Aggressive with the opposition, but “very warm” to new additions – meet “litigation powerhouse” Kasowitz.
Hearkening back to their student days, one of the Kasowitz juniors recalled, “The feedback I got about the firm is that they’re aggressive litigators, and that there’s a reaction when you see Kasowitz representing the other side.” A firm’s outward reputation, of course, is just part of the story, as this interviewee discovered: “I got a sense the firm was aggressive before I joined, but I couldn’t have felt more welcome. The aggressive nature is triggered in court!” We’d expect nothing less from “a litigation powerhouse” like Kasowitz, which prides itself on acting for both the plaintiff and defendant side.
The firm sits in a niche category of New York litigation firms, achieving a top ranking in the state from Chambers USA for general commercial litigation. It’s also top-ranked for real estate litigation and gets recognition for its antitrust practice. As co-managing partner Shemmy Mishaan tells us, “we’re right there with the leaders in litigation, and that’s become more important as big full-service firms are focusing more on corporate.”
Interviewees were satisfied with the spread of work on offer under the litigation banner. “From real estate to energy, and white-collar and healthcare, I’m not shoehorned into an industry niche,” said one. “We practice across industries and aid different clients.” With past and present clients including ex-presidents and Fortune 500 companies, juniors found plenty to sink their teeth into.
“Kasowitz is a very small and partner-heavy law firm.”
The firm actually has ten offices across the US, but all first years join the NY HQ. With just under 200 attorneys in total, associates were encouraged by what that could mean for getting hands-on work. “I wanted to dive in,” said one, “and Kasowitz is a very small and partner-heavy law firm” – for every one partner, there are no more than two associates.
Speaking on associate development, co-managing partner Cindy Kelly says “our focus on litigation gives us the BigLaw clients, but without the Biglaw hierarchy.” She also highlights the firm’s “commitment to associate growth. We don’t aim to use them up until they burn out. We want them to stay with us and be great lawyers.”
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partners Shemmy Mishaan and Cindy Kelly tell us about the types of work keeping Kasowitz busy at the moment. “Real estate litigation is super busy presently and we expect it to get busier, especially as the economy gets choppier,” says Mishaan. “The antitrust world has become more interesting with the new administration in Washington. Our IP litigation practice has really emerged as a super busy area too. Financial regulatory is picking up too as regulators in the US and the world are throwing their weight around.”
Kelly adds: “We brought on a couple of partners that are focused on international private client work which gives us another dimension, and we hope to build that over the next couple of years.” The firm doesn’t have any international offices at the moment, but Mishaan and Kelly hinted that a possible opening in London could be on the cards.
Most juniors join the firm as generalists and stay that way as they progress. “I can dabble in many areas and gather strength in the foundational skills of litigation, regardless of the clients I’m representing,” one explained. There is an opportunity to specialize if so desired, with a smattering of juniors focusing their practices on matrimonial, IP, bankruptcy and employment matters.
The firm’s work assignment group (which is made up of partners) gets staffing requests from teams across the firm. “For example, one request could be: ‘A second-year or above for 15 hours a week,’” a junior explained. “Then, dependent on your capacity, you’ll agree.” Associates thought it worked well. “As a first year, you’ll get appropriate matters this way, but it’s also good to start building a rapport.” We heard “not all partners use the work assignment method,” and as an associate, “you can literally knock on a partner’s door and ask if they have a matter for you.”
In addition to traditional commercial litigation, the firm deals with antitrust, defamation, white-collar, and employment cases. “There is a pretty good mix of clients,” said associates. “Real estate companies are one of our biggest ones. With real estate projects, you’re often dealing with brokers acting out of line, so their employment is in jeopardy.” Associates were also kept busy on mortgage-backed securities cases. And then there are financial institutions, hedge fund groups and some Fortune 500 companies on the books. “The matrimonial and white-collar groups work with high-net-worth individuals too.”
“I’ve been cast on everything – filing briefs, participating in client briefs, analysis, depositions… all from within weeks of being onboarded.”
On smaller matters, “you’re going to be the only associate. On others, there’ll be two or three associates and a partner, and on longer matters it can be two partners, two special counsel, two to three mid-levels and the same number of juniors.” One seasoned associate told us “I prefer to work with smaller clients as I’m likely to get a lot more autonomy on those. As a junior, you can take the ropes in those cases, like take depositions very early on.”
“Generally, first-years get doc review and research tasks,” but it’s not uncommon for that initial year to also include some more advanced work. “I’ve been cast on everything – filing briefs, participating in client briefs, analysis, depositions… all from within weeks of being onboarded.” This tallied with another interviewee’s experience: “I was put on a trial within my first month. That trial prep took up a lot of my year.” Juniors also told us that they had the chance to draft here and there in their first year. “Half a motion, memorandums…” one listed off. “A lot of it was legal research.” As they progressed, the drafting amped up a notch: “I’m drafting materials with a lot of autonomy,” one shared. “It’s a pretty quick learning curve, but it’s a Biglaw firm – they don’t let anything go out that isn’t perfect.” It can’t be star-studded work all the time. “I have been stuck on doc review for months too!”
Litigation clients: Teva Pharmaceuticals, InterContinental Hotels, The State of Hawaii, tobacco company Liggett Group. The firm recovered damages for Ford in an investigation into price-fixing against more than 90 automotive parts suppliers.
As associates established, “we work super closely with partners in every case” to learn on the job. In addition, “we do have a formal mentorship with a professional development committee,” which circulates training materials. “I’m an associate mentor itself!” an interviewee shared.
“You’re not competing with 200 people.”
“Being partner does feel attainable,” our interviewees voiced. “You’re not competing with 200 people. You’re working cooperatively with ten, and the firm will make eight or nine partner if they’re capable. It’s not a competition.” In terms of what it takes to make it, “They choose partners based on clear stuff, like, they do good work, they’ve been here for however long, and they have good relationships.” Not everyone was quite so sure, however: “It’s not really transparent what it requires, other than you need to make those connections early on. A lot of it is about networking, but there a lot of partners who would go to bat for you.” The firm told us that they're taken this feedback seriously over the years and are more transparent than they used to be. Associates also had the sense that they need to be vocal about their aspirations, with one advising, “If you make it known what you want in your career, they will steer you that way.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“We make a lot of effort,” associates felt. One noted that “diversity is key in recruitment.” As one example, the firm participates in the New York City Bar’s Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program, which is aimed at hiring diverse students into their summer program.
The firm’s diversity committee is open to all associates. “This continues to be very important to us,” says Kelly. Then there’s the Pathfinder Program, an external networking/leadership development course run by the Leadership Council for Legal Diversity which associates can request to be put on. Back in the firm, Kelly says, “We have a monthly meeting with associates to ask what is important to them, and to find out what type of innovations and mentorships they’re looking for.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: No requirement
Juniors were pleased to report “the firm has no shortage of work.” Although, “without boundaries, this can lead to 300-hour months!” When getting stuck into the work day-to-day, “the hours vary.” As one put it, “if there isn’t a trial, then it’s up to me” to make up hours.
When the going got tough for another interviewee, “I was working ten hours a day, seven days a week! But partners do try to manage expectations as much as possible, so you’re not working unpredictable, tough hours.” Another plus is that “everything counts toward your billables!” So that’s pro bono, mentoring, recruitment, training, and business development activities. As for working patterns, “it’s three days a week back into the office, but it’s loosely enforced.”
“Outwardly, to other firms, we present ourselves as aggressive.”
We also heard the “policy has loosened recently” around billables and bonuses, so the firm no longer has a billable hour target. Bonuses are allocated based on merit and individual performance. While associates were grateful for the flexibility, they had the impression that “the firm isn’t as transparent as others” when it came to bonuses. “It is review-based,” they agreed. “They want good work product.”
“Outwardly, to other firms, we present ourselves as aggressive,” associates admitted. Indeed, when you go onto the firm’s website, you’ll literally see the word ‘aggressive’ emblazoned on one of the header images (alongside ‘creative’ and ‘relentless’ too). “That aggression is because we care about our clients, but internally it’s a very warm culture. Everyone looks out for each other.” For example, “one first year took vacation and something they were working on hit the fan, but a class member took it upon themselves to put the fire out.”
And there was plenty of support from partners too, as this associate shared: “I’ve had calls with opposing counsel where they were making ridiculous claims, and I chimed in with the total backing of the partner. They really backed my corner.”
But as you’ll find in BigLaw, “some partners are intense. I’m one of those people that doesn’t think intensity helps with productivity, and you can network yourself into teams that believe that too.” Associates have plenty of opportunities to sharpen their networking skills: “They have a bunch of events at the firm – we had a holiday event and drinks today.” Although, one grumbled, “we didn’t have a Christmas party.” Generally, we heard “there is comradery on your team. We get drinks after work and chit chat.”
If associates had one sticking point it was around transparency at the firm. “It takes work to find out what kind of things are happening,” one said. “Apart from an occasional email, updates come from office rumblings.”
Associates were quick to praise the firm’s pro bono committee chair, David Abrams, for his enthusiasm, and the firm’s many connections with charities and organizations like Human Rights First, Sanctuary for Families, The Legal Aid Society, Kids in Need of Defense and Disability Rights Advocates. “David runs pro bono amazingly and encourages first-years to take it early on! I don’t know anyone that isn’t involved.” Cases concerning transgender rights, asylum issues, landlord and tenant matters and unemployment benefits “in the tens of thousands” were all on the cards for our interviewees. Plus, “the firm will align your interests with pro bono opportunities and is open to you bringing in new stuff that you’re interested in.” And remember, all pro bono hours can count toward billables.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP
Main areas of work:
Kasowitz is ranked third on The American Lawyer’s annual Diversity Scorecard. We believe the health and well-being of our lawyers and business professionals are crucial for the success of our firm, and the firm is a signatory of the ABA’s Well-Being Pledge.
Columbia, Fordham, NYU, and NEBLSA Job Fair
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume collects: Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Northwestern, University of Chicago Law School, University of Michigan Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School and University of Virginia Law School. In addition, we review all applications received through our online portal.
Summer associate profile: We seek applicants from all backgrounds with a demonstrated interest in litigation who want to assume significant responsibility early in their careers. As a litigation firm, we look for candidates who are creative, independent thinkers and who are intellectually curious with the drive and motivation to litigate in and out of the courtroom. We require the highest level of academic achievement, writing ability and prior work/leadership experience. Judicial Clerkships, Law Review, Moot Court and Trial Advocacy are looked upon favourably. Candidates should possess outstanding judgment, strong character and exceptional interpersonal skills.
Summer program components: We provide our Summer Associates with quality work assignments and professional experiences reflecting the breadth and complexity of our firm. They learn first-hand about trying cases and drafting legal documents, motions and agreements, and are exposed to courtroom appearances, depositions and client meetings. Summer Associates participate in formal training programs, a partner lunch series and mentor program. They attend weekly work assignment meetings, receive ongoing feedback and are provided mid and exit reviews. The Firm provides opportunities to work on pro bono matters and participate in offsite programs offered by legal services organizations, such as Sanctuary for Families, and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Summer Associates participate in various programs held by firm committees, including but not limited to: Associates, Diversity, Wellness, and Women’s Initiatives, providing exposure to the firm’s commitment and ways in which they can ultimately get involved and have a voice. We sponsor a variety of social and cultural events, providing Summer Associates the opportunity to get to know each other and our lawyers in an informal environment. Over the past few years the Firm has coordinated charitable events during the Summer Program, we have partnered with Citymeals-on-Wheels, The Law Institute at John Dewey High School, Sanctuary for Families and St. Luke’s Soup Kitchen.
Linkedin: Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Litigation (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation (Band 1)