Toward the end of their summer with the firm, incoming associates rank their top three preferred practice areas. Many associates have clear preferences but for those with less conviction Kaye Scholer maintains “an ongoing discussion” throughout their 3L year, with opportunities to alter the selection made. Newbies are allocated to the large complex commercial litigation group, real estate, finance, IP, corporate, business reorganization or tax/private client. The overwhelming majority of juniors are based in New York.
Each department has assigning partners who allocate work. Associates communicate their availability either via “an online web portal” or formal weekly meeting, depending on the size of the practice group. In general, those we spoke to felt that “the system works but is by no means the exclusive way to get work.” Most felt comfortable requesting specific work and were encouraged that generally “when it came up, I was placed on it.” Many expressed surprise that the firm was “very receptive to individual preferences.” Associates in “the outer reaches of the empire” can expect to get some “overflow” from the central New York office, sources said.
Complex commercial litigators are encouraged to get “as much exposure as possible” to the wide range of work available. Opportunities are available in “labor and employment, white-collar and product liability.” Clients vary widely, from “cosmetic surgery companies and well-known musicians to state government agencies.” When brought in at the beginning of a matter juniors were involved throughout, “from initial brainstorming to drafting briefs and attending hearings.” As one litigator said, “if you want early client contact, this is the firm to come to.” These larger pieces of work were interspersed with “siloed tasks.”
Juniors in the corporate team were predominantly involved in big-ticket private equity M&A deals valued at up to $1 billion. Associates also had exposure to “investment fund work” and “securities offerings.” Their role is usually “helping with research or support work for drafting.” As with litigators, corporate juniors were encouraged that “within a couple of months you'll have direct client contact.”
Training & Development
Following feedback from previous years, the firm recently reintroduced mid-year reviews for all first-year associates. These follow a similar format to the firmwide annual reviews. Associates input significant matters they have worked on and “allocate the supervisor they wish to be reviewed by.” Juniors have the opportunity to review this feedback before or during a meeting with the assigning partner. Our sources felt that the experience was both “instructive and constructive,” with the vast majority of reviewers “putting the time in to give thoughtful feedback.”
Juniors in the New York office's substantial complex commercial litigation and corporate departments received “video and in-person training” in the use of “tech services” and other practical skills. Those in smaller departments like tax/private client received their training through “informal lunches twice a month.” Each junior also selects a mid-level associate and a partner to act as their mentors. Associates were pleased that they could select “anyone in the firm” and valued the “continuing relationship with a partner.”
The firm's original location on New York's Park Avenue may sound plush, but “honestly our building is REALLY ugly,” juniors told us bluntly. “Our offices are gross; the carpets are dirty and the cafeteria is seriously dated.” As one associate put it, “it's clear the firm is not putting any more money into it.” Juniors have internal offices, where the lack of natural light is “seriously not cool,” according to one source. But fear not! Students reading this now have absolutely nothing to worry about, for Kaye Scholer has been spending “a huge amount of money” on brand spanking new premises on 250 West 55th Street, due to be ready for occupation by the end of 2014.
A handful of junior associates are based outside the New York hub in the firm's other domestic offices: Chicago, DC, LA, Palo Alto and West Palm Beach. There's “a pretty significant amount of work shared across offices,” especially those situated in the North East. New York finance associates “worked frequently with Chicago.” Palo Alto, with its close proximity to the technology companies based in Silicon Valley, has an IP focus, while DC attracts a range of government, regulatory and white-collar work.
Associates felt the firm “prides itself on being a smaller BigLaw firm.” Across practice areas, people are “friendly and sociable,” which encouraged those interviewed to feel comfortable “asking rudimentary questions.” However, “if you walked through the office at 4pm with no shoes on, heads would turn!” Juniors felt that they had a “peer relationship” with partners, who “ask for and value our opinions.” This lack of a distinct hierarchy was particularly evident at “Friday cocktail parties” attended by associates and partners from all departments.
Associates believed that because the firm “commonly hires people with some work experience” it has a more “mature” atmosphere. As a result, colleagues appear to have “a greater sense of purpose and more commitment to their careers.” They thought that anyone who “is earnest, hard-working and interested in doing good-quality work” would fit right in.
Juniors were relieved that “there are no big egos... we're all working toward the same aim.” Across the firm, associates felt that they could “depend on the people they worked with.” This extends to “an informal favor system” whereby those with a heavy workload felt comfortable “calling in the troops” to help lessen the individual burden.
Real estate was deemed to have a particularly mischievous edge; on one occasion, associates “filled the office with balloons” – an incident which apparently has a firm place in departmental folklore. To find out why, go online. Within finance, “which can be a bit dry,” it's clear that “everyone loves what they do.” This has manifested itself in the “launching of a 'Knowledge Management' initiative.” Each week a member of the department writes up an article and provides updates “on an area of particular interest to them.” Those in corporate praised the “good working environment” but acknowledged that they would be “unlikely to go out together after work.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates target a total of 2,000 hours in order to gain a first-tier bonus, of which 200 can be pro bono and firm citizenship hours (1,800 must be billable hours). A second-tier bonus, available at 2,400 hours (including 200 hours of pro bono and firm citizenship) was seen as “a reward for a crazy year” rather than a necessary target. The firm also offers a “discretionary bonus,” available to those who have not met the target of 1,800 billable hours. Associates were confident that “excellent work” would lead to “the assigning partner recommending me for such a bonus.” Assigning partners were praised for the fact that juniors felt that they were all “within 100 hours” of each other and comfortably on target for 2,000 overall. Firm citizenship hours were seen as easy to accumulate, with one associate remarking that “simply lunching with summer associates counts.”
Flexible working hours were encouraged, provided “you get the work done,” with departments such as tax/private client having a reputation for early starts. The unpredictable nature of transactional practice means that many in the corporate department “don't make personal plans” during the week, while those in commercial litigation “definitely have a life outside the office.” Litigation associates acknowledged that “you may not be able to avoid being slammed at the end of the month,” but they were always aware in advance.
The firm offers four weeks' vacation to all attorneys as standard. Although “it would be difficult to work normal hours, make 2,000 hours and take four weeks off,” associates asserted that “if you've billed 200 hours in the first two weeks of the month, take a vacation!” Indeed, one reported that their assigning partner “asked if I had taken a vacation and told me I should.”
Kaye Scholer takes pro bono seriously, with up to 200 hours able to count as billable. Associates felt that “everyone in litigation does pro bono.” Meanwhile, transactional juniors “did not feel super-encouraged” but found that when they sought out pro bono opportunities “people were accommodating.” Our sources felt that this difference was down to the fact that the “valuable skills” learned “tend to be more relevant to actual work” in litigation. Some commented that the opportunities available to transactional associates “were more boring.”
The firm works in conjunction with a range of philanthropic organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the City Bar Justice Center, Echoing Green, Inwood House and the Legal Aid Society. These efforts have been recognized, with the firm picking up various awards including the Human Rights First Annual Law Firm Award. In 2005 the firm committed to providing 50 hours of pro bono advice annually per attorney.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 20,980
- Average per US attorney: 55
Associates felt that the firm “is trying to make an effort” to address the diversity issues common to all BigLaw firms. A firmwide diversity committee is responsible for “organizing various events.” A 'Diversity Task Force' works in parallel, seeking to implement “specific recommended changes” highlighted by the firm's workforce. Prominent women lawyers and professionals are invited in to speak to female attorneys, and “following the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage the finance department gave a presentation on the implications for same-sex couples.”
At least from a gender perspective the firm appears to be making changes which should bear fruit in the near future. One associate observed: "The summer class of 2013 was at least a 60:40 female to male split, maybe more.” And whilst one junior bemoaned the lack of female partners in the corporate department they went on to point out “we're doing a good job of complaining” and “there's an unspoken understanding that one will be hired soon.”
All the associates we interviewed stressed that Kaye Scholer “values work experience beyond law school.” Juniors felt that knowledge of the firm's key client industry sectors of "biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and life sciences” would be particularly attractive. Saul Morgenstern echoes these sentiments: "We're looking for curious, interested people who want to understand the world."
Associates who helped out in OCIs told us that even the best candidates need to realize that “in the current market, the firm isn't selling itself to you, you're selling yourself to it.” They asked us to remind prospective candidates to brush up on their dining etiquette, because assessment continues over lunch with juniors – “don't pick food up in your hands!” Regarding the OCIs themselves, they advised avoiding “contrived, rehearsed answers.” Finally, “don't be too timid” and “ask lots of questions.”
Strategy & Future
Kaye Scholer intends to continue its “thoughtful, measured and forward-looking approach to expansion” into the future, Saul Morgenstern tells us. This approach has placed the firm “in a good position” to continue expansion into new areas, for example into "consumer products" and "tech work" related to the convergence of media and the internet. This is set to provide “great opportunities for attorneys” throughout the firm.
The firm will continue to avoid “spending money indiscriminately” and instead “invest sensibly.” The most notable recent investment has been in the brand new New York office space, “designed specifically for a professional services firm.” The new building will be “modern in every sense, including 'green-certified'.”