A full-service firm from the Sunshine State, H&K's reputation for conducting "sophisticated work for big clients" shines bright across 24 US offices.
IT was in 1968 that two smaller firms merged to form Holland & Knight. Its name partners were Spessard Holland – who served as both a US senator and governor of Florida – and Peter Knight, who was elected mayor of Fort Myers before he turned 21 and has an airport in Tampa named after him. Fast forward half a century, and associates rightly call this firm a “Floridian powerhouse firm” – it has a network of 27 offices (eight of them in Florida) and 1,250 lawyers. Five of the offices have opened in the past six years alone, reflecting H&K's upward trajectory toward becoming a billion-dollar firm – revenues reached $848.2 million in 2017. Managing partner Steven Sonberg is proud of the firm's sustained growth since 2009 but has no specific designs on hitting ten figures just yet. Our associate interviewees reflected that while “having the specialties we do lends itself to charging high rates, our diversity of practice lends itself to greater stability through tougher economic times.” True enough: Chambers USA awards the firm an array of top marks across the country including gold stars for M&A in Northern Virginia, zoning and land use in California, litigation in Florida, and aviation nationwide.
Juniors were confidentthe firm's reputation is still strongest in the Sunshine State: “There we are THE firm. Places like Miami may have a lot of big-name firms, but those are only satellite offices, whereas Holland & Knight has an established presence with a big-firm feel.” Elsewhere, sources felt that a presence in Boston and Washington, DC – which is actually the firm's largest office– secured H&K “a very good reputation throughout the country.” However, they also acknowledged that in some of the firm's smaller outposts such as Chicago, “if you weren't familiar with the legal scene, you might not have heard of us.”
Offices & Hours
Holland & Knight has no official headquarters. “We are more a spread of disparate connections," associates believed. "There is no Mecca of sorts that everybody goes to – we all have our own orientations.” The offices that are “heavy hitters” – Boston, Miami and Washington – “have most of the influential partners,” sources reflected, but they otherwise felt that “even the tiny offices are treated as coequal,” pointing to recent investments made into the smaller West Palm Beach office as evidence. When it comes to departmental structure, “the firm is divided between business, litigation, real estate and government policy. As a junior, above me is my practice group leader, who is under the firm-wide practice leader for each of the four areas, who falls under the board of directors.”
While associates had frequent experiences of cross-staffing between offices, stressing that “you're never going to feel like an alien from another planet if you visit another office.” Office moves are frequent, although some did report a bit of office politics in the event they wanted to transfer to another office. Associates also felt the firm could benefit from spelling out more “uniform expectations of its associates.” The issue was especially acute in regards to hours where we heard reports of some juniors billing below the 1,900 target and others going as high as 2,400 hours. We also heard reports ofsome practice group leaders unofficially setting their own target at 2,000 hours.
Some felt the discrepancies could be put down to the work assignment system. While broadly a free-market system, where “the onus is on associates to manage their workload,” juniors revealed that “what one group does in one office might be totally different to a group in another office.” For example, in Miami business juniors are required to submit a mandatory report every Friday detailing their availability for the following week, whereas New York litigators have more of an “informal system of letting our practice group leader know what we are doing on a twice monthly basis.” Juniors believed it would be beneficial to “have a bit more structure to oversee how busy associates are and keep us accountable for how much time we are spending on things.” This was especially true for first-years, some of whom admitted not “feeling comfortable saying no to taking on more projects.”
Still, despite occasional reports of “going to bed at 3am and waking up at 5am,” and the odd working weekend, sources said H&K “embraces a good work-life balance” – or at least a “semblance of work-life balance appropriate to working in BigLaw.” One junior told us: “I've been able to pursue hobbies outside work that I never thought I would be able to.” Sources also appreciated the firm's liberal approach to vacations. “I've booked a trip to Europe this weekend and I didn't ask anyone. As long as I'm available with a cell and laptop, they don't mind.” Another source told us that a “partner threatened to disconnect my remote access when I was trying to work during a two-week vacation.”
Culture & Compensation
Work-life balance aside, sources identified “longevity and a clear path to partnership” as the defining feature of H&K's culture. “A lot of people who I interviewed with have been here since they were associates, and a lot of senior associates have been here since they were summers,” one newbie observed.We spoke to one fourth-year who was certain that “partnership was on the horizon. I am strategically being given work that will help me become a partner and my practice group leader has involved me in a number of committees so that in four to five years' time I will be on upper management's radar.” Other mid-level associates detailed their involvement in marketing activities and participation in trade associations in preparation for partnership.
“A lot of the people I interviewed with have been here since they were juniors.”
Sources felt the firm secures associates' loyalty through its “very informal” working environment. Though juniors acknowledged the presence of “an old guard that is formal and wears suits,” they stressed that “they don't in any way expect that of everyone,” adding that partners' presence is “in no way dictatorial.” Even those based in the New York office felt it was far removed from “the cutthroat and compulsive” stereotype attached to BigLaw in the Big Apple. However, despite a low attrition rate at the junior level, sources felt a lack of transparency around compensation could lead to problems further down the line. “It's an issue that has been raised every year at associate meetings,” one source vented. “The more you progress it becomes less and less clear because you have fallen so far off the Cravath scale,” as the firm stops paying lockstep after two years. One insider disclosed: “My current salary is $200,000 but going into next year I've been informed that it could be anywhere between $200,000 and $235,000.”
Work at H&K is split into four sections – business, litigation, real estate and government – which are then divided into different groups. The business section, with about 60% of new starters, is made up of the following groups: corporate, financial services, private wealth, structured finance and syndication. For those with commitment issues the firm “is happy for people to change practice groups. I know five or six associates who started in litigation and changed to corporate after a few years.”
“At first I was preparing witness outlines, researching questions of law and providing memos."
Highlighting the firm's high partner to associate ratio, many of our interviewees were well accustomed to being the only associate on deal-and-case teams. “Partners are always looking to collaborate rather than delegate down,” one litigator felt. “At first I was preparing witness outlines, researching questions of law and providing memos, but before the first year was out I had met with clients directly. As a second-year I have attended court by myself in a landlord and tenant case and have taken my first deposition.” Another source, “in the middle an arbitration that is set to have a hearing next month,” reported: “I've gotten experience preparing witnesses – including expert witnesses – for cross-examination.” Federal court cases were highlighted as a particular highlight by one junior: “I think that's where you have the highest level of work. You get to draft sophisticated briefs and opposing counsel tend to be more respectful.”
Juniors in the corporate group get to work on different types of matters. “Fifty percent of my workload has been securities and financial regulation, such as helping clients with compliance and annual reports,” one first-year explained. “The other half has been a mix of private equity, M&A, venture capital and restructuring deals. I have done due diligence, but I've also been writing initial drafts, liaising with clients and regularly handling management of deals.” One source in syndication described a similar management role: “I was the first pair of eyes on everything that comes through. Recently I've been running conference calls involving 25 to 30 people.”
All associates have an annual pro bono target of 50 hours. “There is no cap on how much you can do, but you can get billable credit up to 100 hours,” sources explained, adding: “You have to get approval to get credit for the next 50 hours, anything above which is not credited.” Sources felt the firm is making good efforts to develop its “reputation for contributing to communities,” and some juniors identified “a recent push to step up our efforts.” Associates reported working on immigration and family abuse cases as well as more region-specific work: in Florida juniors have been involved in cases surrounding Hurricane Irma, while those in Houston have been working on FEMA claims following Hurricane Harvey. Newbies can sign up to projects from emails sent out every week, but also highlighted that it is very easy to get approval for projects sourced independently.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 72,742
- Average per US attorney: 60
Training & Development
All first-years are enrolled onto the professional development learning track upon joining the firm. What does that mean? Well, there is “a list of online in-person conferences and tutorials that you have to complete in your first two years.” Newbies are required to complete general assignments on topics such as legal writing, client service and marketing, which go on to become practice-group specific. For business attorneys training sessions may include 'securities 101' or “what corporate lawyers should know about tax issues.” Sources explained that “some of the training is practical: they will set up a live chat with a professional and you will have homework to complete over a month.” Litigators similarly have mandatory sessions every other month on topics such as arguing a motion and preparing for a deposition. “They are helpful, particularly if you do the preparation,” sources reflected.
Juniors felt the fact the firm is "partner-heavy" enables them "to grow faster than at other firms where there are lots of mid-level associates working between you. It's very easy to go to a partner and get constant feedback.” Newbies are also assigned partner and associate mentors during their first week, with female attorneys having the option of picking up an additional female mentor during their third year as part of the Women's Initiative.
Juniors recounted a number of diversity initiatives in what they interpreted as “a really big push by the firm.” These include African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, LGBT, Hispanic and Native American affinity groups alongside a Women’s Initiative, Rising Stars program and veterans' group. Sources pointed out that “the affinity groups operate more on a firm-wide level and conduct quarterly multi-office video conferences where they often bring in guest speakers.” The Women's Initiative operates on a local land firm-wide level and meets monthly. “We have monthly lunch meetings as well as a few bigger events throughout the year,” one junior of the Miami office explained. This includes a spa day “which is a networking event with local business clients in the community.” The Rising Star program, for fifth-years and up, offers “high-level mentoring and an executive training program for a year.”
Strategy & Future
We spoke to associates who were confident about the future of the firm, remarking that “firm-wide we have been doing incredibly well.” Managing partner Steven Sonberg gives us some extra perspective: "2017 was a good year for us. We have had excellent years since 2009, and we are very proud of that. Over the last three years, our net income has increased 25% and our profitability per equity partner – which tends to be a benchmark in measuring how firms are doing – increased 19.8%." He adds that H&K's "corporate M&A and private equity practices have been very strong. They are some of the areas that we began investing heavily in around five years ago, and where we have had good fortune in bringing over lateral groups that have contributed significantly to our growth."
Chief professional development and human resources officer, Carrie Weintraub tells us that candidates should “be authentic. Your goal should not be to get as many offers as you can. It should be to get an offer from the firm that has the work environment and culture that is most closely aligned with your values and expectations. Being authentic during the interview process is key.” This was echoed by juniors, who told hopefuls to do their research into what was actually involved in being a practicing lawyer. “Be sure that this is what you really want to do. If you've had experience in a legal setting before and haven't liked it, back out now.” Others advised that “the most important thing you can do is to talk to a practicing lawyer so you can get a clear picture of what it will actually be like in practice.”
“Try and get as much real work experience as you can while you're still at law school, that can really set you apart.” Aside from the obvious requirement for strong grades, insiders also advocated the usefulness of law clinic work as well as law review. Managing partner Steve Sonberg says that “we look at individuals’ engagement in law school activities and work experience – both legal and non-legal. Engineering and science backgrounds are particularly attractive for several of our practices that are focused on technology. We select people who we think can become strong lawyers and leaders for the future.” Weintraub concludes that “we look for people who are proactive, who actively engage in opportunities to develop their skill set, and who want to be involved in the firm and the community.”
Interview with Holland & Knight's managing partner Steven Sonberg
Chambers Associate: When do you expect Holland & Knight will become a billion-dollar firm?
Steven Sonberg: We have been consistently growing by around $50 million on an annual basis, but I'm not sure we necessarily consider hitting $1 billion as an imperative. We are trying to improve every year, not just to grow in terms of revenue and profitability, but also in our ability to be responsive to clients.
CA: How has the firm performed in 2017? Have any practice areas been particularly strong?
SS: 2017 was a good year for us. We have had excellent years since 2009, and we are very proud of that. Over the last three years, our net income has increased 25% and our profitability per equity partner – which tends to be a benchmark in measuring how firms are doing – increased 19.8%. Our corporate M&A and private equity practices have been very strong. They are some of the areas that we began investing heavily in around five years ago, and where we have had good fortune in bringing over lateral groups that have contributed significantly to our growth. In addition, we have continued to do a lot of cross-border transactions, particularly in Latin America where earlier this month we completed a significant arbitration case in Bogota. We also had a strong year in our real estate practice, one of the larger real estate practices in the US.
CA: What's the firm’s current strategy moving forward? Does it have five-year plan?
SS: Five years is a really long time in our industry right now. The industry and business models are changing fast, so it's very hard to predict exactly what things will look like in five years. But we are very focused on the notion of change, especially surrounding technology. We've established partner and associate innovation committees that focus on how to leverage technology to enhance our business. We have also been implementing alternative fee structures, in an attempt to be more responsive to the needs of our clients. For our associates this translates into more training, increased opportunities and the ability to start making a difference earlier in their careers. This not a firm where you have to take a ticket and get on the end of a very long line before your voice is heard. We value the views of our associates and want to capitalize on their creativity.
CA: What challenges do you foresee for the legal market in the next decade?
SS: As I mentioned earlier, it's clearly an industry that is rapidly changing. It's going to be much more competitive, and as a result of that, there will be more pressures placed on associates and partners making it a much more challenging profession. I was recently discussing the differences in medicine and law with a friend of mine who is a surgeon. He made the comparison that it would be like cutting into a patient and finding that the patient’s organs are all in different places. The age of being able to know what's coming next is evaporating.
CA: Who do you see as your main competitors?
SS: We are very dispersed across the country. Our competitors vary by city, as well as by practice area and industry.
CA: Do you think H&K has a distinct culture?
SS: I think that it is distinct and I say that with confidence because that's what we hear from the lateral associates and partners we hire. They report back that the culture is far more collaborative and far more collegial than what they were exposed to previously. From the top down, our culture is one of treating people with respect. We recently finished our all-lawyer meeting of over 1,200 people in Orlando which was very well received, particularly by the associates. It served as an opportunity for people to exchange ideas with colleagues they had never had the chance to meet in person.
Holland & Knight LLP
701 Brickell Avenue,
- Number of domestic offices: 24
- Number of international offices: 3
- Worldwide revenue: $858.5 million
- Partners (US): 628
- Associates (US): 493
- Main recruitment contact: Carrie Weintraub, Chief Professional Development & Human Resources Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Deborah E Barnard
- Diversity officer: Tiffani G Lee
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 21
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 31, 3Ls: 0
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Austin: 1, Boston: 4, Chicago: 1, Dallas: 3, Denver: 2, Ft. Lauderdale: 1, Houston: 1, Jacksonville: 2, Miami: 7, New York City: 5, San Francisco: 1, Tampa: 1, Tysons: 2, Washington, DC: 3
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,400/weekly salary 2Ls: $3,400/weekly salary
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia University, Duke University, Emory, Florida State University, Fordham University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Harvard, Howard, New York University, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley — Boalt Hall, University of California — Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and others
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Attracting, retaining and promoting diverse professionals and fostering an inclusive work environment are priorities at Holland & Knight. Harvard BLSA Job Fair 1Ls, 2Ls & 3Ls; Southeastern Minority Job Fair
Summer associate profile:
Holland & Knight seeks students of substance from diverse backgrounds with superior academics, leadership skills, involvement in extracurricular activities and demonstrated commitment to their communities. We look for candidates who have the desire and ethical foundation to make significant contributions as lawyers to the firm, the profession and in the community. We have been very successful in hiring students who meet these criteria, and our firm as a whole reflects these values.
Summer program components:
Holland & Knight’s Summer Associate Program is structured to provide exposure to many diverse practice areas. Summer associates work on substantive matters and observe conferences, negotiations, oral arguments, closings, depositions, hearings and trials. These experiences provide a broad foundation to assist them in identifying the areas of practice on which they would like to focus as they begin their legal careers.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Native American Law (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Latin American Investment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 5)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property Recognised Practitioner
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 2)
- Government: Government Contracts (Band 4)
- Government: Government Relations (Band 2)
- Leisure & Hospitality (Band 3)
- Native American Law (Band 2)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 5)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Litigation (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 2)
- Transportation: Road (Carriage/Commercial) (Band 2)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Litigation (New York) (Band 2)