Grit, wit, and high targets to hit: that’s what you’ll find at “litigation powerhouse” Kasowitz.
A FENCER’S foil, clenched fists, thorns on a stem, galloping racehorses and a determined dog on the chase... These are the images that greet you as you navigate the Kasowitz website. They come accompanied with words like ‘power,’ ‘relentless,’ ‘primed’ and even ‘aggressive.’ “It’s important to highlight that for clients,” says co-managing partner Albert Shemmy Mishaan, but “with respect to our working atmosphere, we couldn't be less aggressive.” Our interviewees attributed their firm’s “aggressive reputation for litigation” and outward wolverine persona to the efforts of firm founder Marc Kasowitz: “He’s always here. The name partners all work very hard.” Indeed, this is one of the few BigLaw firms where the name partners are not just memorialized in picture frames overlooking reception, but still walking the halls and hard at work on cases. Awed juniors said: “You always get a sense of when Marc Kasowitz is around because he has that presence.”
“We don’t do cookie-cutter litigation.”
The man himself was one of 19 attorneys who broke away from Mayer Brown in 1993 to create the “litigation powerhouse” that the firm is today. Chambers USA rankings particularly acknowledge the firm’s expertise in New York: its general commercial litigation know-how is ranked in ‘The Elite’ category, while its bankruptcy/restructuring, real estate and labor & employment capabilities also pick up praise. “We don’t do cookie-cutter litigation,” Mishaan says. “People come to us with problems they can’t use their normal corporate counsel to handle.” This includes the firm’s most famous client, President Trump, whom the firm has represented for many years in relation to his private business affairs. From the associate perspective, “I hear about him almost none of the time at work. If you voice your concern about working on something, they’d never force you to betray your values.” Ultimately they felt the firm’s connection with Trump was “a ‘prisoner of the headlines’ situation. Certain clients are at one end of the political spectrum, while others are at the opposite and they get more press.” A less controversial headline for Kasowitz of late is the opening of its newest office in Aspen. It joins Atlanta, Houston, LA, Miami, Newark, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Washington as the tenth base in the network of this “heavily New York focused firm.” All juniors on our list were hired into the Big Apple office; the remaining offices have a lawyer headcount totaling around 60.
Strategy & Future
Mishaan explains the decision to open in Colorado: “There are very few national firms that have an Aspen presence. Given that fact and the number of prominent people who have businesses there, it seemed like a great opportunity.”
Mishaan continues: “We’re a national and these days often international firm. We’re very focused on every aspect of litigation, mostly civil and commercial, but we certainly do a substantial amount of white-collar and SEC work. Really our litigation our practice runs the gamut of everything that’s out there. Our main standalone transactional department is real estate and it has been growing.” For more from Mishaan and fellow co-managing partner Cindy Kelly click the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
Threeout of the 16 juniors on our list were in the real estate group – the rest were litigators. Three work assignment coordinators oversee associates’ workflow via a weekly questionnaire. Associates said that the setup provided a “great way to get exposed to different partners” and that for first-years in particular it was “invaluable to put yourself out there and get to know people – you’ll open doors to getting good assignments.” Kasowitz attorneys tackle complex commercial litigation cases and for the most part, “the population is generalist.” Between them our sources had worked on litigation arising from an array of contract, real estate, securities, employment, bankruptcy, criminal defense, software, and insurance issues. The breadth of opportunities is even larger, covering anything from family law to government, investigations and white collar.
“Even though they were in first year they got to second-chair depositions.”
“I like to nerd out and do research,” one source told us, which is fortunate given that it was a staple junior task for many of our interviewees. “It’s by and large what I do,” chimed in another litigator. “Then I’ll present on a topic, like whether or not we should retain a certain expert based on their past reports.” For others, research “isn’t the crux of what I do. I do a lot of writing.” Sources got chances to “take first drafts of complaints and answers, summary judgment briefs, small motions, and parts of bigger motions.” On the flip side, there are times “where I’ll do doc review for a couple of weeks and feel a little bored – but if there’s nothing to draft then everyone is doing doc review!” Sources felt that getting higher responsibilities could sometimes come down to simply being in the right place at the right time: “One of us got put on a very accelerated trial team. The case was in the middle of discovery, so even though they were in first year they got to second-chair depositions. Because of that they got to second-chair the trial. I’m not sure they would have gotten the same experience had they not been on that trial.”
Several juniors had “worked indirectly” with the name partners. “They are visible and actively involved in cases at a senior level. I wouldn’t say all juniors are working with them day-to-day, but a colleague works with Hector Torres all the time!” Seeing Marc Kasowitz in action was deemed a good way to learn: “I was in on a call with him. His level of experience comes through almost immediately; it’s clear he’s seen so many types of cases and cuts through to what’s important.”
Litigation clients: Fairfax Financial Holdings, Trump and National Grid. Defended concert promoter Joseph Meli during a case involving an allegedly fraudulent scheme centered on nonexistent tickets for Hamilton and for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Hours & Compensation
Kasowitz’s 2,150-hour billing target is one of the highest you’ll find among the firms in our guide, but that does include significant pro bono and BD allowances. “When you’re first starting out it’s a scary number,” associates admitted, but overall they agreed that “it’s not insurmountable” give or take “a few late nights and weekends” spent working. “I’ve already surpassed it by a sizable amount. That’s not to say it’s been super relaxing.” Of course not: “It’s New York litigation and you get what you pick.” So be aware that when you choose Kasowitz you might also be choosing to work upwards of 14 hours per day during the busy times – and that’s just the time spent doing billable work – but the firm promotes a flexible working model. Conversely, during a slow period “I’d be billing between six and eight hours a day.”
“They’re an aggressive firm setting an aggressive rate.”
With bonuses, “no one is trying to nickel and dime you” if you don’t quite meet the hours, as performance evaluations are taken into account too. There’s no short-changing with the salary either. Kasowitz went above market in the last bump to $195,000 for first-years. “It was definitely an amazing email to get,” associates recalled. “They’re an aggressive firm setting an aggressive rate. They’re looking for top-notch litigators and that’s the way to stay competitive.”
“People want to make sure you really are interested in litigation and not just saying so because you want another offer.” Make sure you have your case prepared by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above for more advice on impressing at interview.
Kasowitz might embrace the word ‘aggressive’ when it comes to marketing its litigation style, but when it came to pinning down the office atmosphere, associates said “people are friendly to everyone from the mail room staff up to the partners.” Even the toughest nuts would surely crumble on the firm’s monthly ‘cake day,’ which celebrates all the attorneys’ birthdays that have occurred during that month: “It’s not like it’s camp or anything, but they try to make it a little exciting. There are probably ten or 15 cakes and everyone comes to have a piece.” Keeping the real estate team sweet was the annual summer outing to department head Wally Schwartz’s home: “We play softball and tennis and hang out. Families come too, and Wally always says it’s really a thank you event for them, because we can’t do what we do without a great support system. Their recognition of that speaks volumes.”
“I’ll be here at 10pm or 11pm and Marc Kasowitz will walk by and be like, ‘Don’t stay too late!’”
With some long working hours on the cards, associates appreciated that “people are not monitoring you when you walk in and clock out. It’s an honor system.” During busy times, “I’llbe here at 10pm or 11pm and Marc Kasowitz will walk by and be like, ‘Don’t stay too late!’ He isn’t so buttoned up and that trickles down.” The firm has a business formal dress code, “but it’s not reflected in people’s attitudes.” Associates subsequently described Kasowitz as “a small BigLaw firm. People know everyone, and that facilitates people being more comfortable.” The firm’s “outgoing” side manifests itself in the widely held attitude toward work: “People like it when you say yes to something, even if you go back to the office and go, ‘OMG, how am I gonna do this?’” Moments like those are “indicative of the firm’s dedication to developing juniors, by allowing us to spread our wings and take on tasks that are normally reserved for more senior people.”
All first-years get “an introduction to firm culture” via the firm’s official junior training program, Kasowitz University (KU). Over the first few months, the “onboarding process” takes juniors through litigation procedure with various assignments, based around tasks like “writing a complaint, making requests for production and formulating responses to objections.” Associates found it “incredibly beneficial because it allows people to be creative and feel comfortable in the knowledge that it isn’t going to a partner for a ‘real’ case.” It did mean learning to juggle training with other duties though: “I asked for a bunch of extensions!”
Commenting on the most recent round of partner promotions, associates were encouraged that “a lot of them had summered at the firm and plugged away at it here for seven or eight years. If you make a name for yourself then it’s absolutely attainable.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“On a general basis women are well represented in the workforce,” said associates, “but when you start to look at people in the upper class years you’re kinda like, ‘Oh, where are the women?’” The women we spoke to felt there was still support from above, however: “I work for a number of women partners and seniors, which I appreciate. It’s great to have that mentorship.”
At a broader level, associates appreciated that the firm had been “having meetings with other organizations about making Kasowitz a more attractive landing spot” for diverse candidates. Among the organizations that Kasowitz supports are The Cuban American Bar Association, The Puerto Rican Bar Association, California Minority Counsel Program and the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.
There’s no cap on the number of pro bono hours associates can bill, which was “a silver lining for juniors.” Matters come via either the formal assignment system (just like chargeable work) or through certain partners. “Immigration and asylum matters have been focuses for us,” said one junior. One particular highlight saw an associate “getting to draft a large portion of an appellate brief in the first instance. It was obviously reviewed later on!”
The beneficiaries of the firm's pro bono work come from a broad range of backgrounds and causes, such as the Legal Aid Society, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Her Justice, Sanctuary for Families and Disability Rights Advocates, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and Human Rights First.
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 13,874
- Average per US attorney: 53.4
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 155
Interviewees outside OCI: 8
Kasowitz conducts OCIs at eight law schools and sees about 21 students at each of them. The firm also attends the Northeast BLSA Job Fair, considers applications from a limited number of resume drops (schools vary year to year), and accepts direct submissions from law students and judicial clerks. The majority of the schools Kasowitz attends for OCIs are in the northeast, and associates commented that “no matter where people went to school, everyone is very confident in this job.”
Where possible, the firm tries to send senior associates and partners who are alumni of the law school to conduct the OCIs. Co-managing partners Cindy Caranella Kelly and Albert Shemmy Mishaan tell us: “We ask questions to get to know the prospective associate and learn about their goals and motivation in becoming a lawyer.” Among other attributes, interviewers look out for prior leadership experience and a demonstrated interest in litigation.
Top tips for this stage:
“Be confident, have interests outside the law and express your interest in litigation.” – co-managing partners Cindy Caranella Kelly and Albert Shemmy Mishaan
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 60
Candidates will typically face three or four interviews during the callback, conducted by a mix of partners, counsel and associates. They’ll be given the option of attending a lunch during their callback to meet with junior associates in a more informal setting. Questions focus on determining if a candidate’s skills, abilities and character match the firm’s culture. Kelly and Mishaan say “our attorneys encourage a dialogue throughout the interview so we get to know the prospective associate and vice versa.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Kasowitz is looking for people who are outgoing and friendly to everyone from the mail room to the partners they meet at their callbacks.” – a first-year junior associate
“People want to make sure you really are interested in litigation and not just saying so because you want another offer.” – a first-year junior associate
“Know how to maintain eye contact and ask questions if the conversation lulls a little.” – a first-year junior associate
“Exemplify good character -- this is very important to the firm’s culture.” – co-managing partners Cindy Caranella Kelly and Albert Shemmy Mishaan
Kasowitz’s summer program has no formal rotation system in place. Instead, summer associates are assigned a work assignment coordinator who oversees their work flow throughout the program. They can request assignments from practice areas of their interest, which may be assigned subject to availability. Summers also participate in formal training programs, a partner lunch series and a mentor program. Kelly and Mishaan say that “summer associates learn first-hand about trying cases, drafting legal documents, motions and agreements, and are exposed to courtroom appearances, depositions and client meetings.” A current junior concurred: “They do a really great job of giving summers substantive work that truly winds up getting used in a real way. It made me so excited to come back!”
Most incoming junior associates train and practice in general litigation, but there have been instances in which an incoming associate has gone directly to a specialty department, based on interest or need. “Over the past three years, almost all of our summer associates have returned as permanent associates,” Kelly and Mishaan tell us.
Top tips for this stage:
“If someone asks you to do something, even if it seems super daunting, your answer is, ‘Yeah sure.’” – a first-year junior associate
“People who say, ‘I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna push myself and do my best’ are the kind of people who do well here.” – a first-year junior associate
“Make an effort to learn about key cases that the firm is working on, not just your own.” – co-managing partners Cindy Caranella Kelly and Albert Shemmy Mishaan
Summers can get involved with charitable events the firm sets up through organizations such as ‘Citymeals-on-Wheels Eat Cheap for Charity,’ Sanctuary for Families and St. Luke’s Soup Kitchen.
Interview with co-managing partners Cindy Kelly & Albert Shemmy Mishaan
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our student readers?
(Albert) Shemmy Mishaan: We’re a national and these days often an international firm. We’re very focused on every aspect of litigation, mostly civil and commercial, but we certainly do a substantial amount of white-collar and SEC work. Really our litigation practice runs the gamut of everything that’s out there. Our main standalone transactional department is real estate and it has been significantly growing. It has really great synergies with our litigation practice and our real estate litigation practice, which was already substantial even before the transactional group joined.
In terms of the cases we handle, we are comparable to all the major full service firms. In fact, our litigation practice is more robust than all but a handful of firms in the world. In terms of litigation focused firms the obvious competitors we usually hear are Boies and Quinn Emanuel. But we are one of the top litigation firms around, if not the top.
Cindy Kelly: Since we spoke last year we’ve had a very strong year. We’ve had some high-profile successes in terms of trials, and our recruiting has been very successful. We’ve had a steady influx of candidates, so from my perspective, recruiting has never been stronger. Once again, we were happy to extend offers to all summer associates. They were very high-performing over the summer, they really fit in with the culture of the firm, and on all accounts they had great experiences, so I think the firm has had a successful twelve months.
CA: Which work highlights would you like to point out from the last twelve months?
Cindy: We recently had a large trial victory for Fairfax, the largest insurance company in Canada. We had an $11 million jury award, all on the heels of a $20 million pretrial settlement. That case has been going on for some time and it was a huge success for the client. We’ve also been handling restructuring matters for J. Crew and creditors for Nine West. We continue to represent one of the largest automobile manufacturers in connection with antitrust recoveries. You may have also seen Kasowitz has opened an Aspen office, led by David Bovino.
CA: What was behind the decision to open in Aspen?
Shemmy: First of all, we’ve been working with David on matters for years, so we know him very well and he’s a notable lawyer in the Aspen market. There really are very few national firms that have an Aspen presence, and given that fact and the number of prominent people who spend time in Aspen and have businesses there, it seemed like a great opportunity. We really think it’s going to be a situation that is much greater than the size of the office that will help to expand our franchise. And it’s our first foothold in the middle of the country, so we think it’s going to be great.
CA: Are there any broader trends (whether political, economic, technological, sector-specific) that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in by the firm?
Shemmy: It’s a very dynamic situation both in the financial and the business world. We are dealing with a lot of legal changes, and changes in enforcement priorities in the US and throughout the world, so that presents a lot of challenges for our clients. There’s been substantial activity on the antitrust front. That’s a complex area of law, but certainly a growing challenge for a lot of clients.
CA: Let’s talk about the firm’s most famous client – President Trump. It’s obviously been a controversial couple of years for the President. For the students whose politics don’t align with Trump’s and who might be wavering on whether Kasowitz is right for them, what’s your message?
Shemmy: We are a large multi-faceted law firm with a lot of clients. We’ve represented Mr. Trump for many years in his private business. We are very dedicated to all our clients and we help out with the legal challenges they face. He’s no different. We don’t think it’s an issue for people here in their day-to-day practices.
Cindy: I echo that 100%. I’ve never seen it as an issue for summers or first-year associates. The fact is we have attorneys and partners here across the political spectrum. We’re certainly not a Republican or a Democratic firm. If you sat down with lawyers you’d find we cover the gamut. I don’t think there’s any lawyer who comes here who feels uncomfortable with the fact we are representing the President. It’s a non-issue.
CA: Looking firstly to the next 12 months, have you earmarked any particular area of work or any particular office for growth?
Shemmy: We just added a new restructuring partner in Houston, so that office is growing. Our LA office is growing, our DC office is very active with Senator Lieberman. And then our core New York litigation and real estate practices have been expanded. We just brought in a new IP partner focused on Hatch-Waxman litigation in New York and he’s going to substantially grow his practice over the next few years.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
Shemmy: We are on a growth trajectory now. I think the state of the economy is such that we’re in a period of increasing finance-related litigation. There’s a little more volatility and uncertainty, and there’s probably going to be fair amount of finance-related litigation over the next five years or so. And that will help bolster our restructuring practice as well as the general litigation atmosphere.
CA: You’ve got the words creative, relentless and even aggressive emblazoned on the website. Aggressive is quite an imposing word, what do you mean by that?
Shemmy: We are aggressive for our clients in servicing their legal needs. We don’t do cookie-cutter litigation. People come to us with problems they can’t use their normal corporate counsel to handle. They come to us when they really need someone to help them figure out a difficult situation. That’s where they need someone who’s creative and aggressive, so it’s important to highlight that for clients.
With respect to our working atmosphere, we couldn't be less aggressive, frankly. I think people who spend their career here and end up elsewhere for whatever reason are startled to see what the rest of the legal world is like. They don’t fully appreciate just what kind of culture we have.
Cindy: People who come as laterals are quite pleasantly surprised by the culture as well. They didn’t know they could find it in their practice in New York City.
Shemmy: The office culture here and among lawyers, whether associates, partners, counsel or non-legal staff is remarkable. It’s an easy and friendly place. There’s very little standing on ceremony, and when people are uncomfortable with an issue, they are very comfortable talking about and raising it. And we work together to make sure everyone is having a good experience.
Cindy: When I interview potential laterals, the example I give is this: I work on very big teams, and if you ask me which years the associates are on my team, I don’t know, because everyone in the room is equal. Everyone is participating in the same way; contributing creative solutions, ideas, and thoughts. There’s no emphasis on someone being treated as junior or more senior. It’s very much a group effort.
Shemmy: And in terms of speaking to law students and potential junior associates who might be thinking of coming here, one way in which the aggressive aspect of our practice translates into their practice is the amount of responsibility they receive. Sometimes it’s a little surprising to people once they’re assigned to something. People will want to know what you think, they want your views, opinions and analyses. They don’t want you to just churn out some very basic work product and move on. You’re really acting like a lawyer from day one, and having spent seven years at a Wall Street firm I can tell you that’s not a universal experience.
CA: What advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
Cindy: My advice is to look at the culture of the firm, not only look at the name, but to really take that opportunity to learn about the culture; where do they see themselves not just in one year but hopefully where they see themselves in five or ten years, professionally and also personally. Sometimes they’re short-sighted there. I tell them to really get to know people at the firm, go back even two or three times with an eye toward the culture of the firm.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Partners US: 90
- Associates US: 176
- Main recruitment contact: Mindy J Lindenman, Director of Legal Recruiting & Training and Development
- Hiring partner: Cindy Caranella Kelly
- Diversity officer: Hector Torres, Chair; Jennifer Mercado, Training & Development Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 11
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 9
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: NY 9
- Summer salary 2019: 2Ls: $3,750/week
- Split summers offered? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, Howard, NYU, NEBLSA Job Fair, and Penn.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Review all applications received through our online portal. Resume collects.
Summer associate profile:
Strong academic achievement, prior work and leadership experience. Outstanding judgment, character and personal skills. Demonstrated interest in litigation (participation in Moot Court, Law Review and/or other journals preferred).
Summer program components:
We provide our Summer Associates with quality work assignments and professional experiences reflecting the breadth and complexity of our firm. Summer Associates 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 an associate mentor program.
Summer Associates also attend weekly work assignment meetings, receive ongoing feedback and are provided mid and exit reviews from the lawyers with whom they work. Summer Associates have the opportunity to work on firm pro bono matters and participate in offsite programs offered by legal services organizations, such as The Legal Aid Society, Sanctuary for Families, and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
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. The firm also coordinates a Women’s Initiative event and charitable events during Give Back week through Citymeals-on-Wheels ‘Eat Cheap for Charity’, Sanctuary for Families and St. Luke’s Soup Kitchen.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs Spotlight Table