A Q&A with Daniel Papermaster

On hosting the Clinton-Dole debate and working with Joe Lieberman for decades

Published in 2010 Connecticut Super Lawyers Magazine — November 2010

Corporate finance attorney Dan Papermaster, who was named managing partner of Bingham McCutchen’s Hartford office in late 2008, is a longtime participant in Connecticut civic affairs and politics. He chaired the organizing committee that hosted Hartford’s 1996 debate between President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole. Papermaster has also worked closely with Sen. Joe Lieberman for decades.

What inspired you to pursue the law as a career?

That’s an interesting question. Let’s see ... I would say that when I was a kid, we lived abroad for a year and I saw what an incredible institution American democracy was, and I thought that being a lawyer would be a good way to get involved in trying to help people. And I thought it would be an interesting and intellectually stimulating career.

So where did your family live abroad?

My dad was a medical school professor and we actually left the United States and traveled through Europe for a bit as he lectured and we went and lived in Israel at a place called the Weizmann Institute of Science, which is sort of like the MIT of Israel. 

How old were you at that time and how did you like Israel?

I was 12 and 13 and it was a great experience. It was extremely safe. Just in terms of context, one of things I can tell you was that one of the people I lived with there was Danny Pearl, the Associated Press journalist. He and I were friends, our families were friends and we traveled all over Israel together. We’ve been involved with his family since his execution.

What is it about your practice area that you enjoy?

When I talk with young attorneys or summer associates, and explain to them about how do you make decisions about which area of the law do you find interesting, what’s come to me over the course of years is that I really like my clients. These are extremely bright professionals who are looking to put together financing transactions. They work real hard and we have a lot of fun, but I’m real comfortable with the clients and institutions that we represent. And it’s really good, serious, intellectually challenging work. Bingham has 14 offices around the world and we only have around 50 lawyers here in Hartford, and a lot of our work is not local. I just closed a Mexican cement company restructuring. I just did a restructuring of an Indian casino in Oregon.

I saw that you worked on a deal in conjunction with Red Eléctrica in Spain. Do you get to do much traveling for these deals?

You know, the world has gotten so small in the sense of communication issues, and so I do a fair amount of travel, but you don’t need to travel for specific deals anymore, because these deals are closed electronically. I do some amount of traveling, but I don’t have to go abroad very frequently because I close all these deals from my desk.

And do you prefer it that way?

I think as a young associate, it was really exciting to travel, but candidly, I do enough travel, and a conference room in Paris looks the same as a conference room in Indianapolis.

Do you feel any pressure in being involved in projects and deals that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars?

Sure. The reality is––and I don’t want to sound ridiculous about it––we take all the work really seriously.  But when it involves a lot of money, it involves a lot of clients because it’s very rare that a single client would be involved in making a loan of an enormous magnitude. So I wouldn’t say it’s stressful––it’s what we’re in the game for. 

Is there any other way the work changes or becomes more complex when there’s so much money involved?

It’s very common that you’re working up against some of the best lawyers in the world in these transactions. I always view that as a positive, because in my experience, you get a much better result when the people opposite you know what they’re doing.

Moving on to your public service, what are your memories of helping to organize the first presidential debate between Dole and Clinton in 1996? 

When I came up with the idea to do it, nobody thought we would ever pull it off. Nobody thought Hartford would get selected. But the group of young people I organized to pull it together totally believed it was possible, and before you know it, we ended up with the first presidential debate. The city did a phenomenal job and it was an extremely successful event. It was an opportunity to remind people that if you get a small group of people together who are talented, you can accomplish almost anything, and I really do believe that. I think it led to a lot of good initiatives here in the city.

Did you get a chance to watch the debate?

I was sitting in the front row and I had a chance to interact with both Bob Dole and President Clinton. I actually shared a dressing room with Jim Lehrer, the moderator.

What are your memories of them?

It’s obviously a high-pressure environment for them. Jim Lehrer is a very gracious guy. The world’s watching and it’s the first debate of the season, so it’s a very intense experience. 

How did you get involved with Sen. Lieberman?

I’ve known Sen. Lieberman for probably 25 years. In my third year of law school, when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, I left law school to work the last two weeks of his campaign because I felt so strongly that he would make a great senator. He then asked me to help coordinate his transition team literally during my winter vacation during my third year of law school because he knew me, he trusted me, and knew that I didn’t want a full-time job. And we’ve been very close ever since and I’ve been representing him for a number of years now.

Lieberman has become a bit of a polarizing figure over the past decade. What is he like to someone who knows him?

He’s an incredibly gracious guy. When you’re sitting with him with his family––and I know his family very well––it’s like you’re sitting around with your own family. There’s a big difference between what people see on TV or how the media portrays someone like him and when you know him on a personal level and know that he’s just a good, decent human being.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

I really try to spend time with my kids and my family. I’ve got two teenagers and time is flying. My wife and I both try to come up with activities that are things that teenagers are willing to do with their parents. 

What advice would you give young lawyers who are just starting their careers?

One of the things I see is that young people often keep picking their heads up every couple weeks, saying, “Do I think I like this job? Is it what I want to do?” My advice is, generally, put your head down for a couple years. Work really hard, learn a lot, and you’ll develop tremendous skills that are really transferable in a lot of different ways. But unless you learn those basic skills as a young lawyer, you will never really accomplish what you want.

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