Our History

Cleary Gottlieb was established in 1946 by seven lawyers who had already built prestigious careers as partners in the Wall Street law firm of Root Clark Buckner and Howland and in post-war government service.

Founding partners George Cleary, Leo Gottlieb, Henry Friendly, Mel Steen, Hugh Cox, Fowler Hamilton and George Ball had notably different backgrounds, diverse interests and a range of skills, but shared three things in common:

  • Intellectual prowess
  • The highest professional standards
  • Progressive social values

Their overall objectives were to avoid internal competition to the fullest possible extent, to welcome like-minded peers of every stripe into their firm and to function democratically. In this spirit they based the firm’s name on each partner’s age seniority, and they established equal profit-sharing by partners.

In 1949 Cleary became one of the first U.S.-based firms to open a European office. We hired and trained local European lawyers, included them as equal partners and established a leading position in Europe. Before long we expanded our international practice to Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.


Today our firm continues to enjoy a steady rate of growth, approximately doubling in size every 10 years since our founding. We are widely regarded as preeminent in the areas where we work. And we remain proudly rooted in the forward-looking vision, collegial values and “melting pot” ethos of our founding partners.

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