Holland & Knight LLP - The Inside View

Founded in the lightning capital of the USA, Holland & Knight has sparky associates who appreciate the “good work/life balance.” 

THERE must be a special energy in Florida air. Not only is it the state that experiences more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the country, but it was also the place that sparked the 1968 merger to create Holland & Knight, now a global heavyweight with 24 offices spread across the USA, and a further two in Bogotá and Mexico City. And, as the firm's recent expansion proves, lightning bolts aren't the only source of energy on offer, with the oil, gas and electricity industries providing H&K with an ever-expanding energy practice. The firm opened an office in Houston in 2015 to bolster its energy work, having only just set up shop in Denver, Austin and Anchorage in 2014. More recently, H&K announced offices in Stamford and Charlotte, opened in January and February 2016 respectively.

When it comes to Chambers USA rankings, it's hard to know where to begin. This Sunshine State's legal leader takes the top spot for real estate: zoning/land use in California and Florida, and ranks highly in an array of areas in the latter state, notably banking & finance, corporate/M&A, healthcare, environment, general commercial litigation, and tax. Go to the chambersandpartners.com website for the detailed rankings breakdown with commentary.  

The Work



While some associates we spoke to had applied to the firm to work in a specific practice area, others hadn't, and therefore sampled different areas over their summer before choosing a preference when they joined as first-years (occasionally, those who are still unsure which practice area they prefer receive an 'open offer'). The firm is also “definitely flexible” if you change your mind further down the line, and we heard of juniors who had switched groups. Work at H&K is split into four sections, which are then divided into different groups. The business section, which comprises about 60% of new starters, is made up of the following groups: corporate finance, corporate/M&A, financial services, international & cross border transactions, private wealth services, public companies & securities, structured finance, and syndication.

In the corporate/M&A group, juniors were “very pleased” with the levels of responsibility they'd been given, as one second-year enthused: “There is still some basic regulatory research, but I'm also playing a very active role dealing with all parts of discovery, as well as motion drafting. The work is available to you as long as you show you can handle it.” Over in financial services, juniors can expect a little less excitement, with “lots of statutory research, drafting and editing documents, and due diligence.” The clients can be anyone from state and local governments to "large multinational banks and regional, publicly-traded companies." Tasks for newbies in public companies & securities involve “mostly drafting agreements,” as well as “a lot of contracts and reviewing documents,” plus the occasional research component for certain matters.

"The work is available to you as long as you show you can handle it."

Within the real estate section, most juniors do commercial real estate work within their region, although a few were specialized in areas such as transactions or land use & government. In the litigation section, most were in general commercial litigation, although there were two in IP and one focused on bankruptcy & creditors rights. Finally, the government section – the smallest with only four associates – was evenly split between public policy & regulation, and West Coast land use & environmental work. For more about the work in these three sections, read the Bonus Features on chambers-associate.com.

Although practice leaders monitor attorney hours, finding work at H&K is generally left down to the associates. “You're encouraged to walk around and make yourself available, and to help out other associates if you see someone is overwhelmed.” Most of our interviewees had no problem with this free market system, although some pointed out that working on several matters at once can cause time management issues: “There are times when I've had more work than I could deal with.”

Training & Development



Like finding work, “associates are responsible for their own development. If you feel like a partner isn't helping you enough, you need to raise your hand and talk to your practice group leader.” That's not to say there aren't training sessions on offer, just that juniors need to be proactive in signing up to them: “They're always emailing out different CLE opportunities. The firm has subscriptions to all the major legal training websites, so they definitely have the resources.”

“Associates are responsible for their own development."

Corporate newcomers have talks on legal developments such as “any new SEC interpretive releases that come up, or any court cases that might have an impact on M&A deals.” Other sessions might be on structuring or closing a deal. Litigators, meanwhile, had taken part in more hands-on training, on topics such as oral arguments and depositions, with “partners volunteering to participate so we could get feedback.” A few insiders did highlight that a more formalized training system would be useful, as “it can be hard to find time to fit the sessions in.” All are, however, recorded and put online for associates to watch at their leisure. Juniors are assigned an associate (peer) and partner mentor, and while most had found theirs helpful, others were less convinced: “I haven't spoken to my partner very much – often people are pressed for time.”

Offices



The firm doesn't have an official HQ, something that managing partner Steven Sonberg explains is "a historical fact that we grew up primarily with mid-sized offices in a number of jurisdictions." He goes on to add that "important things happen in all our offices," making for "a very collegial and collaborative environment." Our list showed that Boston had the largest number of second and third-years (12), closely followed by Miami, New York, Chicago and Washington, DC. There were fewer newbies in the Tampa, Dallas, LA, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Orlando and Northern Virginia offices, and there was just a single newcomer to the posts in Atlanta, Denver, Fort Lauderdale and Portland.

“I absolutely love the space here.” 

“I absolutely love the space here,” gushed one associate of the Boston office, which is located in the heart of Back Bay. The firm is spread between the 11th and 15th floors of the building, and “on the 11th floor there are two giant outdoor spaces. I have a door to the outside, and during the summer people tend to congregate out there during lunch.” Other amenities include coffee machines and “a fantastic restaurant in the lobby of the building.” We even heard about a putting green on the outdoor terrace (although none of our interviewees had used it). For more on some of H&K's other offices, go online.

Culture



Overall, interviewees described a fairly relaxed, no-drama environment with “none of the stereotypical BigLaw firm yelling or belittling of associates.” Another recurring theme about H&K's culture was associates' ability to balance work with a social life. “They aren't operating with unobtainable expectations,” one litigator told us eagerly. “They're very upfront and realistic about the work, but they avoid burnout by also understanding that we have a life.” Juniors were able to keep to outside commitments such as community work, musical interests and family responsibilities: “They've acknowledged and encouraged me to have an alternative interest.”

"They aren't operating with unobtainable expectations.”

Another way the firm supports the work/life balance is by being a little more relaxed when it comes to face time at the office: “Some people come in later and stay later, others leave earlier and work from home; the work schedule is very flexible.” In addition, “there is a huge respect for weekends. You will sometimes get something on Friday that has to be done by Monday, but they appreciate that you'll be working at the weekend.” One junior added, “we encourage taking vacation and protecting family time. As long as it doesn't impinge on your work, there's no problem with taking a day off to decompress.” That said, the high standard of work required at H&K means that “when there are hard deadlines, they have high expectations. And I think that's a fair trade-off.”

When it comes to socializing, it tended to vary according to office and practice area. A New Yorker told us: “I had a coworker come over for Thanksgiving. We've also been meaning to try and host a house party; a couple of people have unofficially been allocated as social organizers.” For most, though, the odd happy hour or dinner was more or less the extent of their out-of-hours get togethers.

Hours & Compensation



Associates felt that the 1,900 billing target was “a fair number, and people are OK with meeting it.” While a few told us that they hadn't hit it in their first year, “it wasn't the end of the world, and I still got a bonus.” As associates progress, however, there's more pressure to reach the requirement: “We have monthly meetings about where we should be, and if we're below that we can talk to someone.” There seemed to be some general confusion as to exactly how associates are compensated, because although the base salary is lockstep, the bonus is calculated though “a combination of subjective and objective factors. What those are and how they're presented have been a black box.” Discretionary elements include things like commitment to the community and diversity.

First-year salary now $160,000...

Good news: in spring 2016, H&K increased first-year associate salaries in the major markets to $160,000. This was after we'd interviewed associates, who at that time were slightly "disgruntled" with the previous figure of $145,000: "I think we're worthy of market rates,” one source had grumbled. “I feel like our work is completely on the same plane as other firms." And it's now rewarded thus...

Pro Bono



Pro bono work is “baked into the culture” at H&K, and 100 PB hours count toward billables, assuming you hit the 1,900 target (including pro bono). Beyond this, “if it's a big project you really care about, you can petition to have more count.” Most of the associates we interviewed had reached around 100 hours, with some exceeding this number. We heard of various activities, including working on veterans' claims and compensation, helping large nonprofits set up in a new state or country, volunteering at a homeless shelter and working for Kids In Need of Defense (KIND). The latter organization represents immigrant and refugee children: “We help to get special immigration status or asylum for the children, based on their background, so they aren't automatically deported.” Offices around the firm also have a community service day each year around 9/11.

Pro bono hours
 
 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 60,375 
  • Average per US attorney: 55

Diversity



When it comes to ethnic minorities, “the offices that are in more diverse markets match that,” and those in Florida reported a more diverse group compared to Boston, for example. “It's not the most diverse office in the world,” one Boston-based associate remarked. “There are a lot of white male partners.”

“Help them develop a more fine-tuned practice with an eye to becoming partner.”

The firm fares better with female employment, at least at associate level. An attorney in Tampa commented that “when I started, there weren't many female associates, but two years later, females outnumber males!” A New York newbie added that the women's initiative “has lunch once a month within the office, and we'll discuss articles and talk about some of the accomplishments that the women here have had.” Holland & Knight also has the 'Rising Star' program, aimed at female associates, to “help them develop a more fine-tuned practice with an eye to becoming partner.”

Compare law firm diversity stats>>

Get Hired



Taking ownership of your work is a valuable skill at Holland & Knight, as “partners are looking to be the passengers and let us drive; they'll just correct us when we get too close to one side!” Considering that associates are largely responsible for finding their own work, a self-starting attitude does well too: “You thrive here if you're going to step outside the box, find the work you want to do and focus on that. Nobody is going to guide you the whole way.”

"Partners are looking to be the passengers and let us drive."

Personality-wise, recruiters look for “the individual that shows he or she is part of the team and demonstrates camaraderie. I don't think the stereotypical Type A personality is very accepted in a social sense.” Intellectual curiosity gets you a long way, too, as “they appreciate a passion for your subject.” And before your interview, make sure to “research the partners and understand what each practice area does, and be prepared to demonstrate that knowledge.”

Strategy & Future



MP Steven Sonberg tells us that the firm's hefty growth in recent months is part of a geographic strategy "to focus on the US as well as Latin America, and that's really where we've targeted our geographic expansion." He adds that "while we don't have any additional offices we're ready to talk about, we're seeing a continuing number of opportunities." As far as practice areas go, "in litigation, we have expanded our practices in white collar defense and IP. In the corporate area, private equity and finance are two core areas we've strengthened." Sonberg continues, "we've identified six industries that are particularly important to us and strong: real estate, healthcare, financial services, technology, transportation, and energy & natural resources."


More on the work



Associates in commercial real estate do “mostly commercial leasing, both in the US and also internationally.” In addition, there is some “real estate development for commercial clients.” In the condo team, they are unsurprisingly focused on “the creation of condominiums,” which includes “getting the filing in order for the attorney general's office and the clients at the Department of Buildings. I also deal with the Department of Finance.” Sources in this team spoke of “having direct contact with the client throughout the whole process; I am their main point of contact.” When it comes to responsibility levels, one newbie enthused that “one advantage of Holland & Knight is we don't have, like, 55 first-year, and 65 second-year associates, so you get a lot of experience relatively early. It can be challenging at times but it's far superior to being spoon fed!”

Over in commercial litigation, newcomers usually start as generalists and can later choose to specialize in areas such as real estate litigation, consumer protection, IP or transport. Our interviewees spoke of high responsibility levels, as one associate explained: “The Holland & Knight way is basically, 'You may be new and young, but here is a case – run with it.'” One second-year spoke of handling a couple of small cases alone, adding that “at this point I go by myself to court to handle the hearing. I've also been involved in client interviews, compliance reviews, and presentations, and I've had a lot of direct client contact.” Another associate told us that “during my first year they gave me fairly substantial writing and drafting tasks, and I was writing a pretty lengthy motion to dismiss.” Of course, that isn't to say that all the work is as significant as this, but those we spoke to were “pleasantly surprised” with the tasks they'd been given. One junior even added “I requested to do doc review after a year of being here because I hadn't had any experience of doing it!”

In the government group, our interviewees had done a lot of environmental work, “responding to enforcement matters by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], as well as day-to-day compliance matters for large residential and commercial developers. It can be everything from asbestos and lead-based paint, to concerns about waste disposal or the way that chemicals are being treated on facilities.” Juniors spoke of working on very small teams – often just themselves and a partner – and “on a smaller action I take the lead role.” Some sources in this group had also been involved in political law, working on matters relating to “lobbying and election compliance.” As one newbie pointed out, “you're able to shape the work to your interests,” and when it comes to responsibility, “associates tend to have as much as they take for themselves.”

More on the offices



The Tampa office – located on the top four floors of the tallest building in the city – was described by our interviewees as “beautiful. It's a very modern space with sweeping views of the city. If you're an associate and you walk into your office for the first time, you're impressed! It's the kind of office you want to bring your friends and family to!” Although the space is “fairly bare in terms of amenities,” juniors liked having their own “huge offices,” and the fact that there are “lots of restaurants in the near vicinity.”

Over in DC, the H&K digs are “just a couple of blocks from the White House,” with lots of places to eat nearby, as well as an on-site 24-hour gym. Associates described the decor as “new” and “pretty” and newbies “effectively work in glass cubes.”  The idea behind this is to “foster an openness between attorneys, because you know when someone is in their office.” That said, those we interviewed weren't too keen on the lack of privacy, and although the glass walls are “perfectly soundproof” we were told that "it can be a little distracting when you keep seeing people moving in your peripheral vision.” New Yorkers meanwhile enjoyed the convenient location of their office, which is “right off the Rockefeller Center, near lots of transport links.” While some felt that the white-walled interior is “definitely a little sterile,” our insiders appreciated that “there is cafeteria in the building that we share with Clifford Chance, and there's also a sushi restaurant and small convenience store downstairs.”

Chambers interview with managing partner Steven Sonberg



Chambers Associate: What would you highlight from the past year at Holland & Knight?

Steven Sonberg: We have been fortunate to be able to open up a number of new offices over the past year. We most recently opened an office in Charlotte in February 2016, which is our 26th office. Prior to that we opened in Stamford in January 2016, and we also opened in Houston in mid-2015, so those are interesting opportunities.

In terms of what we're trying to achieve, our geographic strategy is to focus on the US as well as Latin America, and that's really where we've targeted our geographic expansion. While we don't have any additional offices we're ready to talk about, we're seeing a continuing number of opportunities that are in line with our strategy and also some attractive opportunities that go beyond our articulated strategy but that complement to a great extent one or more of our existing practice areas. The opportunities are fueled in part by lawyers failing to feel comfortable about what's going on at their firms financially and strategically and the industry more generally.

With regard to our financial performance, over the last few years we've been doing better than the overall industry. We have been able to achieve revenue increases and double digit profit increases over the past five years, and that's certainly not something we're seeing generally in the marketplace. We carefully track our revenue and watch our expenses, and although we recognize we need to make long-term investments, fortunately we've been able to do that without using credit. We have no debt, and have had none for the past five years, and I think that's certainly a point that many people find very appealing about the firm.

CA: Which practice areas are doing particularly well at the moment?

SS: In litigation, we have expanded our practices in white collar defense and IP. In the corporate area, private equity and finance are two core areas we've strengthened. We've identified six industries that are particularly important to us and strong: real estate, healthcare, financial services, technology, transportation, and energy & natural resources. Our growth is centered around our industry focus.

CA: Something that distinguishes H&K is the fact that the firm has no official headquarters. What's the reasoning behind this?

SS: It is a historical fact that we grew up primarily with mid-sized offices in a number of jurisdictions but we have maintained our “no headquarters” approach because it is an important part of our unique culture. We're very dispersed and appreciate the professionals and practices we have across our broad platform. Every client, practice, and office contributes in a meaningful way to the firm’s success. Important things happen in all our offices, and professionals in all offices have leadership opportunities locally and firmwide.

That has led to a very collegial and collaborative environment. We hear it from people who join us; they reinforce the message that the way the firm has evolved and grown is something they appreciate and see the value in, and is contrasted in many ways with the firms they came from.

CA: A few associates complained about not being paid at market rates; are there plans to increase the salary?

SS: Yes there are, we're actively working on that and we'll hopefully have an announcement within the next couple of weeks. [The firm announced a salary increase to $160,000 in March 2016.]

CA: More generally, what makes H&K unique?

SS: Our focus on clients is an important trait that all of our lawyers have. I'd say we're very entrepreneurial, and that means our lawyers really are client-centric and have a common value of ensuring that clients are getting the best service possible. Our attorneys are also collaborative and committed to working together for our clients benefit. This is an organization where if a partner or associate sends out an inquiry for information or help from someone with expertise in a particular area or a contact that could be beneficial to a client, they get a response right away, usually many responses. Providing great service to our clients and our fellow lawyers is extremely important here.

CA: Do you have any words of advice for students as they begin their path into BigLaw?

SS: I would echo some of the traits that have made us successful: commitment to service, to clients, and to fellow attorneys. We also have a significant commitment to our communities and public service, and we think those are important characteristics for all lawyers to have. Respect toward all individuals, no matter who they are, is also key and a hallmark of any true professional. These traits are essential to success.

Another factor is the importance of individuals taking ownership of and responsibility for their careers. I think too often people expect things to be given to them on a silver platter, and when that doesn't happen, people don't always think what they should do and how to work on being a better lawyer. Commitment to improving your skill set, to responsiveness, are all critically important to the development of young lawyers. the development of young lawyers.

Holland & Knight LLP

701 Brickell Avenue,
Suite 3000,
Miami,
FL 33131
Website www.hklaw.com

  • Head Office: No main office; Managing Partner resident in the Miami office
  • Number of domestic offices: 23
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $743,800,000
  • Partners (US): 604
  • Associates (US): 323
  • Summer Salary 2016 
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 42
  • Offers/acceptances2015:  37 offers, 35 acceptances

Main areas of work
Holland & Knight advises clients in a broad range of practice areas, including complex commercial litigation, corporate law, intellectual property, private wealth services, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and zoning law, and public policy and regulatory matters. Attorneys work collaboratively across practice groups and teams, drawing upon their depth and breadth of legal experience and industry knowledge to serve clients in the US and abroad.

Firm profile
Holland & Knight is a global firm with more than 1,100 lawyers and other professionals in 23 US offices, as well as Bogotá and Mexico City. Recent expansion has helped the firm penetrate new markets and attract sophisticated clients in the US and abroad. With a growing focus on Latin America, the firm leverages more than 30 years of experience in the region to advance client interests, from establishing a business in an emerging economy to expanding an international presence.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 27
• Number of 2nd year associates: 33
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
• 2nd year: $170,000
• Clerking policy: No

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston College, Boston University, University of California, Berkeley – Boalt Hall, University of California - Los Angeles, University of Chicago, Columbia, Duke, University of Florida, Florida State University, Fordham University, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, Stanford, University of Virginia, Yale and others.

Summer details 

Summer associate profile:
Holland & Knight seeks candidates with superior academic credentials and diverse backgrounds who aspire to become leaders in the legal profession and their communities.

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.