No greenhorn, Greenberg Traurig famously produces associates with a knack for business.
NATIONAL and international coverage like GT's doesn't appear out of thin air. It is, however, only a spritely 50 years of age. Founded in Miami in 1967, the firm quickly developed its excellent reputation for real estate work. Plenty of expansion later and New York is now its largest office, but you'll find sites in a total of 19 states offering expertise way beyond just real estate. This giant's not built on mega-mergers, but in 2016 it considered changing course, engaging in merger talks with British suitor Berwin Leighton Paisner. It wasn't to be: instead Greenberg backed itself to keep getting bigger and stronger while staying solo for now.
“Nobody is micro-managing at all."
The firm values independence among its associates too, who told us that “nobody is micro-managing at all. Work is left to my discretion and I'm given significant input on cases. They definitely let you stand on your own two feet and get you involved in client contact so that clients know who you are.” The firm places a premium on associates developing new and existing business themselves.
Greenberg's real estate achievements need little introduction, and associates in Miami believed it's “still the main office for real estate.” However, not only has the real estate team expanded across the US, now comprising over 250 lawyers, but litigation actually surpasses it in size. Of the 115 associates who made up the 2014 and 2015 year classes at the time of our calls, 36 were stationed in litigation or IP litigation. Compare that with the 22 real estate associates and 27 corporate associates and it's clear to see that the firm's focus is diverse. It's also worth noting that New York had the most associates, and Miami the second most.
Assignment is generally based on informal relationships where partners (formally known as shareholders) reach out to juniors, and associates also occasionally seek out partners for work. Corporate, however, tends to be slightly more formal, as do the larger offices. More formal arrangements have “a master spreadsheet of who is assigned to which cases.” The overarching approach is to give juniors a broad range of work within their departments, while encouraging associates to be forthright. “They tell us and remind us that if there is a client or a case you want to pursue, or if there are other types of work which you have an idea about, the firm will make it happen – they're all ears.”
“Basically the deal is that I have the flexibility to handle my own deals. Partners trust me to come to them with hiccups."
Real estate newbies reported tackling “negotiations, leases, and handling clients directly” – a lot of responsibility. “Basically the deal is that I have the flexibility to handle my own deals. Partners trust me to come to them with hiccups or situations which might need their level of expertise – they lean on me to identify those.” With it being such a developed real estate practice, Greenberg takes on all elements of real estate: “You either buy, sell or lease something, or you use the real estate as collateral for a loan, so that means there's lending and borrowing work.”
Litigators told us that on “pretty much any really tangible aspect of the things to be done we are brought in to do the leg work: research on legal issues, analyzing pleadings, strategy, drafting responses. Then in discovery we're drafting discovery requests or responses, and before the summary judgment we're preparing research, writing briefs, and preparing for the hearings.” Juniors also handled project management tasks – “making sure the day-to-day is running.” For the most part, “shareholders give you a long leash and let you take things as far as you can.”
Associates informed us that the firm's “pretty good about circulating opportunities” and that it's “very supportive with pro bono. We get credit up to something like 100 hours,” and associates can apply for more credit if they look like they will exceed this. However, they commonly told us: “I haven't done a ton.” One associate told us that “in real estate it is very tough; litigation lends itself more to getting matters.” Sources had similar difficulties in the other transactional practices.
“Spend a day with a middle school class while they're learning to run a business.”
Associates told us that the majority of work comes in from “large organizations” dedicated to pro bono. The firm maintains relationships with a whole host of these, including KIND [Kids in Need of Defense] and Her Justice. One associate told us about “a relationship with Junior Achievement which does outreach to middle schools doing programs on business and finance.” This allowed associates to “spend a day with a middle school class while they're learning to run a business.” 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
- For all US attorneys: 25,603
- Average per US attorney: 16
Training & Development
After an initial orientation, training is department led. Litigators, for example, are enrolled into the GT Skills Academy, which offers around six two-to-three day seminars on different topics, bringing associates together from different offices. “They range from deposition training and motion practice all the way to trial training,” via mock trials. Transactional newbies have a corporate boot camp. In addition, Greenberg provides regular lunches, CLE sessions and webinars. “I think GT has a great training program. Every week there are different CLEs or seminars which you can tune into. Sometimes it's in-house to watch a program or hear someone speak or there are broadcasts you can tune into – those are really helpful.” Beyond formal training, associates remained positive. “Most shareholders are very willing to help you out; they all realize that everyone is new at some point and that nobody coming out of law school really knows anything.”
Associates have one formal review each year. They sit down with the heads of their department and “go over the feedback from shareholders based on the work you have done. You see exactly what they've said, the good things and the not-so-good things. Sometimes it's eye opening as some aren't as good at giving feedback as it happens.” Associates agreed it was “a good way of checking in.”
GT's global network consists of 38 offices. Nine overseas outposts include Shanghai, Tel Aviv and London, with an additional strategic alliance in Italy. Back home, GT doesn't designate any office as the official headquarters. Miami's steeped in history, New York wins on size, but the firm prefers to place emphasis on the sum of its parts. “That's one of our selling points for getting work. Say if you have a deal in California, we'd have the people to do it.” Encouragingly, despite it's scale, associates in the smaller offices didn't “feel on the outskirts of where everything is going on. It's not a satellite.” Even so, associates weren't in constant contact with other offices, and cross staffing was only occasional.
The Miami base takes up five floors in the Wells Fargo building: “We have a kitchen on every floor with coffee, tea and a soda machine. On the 44th floor where all the conference rooms are we have a cafe where you can buy lunch and dinner. We're also a block a way from Whole Foods which is basically an extension of the cafeteria!” Associates usually start with an office to themselves, though in New York sharing is more common initially.
Law is a business just like any other, and GT doesn't hang about in informing associates of that fact. “It's very entrepreneurial,” one said of the culture. “They want you thinking from day one about your practice down the road, whether that relates to your specialty or your clients.” Another confirmed that rather than having associates “on track each year doing certain tasks, limiting you, telling you 'put your head down and work, don't worry about BD [business development] yet',” the firm is “always happy for you to try new things, to sponsor it and to get you training. They never say you're not ready for that, and I think it's something they very much instill in you.” GT's slogan, 'built for change', is the crystallization of this approach.
“They want you thinking from day one about your practice down the road."
This entrepreneurial spirit doesn't necessarily come with any survival-of-the-fittest ruthlessness, however: “It's not overly competitive. Everyone is willing to work together to help each other out. That's one thing I like; it's collaborative, open-door and not political at all.” One associate called the office “quiet,” another “corporate. People come in serious about performing their duties and practicing, but everyone's quick with a joke.”
Any thirst associates have for socializing is met with a healthy trickle of events, rather than a downpour. “People aren't planning a happy hour every week, but every few weeks we have one.” There are also monthly lunches and the typical holiday parties, but elsewhere New York associates told us about an Oscars themed party as well as a St. Patrick's Day parade which brings bagpipe players honking their way through the office.
Hours & Compensation
Greenberg doesn't have an official billable target, but most associates we spoke to thought they should aim for 2,000 hours – “not a crazy number at all. It's a bit of a fuzzy target.” Miami was piloting a concrete 1,900 hour target, so change may be on its way firmwide. “As you would expect, it's ebb and flow” when it comes to associates' workloads and the hours they have to clock to keep up. However juniors could regularly “leave at 7 to 7.30pm and definitely take a lunch every day.” In part this is because associates could work from home in the evenings to meet the often taxing demands of clients. When they did have to stay late at the office, “yours isn't the only light on at the end of the hallway; you're never alone in the trenches.”
"You're never alone in the trenches.”
Bonuses are merit-based, which split our associates. Some were thankful, as “it gives you an incentive,” but others felt that if work stopped being provided by partners, they'd be powerless to bill high enough. Also, beyond hours, “it's completely black box here for bonuses.”
Greenberg's diversity figures are comfortably average. “They do as well as they can – it's not for a lack of trying.” The even gender split among associates is certainly a promising indicator, and associates were positive that the firm endeavors to improve the figures which aren't as promising – female and ethnic minority partners, for example. “They definitely have a lot of women's events,” falling under the umbrella of a women's initiative. “There are meetings every two months or so. They'll plan different events or meetings for women to get together and talk about issues women face in the workplace, like what resources there are for maternity leave.” It sometimes involves bringing speakers in, and some associates mentioned a cooking class. We also heard about a recent increase to maternity leave. One associate took solace in the not-so WASP-ish roots of the firm. “GT was started by a group of Jewish men because at the time it was hard getting jobs at very traditional firms. They've instilled the idea of having a much more diverse group.”
Strategy & Future
GT's strategy of targeted growth means its sights are firmly set on its core practices. “I think they're definitely trying to grow the corporate group,” said one New York associate. “Just in terms of hiring partners who do slightly different things, and also having more associates in the corporate department.” New York associates particularly noticed the firm “bringing in more laterals, both shareholders and lateral associates.” Texas too, is on the up – they've hired roughly 40 attorneys since June 2015, including a former Supreme Court Justice who'll head up the appellate practice. Associates also expressed confidence that they'd be a part of this growth. “If you're committed to being a partner in Miami you can do it,” said one Floridian.
This suggests that in spite of the merger-which-never-was with UK firm BLP, the firm's immediate concern isn't finding a willing substitute. Besides the failed merger, GT's appeared in the legal press a lot because of Rudy Giuliani. The addition of the ex-Mayor of New York as a shareholder is impressive, but his outspokenness is more bothersome. Did this concern associates? “Personally no, because Richard Rosenbaum sent an email clarifying that whatever he thinks doesn't reflect the firm; he doesn't speak for the firm and I don't personally think it is a reflection of the firm's views.”
Chambers Associate interview with Greenberg CEO, Brian Duffy
Chambers Associate: What's your assessment of the last year for the firm?
Brian Duffy: 2016 was a good year at GT, during a time of significant disruption and transition in the legal profession. We like to say it is a firm built for change, and sure enough the speed of change is accelerating and we've seen the changing demands of clients for greater value from lawyers, for greater commitment to achieving their goals in an efficient and cost effective way and at the same time doing this with outstanding results. So we think it is an exciting opportunity for GT and that these types of times in the legal profession are why we are the way we are. 2016 was a year when we became better and did a better job for clients.
CA: Are there any practices which you have your eye on as potential areas of new growth?
BD: I think we are seeing this already in 2017: the key practices of opportunity are cyber-security, complex litigation, especially class actions. Government investigations and regulatory is an area with a lot of uncertainty because of the political climate. IP technology, including media and patent will be continuing to expand. On the transactional side, private equity, M and A, and as always with GT we have a comprehensive real estate offering, which is second to none in my opinion and is an area we will continue to focus on.
CA: What's the firm's strategy going forward?
BD: I think what I'm continuing to focus on is that we enhance and continue to build on being a place where we like to work and a place where clients like to work with us. We have an overarching model of freedom within a framework.
We're employing people to do great work and to make a value proposition that makes sense to clients. That is our true north for the next five years and always will be.
CA: In 2016 you held merger talks with Berwin Leighton Paisner which, in the end, didn't come to anything – would you still consider a large merger of that sort?
BD: To answer it fairly we have been in business for fifty years, and have never before done a large merger. That said we pride ourselves on thinking in a businesslike fashion, so that means we will not rule out anything and continue to look at opportunities in an opportunistic and strategic way. But the core strength of a firm is its culture and we recognize that large scale mergers carry more cultural risk than incremental growth; we would therefore be very careful in making such a decision.
CA: How do you see the election of President Trump affecting the firm?
BD: I think that in some respects the political change and uncertainty can create more opportunities because clients are trying to figure out and have a better understanding of what it all means for their business in terms of the regulatory and enforcement structure coming out of DC. So they need to c all upon lawyers to help them through that uncertainty. That creates business opportunities for firms like us who have significant government facing practices.
From a cultural standpoint, nobody can deny that this has been a period of very hard feelings coming out of the election, so it creates some challenges within any institution and we have to be respectful of everyone's views. We're a non-political law firm by choice: we have a lot of liberal people, a lot of conservative people and we want to be respectful of all of their political views. My job is to make sure everyone knows they are entitled to their first amendment rights, which the firm is supportive of, but also that everyone is supportive of each other.
CA: What advice would you give to students looking to get into the legal profession?
BD: Take ownership of their future; identify mentors and opportunities and seek them out – don't wait. I think with young lawyers there's the risk of being too passive about their careers and achieving their own dreams. There's nothing wrong with having the courage to make mistakes, but also to step up and take ownership and be intentional about their own professional development.
Being a lawyer I believe is the greatest career any person can pursue. The law challenges every part of a human being: from an intellectual standpoint, to being able to advise and counsel and be trusted. In order to develop the skills to do that at the highest level takes a lifetime of commitment to learning and improving every day. The only way to do it is to start early and keep working on it. I say: if you cant be a journalist, be a lawyer.
Are there any practice areas you are looking for more recruits in this year as a result of their success or growth?
Our recruiting is done on the basis of each office's need. If I had to describe our overall need, real estate and transactions are where we are particularly focused. We continue to be very busy in those areas, and some of that is historic. We're still dealing with the impact of the great recession on the development of our transactional associates. There was a period from '08 to '11 for the whole industry, when not much hiring was going on and so it has now created much more need.
Chambers Associate Interview with Greenberg Traurig global chairman of professional development and integration, Brad Kaufman
Chambers Associate: Are there any practice areas you are looking for more recruits in this year as a result of their success or growth?
Brad Kaufman: Our recruiting is done on the basis of each office's need. If I had to describe our overall need, real estate and transactions are where we are particularly focused. We continue to be very busy in those areas, and some of that is historic. We're still dealing with the impact of the great recession on the development of our transactional associates. There was a period from '08 to '11 for the whole industry, when not much hiring was going on and so it has now created much more need.
CA: What is the firm doing to address diversity in its recruiting?
BK: We're proud at GT because we have been diverse since long before diversity was important in the market. 15-20 years ago the CEO was a Cuban born M and A lawyer, which was very unusual, and we have won a fair share of awards and have an outstanding track record.
But we do believe we must do better and we have to make certain that we are not only hiring diverse lawyers but are also focusing on supporting our diverse attorneys to ensure their success. We're reaching out to clients to help diverse attorneys, and those clients are reaching out to us. It's no longer a case of simply demonstrating your diversity through awards, it's more important to be very supportive of your diverse hires and to make sure they have the tools to succeed.
CA: Associates told us that entrepreneurialism is valued by the firm – is that something you look for in recruiting? How can a candidate demonstrate that quality?
BK: It is – and I'll tell you why. Fundamentally a lot of firms, when an associate goes to work there – they have no long term future. Plenty of firms have not made new partners or if they have it's been rare. So the associates go to learn their trade, do the bidding of partners, and exit for another law firm or go in house – that's not our philosophy. Every person we hire, we hope will be an owner of the business as a shareholder. What does that take? You have to be able to develop new client relationships or to grow existing ones. It takes a certain amount of spirit and effort to do that, so we make that a message that in our professional development. The things we look for are simple: what kind of business experience, what extracurricular activities and things like that. We're candid with them that we want them to demonstrate it to us.
CA: What are some other qualities you look for in candidates?
BK: That is a very subjective question, but there are things I look for, and there are things I recommend to our shareholders. I have read an awful lot about what makes good candidates. One article was by the head of HR for one of the top tech companies in the world and he relayed their experience of hiring from the top schools and hiring the top 10% of students. That method made sense but it still delivered a lot of attrition. They found they were not moving the dial in terms of building a loyal workforce.
He analysed their success and determined that if you allow people who screen to have an objective criteria, good grades etcetera, then the person doing the next cut should read the resume from bottom to top. They'll see indicators at the bottom, the things they like to do – those which are more indicative of long term success are proficiency in musical instrument and participation in endurance sports. From that you can see the people who have discipline, who can stick with something over the long term. You can't run a marathon without hours and hours on the road in bad weather and you can't master the violin without 10,000 hours practice, to quote from Malcolm Gladwell. You have to go through the good times and bad times and stick with it. Alongside those indicators I also look for some connection to the office locale.
I ran the 1991 New York city marathon and they published a book listing information on the runners. The thing that popped out was the number who had post grad degrees, the number of doctors and lawyers. It screamed type-A personality and people who have had success, so there is some anecdotal evidence in my life to back up this approach.
CA: What do your callback interviews involve?
BK: We have a very traditional model. They spend time with some younger associates to give a sense of what it's like in the office and they also spend some time with shareholder. It's the traditional 30 minute interview, and probably a lunch too.
CA: How would you advise an interviewee to prepare for their interview?
BK: There are two things that we know clients want. No matter how things change, they want experts in their legal field and they want some who understands the client's business. So that should be replicated in the candidate we're looking at. How do you do that? Today, where vast amounts of information is available at the click of a mouse there is never a reason for the candidate to show up and not know everything about the office and to not to be able to make a credible connection with the interviewer that conveys the message of I want to work with this person – I want to do what they are doing.
I still see it where bright people sit down and say: what do you do in this office? That should never happen.
Our associate sources had mulled over their experience of recruiting and concluded that “from what I picked up on in interviewing, the office is looking for people to jump right in and take ownership, who'll make work their own and not just follow orders. They look for you to take more and more responsibility and that has been true right through from my time as a summer associate, They will let you take a case and go as far as you can before you need help.” As a result, in interviews “they said, this is how we do things – can you see yourself doing that? When were the times in your life when you had to do that, when you had to take on more than you were comfortable with and jump right in, without waiting for direction?”
Juniors also stressed the need to be “easy to work with, people need to be friendly and hard workers obviously.” Other than this, “beyond the normal interview tips, like be yourself and research the firm, I would invite students to think carefully about what they are looking for at the firm. Many interviewing 2Ls will want any job at a large law firm. If you're looking for a law firm that you'll stay at for a few years you want a place where you can branch out a bit, where they will retain you and train you – you have to be honest about what you want.”
Greenberg Traurig, PA
- Head Office: Global
- Number of domestic offices: 29
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,377,500,000
- Partners (US): 992
- Associates (US): 1061
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: N/A
- Post3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? CBC
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? CBC
- Summers 2017: 49
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 47 offers, 42 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, celebrating its 50th anniversay in 2017, is a global, multi-practice law firm with approximately 2000 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: 72
• Number of 2nd year associates: 22
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $110,000 - $180,000
• 2nd year: N/A
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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 Miami; Univ of Michigan; Univ of North Carolina; 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 Legal Careers blog provides an inside glimpse at working at Greenberg Traurig, particularly for summer associates.