Daryl Libow is Washington, D.C., managing partner and co-head of the Firm’s antitrust practice.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
In high school, I read a book called One Man’s Freedom by Edward Bennett Williams, which had a profound effect on me. The book demonstrated how a lawyer can use his or her professional standing and skills to advance social justice and protect civil liberties. When I was in high school, I actually had the opportunity to meet him, and that confirmed to me that becoming a lawyer was the right path for me. I still do pro bono work in the area of international human rights and serve on the Board of the Human Rights First.
Why did you choose Sullivan & Cromwell?
I chose S&C primarily because I had a strong interest in international legal matters, having received a graduate degree in international law from the London School of Economics. S&C had a strong reputation and history of handling high-profile, cross-border legal matters, with individuals such as John Foster Dulles and Jack Stevenson leading the way. I was a summer associate in the New York office and had a very rewarding experience. I really enjoyed the people with whom I worked and the substantive nature of the work, and I never even looked anywhere else after my summer.
Tell us about your associate experience.
One of the early matters I worked on was the legendary Bank of New York and Irving Bank hostile takeover battle in 1987-88. I believe it was the first hostile takeover of a bank, and I was the junior associate on something like 15 different lawsuits related to the takeover fight—federal court, state court, poison pills, proxy fights and bank regulatory issues. It went on for nearly two years, and it was exhausting but at the same time exhilarating for a young lawyer. Working alongside Vince DiBlasi, Rodge Cohen, John Warden, and a host of other partners and senior associates gave me a great opportunity to learn valuable skills at an early point in my career.
Why did you choose to specialize in litigation/antitrust?
As a summer associate, I was torn between wanting to work on international matters and spending time abroad, which I perceived to be limited to GP lawyers, and litigation work, which I believed played to my skill set. At the time I came to S&C in the mid-1980s, it seemed as though you couldn’t do both, and I thought I had foreclosed the opportunity to have an international practice by becoming a litigator. It turned out that I was really lucky and was able to pursue both paths.
In 1989, I was asked by the Firm to go to the London office for two years. I was the first litigation associate sent abroad and, at the time, I believe we were the only firm that really tried to develop a nonarbitration litigation practice in London. I greatly enjoyed that experience and had opportunities to travel throughout the continent advising European clients on U.S. antitrust law and litigation matters. This was a very unique opportunity for a fourth-year associate—at the time, the London office had just 12 lawyers, and it was a very entrepreneurial environment. I remember being taken by Bill Plapinger and other London GP lawyers to various client meetings to advise on a lot of pretty hairy issues, none more so than the client who wanted to get out of a several hundred-million-dollar swap agreement involving Kuwaiti dinars the day after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and it was unclear what if any value the Kuwaiti dinar still retained. My London experience helped me grow as a lawyer and develop my client relationship skills. It was during this period that I began working closely with British Airways, which has now been a client I have worked with for more than 20 years.
As for antitrust, I was fortunate enough to work as a young associate with great antitrust lawyers like Stuart Meiklejohn, Bill Norfolk and later Yvonne Quinn, and my time in London pushed me further in that direction. Even today, however, I don’t consider myself an antitrust lawyer but a litigator who happens to do a lot of antitrust work. That is, in my view, one of the strengths of S&C—we don’t push people to overly specialize, and I can do criminal price-fixing work at the same time I am representing BP in derivative and securities-fraud litigation relating to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
How did you come to work in the Washington, D.C., office?
I came back to New York from London in fall 1991 for two years. In 1994, shortly after I became a partner, the Firm asked me to go to Washington to help build the D.C. office’s litigation and antitrust practices. I loved New York and still do, but, having had the London experience, I liked the challenge and the idea of being in a smaller office with an entrepreneurial setting, and I had lived in Washington before when I worked for the late New York Senator Pat Moynihan. At the time, my wife and I were living in a rental apartment in New York City and were expecting our first child. It was a good time to make a move as a family. The move to Washington has been great professionally and personally. I am still able to do much of the same work I would be doing in New York for the same clients and at the same time I have been lucky to occasionally get some interesting Washington opportunities.
In 1995, less than a year after I moved to D.C., Bernie Aidinoff received a call from the White House from Lloyd Cutler, who was then counsel to the president, asking if he knew of a lawyer who could help President and Mrs. Clinton in a lawsuit brought by a watchdog group challenging the legality of President Clinton’s legal defense fund that Bernie had helped to set up. Despite the fact that I was still a young partner, Bernie recommended me for the assignment. That’s the S&C way—to promote its young lawyers and give them the opportunity to succeed in extraordinary ways and to boost the Firm’s overall reputation. I won a dismissal in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which was affirmed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. I later represented the fund’s trustees in congressional hearings related to campaign finance laws, which led to other interesting assignments. It was a great way to break into the D.C. legal scene and enhance the reputation of our D.C. litigation practice, and I will always be appreciative of the opportunity Bernie gave me.
In my role managing the Washington, D.C., office, like my colleagues who manage the Firm’s other branch offices, I largely have responsibility for all aspects of the office, both professional and administrative. It is a challenge sometimes to balance those responsibilities with the demanding travel schedule of my practice, but I enjoy it very much.
Can you tell us about working in the D.C. office?
The D.C. office is relatively small—we are now approximately 50 lawyers and 50 staff members. With an office of that size, you really can develop a warm, collegial environment. We know each other well, and we know each other’s families. We even have lawyer-staff football and basketball games, which helps foster camaraderie in the office.
What advice can you give to associates about what it takes to be a great lawyer?
That would assume that I've figured that out! What I tell associates is that they should seek out responsibilities and opportunities. Make things happen for yourself, step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to fail. S&C associates have the great benefit of learning from some of the leading lawyers in their respective fields. I have found it very helpful to blend styles from the various partners with whom I have worked over the years to develop my own style.
Personal: Daryl lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two daughters (when they are home from grad school and college).
Most memorable vacation: A couple of years ago my family went on an African safari with John Hardiman and his family. I have a picture of John in full Safari ensemble—he looks like Teddy Roosevelt.
Hobbies: I play a great deal of squash, tennis, golf and scuba dive (when on vacation).
What do you do to relax? I love to listen to jazz music. My love of jazz has played into my pro bono and community service work. I’m a board member of the Smithsonian-affiliated National Jazz Museum in Harlem and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C.