Working at O'Melveny & Myers means long and often uupredictable hours of hard work, dressing formally for meetings with big Fortune 500 clients, keeping your nose to the grindstone for hours on end, and hoping that good work will one day pay off with a partnership at L.A.'s oldest and largest law firm.

Working at O'Melveny & Myers also can mean taking a whitewater rafting trip in Northern California, playing in miniature golf tournaments in the hallways, dressing down on Fridays, and relaxing after a pressure-cooker week by heading for one of the regular Friday happy hours in the company dining room.

According to current and former O'Melveny partners and associates, the corporate culture at one of L.A.'s premier law firms contains its share of time-honored traditions, tinged by the firm's own efforts to adjust to changes in society and the business world.

Managing partner Charles Bender puts aside notions of a stodgy old boys' network resistant to change. "This is an old firm by Los Angeles standards, but it's not an old firm demographically," said the 61-year-old Bender. "Out of the 560 or so attorneys, only nine of us are 60 or above."

Still, the majority of those 560 attorneys are white males, with 155 women and 73 racial minorities. Of the firm's 199 partners, only 25 are women and 12 are racial minorities, according to Bender.

While women and minorities may seem scarse, one source familiar with the local legal scene said O'Melveny's diversity program is at least as good as those of other major L.A. law firms.

As for the old boys' network, Bender said: "I don't think I've ever been in an old boys' network, and that type of network, which I'm sure existed in this town at one time, has gradually disappeared and broken down. There are bound to be some remnants, but the community and its institutions today are so much more diverse that they're causing the disintegration of the old boys' network."

Which is why a recent article in American Lawyer magazine raised some dust. In it, former O'Melveny lawyer Kathleen McGuinness, now with Times Mirror Co.'s legal department, is quoted as saying that women and minorities were "not offered the same career opportunities" at the firm.

Bender declined to speak about the American Lawyer article, but noted that the firm has long prided itself on its recruiting of minorities, pointing out that O'Melveny in the early 1970s elected its first black woman partner, Cheryl Mason. Mason is a senior partner in the firm's litigation group and was a member of its management committee for four years.

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