'Built for change' is the firm's slogan: an "entrepreneurial spirit" has driven 25 years of considerable growth from Greenberg's Miami origins, turning the firm into one of America's − and the world's − biggest. And we don't expect it to slow down...
MIAMI-born in 1967, Greenberg Traurig's largest office these days is in New York. Founded by Jewish lawyers Mel Greenberg, Robert Traurig and Larry J. Hoffman, the firm remained exclusively Floridian for 24 years. It wasn't until 1991 that GT started to expand in the States and overseas and that looks to continue. Greenberg reported rosy financials for 2015: a healthy 4% rise in revenue in 2015 to $1.32 billion.
Chambers USA confirms the quality of GT's work all over the country – and the firm has one of the largest networks in the US, so there are a lot of rankings to consider. But top areas to focus on are the firm's “stellar real estate work,” its corporate/M&A practice, banking & finance, litigation, immigration, retail, Latin American investment, and bankruptcy/restructuring. It's not just the work that appeals to potential recruits, though, as many interviewees were attracted here by “clicking with the people more than anything” and perceiving during interviews "a friendlier environment than other places."
Insiders confirmed GT's “longstanding reputation” for real estate work. Starting out as the founding practice in Miami, the department has grown into a 200-lawyer heavyweight. However, sources insisted that “litigation is by far the biggest group, as it houses roughly 40% of all attorneys.” Corporate work is also prominent, especially in matters that have a Latin American link. Much of this latter work is done in the Miami hub. Out of the nearly 80 names that comprised the 2013 and 2014 associate classes at the time of our calls, most were in New York, followed by Miami. Corporate and litigation had 22 juniors each, with the latter comprising both general litigation and IP litigation. Real estate had 16, followed by immigration, labor, and business reorganization & financial restructuring with three apiece. Health & FDA business had two. IP prosecution, government contracts, trade customs and public finance all had one.
Most associates tend to start off as generalists regardless of their groups, with the option to specialize later. But depending on how strong your interest is in specific subpractices, “the firm allows you to specialize immediately if you want.” For example, real estate can be divided into different groups that include condominium law, general leasing, financing transactions and sale purchasing. Litigation can encompass white-collar work, mass tort, IP, product liability, securities, civil rights, real estate, and business litigation. Assignment is based on informal relationships where partners (formally known as shareholders) reach out to juniors. However, there is a catch-all system to get more work, where “you submit a report to your practice group leader every week, estimating your projected workload and when you're free.”
Once staffed, real estate newbies had worked “on purchase transactions representing developers who want to purchase land. I've had to draft the purchase, sale and acquisition financing documents. I've also negotiated documents for condominium management agreements.” Other work has included doing the due diligence for title and loan documents. Leasing work required juniors to “represent tenants who are opening restaurants in the Design District in Miami. Hopefully when they open, they'll call us.”
"The partner lets you argue in court."
“We do a fair amount of pro bono,” associates told us. Others added that “no one dissuades you from doing it, but it's easier to get involved if you're in litigation as it lends itself to it more.” Generally, "they promote it but at the same time they limit your hours." We heard from associates that the allowance is pretty generous, although the firm did not confirm the figure: "Typically 100 hours count toward billables, but a lot of the time you're going over 200.” Juniors particularly praised the efforts of the Manhattan office, as there's a firmwide pro bono partner “who is really invested and tries to get us all involved. She knows all of us by name and comes to us personally.”
"It's only helped my other work.”
Some interviewees had worked with KIND [Kids in Need of Defense], an organization which GT works a lot with, particularly on immigration issues. Associates had “researched and drafted various motions, talked to the clients to get all the facts and then gone to court” for legal status hearings. Some pointed out that not all cases generate the publicity that a few have in recent years: “I mean, we turned over the gay adoption ban, but now they're not as newsworthy! But we can always do more. It's never hurt anyone to get involved, and it's only helped my other work.” The firm is also a sponsor of the Holly Skolnick Fellowship in partnership with Equal Justice Works, which allows recent law school grads to work in various nonprofit organizations.
Pro bono hours
Training & Development
After an initial orientation, training is department-led. Litigators, for example, are enrolled into the GT Skills Academy, which offers roughly six two-to-three-day seminars on different topics. Different offices host different sessions that have included “practicing drafting motions, depositions, mediation and trial skills. It's like a NITA [National Institute for Trial Advocacy] type thing.” Additionally, GT provides regular lunch and CLE sessions. This is usually a lecture from a senior attorney, who discusses both developments in the field and experiences from their own career.
Transactional newbies have a corporate boot camp which tends to focus more on the specific needs of individual deals. This complements the other professional development schemes on offer at the firm, such as regular webinars and live presentations dealing with things like negotiation skills.
“It's great to see how all your feedback pieces together."
There are two reviews per year. For some, the first informal review meant being “taken out to lunch with a partner to discuss where you're at as an associate.” The formal review focuses more on “partners assessing your work performance, cross-comparing it to how you assess yourself and what you've done.” Two partners then take juniors through an anonymized, conglomerated evaluation from the different attorneys that have submitted assessments. While most were happy with this, one said: “It's frustrating if you find out a specific partner hasn't liked something, because it's anonymous.” However, others felt that “it's great to see how all your feedback pieces together into a bigger picture, and I've always been able to open up a dialog with partners to help me learn.”
Offices & Culture
Thirty-eight offices make up GT's global network. Nine overseas outposts include Shanghai, Tel Aviv and London, with additional strategic alliances in Milan and Rome. Back home, GT doesn't designate any office as the official headquarters, although one junior felt that “New York is sort of the HQ, but there are a lot of higher-ups across the offices.” Others were adamant: “Miami is still the staple.” The CEO is actually based in Denver. Either way, juniors described the Big Apple office décor as “old school with dark wood. It could be updated; it seems old compared to the others.” The location is “basically right on top of Grand Central Station, so there are really great options for lunch.”
The Miami base takes up five floors in the Wells Fargo building; each floor has soda fountains and specialized coffee machines that embrace the local Cuban culture. “The views look over all of Miami, so you can see it raining in some places and not in others.” Unlike their Manhattan counterparts, newbies get their own offices straight away, with most New Yorkers having to wait until their third year.
"Bagpipe players to go round all of the floors to celebrate St Patrick's Day.”
Hours & Compensation
There isn't an official billable target; however, most associates explained that the firm operates under the understanding that 1,800 hours makes you bonus-eligible “and you should shoot for at least between 2,000 and 2,200 for a significant bonus.” To reach the 2,000 hours mark, this breaks down roughly to eight hours a day. As always, work can fluctuate depending on what's on, and one litigator recalled that “most associates leave around 7.30pm, but I've been here till 5.20am before.”
Others were keen to highlight bonuses, which operate under an 'eat what you kill' structure. Insiders thought that this “promotes collegiality because it's on you alone to hit those numbers;” in other words, those who perform exceptionally get rewarded. However, apart from the hours component, rookies said that bonuses are assessed “in a black box. I'd love more transparency.”
Strategy & Future
"Not afraid to take these types of risks to develop practice areas."
Greenberg Traurig hasn't historically grown through big combinations with other firms, “preferring to acquire small teams of attorneys, instead of full-scale mergers.” If the BLP merger had gone ahead it would have created a new firm with approximately 2,500 attorneys, up from GT's current 1,950ish. Merger talks aren't the only thing the firm has explored recently. New York, for example, has acquired “a few litigation partners to expand our practice.” The firm hit the legal headlines too in the New Year when it hired former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and team) from Bracewell & Giuliani (which has been renamed Bracewell). When asked why such big changes were afoot, associates responded that “we always look for people at that level to increase the firm's visibility and bring business. GT is not afraid to take these types of risks to develop practice areas. It's an exciting time to strike while the iron is hot.”
A glance at the firm's diversity figures places it in line with "corporate America, but GT is still pushing to be more diverse.” How? In Miami, for example, GT takes part in a 'minority mentoring picnic', which allows minority students to network with both associates and partners. Others recounted GT's support for new parents. One mother had been “nervous about taking maternity, but people were just happy for me.” Although some thought that the maternity package could be better, others felt that the provision for three months paid and a further three months unpaid leave was, “compared to other firms, really up there.” Global chairman of associate professional development Brad Kaufman explains that “one of our previous CEOs, Cesar Alvarez, who was born in Cuba, put it best when he used to say that we didn't just have a diversity program, we have diversity! Our co-presidents are Hilarie Bass, a woman and the president elect of the ABA and the other is Ernest Greer, an African-American attorney and former managing shareholder of our Atlanta office.” For the full interview, go online.
“Speed networking evening.”
The GT Women's Initiative hosts regular networking and development events throughout the year, to promote career progression. Events have included negotiation seminars led by partners, cocktail parties and a “speed networking evening. We had to bring friends that were in other professions – not law – and we were then split between tables. Every five minutes a bell would ring and we'd rotate. It's been the most effective event, but it was very much a push to get business contacts, which I think should come about more naturally.” Nevertheless, rookies relayed that “they're moving in the right direction, but it takes time.”
Interviewees stressed the importance of asking questions at interview. “If you have personal questions about the firm," one advised, "like what life's really like and what work you'll be doing, the juniors are the best people to ask and not the partners.”
While law school is good at teaching theory, but it's not so hot on teaching about the practical side. To combat this, GT operates a residency program for new associates not recruited through the OCI process. Juniors work for a year on a reduced salary and billables requirement, “as the expectation is more on learning, before becoming a normal associate.” Additionally, associates suggested “working as a clerk, or doing pro bono to get a sense of what practicing law is all about to give you an edge over others.”
Interview with global chairman of associate professional development, Brad Kaufman
Chambers Associate: What is the Greenberg Traurig approach to recruiting?
Brad Kaufman: First and foremost each office sets their own goals in terms of how many Summer's and lateral associates they are looking to hire. Quite simply, when it comes to associates our goal is to meet the needs of individual offices. The local offices also determine what law schools' OCI programs they want us to participate in. We also have national schedules at most of the top schools around the country. Lastly, we seek input from the global practice leaders to make certain we maintain consistent standards and meet client needs, but don't over-hire.
CA: Could you briefly outline what's on offer for summer associates?
BK: Our class size remains steady, after a significant increase in size in 2014. The program is run nationally, but each local office decides what they want. We do have a national coordinator, to ensure that all our summers have robust experiences to prepare them for life as a real associate. We try to balance giving meaningful work with social activities. Obviously, there is a greater emphasis on the work, but the local offices determine what summer events they want to participate in and we also have video conference events across offices so that each office can see what's going on elsewhere.
CA: GT was born in Miami, but now the largest office is New York. Which office would you categorize as the headquarters?
BK: So I live in South Florida and I don't really think of our firm as having a 'headquarters' per se. Our executive chairman is in New York and some of our most senior people are in Miami. There are regular meetings to make sure that we are all in sync. Our new CEO is from Denver and our co-presidents are in Miami and Atlanta. I'm one of the Vice Presidents and I'm in West Palm Beach. We have shared services professionals firmwide. I can easily understand why historically it's been perceived as Miami. Now the perception might be that it's New York, but in reality we are a true global firm.
CA: What would say were the key practices at GT?
BK: Real estate, litigation, financial services, entertainment, IP, cross boarder corporate work, M&A, environmental matters, regulatory and government, etc.. I could go on and on. We are very strong in a wide spectrum of practices.
CA: How committed is the firm to pro bono?
BK: Pro bono plays such a valuable role. It's probably a little old school, but I think we all owe our community, so as a professional I think it is an essential requirement. We give our associates the opportunity to do things outside their ordinary experience, which is overseen by the Chair of our global pro bono program, Caroline Heller.
Our associates get the chance to develop their skills, feel good about what they've done, and help people. For example, we worked with children who have been threatened to be deported and represented Holocaust victims, helping them to recover their assets.
CA: How does diversity feed into the way GT hires and operates in general?
BK: No matter how diverse we are, we will never get complacent. But one of our previous CEOs, Cesar Alvarez, who was born in Cuba, put it best when he used to say that we didn't just have a diversity program, we have diversity! Our co- presidents are Hilarie Bass, a woman and the president elect of the ABA and the other is Ernest Greer, an African- American attorney and former managing shareholder of our Atlanta office. Needless to say, our hiring also reflects a commitment to diversity.
CA: Can you explain the bonus system at GT?
BK: For our associates we let the local offices determine appropriate bonuses based on a variety of factors related to actual performance as opposed to a lock step system. We do however suggest that to be bonus eligible we would expect to see a minimum of 1,800 hours; 100 of those hours can be pro bono.
CA: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for people who are trying to break into the legal profession?
BK: Demonstrate not simply a commitment to the law but also show that you will work just as hard to understand the business of the firm's clients because that is really the only way you can truly deliver exceptional legal service.
Greenberg Traurig, PA
- Head Office: Global
- Number of domestic offices: 29
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,320,000,000
- Partners (US): 968
- Associates (US): 1017
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: N/A Post
- 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? CBC
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? CBC
- Summers 2016: 46
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 37 offers, 37 acceptances
Main areas of work
Corporate and securities; litigation; real estate; health and FDA business; intellectual property and technology; global trade and investment; cybersecurity, privacy and crisis management; energy and natural resources; business reorganization and financial restructuring; tax, trusts and estates; government law and policy; public finance; entertainment and media; labor and employment; environmental; global practice group; and business immigration and compliance.
Greenberg Traurig, LLP is an international, multi-practice law firm with approximately 1950 attorneys serving clients from 38 offices in the United States, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The firm works with clients to address their multi-disciplinary and cross-border needs. Providing associates with the type of client management and business development training previously offered only to partners are key elements to our associate programs.
• Number of 1st year associates: 44
• Number of 2nd year associates: 69
• Associate salaries: 1st year: N/A
• 2nd year: N/A
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley; Brooklyn; Chicago-Kent; Columbia; Cornell; Duke; FIU; Fordham; Georgetown; George Washington; Harvard; Loyola; NYU; Northwestern; Notre Dame; Santa Clara; SMU Dedman; Stanford; UC Hastings; UC Irvine; UCLA; Univ of Chicago; Univ of Florida; Univ of Illinois; Univ of Las Vegas; Univ of Miami; Univ of Michigan; Univ of Pennsylvania; Univ of Southern California; Univ of Texas; Univ of Virginia; Vanderbilt
Summer associate profile:
We recruit students who excel in multiple areas, possessing what we call “3-D” skills (legal, business and leadership), as these are predictors for success in the Greenberg Traurig community.
Summer program components:
We provide summer associates varied professional opportunities to learn about our clients, our attorneys, our staff, our firm and our culture including:
• Day-to-day assignments, with direct shareholder contact
• Dedicated firmwide training and orientation
• Two mentors, one associate and one shareholder
• Mid-summer and end-of-summer review meetings with Summer Program leaders
• A variety of networking events and community outreach programs
An important objective of the program is for summer associates to transition from student to legal practitioner. Our attorneys and attorney recruitment staff help clarify and direct summer associates’ decision-making about the start of their legal careers. The Summer Associate Highway blog provides an inside glimpse at Greenberg Traurig’s summer associate program.