Holland & Knight LLP - The Inside View

This Florida-founded firm's many offices around the country offer “interesting and demanding work” with “a very civilized culture.”

ALLURING as Florida's Key lime pie may be, two-thirds of Holland & Knight's 1,100 attorneys these days work outside the sunny state, where the firm can trace its roots back to the 1880s. The first non-FL office, in Washington, opened almost a century later, and is by a smidgen the largest of H&K's 27 offices by headcount. London is the most recent addition (2016) – the firm's third international base after Bogotá and Mexico City – and was set up to boost market-leading aviation and maritime finance practices.

These business areas are just two of many at Holland & Knight that Chambers USA singles out as high-fliers in the legal industry. Others include real estate, corporate/M&A, private equity, media & entertainment, litigation (general and white-collar), environment, retail, and all things government-related. Check out chambersandpartners.com for the full list with commentaries. Speaking of government, in early 2017 the firm caught the news media's attention when it hired one of Trump's transition team, lobbyist Scott Mason, as a policy advisor in DC.

The Work



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, 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. Most groups tackle assignment in the same way, with sources describing “a mostly informal process where partners approach you, and vice versa.” While most had no qualms, others suggested “that it might be nice for at least first-years to have a formal system because it can be daunting approaching partners.”

“If they think you're able to argue in court in your first or second year, they'll let you do it.”

Structured finance newbies told us they did “a lot of asset-backed finance mostly in the aviation, maritime and transportation sectors. We mostly represent lenders and companies that want to acquire vessels.” On smaller matters, insiders had “run conference and client calls, drafted ancillary documents – we're never micromanaged.” Litigators also felt trusted with responsibility: “If they think you're able to argue in court in your first or second year, they'll let you do it.” Obviously we're not talking first-chair, but “motion arguments and doing the first draft of appellate briefs” were a common occurrence.

Within real estate, most juniors do commercial real estate work within their region, although a few were specialized in areas such as transactions or land use & government. Most revealed that “it's a lot of drafting leases, consignments, third party approvals and speaking with local counsel.” Those in the land use subgroup said that “we land use lawyers straddle the line between transactional work and administrative board presentations. So we do a lot of drafting pleadings and applications.” Over in government, the smallest of the four sections, associates can get involved with either public policy & regulation or West Coast land use and environmental work. Regarding the latter, newbies engaged in “cases that try to clean up contaminated soil, researching local codes, doc review, and doing the first drafts of documents.”

Training & Development



“We have a training program called 'a day in the life of' and it goes through all the things you'll need to know on a daily basis here.” Education then becomes practice-specific, with lectures, a CLE series, legal updates and interactive workshops that are all put online for newbies to peruse at their leisure. For example, some sources in relevant practices had been encouraged to attend the environment-focused Yosemite Law Conference, “which counts as CLE credits too.” Insiders told us that “you're a little on your own and it's up to you to make sure you're watching these presentations.”

Juniors are assigned a peer and partner mentor, and while most had found theirs helpful, others were less convinced: “Some people use theirs more than others, and some don’t know who their mentors are!” One enthusiast said: “I'm close to my associate mentor and they've been really successful so I know it's good advice.” Additionally, third-year female attorneys get assigned a female mentor through the women's initiative. “This mentor will be from another office so you get to network more with people you might not have met before.” Reviews are bi-annual for the first two years and subsequently once a year. Feedback is “all kept anonymous and goes as far as any review system can, really. There's an inherent limitation in systems like this because it asks people to remember what you've done in the past. I learn best from real-time feedback.”

Offices



Among Holland & Knight's 24 domestic offices and three international outfits, there's no official HQ. Insiders told us that “since the firm was founded in Florida there are a certain amount of centralized decisions that come out of there. But everything is handled by each office's management committee, so it never feels factioned.” Boston and Miami had the largest number of second and third-years (13) on this year's interviewee list, closely followed by New York, Chicago and Washington, DC. The rest were found in: Tampa, Dallas, LA, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Orlando,  Atlanta, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Portland, Tysons, Anchorage, and Tallahassee.

While New Yorkers “have to share offices for several years,” most associates we spoke to had their own space to call their home from home. “It's understandable,” reasoned one San Franciscan. “New York real estate prices are crazy!” Bostonians were proud of their “miniature golf green on the Tudor patio outside. There's also shuffle-board.” However, DC-ers took it one step further:  “There's a really nice gym in the basement, we have a roof terrace, and the 10th floor has an indoor putting green and a smart room with a Wii and Foosball.” On top of that, “we're pretty much round the corner from the White House, so whenever there's a bomb threat we're put on lock-down.”

Culture



“I'm never made to feel guilty about something stupid like not being at my desk at 9pm,” one associate told us. “I'm not going to get crap from an old person who thinks good work is purely down to a well-tied tie.” Insiders explained further: “It's very busy and demanding and everyone will be all hands on deck if a deal is going down. But associates are respected and you're treated like an adult.”

H&K has a few tricks up its sleeves to keep things ticking over in “collegial” fashion. New Yorkers told us that “there's quite a few young associates here and you can get close to people organically. We're always going out for dinners and drinks after work.” In DC, there's an active push to “make happy hours more of a thing so that we get to see each other, because you can be in a bit of a bubble and you have to watch out for that.” Some offices have their own softball teams that compete in local leagues against other firms. However, those in Miami have had a bit of a  football setback: “There were quite a few injuries, so word on the street is that it's been shut down.” While most felt that there was enough social stuff on offer, some felt that “we don't have as many events – or as elaborate – as some other firms. So if you're looking for loads of socials then that's probably not us here.”

Hours & Compensation



Attorneys are encouraged to hit a 1,900 billing target. Most thought it was doable, “but it depends on how busy your group is. Some years you can cruise past 2,000 by August, but when it's slow there's not a lot you can do.” Insiders were thankful that 100 pro bono hours could count toward billables as well. There was a little confusion about exactly how associates are compensated. Salaries matched the market “in March 2016 and then when New York went up again a few months later, the firm followed suit.” While this should be a cause for celebration, not everyone was in the party spirit: “Younger associates benefit most from it because we didn't adopt the full scale increase for the top years. For first and second-years it's $180,000 and $190,000 respectively. After that you have a range and the top of that range is the market rate." As in the past, compensation is discretionary for third-years and above, with a separate bonus for things like commitment to the community and diversity.

Pro Bono



We heard of various activities, including working for “a non-profit that makes documentaries and we had to draft all the finance agreements and coordinated all the production agreements too.” Others had “worked for the Bronx Zoo on a few matters,” “researched into exoneration for people on death row,” and some had “helped low income households who were in rented apartments find paths to ownership and negotiate leases.” Sources also explained that “here there's an expectation to do at least 50 hours, and we get reminders listing people who haven't participated.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 65,908
  • Average per US attorney: 65

Diversity



At H&K “there's a diversity committee, so there is an active pursuit of diversity. But whether or not it's that effective I don't know.” The firm fares better with female employment, at least at associate level. The most prominent of H&K's affinity groups is the Woman's Initiative: “We have monthly meetings, discuss career advancement, and there's mentorship, but it depends on which office you're in as to how involved people are. To be honest we're not super-involved because we're just trying to make our billables.”  However, insiders felt that “the firm is very encouraging in helping interest groups and events get set up. For example, we had a whole lot of people involved in the Women's March the day after the inauguration.”

In terms of ethnic diversity, “racially I don't think we're that great compared to the rest of the world, but compared to other law firms I think we're good.” Yet, activity varied depending on location. “There's an Asian Pacific interest group but I don’t think it's as active here in New York because there isn't as large an Asian population here. This group tends to be more visible in California.”

Strategy & Get Hired



“The most important thing for you to do,” one associate advised, “is make sure you talk to practicing lawyers to see what their lives are like, because there's a lot of difference between a firm's published billable hours requirement and what it actually works out as.” Continuing in this vein, sources extolled the importance of “getting as much real work experience that you can while you're still at law school. Get involved with a clinic.” Looking toward the future, managing partner Steve Sonberg  lets us in on the firm's strategy. " We've identified a number of industry groups in which we are particularly strong and want to continue to distinguish ourselves. They are healthcare, real estate, tech, transportation, financial services and energy. We are investing in those areas to showcase to clients the industry expertise and understanding we have of their business needs."

 

Interview with managing partner Steven Sonberg



Chambers Associate: What have been the firm highlights over the last 12 months?

Steven Sonberg: We've seen a significant amount of expansion. We opened offices in Stamford, Connecticut; Charlotte, North Carolina, and London. These new offices have allowed us to expand and deepen our private equity and financial services practices, including our aviation finance practice which was the focus of our London expansion. Increases in our revenue and net income have outpaced many of our competitors over the last eight years.

We've continued to bring in strong classes of new associates across the firm and we are investing even more in associate training and development opportunities. While we already have a robust training and professional development program, the practice of law is changing and it is important that our professional development offerings remain ahead of that curve.  Recently, we have set up new committees to focus on new areas of interest, like Artificial Intelligence, that will change the way we practice law and  help us service clients better.  We are very keen to get our associates more involved in playing a part in that.

CA: What is your long term vision for the firm?

SS: We've identified a number of industry groups in which we are particularly strong and want to continue to distinguish ourselves. They are healthcare, real estate, tech, transportation, financial services and energy. We are investing in those areas to showcase to clients the industry expertise and understanding we have of their business needs.

Looking at energy specifically in light of the new administration, we've brought in a number of people that have worked in the governmental regulation area and others who have strong ties in congress and the administration. I think that under this new administration we will see a relaxation of EPA regulations in particular, which may be helpful to some of our clients and  will spark more opportunities for industries like mining and oil and gas. We also expect alternative energy to continue to be active and we expect to continue to do a lot of solar, geo-thermal energy work as well.  We service a broad range of energy clients and  our offices in Anchorage, Bogotá, Houston, Mexico City, and Washington D.C. play a big part. .

We're also focused on expanding our white collar expertise. Our white collar group has been very active and we are fortunate to have the outgoing United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida join the firm recently.

Latin America continues to be  a key focus area for our firm and part of our strategy to enhance our expertise in arbitration, litigation and cross-border transactions in Latin America.

CA: The firm has just opened in London, are there any other plans to grow internationally?

SS: Generally, our strategy is focused on office locations in the western hemisphere; predominately the United States and also Latin America. Over the last 35 years, we have built a significant business platform in Latin America and we have really strong relationships with many firms in many countries, which we will continue to strengthen.  We have very strong relationships around the globe, and at this time do not feel the necessity in international expansion.  If the right opportunity comes along internationally, we would consider it if it makes sense for our firm. In anything we do, there has to be a strategic purpose in helping us to expand our core industry and practice offerings.

CA: How do you foster diversity at the firm?

SS: Diversity is an underpinning and foundational part of our culture.  We have a diversity council that includes both lawyers and staff from across the firm. We support several affinity groups and have diversity committees in most of our offices.  We invest in diversity training and awareness programs throughout the year. We have initiatives that support diversity, including our Women's Initiative and a Client Partnering Initiative that focuses on leveraging our diversity to benefit our clients..

CA: Finally, what do you look for in a candidate, and what advice do you have for our readers?

SS: We look for a real thirst for learning and an interest in tackling challenging legal issues, including novel legal issues that arise from new technologies like Artificial Intelligence. We look for individuals with a strong, competitive desire to be successful, as well as the obvious fundamentals of academic credentials. 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. My advice to law students is to look for opportunities in areas in which you can excel. Determination to distinguish yourself from the many excellent candidates that we see is key.

Energy law under the Trump administration: the views from top energy lawyers



Energy law under the Trump administration: the views from top energy lawyers

The new administration is going to usher in a new era of change and, for the moment at least, uncertainty. Many senior legal sources didn't want to hedge their bets and suggest what exactly we can expect from the new President and his team, partly because there's very little information to go on. Presently, we're unsure whether these changes will be good for the wider legal community or spell trouble. However, one area that might be on the up under Trump is the energy sector. During his campaign, the President announced an 'America First Energy Plan'. It was perceived to include less regulatory oversight and a greater promotion of drilling activities to combat the oil price slump that has affected the industry for over two years. Steve Sonberg, managing partner at Holland & Knight, suggests that “I think that under this new administration we will see a relaxation of EPA regulations in particular, which may be helpful to some of our clients and will spark more opportunities for industries like mining and oil and gas.” While Trump's plans must have sounded like music to the ears of drilling and mining companies, the potential issue is that it could foster a market where supply outstrips the demand and prices drop further.

But the legal industry has been weathering the slump for some time now and so is confident that it can continue to do so. “You have to be adaptive to the environment you're in,” explains Gregory Bopp, managing partner at Bracewell. “It’s critical to stay abreast of market developments and be adaptive to your clients’ circumstances.” Bopp goes further, “for example, we have a tremendous amount of talent and expertise in restructuring and finance. These areas have been at the forefront of the challenging commodity price environment. Fortunately, the commodity price market has improved in 2016, and there's a lot more M&A and capital markets activity.”

But that was 2016 — pre-Trump. How will the industry fair under the 45th President? Because Trump's M.O. is all about promoting domestic industry, “maximizing the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil” according to the White House website, it's likely that there will be a surge in expanding US production capabilities. Exportation in particular is likely to increase under this administration. The US Energy Information Agency has reported that domestic crude production has already increased, adding approximately half a million barrels per day since the later part of 2016. Additionally in March 2017, Trump formally approved the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The 1,897 km pipeline is intended to carry 830,000 barrels of oil each day between Alberta, Canada and Steele City, Nebraska to decrease dependency on Middle Eastern supplies. Trump promises that this will “lower costs for American families” and create 28,000 American jobs. However, this project was continually blocked by Obama after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised against it. Obama refuted that the pipeline would lower petrol prices, impact upon foreign energy dependence or create long-term jobs.

Regardless of what happens, the legal industry is keen to embrace change and go with it. Baker Botts' hiring partner, Van Beckwith, gave us some insight into how law firms are dealing with the new lie of the land. “The new administration – that's a big question. It's hard to know precisely, but we expect that it will be a time of greater opportunity in the energy industry and it will be interesting from the position of antitrust regulation, as this administration takes a different stance to the current rules we have in place. But, I'm very excited about what the future holds for us. Even during this challenging time for oil commodity pricing, we're on track to have a record year.” Sonberg paints a similar picture. “Looking at energy specifically in light of the new administration, we've brought in a number of people that have worked in the governmental regulation area and others who have strong ties in congress and the administration.”  In early 2017, Holland & Knight hired one of Trump's transition team, lobbyist Scott Mason, as a policy adviser in DC to better equip them for the alterations likely to be introduced by the new administration.

Other preparations, have seen law firms enhance their alternative energy offering, as well as develop complimentary areas to their existing energy focus.  Gregory Bopp says “it's about listening to the clients and understanding what they're experiencing in a market downturn. It's about being innovative and creating solutions to issues that are present in a distressed or challenging market environment – thinking of new and creative ways to address risk.” Holland & Knight have done this by bolstering its alternative energy practice. Steve Sonberg tells us that “we also expect alternative energy to continue to be active and we expect to continue to do a lot of solar, geo-thermal energy work as well.” Conversely, Van Beckwith explains Baker Botts' intentions to expand other sympathetic industry areas to better adapt to market disruptions.  “Our clients trust us so we want to make sure we're being completely thoughtful in terms of where our business is going in terms of how that affects our clients,” says Beckwith. “Although to our core we're an energy firm, we're very focused on continuing to grow in other areas. I think in the next ten years we want to have an even deeper tech bench. We currently have 180 lawyers with tech degrees and I can see us taking more.”

Whatever happens, one thing is a dead cert: Lawyers love change and will strive to adapt to keep their clients happy. Whether that involves making the most of lesser regulatory control, or developing new areas to take into account environmental factors and commodity pricing issues, we'll just have to watch how it all plays out.

More on getting hired



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.”

 

 

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: 24
  • Number of international offices: 3
  • Worldwide revenue: $802.9 million
  • Partners (US): 621
  • Associates (US): 338
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 26
  • Offers/acceptances2016:  43 offers, 40 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 1,200 lawyers and other professionals in 24 US offices, as well as London, 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: 39
• Number of 2nd year associates: 42
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: No

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia University, Duke University, Emory, Florida State University, Fordham University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Harvard, New York University, Northwestern University, 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 Southern California, 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.