Lawyers Court Success With Dojo


Three times a week, high above downtown Los Angeles, the attorneys of Manning Marder & Wolfe engage in a peculiar corporate bonding ritual: hand-to-hand combat.

There's no bloodshed, usually. They're just practicing karate, a hobby that the firm's founding partners, Steve Manning and John Marder, took up the year before they launched their firm in 1994.

After a day spent in court or giving depositions, the attorneys and a handful of others practice roundhouse kicks and punches in the company's own dojo, or martial arts studio, at 707 Wilshire Blvd.

It's a rare feature for most corporate offices and, Marder says, at 44 floors up it may be the highest dojo in the country.

"We think so, but we can't really prove it," he said.

The room is a typical dojo, with padded wooden floors, mirrored walls and weapons used in fight sequences.

Marder and his partner, who specialize in representing police officers and insurers, came up with the idea a couple of years ago. They noticed that many of their employees were also interested in karate, and they found themselves trooping en masse to practice at a gym a couple of blocks away.

"We got so many people interested we said, 'We might as well build [a dojo right] here,' " Marder recalled.

The dojo, as well as a 500-gallon tank of sharks and other dangerous fish that lines the company's boardroom, reflects the loose but highly competitive nature of the 45-attorney firm.

Those who want to be on the partner track are expected to participate in the karate practices, just as some firms might expect colleagues to play a decent round of golf.

"We work hard, we play hard, we're athletic and aggressive" is how Marder describes the firm's culture. After some karate at 5 or 6 p.m., most of the lawyers head back to their offices to do a little more work before going home.

On their way out, they pass the piece de resistance of the firm's quirky decor, a giant framed print of their own First Interstate building in flames during a 1988 fire. The art was initially intended as a tribute to partner Steve Manning's dad, former Los Angeles Fire Chief Donald Manning, who was in charge of putting out the fire. But Marder finds it has served a more practical purpose: discouraging the building's managers from bringing prospective tenants by to view their unusual space.

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