Sinatra is crooning “I’ve Got the World on a String” on the speakers at Tinoco’s Bistro, an outré little joint a couple of dusty blocks off Las Vegas Boulevard’s grittier end. Craig Newby, a local lawyer with ruddy cheeks, sits hunched over a bowl of linguine with three guys from his practice. Although their firm handles some of the biggest corporate deals in town, just now they are lovingly recounting a penny-ante worker’s-compensation case that involved, as so many things in Las Vegas do, strippers and baby oil.
“If I recall right,” says one of the firm’s partners, Andy Gordon, flashing a strobe-light grin, “she admitted to being hog-tied, suspended from the ceiling, and spanked with a wooden paddle.” The table erupts with laughter loud enough to drown out the crescendos of Nelson Riddle’s horn section.
Newby and Gordon aren’t sharkskin-clad desert shysters with correspondence degreesthey are products of an outfit known as Harvard Law School. Newby, 31, never imagined while he was enduring three sleepless years on the shores of the Charles River that he’d be hanging his diploma in an office with a view of a musical fountain show and an abandoned strip club. In fact, he was barely out of the crimson sash when he snagged a six-figure offer to be a tiny cog in a prestigious lawyer machine in Chicago. He remembers thinking, “Do I want to spend the next 13 years of my life trying to get to the point where maybe I’d be a low-level partner, and at that point still be halfway up the totem pole?”
So Newby went searching for an oasis, and last year he found it in the sands of Vegas. Nevada has less than half as many attorneys per capita as Illinois and less than a third as many as lawyer-saturated New York. More than 6,000 new residents stake their claim in Sin City each month, and new companies are springing up like crabgrass, lured by the state’s laid-back corporate-tax levies. (There’s no personal income tax, either.) And in 2002, Nevada dumped an old law that kept out-of-state law firms from setting up shop. All this amounts to unbeatable odds for young and ambitious legal minds.
“Literally, my first morning on the job I got dragged to court on a matter that had just returned from the United States Supreme Court,” Newby says. “It’s as big and as badass a case as you could find anywhere.” Such high-stakes litigation is a siren song for Ivy-fresh lawyers like Newby, although the neon-lit environs mean he gets his share of face-reddening cases. (Like the aforementioned stripper case.)
The growing supply of billable hours and big cases is not Vegas’ only allure. Attorneys who flee the major-league cities soon find the lifestyle they had in mind when they shelled out $100,000 for their diplomas. University of Pennsylvania Law School graduate Bart Verdirame, 33, left his post at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of Manhattan’s premier corporate-law firms, and now heads the legal department of a multi-million-dollar software company in Vegas. His reward for escaping the hive was a sprawling new five-bedroom house.