David A. Crichlow, managing partner - Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman L.L.P., New York City
David A. Crichlow, a managing partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman L.L.P., is one of the few African-American attorneys to achieve that status at a top international law firm. The New York City native was among the first generation to benefit from the civil rights movement and the busing program that evolved from the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in schools.
Crichlow joined what was then Winthrop Stimson in 1989 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 2000, he became a member of the last partnership class to be appointed prior to the firm’s merger with Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro. He went on to serve as the New York hiring partner, firmwide head of Pillsbury’s Partner Candidate Evaluation Committee and co-leader of the firm’s National Recruiting Committee.
This year, Crichlow was named managing partner of the New York office, heading a four-member management committee that oversees 140 lawyers. He manages all of the processes in attorney development, compensation, benefits, recruiting and hiring, while still practicing as an attorney. Attrition, the bane of the legal industry, is one of his biggest challenges. “When I started in the legal profession, you didn’t see partners leave as frequently as we do now,” he says. Heightened competition in the legal market has created more opportunities for young attorneys to shine, if they’re willing to work hard, Crichlow says. “If they want to be a partner or have a successful practice, they have to recognize that what they were told in law school is not a myth. They have to work hard in trying to master the profession, understanding that it is a profession that cannot be mastered,” he says.
Gain experience; overcome the fear of making mistakes, he advises young attorneys. “You want to take a role where you’re not just doing research and assisting in solving problems. You want to be writing the advocacy briefs that help persuade the court,” he says. “None of us are successful because we didn’t make mistakes. … You’re going to make errors, and each one of those is a learning experience.”
By Angela Johnson Meadows