll tell you why I ask,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “There’s a high- worth, highly confidential acquisition that’s just come in to the office. Their usual M&A counsel got conflicted out, so this is a big win for us. It’s going to require a great deal of time and attention, and I’d be very grateful if you would be on my team.” This was a funny quirk about partners in law firms: when telling you to do something, they often said I’d be very grateful, as if you had a choice in the matter.
“Of course,” Adler went on, “the client wants it done yesterday. This deal’s on a rush timetable, so I’d need you to focus on it as your top priority. That is, if you are able to take it on.” He paused a moment to let this sink in. He knew exactly what kind of opportunity he was dangling in front of me.
Chances to shine in front of Marty Adler didn’t come along every day, especially not mere weeks before your partnership vote. “I’d love to be on your team, Marty.”
“Wonderful,” he said, completely unsurprised. “Why don’t you come on up to my office then, and I’ll fill you in on the deal.”
“I’ll be right there,” I said, and hung up.
I did a happy dance in my swivel chair, spinning three full revolutions. I stopped and tilted my chair all the way back, feeling dizzy but exhilarated. Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself down, I gazed at the smooth cherry bookcases that lined an entire wall of my office.
I loved these shelves. They were home to the stacks and stacks of deal books I’d accumulated from every transaction I’d ever worked: mergers, asset purchases, asset sales, stock purchases, stock sales, all cash deals, all stock deals, stock swaps, recaps, roll-ups, reverse triangular mergers, forward backhanded mergers, around-the-ankle, behind-the-back, over-the-shoulder mergers. You could easily lose track of the names and hundreds of ways these deals could be structured. Half of this job was simply learning how to lob these terms around as casually as tennis balls.
I loved the closing of every deal. I could feel the power and influence that coursed through these conference rooms like electrical currents high atop the city. I loved listening to closing dinner toasts at Jean Georges or La Grenouille at the very moment that gazillions of dollars, or yen, or euros, were originating from somewhere and landing, through the miracle of wire transfer, in our clients’ bank accounts halfway around the globe. It was thrilling, the promise of such a world.
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