"Kramer has a reputation as a better place to work, where your personal life is respected and your input is valued."

"I have had the opportunity, right from the beginning, to get on the phone to clients and work directly with them."

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP


If you're looking for top-drawer work but crave a more intimate working environment where people "genuinely seem to care how you're getting along," Kramer should be on your radar.

DESPITE the existence of a Paris office, and the 2011 opening in Silicon Valley, Kramer Levin remains a New York firm at heart (95% of it attorneys are based here). In almost half a century on the New York legal scene, the firm has built up enviable advertising litigation and immigration practices, among others. In 2013, Kramer's restructuring and bankruptcy group also earned its position in the top tier of the Chambers USA ranking for the first time.

According to managing partner Paul Pearlman, “bankruptcy work has not slowed down this year and the transactional side has picked up recently.” More broadly, Kramer has played a part in some pretty high-profile legal sagas over the past year or so – including American Airlines' restructuring and merger with US Airways, defending ex-SAC Capital analyst Michael Steinberg against insider trading charges, and the municipal bankruptcy filed by the city of Detroit.

Associates told us the firm is “attracting more and more high-profile clients.” At the same time, although juniors felt that they were “worked hard,” they emphasized time and again that the firm's culture remains “phenomenal” and that it had “exceeded expectations.

Associates Say

The Work 

At the end of their summer at the firm, future associates “are asked for their top three preferences” for departments they'd like to practice in. The firm “tries hard to give everyone their top choice,” but often “there are too many people interested in the same area.

Most associates start out as generalists within broad practices such as litigation and corporate. Some retain this broad practice, while others “find a more specific area of interest and gravitate toward that.” Smaller sub-practices include employment, banking & finance, IP, tax and bankruptcy.

Each department has an assigning partner but “assignment isn't very formal, in reality.” Juniors in each department “were initially assigned to a case,” then “as time goes by partners tend to pop in and ask if we have time and are interested in some work.” Litigation associates had “gained a wide range of experience.” There is no formal rotation through the different sub-practices which, as one excited associate exclaimed, means “you can take a hold of your own destiny!” Juniors had been involved in “a false advertising claim, white-collar defense cases, an investigation relating to the ongoing housing crisis and basic breach of contract claims.” Depending on the size of the case, “there might be a smaller or larger team” and associates' roles varied accordingly. The juniors we spoke to had all had the chance to “work directly for partners.” Typical tasks include “a lot of research and writing, preparing for depositions, and, of course some doc review!” The firm's bankruptcy, or creditor's rights, department is known for “representing unsecured creditors' committees” but also undertakes “lots of interesting debtor work.” The department is “very exciting and generally very open to looking into different kinds of new work.

On larger cases juniors were given “discrete tasks, such as responding to a filed motion, research or analyzing the other side's responses.” Smaller transactions “are leanly staffed and associates have the opportunity to attend client meetings, help to lead client conference calls, draft motions and play an active part in strategy discussions.

Training & Development 

Life for a junior associate at Kramer Levin starts with “a week-long firm orientation.” This involves “largely administrative training,” things like “an introduction to our healthcare benefits.” Associates get a mentor/buddy who they're encouraged to "talk about anything" with, and sources generally felt supported by partners, and praised the on-the-job training.

Legal training (CLEs aside) is largely “on the job.” The consensus was that to “learn by doing” was “best overall.” However, corporate associates felt that as generalists “it was sometimes difficult to pick things up, as you are jumping around a lot.” Litigation associates welcomed being introduced to “drafting answers to complaints, drafting complaints themselves and compiling privilege logs” in a writing program.

Offices 

Kramer Levin's New York headquarters are situated in the Americas Tower on Avenue of the Americas near Times Square. There was resounding agreement that “it's a very nice place to work.” Juniors felt that the decor had “an early 2000s feel,” with “light wood and dark carpets. We're known for our artwork.” The “office is well lit and bright, with lots of windows.” However, some juniors moaned a bit that “we're sandwiched between tall buildings” – though they did concede this would be rather hard to avoid in Manhattan.

Lawyers “sit largely by department.” Partners are “dispersed amongst associates, some in corner offices, others not.” Junior associates typically share offices with “first-years near the door and second-years by the window. In third year you have your own office.

In 1999, the firm opened its only international office in Paris. Home to 35 lawyers, it offers a range of commercial services to French and international clients. The focus is on finance and corporate matters. The Silicon Valley office, founded in 2011, unsurprisingly concentrates on the growing volume of IP work.

Culture 

Kramer is “undergoing an identity shift,” although associates insisted that “'crisis' would be far too strong a word.” Traditionally, the firm has had a reputation as “a lifestyle firm,” at least by New York standards. In more recent years, “the firm has grown and begun to take on more high-profile cases.” It's still “not a sweat shop” by any stretch, but “market dynamics have meant that things are beginning to shift a little.”

Some reported that “the path to partnership is far from clear” (where is it ever?) and that there seems to be “a bottleneck of senior associates.” However, “on the flip-side, you can advance at your own pace” and “people are not forced out unless there are performance-related problems.” Associates felt confident that “we have much greater job security than at some other, larger firms.”

Juniors felt “everyone here has a great sense of humor” and they had “tended to find friends at the firm. If you have a question, you can just walk into a senior's office and ask.” Partners “genuinely seem to care how you're getting along” and “regularly just pop their heads round the door to say hi.” Associates had a sense that “people watch each other's backs” and “never felt that they could not turn to someone because of internal politics.”

Hours & Compensation 

Associates across departments understood that “there's an informal expectation that you'll reach the 2,000 hour target” for a 60% bonus. This shouldn't be too onerous, especially as “pro bono, drafting articles, business development and committee work” can all count towards it. However, “it's not actively enforced and you're not going to be fired for not making it.” In order to receive the full 100% Cravath scale bonus you have to bill 2,150 hours.

The number of hours billed by associates “varies by department.” In bankruptcy, “where a sort of Stockholm Syndrome” manifests itself, juniors rarely left the office before 9pm. In other departments associates experienced “big firm hours” but were keen to assert “it's not a sweatshop!” It's not uncommon for “people to leave by 6.30-7pm.” Individuals' hours largely depended on “who you're working with. Face time is not important. I never have the sense that I'm here for no reason.” In fact, one junior recounted that “the chairman has said that we could leave at 6pm every day; we'd just never get near a bonus!

Pro Bono 

Associates can count an unlimited number of pro bono hours toward their bonus target. They agreed “the higher ups like to tout it.” The program is a definite “highlight” and is “well respected.

Certain departments are very supportive, others you have to do pro bono on your own time.” Wide-ranging opportunities are available, from “asylum applications to cases involving voting rights and civil liberties.” Interviewees had “worked with other associates on a child support application” and “assisted not-for-profit organizations in gaining tax-exempt status.” The firm also acts on behalf of LGBT rights charities such as Lambda, and “sponsors associates at a housing services agency.

Unlike at some firms, associates are “encouraged to take on pro bono work outside their department.” This is an opportunity to “get to know individuals in other areas of the firm.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 22,159 
  • Average per US attorney: 69.2

Diversity 

Associates agreed that although “it varies by department,” diversity “is taken seriously by the firm.” Female associates we spoke to felt that the firm “does a great job organizing programs,” but that “the proof is in the pudding” and there “is not a tremendous female partnership.” In practical terms, the firm's “maternity leave and working from home policies” were seen as very helpful.

The diversity committee “organizes events to which everyone is invited.” There's a women's committee and regular “lunch & learns, gatherings and mixers.” Kramer is also active in LGBT pro bono matters. In 2010 it represented a lesbian student denied the right to attend her high school prom with her girlfriend, wearing a tuxedo. 

Get Hired 

Kramer Levin recruits from the top 14 law schools and those in the local New York area. It looks for “the top students at all the schools we visit,” according to Kerri Ann Law, cochair of the hiring committee.

At interview try to be “engaging and prepared.” Interviewers are looking to “make a personal connection, which makes a candidate stand out.” Always make sure to “ask questions. As fantastic as the website is, it can't tell you everything.” A good academic record is essential but more than that it's important to be “well-rounded.” However, candidates should undertake extracurricular activities “they care about and like, so that they're able to talk about them with genuine passion.

Strategy & Future 

Things have worked out reasonably well for the firm” despite the challenging economy, says managing partner Paul Pearlman. Each practice area “has maintained its independent client base.” In fact, “many have gained market share.” Kramer has historically “allowed people to stay longer” than at other firms, ensuring that it has “a cadre of experienced, senior attorneys which allows it to staff matters leanly and better serve its clients.

In the past “the firm has grown steadily although over the last few years it has maintained a relatively stable headcount.” This is set to continue, with Kramer primarily focused on “enhancing its ability to service existing clients.” For example, the recent lateral hire into the insurance transactional practice has provided “regulatory expertise.




 

Key Facts

Largest US office: New York

US offices: 2

International offices:1

First-year salary: $160,000

Billable hours: 2,000 target 

Summers 2014: 16 (14 2Ls, 1 1L, 1 other)

Revenue 2013: $322 million (+0.9%)

Partners made in 2014: 4
 

Chambers USA Rankings

    Band 1
  • Advertising
    ( Nationwide )
  • Bankruptcy/Restructuring
    ( New York )
  • Immigration
    ( New York )
  • Band 2
  • Litigation
    ( New York )
  • Real Estate
    ( New York )
  • Band 4
  • Capital Markets
    ( Nationwide )
  • Corporate/M&A
    ( New York )
  • Investment Funds
    ( Nationwide )
  • Tax
    ( New York )

For each practice area, only the firm’s best ranking (with location) is shown. Any lower rankings (in other locations) are not shown. To see full rankings

Diversity

Partners (%)Associates (%)
Women1451.5
White9388.5
Black/African American20.5
Hispanic/Latin American02
Asian57.5
Mixed/Other01.5
LGBT33

Recent Work Highlights 

  • Representing Michael Steinberg, a former portfolio manager of SAC Capital, in an insider trading case in the Southern District of New York
  • Advising the unsecured creditors' committee in ResCap's $15 billion Chapter 11 bankruptcy
  • Represents numerous defrauded Madoff investors
  • Successfully represented Starbucks in civil action against Kraft Foods over the advertising of its Gevalia Kaffe Tassimo product