The litigation department umbrella encompasses a whole host of specialties, including government contracts, trademark protection, commercial litigation and the highly renowned advertising and white-collar crime divisions. Associates “really get the freedom to try everything within the field. The firm prides itself on offering a range of practices and it's nice not to have to specialize immediately. Most coming from law school aren't sure of what they want. You can have a focus if you like, however! Kramer Levin doesn't funnel you one way or another.” This was echoed by associates under the corporate umbrella, which includes M&A, banking & finance, corporate governance and securities, and from the restructuring & bankruptcy department. “You're never forced to be in a niche area, and you can steer your own development,” an interviewee affirmed.
Several new starters are now given “general offers and you are often placed where the firm needs you,” an associate said. “The firm does try and be accommodating, but our reality is this legal market. We have a particular reputation for litigation, IP and bankruptcy work, and those departments are the most competitive to get into.” Another explained: “Normally the top candidates in the summer get a specific offer, but it is a mixture of need and desire. If you do want to do corporate work, however, you'll probably get in.” Interviewees stressed: “The firm does respect individuals' interests and the placement is never totally random.” Hiring partner James Grayer adds: “We evaluate our summer program consistently and carefully each year. Our goal is to have the space to accommodate everyone we choose.”
Assignment is a popular combination of the formal and informal. The larger corporate and litigation umbrellas have official assigning partners, but “really most people get repeat work from their relationships with partners or you can always go out and find work yourself,” juniors explained. One said: “I like the freedom of having both avenues open to you. The great thing is, if you're interested in certain kinds of work, you can go out and find it.” Another added: “The informal system means you don't have to worry about working with someone you don't like and the formal is a good way to forge new working relationships.” The smaller departments also have assigning partners, but predominantly run informally. Associates added: “The system rewards the self-starter. Juniors are encouraged to proactively seek out work. Building relationships helps you grow your skill sets for the future. Partners are really receptive and willing to help.”
“Kramer Levin does want to make sure you're learning,” an interviewee said. “You are part of the team and get some interesting work to do.” Of course, “there is doc review and due diligence to do – and there are nights when you're putting together binders or checking signatures, but that's the same at every firm. If you show you can handle the work, the firm will allow you to progress.” Litigators reported “drafting pleadings, discoveries, sections of summary judgments and being thrown into the work at trials.” Transactional associates had “made first comments on deals, run smaller cases and fielded numerous phone calls.” As can be expected, the smaller practices offer more responsibility, but “even in the larger groups, your work never goes unrecognized.”
Training & Development
Associates are put through a week of “skills and general firm reconnaissance training.” From then on, “there are CLEs all the time, alongside more specialized training. There are also manuals and web-based training courses online that are always accessible.” Interviewees happily reported: “Last year management reached out to juniors and asked our opinion as to what we wanted. Then they made real changes to the program; it was a very positive cooperation.” Hiring partner James Grayer says: “We are always looking for feedback from the associates on a whole host of issues. We have a professional development department and their task is to create comprehensive training in terms of both general business and ethics skills, as well as substantive skills-based training in the various practice areas. There is also a panoply of in-house lectures such as 'current trends in legal opinions'.” Otherwise, “the training is always better on the job,” interviewees thought. “Partners are very responsive to questions, but you are expected to try and figure things out for yourself.”
The firm also assigns each associate a formal mentor at the end of their second year. “Their role is focused on career development and you'll have a better idea of what you want by then.” James Grayer confirms: “We wanted the program to be focused and tailored to each individual attorney.” Informally, every interviewee reported having formed mentor-like relationships with senior associates and partners.
Kramer Levin's New York headquarters are “right in the middle of Midtown, in the Americas Tower,” associates observed. “The firm moved here a couple of years ago, so everything is nice and new. We have floor to ceiling windows, so there is plenty of light and the décor is simple and white. There is a cafeteria on the 23rd floor, with great views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.”
Associates share for their first and second years, and “loved having someone to bounce ideas off.” One explained: “There is a low divider that runs between the desks, so you do have your own sense of space. No one's looking over anyone's shoulders. Sharing makes you more efficient and helps you gauge what questions are suitable to ask seniors.” It was agreed: “Sharing doesn't have as much benefit after the first year.”
“Through a combination of growth and the times, the culture at Kramer Levin is changing,” associates reflected. “We are now a big firm and it is difficult to maintain the small-firm ethos. The firm is taking on bigger cases and is requiring more from its associates. It is no longer 'Kramer Levin out at 7'.” However, “it doesn't have that New York aggressive vibe. Attorneys are still supportive and respectful, and your colleagues are still interested in you as a person,” an interviewee said. “It is intense and hard-working, but people are interesting and dynamic. Associates here actually really like each other. If you're gonna be in BigLaw, this is a pretty great place to be.”
The atmosphere in the office differs from floor to floor, but “open doors and chatting” are commonplace. Most of the social events center around the summer program, but several departments enjoy “monthly lunches and informal drinks.” Juniors stressed: “It is never enforced fun and lots of people want to get home to their families.” Weekends are also “respected. Of course if there is work, you need to get it done, but no one at the firm begrudges you working from home if you can,” associates said. Attorneys at Kramer “really do take vacation and as long as you give the proper notice and are fairly contactable, you are more than welcome to take time off.” The firm comments: "Accessing vacation time helps our associates refresh and be better lawyers."
Hours & Compensation
Hours and compensation are “interesting – in the fact that they've never been articulated. There is some memo floating around from a couple of years ago, but nothing is ever specified,” associates remarked. Managing partner Paul Pearlman comments: “We do not have formal requirements for good standing and we give credit to a number of activities in addition to billable hours,” like pro bono, business development, speech writing, articles and committee work.
Interviewees confirmed: “In terms of working hours this is more of a 'try and bill as much as you can' kind of place. There is no set number and expectations differ by department.” For instance: “There is the expectation to bill more in the litigation department – we are busier.” Salaries are lockstep and one interviewee commented: “Kramer Levin is understanding of the difficult market. They know it's not the attorney’s fault and you never feel at risk because the work isn’t there.” Another added: “As long as you're reaching out for work and doing as much as you can, no one will hold a slow period against you.”
For bonuses: “Everyone seems to know that to get a bonus, the numbers are 2,000 hours and 2,150 hours. The 2,000 mark gets you 'the little bonus' – as we call it – and then the full at 2,150. If you're really close and have good reviews, you'll probably be granted some comp,” interviewees said. The firm comments: “We evaluate our associates on their skill sets and commitment to the firm. We also attribute a number of activities to billable hours, including pro bono, business development, speech writing, articles and committee work.”
Although associates agreed that “2,000 is really high and most associates have never reached the 2,150 mark, it is nice not to be conscious of daily hours.”
“Kramer Levin really does count every hour of pro bono toward your billables. The commitment is very real and the work is highly respected,” associates proudly declared. “I think most people do pro bono,” an associate explained. “There are a multitude of opportunities available and I've never heard of someone being told they're doing too much.” Of course, “you need a full docket of billable work. We are a business first, and it can be hard to juggle the two. It is, however, supported, especially for the experience potential and if your billable work is slow.” You can attribute “unlimited, appropriately supervised hours to your billables,” confirms hiring partner James Grayer.
The firm is involved in “a lot of asylum work, social security disability matters and a number of LGBT pro bono cases, such as Lambda, the LGBT anti-violence project,” interviewees said. “We also support a program with a school called 'The Stability Program at PS11', to help parents deal with legal issues in order to ensure their kids are able to stay in school – everything from housing problems to divorce and custody battles.” There are also “a number of established programs." Transactional associates can also sink their teeth into “micro-enterprise programs in community organizations or helping people start small businesses.”
Kramer Levin also runs a “four-to-six month, fully paid externship to the South Brooklyn Legal Services. It is geared towards second to fourth years and all the time is contributory to your billable hours.” One interviewee commented: “It's an amazing program and shows the real commitment the firm has to pro bono. Going is dependent on your schedule, but if you show a real interest – you'll get to go at some point.” Another added: “The externship is great and very respected.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 21,951
- Average per US attorney: 67
“I do think the firm is trying,” one interviewee reflected, “but there are definitely not enough attorneys of color.” Kramer Levin “does take diversity very seriously. There is an 'Attorneys of Color' initiative, a woman’s group, an Asian affinity group and an LGBT affinity group, alongside an active diversity committee. A diversity newsletter comes around on a fairly regular basis, with great updates.” Associates agreed, however: “Hiring and retention are a problem with BigLaw in general.”
Kramer Levin is known to be “very LGBT-friendly and was involved in initiatives and issues before they were popular.” As hiring partner James Grayer explains, “We have historically had a commitment to LGBT. In fact, the LGBT activist Larry Kramer was brother to founding member Arthur Kramer. It's in our history and we want to continue with that commitment.” For example, in 2001 Arthur gave Yale $1 million to help set up the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
The firm is “very supportive of female attorneys,” an associate commented. “I think there are actually more women associates than men.” The woman’s initiative is “led by some very inspiring female partners, who also act as mentors and role models.” As everywhere, however, “it's hard for a woman to succeed in BigLaw and it would be great to see more women partners.” James Grayer adds: “We have a diversity department that helps us work on maintaining a balanced environment that fosters diversity. Retention of diverse attorneys is a difficult feat for many firms, but we have established a variety of affinity groups so diverse attorneys can seek out mentors and focus on their individual development within the firm. We are always looking for qualified diverse candidates.”
Hiring partner James Grayer says: “My ideal candidate is a well-rounded, thoughtful person who thinks not only about the job but about the world in general. Candidates need to be analytical, personable and able to articulate their goals.” Associates added: “Kramer Levin does like to see journal work and a commitment to public service, but it's primarily about being a well-rounded human being, not just someone who studies 200 hours a day.” James Grayer also adds: “If you look at our organization, we don’t have the subspecialty breakdown that the other firms do, so there is much more room to direct your own career within your practice area. We therefore also look for someone who is interested in taking control of their own career and destiny.”
Kramer Levin interviews through the OCI process at about ten to 15 schools. “Obviously we tend to attract more candidates from the NYC area, but we encourage resume drops at other schools,” James Grayer comments. “As we recently opened in Silicon Valley, there will also be an increased focus on West Coast schools, with an IP concentration. We are in fact taking on our first summer associate in California in 2012.” Interviewees divulged: “Since things got rough with the economy, Kramer has tightened its hiring criteria – it does help to be from a top school with top grades. However, lower tiered New York schools are still very present.”
Strategy & Future
Managing partner Paul Pearlman says: “We have had a variety of interesting highlights this year. In no particular order, we opened an office in Silicon Valley – bringing in an IP group from another firm. It was certainly our first domestic office outside of New York, and we think IP is not only a strong practice area, but a growth area. We had a number of clients who were interested in the practice and we wanted to build on that. In both our California and Paris offices, we have expanded our practices with significant partner additions, including Noelle Lenoir, the former minister of French Government and Constitutional Court Justice.”
“Although we have grown quite substantially, we are committed to remaining an independent firm. We continue to think it's important to grow in a managed way – by strengthening our existing practice areas. We don't have any plans to open further offices right now, but we are not averse to it either. A new location would have to be a unique situation and one that certainly helps us complement or supplement our existing practice areas.”