This NYC boutique is a magnet for legal academics, and they sure take their clients as seriously as their textbooks.
We all know NYC is saturated with plenty of flashy BigLaw powerhouses. But deep in the concrete jungle, described as NYC’s “well-kept secret,” is litigation boutique Holwell Shuster & Goldberg. The firm was founded by the legal quartet of the Hon. Richard Holwell (a former S.D.N.Y. judge) and three colleagues from White & Case: Michael Shuster, Daniel Goldberg, and Dorit Ungar Black. Over the course of eleven years, they have laid the foundations for the firm’s success in high-stakes commercial matters, both domestic and multi-jurisdictional. These days, the firm is 70 lawyers strong and is highly regarded for general commercial expertise in Chambers USA, representing some big-name banks like Visa & HSBC.
If you are book smart, then HSG could be your calling. We learned that “the firm has a very strong academic community here,” with some associates lecturing part time in universities in the US such as Georgetown and NYU. So it should come as no surprise that the firm is selective in its hiring. One source revealed that “they primarily hire clerkship caliber students,” though they do take on a handful of summer associates. But to truly encapsulate the firm dynamic, there is a “walk softly but carry a big-stick ethos.” In other words, “everyone is friendly and nice, but serious when it comes to clients - you don’t want to mess with these lawyers!”
Strategy & Future
We spoke to firm co-founder Michael Shuster and partners Vincent Levy and Blair Kaminsky about the firm’s trajectory over the next few years. Shuster explained that “our strategy from the firm at the start has been to, first and foremost, recruit well. We set out to try to recruit very high caliber lawyers and people.” But whilst the firm wants to grow, they have no intention to grow too large. Shuster added that “thechallenge is to grow but to maintain the sense of closeness and familiarity that we have here, to maintain that culture we prize most about the firm.”
Levy explained that part of maintaining the culture involves communication with associates: “we make an effort to involve our associates in team meetings, to really give the young associates a view as to what their part of the case is.” Kaminsky also noted that being back in the office post pandemic has positively impacted the associate experience, noting that “in April we transitioned to asking people to transition back to the office and it's great to see people in conference rooms talking about strategy. We see the difference it makes in associate development, and at the same time now we all have more flexibility than we did.”
As a boutique, the firm has just one practice area: litigation. In this department, we were told “everyone is totally generalist,” though the key focuses are antitrust, trade secrets, securities, insurance, and various contractual matters. The firm also has an appellate practice and some juniors mentioned that they have been everywhere from the Delaware Superior Court to the Arkansas and NY State Courts. Typically, cases are leanly staffed between 1:1 and 2:1 (partner: mentor), so associates felt they had plenty of partner contact.
But the big draw for some of our interviewees was the amount of plaintiff side work on offer. One insider beamed that “we do so much of it and it’s a lot more personal for our client” which was a nice change for some interviewees from the defense side work. The plaintiff side tends to involve startups where one junior explained “it’s kind of dealing directly with the CEO. It’s their baby, it's more personal for them.” In terms of the scope of the work, an associate revealed that “I actually have very few clients in NYC. Many are international and in different states so I would say it is definitely both regional and international.”
“We are so small, so there is not much of a divide between junior and mid-level and senior in any given day.”
Playing into the dynamic of this department is the firm’s size. One associate reflected that “what is different about HSG is because we are so small, there is not much of a divide between junior and mid-level and senior in any given day.” As another newbie noted: “you’re all working on a case together, but there's no hierarchy.” Unsurprisingly, it is not uncommon to see thatassociates are given quite a bit of responsibility. An insider explained that “in their 4th, 5th, 6th year, people are running matters themselves. Though partners give advice, it is certainly more than I expected.”
Key Clients: Visa, Chubb & HSBC Bank USA. HSG represents TIG Insurance Co. in a 2nd Circuit appeal against ExxonMobil Oil Corp. over a $25 million arbitration award for the coverage of a groundwater contamination lawsuit.
The small team structure also lends itself to more on-the-job training at the firm. One newbie mentioned that “we don’t really have formal training,” so “it's sort of like an apprenticeship,” where partners give feedback as the work progresses. Associates had plenty of appreciation for this style of learning. One noted that “you’re learning by doing but I find the partners are committed to getting it right. They value you, it's not a place like where you're not allowed to make mistakes.” More broadly, sources praised partners for their dedication to the associate experience. One source reflected that “partners have taken an interest in making sure I'm getting the experience I want and I'm enjoying. They ask to go for lunch to talk and to check in if you’re happy and if you like what you're working on.”
“I get the sense that associates are on partnership track unless they are told otherwise."
When asked about making partner, associates weren’t super sure on what the necessary steps were. However, one observed that “I get the sense that associates are on partnership track unless they are told otherwise. The idea is we are a small group of associates so they're hoping to train people to stay at the firm.” It also didn’t preclude associates from thinking it was an attainable goal. One source quipped that there is a“better shot here than at a bigger firm from sheer numbers.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
One source was particularly frank about hours: “there's definitely a lot of them, there’s no way around it.” We heard from some that they had averaged around 215 a month in some busy periods. But it’s worth noting that it isn’t the norm and there were plenty of slower periods, depending on the type of case and the stage it's in. One associate joked that during a lull “I was playing beach volleyball at 5pm at the pier, so it depends.”
When it comes to compensation and the yearly bonus, this is totally lockstep and in line with the industry scale. Our interviewees had nothing but good things to say about this system. One commented that it was “very egalitarian”, whilst another elaborated that “I think it is personally much better for mental health. If I feel like I work more than my peers, I wouldn’t want my pay to be tied to that.” One interviewee also noted that “I don’t feel competitive with my colleagues at the firm, so it is a way of making meaningful connections.”
“The firm has people who are doing a lot of interesting things which aren’t just the work of the firm” stated one newbie. For example, we spoke to associates who were also lecturing at various universities in the US. It is definitely a place “more on the nerdy and well-rounded side" said one associate, adding that "these are people with diverse interests and backgrounds.” But though there are “lots of powerhouses at the firm,” we also heard that “people don’t take themselves too seriously and are interested in knowing others.” The secret to this? Well, one associate revealed that “the firm is careful about the culture. We are getting to be a bigger firm, but we are careful about who we send offers to, as even one person who doesn’t buy into the culture of the firm can be a problem.” Part of that has to do with the fact that the firm “commits itself strongly to not having a mercenary system” as one insider put it, so it is very much a “team and family-oriented place.” This is reflected in the way one associate felt their time was respected by people at the firm. For example, they revealed that they have “never had late phone calls or emails to bother me out of work. On a normal day I never get phone calls past 7:30pm.”
"We are getting to be a bigger firm, but we are careful about who we send offers to, as even one person who doesn’t buy into the culture of the firm can be a problem.”
Despite there being a strong culture at the firm, one source confessed that “I could see another person wanting a super outgoing culture and workplace finding it lacking.” This is because social activities could be a bit sparse, though they do take place. We were told that “people do try to get together to do drinks every few weeks or so,” and there are a few events going on in the year. We learned of a gathering in one of the founding partner’s houses with a swanky pool and boat rides as well as anniversary parties. But ultimately “there's a greater concentration of events in summer with summer associates,” which in the past have featured activities like baseball games, a boules league, lunches, and happy hours.
“Pro bono is an enormous pro of coming to HSG," one associate mused. Adding that, “I don’t know of many firms where associates are able to bring in novel and complicated litigation.” Examples of such work included injunctions on the Trump travel ban, which “came in because an associate had a connection.” Other notable work at the firm included civil rights issues in an excessive force case, as well as voting rights and prisoner litigation. Associates had the sense that they could develop key skills quite quickly taking on pro bono work.One highlighted that“I can take first deposition on pro bono cases I would get to do sooner than on paid matters such as arguing on appeal.” Moreover, they felt confident in taking on pro bono work, as “there's no conversation about it being too much, such as we aren't going to take this on because of hours.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 11,458
- Average per attorney: 159.1
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Kaminsky told us that D&I initiatives were “pretty organic for a while when we were smaller. But we have invested in a more formal structure since launching a D&I committee about five years ago.” Now, there are also a few affinity groups at the firm such as the Asian Equality Taskforce, First Generation Professionals, LGBTQIA+, and Women's Affinity Network, which we were told are well supported. One associate enthused that in the Women's affinity group, “basically every woman at the firm will go and there is lots of funding for it. We had someone from Harvard give a free session on negotiation and it was a useful thing to do with all women and different ways to approach things.” There are other initiatives such as the Lavender Law event to recruit LGBTQ students.
However, one associate argued that “it's not recruiting that’s the issue, it is retention.” Associates felt that though the junior class of associates were pretty diverse, this was not reflected on the partner level. One explained that “on pure stats, the fact we have four female partners out of 18 is not great.” But it was acknowledged that this is a “law problem in general.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
Number of OCI applicants interviewed 2023:70
HSG is now participating in OCI at select schools. In the summer, the firm also sends letters to select law reviews and journals as well as student resource and affinity groups that introduce law students to the firm. At certain schools, HSG hosts receptions for law review members to meet HSG lawyers in person. HSG is accepting resume applications from students interested in the firm’s summer associate program or for positions as full-time associates.
Successful candidates are interviewed at the firm’s New York office, meeting with between two and five partners and associates of different levels. These interviews generally take place in a single day, preferably in person—though allowance is made for remote callbacks to accommodate applicants not currently based in New York. Founding partner the Hon. Richard J. Holwell tells us the budding litigation boutique is on the hunt for “talented, creative, strategic lawyers.” Holwell also shines some light on the interview questions: “The questions we ask are geared toward confirming a candidate’s interest in litigating at a firm like ours and ensuring that we hire top talent. Our close-knit, collaborative, roll-up-your-sleeves culture is important to us, and we look for candidates who share that spirit.”
“Be yourself. We are looking for colleagues who we will enjoy working with over the long term, and the best way for us to assess that is if you are genuine and relaxed during the interview.”– Richard Holwell
“The firm has a pretty eclectic group of characters and people do well to be themselves here. So be sure to offer your opinion, whatever that may be.”– a third-year associate
Offers 2023: 13
The summer program at HSG allows summer associates to step into the shoes of first and second-year associates by working on real-world assignments like deposition preparation, drafting briefs and legal research. Each summer associate is assigned a home team so that they have the experience of attending strategy meetings and observing the arc of a case over time. However, summer associates are also encouraged to take on assignments on other cases and work with a variety of lawyers at the firm. HSG also organizes a number of social activities for summer associates, ranging from cocktail parties to baseball games, as well as a chance to attend the firm’s annual summer outing. Holwell encourages potential candidates to “make the most out of your summer, dig in to your assignments, solicit feedback, and take advantage of the opportunities we offer for you to work and socialize with a diverse group of lawyers at the firm.”
“Be confident in your abilities, make a strong personal impression, and enjoy the give and take of discussing and working through challenging issues with your colleagues.” – Richard Holwell
“Take the mask off before you come here.” – a second-year associate
The firm's founding partner leaves us with some food for thought… "HSG is a non-hierarchical meritocracy where the value of one’s ideas counts far more than one’s seniority level," Holwell suggests.
Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP
425 Lexington Avenue,
Main areas of work
Holwell Shuster & Goldberg leads—and achieves winning results—in high-impact, complex commercial disputes with the greatest financial and legal stakes. The firm specializes in the following areas of complex commercial litigation: antitrust, appellate, arbitration/mediation, bankruptcy litigation, distressed debt and fund litigation, intellectual property, pro bono, securities litigation, transnational litigation, and white collar and internal investigations.
Since its founding in 2012, HSG has become one of the most influential and respected litigation boutiques in the country. The firm is known for its ability to try high-stakes commercial cases, both domestic and multi-jurisdictional, and for the quality of its legal scholarship and writing. As the firm has cemented its capacity to handle matters of any size, it has retained characteristics important to its identity as a nimble litigation firm. HSG has likewise remained equally adept at representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and continues to offer clients and referring law firms relatively few conflicts of interest to navigate. Clients interviewed by Chambers remark that HSG lawyers “are incredibly smart, passionate and responsive,” and “are uniformly dedicated to providing the most on-point legal guidance and the highest-quality service.”
Our lawyers are the best in the business. They graduated at the top of their law school classes, and more than 70% of our partners and associates have served clerkships on domestic or international courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of our lawyers have distinguished themselves in other ways as well—in academia, industry, and prior practice at some of the nation’s finest law firms. We have an active D&I committee and are proud to celebrate our lawyers’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives. We are also deeply committed to giving back through a significant investment in pro bono work and other community initiatives.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation (Band 1)