Juniors rank their top three practice areas before joining the firm full-time. Most are allocated to the firm's large complex commercial litigation practice, while the rest are dispersed between groups including IP, corporate, finance, real estate, tax, private client, and foreign acquisitions & government contract groups.
Each practice area has assigning partners and a practice group manager. "In theory" a formal assignment system reigns supreme across the firm, and associates fill out weekly status reports to indicate how busy they are: "You'll flag it as green if you're wide open, and red if you want to be left alone." Sources liked the security of the system, and mentioned that "some people rely on it quite a bit which is fine, as it gets you new experiences and puts you in touch with new people." However, others added that "you can also get work around it" and "seek out the partners that you want to work for."
Complex commercial litigators "do everything – there's no horizon for focusing on one thing or the other." This means that associates get exposure to various strands of work "from antitrust to white-collar, from product liability to labor and employment." There's often a mix of large and small cases, and on the latter scale "you are basically doing it – the partner has the strategic oversight and the client contact, but you are doing it, confirming arbitration awards, getting a judgment, drafting a paper for the Supreme Court..." On the bigger cases, juniors take on the "more discrete tasks" and spend a lot of time researching and writing. Litigators – including those in the separate IP group – were quick to concur that they had enjoyed more "substantive experiences" and were relieved to add that "there's definitely not a ton of doc review to be done." Read more about life in litigation on our website.
Real estate juniors commented that on the plus side, there's a nice amount of responsibility – they are "in on most of the conference calls" and have "quite a bit of client contact." At the minus end, sources soon got to grips with revising loan agreements and reviewing leases, and stated: "The vast majority of what we do is lender representation, which is very streamlined and good for our clients but repetitive."
Corporate associates missed not being able to take on more of a mixture of M&A and finance work (which was the case in the past) and found specializing in one area from the get-go a little restrictive. Work here was dominated by "the ebb and flow of the market," and the split between "grunt work" on bigger deals and more responsibility on smaller ones.
Training & Development
Annual evaluations at the firm were revamped in 2012 following the firm's review of core competencies. At the time of our calls, juniors had just started the process of soliciting evaluations from partners, but were hopeful about the new system: "It should distill the result into something much clearer." Juniors can read partner comments before (or after) the evaluation is held with the assignment partner. The aim is for the annual reviews to complement a steady stream of informal feedback throughout the year, so that "you're not surprised by what is written." On the whole, juniors felt that "everyone is approachable and friendly," and that getting "real feedback from a partner you've been working for" helps to bolster the more generalized content of the reviews.
The majority of associates agreed that "there's so much you don't know or won't get a handle on unless you're actually on it and learning on the job." Nonetheless, there's enough formal training "to cover the CLE requirements and you never seem to have to go outside the firm for that stuff." After an "initial bombardment" in the first few weeks, sessions steadily peter out and become more practice-specific, and while "some of the firmwide sessions are more litigation-heavy, the firm still does a decent job of providing transactional legal training." Juniors are also allocated both a mid-to-senior level adviser and a partner mentor: "You'd go to the associate to figure out what's appropriate and to ask about vacation, whereas the partner mentor may offer advice on what to do if your sights are set on the partnership."
"This is definitely a class C building" said juniors who have a love/hate relationship with their Park Avenue-situated New York office: "I have flies coming out of my ventilation system, the carpet is tired and the artwork is atrocious." Don't worry, though: the building, kindly described by another associate as "a little worn down," will be demolished in 2015, and all staff will be moved to new premises on 250 West 55th Street in 2014. For now though, juniors do look on the bright side: "When you're in one of those fancy buildings you feel like you need a suit and jacket, and when you go into the bathrooms you've got all those fancy bright lights shining on you – here it's hard to even find a bathroom, but at least it's not an uptight place." Not only does the building facilitate a more relaxed atmosphere, it also allows juniors to have large offices of their own from the very beginning of their career.
A small minority of juniors will be based in Kaye Scholer's other domestic offices: Chicago, DC, LA, Palo Alto and West Palm Beach. DC is great for those with an interest in the firm's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) work, while the Palo Alto office concentrates its main energies on the technology companies in and around Silicon Valley, meaning that IP work is prevalent. At the moment, the New York, West Palm Beach and Chicago offices have a private client offering.
Kaye Scholer also has international offices in London, Frankfurt and Shanghai, and enhances its "international capacity through relationships with firms in other countries, who have a similar expertise and focus."
"This is not a crazy workhorse kind of firm but it's not a lifestyle boutique either," said associates. Many enjoyed the more laid-back atmosphere – "you can happily just walk downstairs and grab a cup of coffee with no shoes on" – and thought that this impacted on their exposure to work at the firm: "You don't feel that sense of rigid structural hierarchy. We staff quite leanly, and if they think you can handle it then you can step up and do it."
Others suggested that a "nerdy" atmosphere permeated the firm, especially within the litigation groups. "People are excited about issues," one said. "If there's anything new or novel then someone will send out an all-litigation e-mail and get a ton of responses from colleagues who want to talk about it. We're nerdy in a good way."
The firm "attracts people who are thinking of different options; some want to just pay off their loans, others may be thinking of going in-house, while some will want to make partner." Despite this variety of ambitions, juniors liked that the firm remained dedicated to career development and said that "they are helpful and will hold seminars on how to get client contact and how to build up connections and advance through them. You'll hear blunt advice."
This level of frankness is no doubt an after-effect of complaints registered about the lack of communication in previous years. Kaye Scholer has now come full circle and has perhaps set a benchmark for transparency in BigLaw: "The PDCC – the professional development and communications committee –is all about what associates want to know. Now they're obsessed with communication and hold quarterly meetings to let us know how the firm is doing and how the partnership is structured. If anything it's overly transparent!"
Hours & Compensation
Juniors must bill a total of 2,000 hours in order to qualify for a first-tier bonus. The second-tier bonus is paid out at 2,400 hours, and up to 200 hours of combined pro bono and firm citizenship work can count toward both of these targets. Associates said that they had "never thought of it as a general target – if you don't reach that amount then you just don't get the bonus, it doesn't mean that you're not in good standing." Hitting the bonus target can just come down to luck, with juniors claiming that "it depends on what matter you're assigned to and whether or not it lives or dies. It's not in your hands." Despite this lack of control, most sources thought that they were on track for the first-tier bonus, and found firm citizenship hours "pretty easy to pick up – you can get them just by having lunch with your mentor."
"You can foresee what your week will be like" as a litigator, as the work is "a bit more consistent in comparison to the transactional teams." On a standard day, litigators may get in by 9am and leave by 7pm, but "obviously trials change everything" and can involve a string of late nights, but thankfully nothing "too wild." Working for the transactional side of the firm means far more erratic hours and some early morning finishes, but associates here said that, "at the end of the day, if you've been working your butt off, you acclimatize to it." Luckily the firm "realizes that you need a break" and "encourages vacation; on a full-blown vacation you can cut yourself off, but during something like a long weekend you should check your phone."
With up to 200 hours of pro bono counted toward bonus targets, juniors found the firm "committed" to this strand of work: "It's really encouraged, for the cause and for business purposes as well. They consider it valuable as by the time you come to take your first deposition you'll already be experienced as you would have taken some on pro bono matters." Litigators were generally more enthusiastic than their transactional counterparts, who said that pro bono was "very much geared toward litigation folks: there aren't as many opportunities for us."
The firm works with several organizations – including the City Bar Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest – and in 2005 pledged that all of its lawyers would individually complete a minimum of 50 pro bono hours each year. Juniors had worked on projects which involved producing clemency petitions for death row inmates; helping transgendered individuals to legally change their name; and securing "systematic change in the way the shelter system works in New York." The pro bono manager in New York – who works with the pro bono partners in each office – was described as "very eager" and good at "getting partners on board certain matters."
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 26,688
- Average per US attorney: 80
Associates believe that the firm has a "multitarget approach" to diversity, which focuses on "policies, affinity groups and recruitment." All lawyers attend mandatory diversity training sessions, which were deemed "alright – they are designed to sensitize you to how diverse people feel and what you can do to avoid making diverse attorneys feel like they are under a microscope." Diverse associates also get a specific mentor to assist them with career development and general issues.
Diverse juniors felt that there was "a great dialog between the affinity groups and the firm," and highlighted that the firm sponsors individuals to attend events related to their minority status. They also said that recruitment was a "toss-up between not just hiring me because I'm diverse, and hiring me because they have some good policies in place." Kaye Scholer attends the DuPont Minority Job Fair and the Lavender Law Career Fair, and while most associates agreed that "the firm has made diversity a priority," many also stated that, like most BigLaw firms at the moment, the environment is "still not very diverse."
Associates who had sat on the recruitment panels relayed that "Kaye Scholer appreciates real-life experience more than at other firms, which tend to concentrate on a candidate's law school experience. My advice is to talk more about your life experience outside of the law as well." Others encouraged candidates to be "active participants" in interviews, while others took a more frank approach: "You don't have to prove that you're smart – they already know that. You just have to prove that you're normal."
Juniors enjoyed their summer at the firm because "they give you the opportunity to sample and work with different groups; there's variety and you can figure out whether you like the work and people in a particular team." There's no rotation system, and summers can take on assignments from the groups that they choose. All work is assigned by one partner, and now there are "weekly round-table meetings, so summers can go over and discuss their last assignments." A training program runs alongside the work assignments, which has been designed to give summers a preview of first-year associate training.
Strategy & Future
Kaye Scholer will continue with the cautious and measured approach it has become known for over the years. This means concentrating on promoting people internally and scouring for some well-chosen lateral hires, as Saul Morgenstern says: "When we look at laterals, we look for people whose practices either expand on or create synergies with existing practices – either in the sense that they complement each other or serve industries in which we have a significant base of expertise across the firm." Secure in its current international position – with strategic offices in some of the world's key financial centers – the firm "does not need, and has no current aim to have, offices all over the globe."
Morgenstern adds that the firm's success in the public M&A arena "has happened more quickly than we originally anticipated and has had positive benefits for our other practices as well, as the due diligence and regulatory work brings in our litigators, antitrust lawyers, bankruptcy attorneys, our IP lawyers and others, depending on the needs of the particular transaction." The litigation performance was "mixed in 2011, as there was a slowdown in opportunistic litigation over the past several years because of the recession. However, as government enforcement, private antitrust, consumer class actions and patent enforcement remained strong, a number of the litigation practices became busier in 2012."