Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP - The Inside View

Lean, mean, courtroom wolverine Kasowitz should appeal to bold, dynamic and proactive types.

TOUGH as nails Kasowitz's aggressive litigation stance has put it firmly on the map. Its formidable courtroom approach attracts go-getting, self-assured associates; there's no room for the timid among this bunch. The eponymous Marc Kasowitz heads up the New York-centered firm, which recently grabbed a lot of headlines in the run up to the US presidential election thanks to its longtime representation of Donald Trump. The litigation shop could often be found fighting Trump's corner in thorny legal battles or defamation suits; Marc Kasowitz wrote that letter to the New York Times demanding the retraction of an article about an alleged groping incident. Name partner David Friedman was also recently appointed by Trump as the US Ambassador to Israel, described by associates as “very exciting.” As a result of Friedman's departure, in late March 2017 Kasowitz was renamed Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.

Chambers USA counts Kasowitz among 'The Elite' for its general commercial litigation offering in New York. The firm also has corporate and real estate practices. Nearly all of Kasowitz's juniors are swallowed up by the firm's commercial litigation practice where they tackle anything from business disputes, antitrust, IP, securities to product liability.  A handful of juniors join transactional practice areas – like IP, real estate, bankruptcy, and employment – but are usually put there because of prior work experience or educational background.

The Work



Every Monday rookies fill out a drop-down box, indicating their active matters, what they're working on and future availability. Two assignment partners oversee this process: “They often funnel work to you if they know you have an interest in a certain area.” Many of our sources were comfortable reaching out to other partners directly for work.

“It's been hectic the entire time but I've loved it.”

A few years back the firm laid off a number of associates, and consequently when the current crop of rookies arrived “everything was scarcely staffed, so in three to four months we were drafting papers to court and doing pretty substantial legal stuff,” one source told us. Another added: “It's been hectic the entire time but I've loved it.”

Interviewees attached to smaller cases dove into legal research and writing motions, briefs and complaints. “On some of the bigger staffed cases I'm still doing research and writing, but there are more layers of attorneys to go through,” one source reported. Numerous sources had second chaired depositions or trotted down to court “a bunch of times; I don't speak but I get to sit in on oral arguments.” We even heard a few sources had the chance “to prep Marc Kasowitz on an oral argument. I had to understand the facts, get into the weeds better than anyone else and answer his questions. He was relying on me to have the answer – that was a highlight!”

While juniors do have the chance to get their teeth into meatier matters, we'd be remiss not to point out they do “experience more mundane tasks.” Interviewees had come across  “a lot of discovery and doc review, or responding to and drafting discovery requests.” As a result of “handling everything top to bottom,” juniors find themselves switching gears pretty often: “One minute you're fielding client phone calls and the next, photocopying.”

Training & Development



As a result of the firm “being on the lean side, they need to get associates out the gate and running” from the get-go. New starters enroll at 'Kasowitz University' where they're “brought up to speed on everything that goes into litigating a case.” Everyone's assigned to a fictional case where they're tasked with things like carrying out the discovery process, writing complaints and responses, exchanging interrogatories and conducting mock depositions and arguments. “You sit down with partners and you get line by line, point by point feedback for each assignment.” Beyond Kasowitz University, juniors can attend CLEs.

A couple of years back the firm revamped its review process after juniors claimed confusion over bonus calculations. The review now takes place in March so there's “more of a connection in an associate's mind between their review and their bonus.” Juniors fill out a self assessment which is submitted to partners they've worked with. These partners then weigh in on rookies' performances and once everything's been collated, reviews are delivered by a partner associates haven't worked with.

Outside the formal process juniors were quick to reach out to partners for advice on their progress, telling us “the firm attracts litigators and big personalities; the people who come here are the type who seek out feedback anyway.” Not that they always need to seek it out: “People aren't afraid to tell you how they feel about the work. They don't try hard to hide it if they feel you should have done something different or need to hone your skills.”

Offices & Culture



Self-confidence is a fairly common trait among Kasowitz juniors: “They won't babysit you. If you're not outgoing it's not a problem but it's a bit more difficult to succeed. You've got to take the bull by the horns and manage your own career trajectory; I think that plays into the free market system. You've got to look out for yourself and take charge of what you do.” Consequently the firm “attracts people who are go-getters and aggressive.” That's less toward their colleagues, interviewees were keen to add, and more to do with the firm's “litigation style. We've got to be aggressive in creating solutions.” Sources also painted the firm as “pretty tight knit” and somewhere “people ask you about your life. We focus on more than work.”

“Sit in client meetings with Marc Kasowitz himself.”

Having the name partners on site creates “a bit of a unique culture. All four founders are practicing here and are really invested in the firm. It's pretty cool to see them and be able to sit in client meetings with Marc Kasowitz himself. People really buy into what the founding partners' vision of the firm is and understand that Marc runs the show,” one interviewee reckoned.

Most of the firm's junior associates are based in the firm's New York mothership, though a handful are scattered across other bases. Kasowitz has built up a national network of offices over the years, spanning California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and Washington, DC.

New York newbies start out sharing an internal office, before getting their own (still internal) digs in second-year. After that they graduate to a window office. “It's my biggest gripe,” said one source. “I loved sharing but it's no fun having no windows.”

Hours & Pro Bono



Unofficially attorneys are tasked with getting 2,150 billable hours under their belt. This can include pro bono, business development and recruiting hours. Bonuses are calculated by a combination of hours and reviews; doing well in both affords attorneys a full bonus. Reviews are conducted close to bonus payouts, to give juniors a better understanding of the amount they receive. 

"You have to learn to take advantage of the quiet times and not feel guilty.”

One source told us: “We've been so incredibly busy that you don't even have to think about hours as they happen on their own. There are times when you actively need to take time off to spend with your friends and family and take a breather.” That said, juniors did note that as the firm has brought on a few more associates, recently “it's become more manageable” and “face time is really not pivotal,” so they don't need to be stuck in the office at all hours.

Our sources tended to rack up about ten hours a day in the office, plus some evening and weekend work but “as we're a litigation shop, every month just varies so wildly. You have to learn to take advantage of the quiet times and not feel guilty.”

Perhaps as a result of all this work, we were hard pushed to come across rookies who completed much, or any, pro bono. “It's widely available,” one such source explained, “but it can take quite a bit to balance pro bono work with normal cases.” While there might not be much take up, there is “something for everyone. You can work on anything you can think of, like asylum matters or advocating on behalf of students and educational resources. If you reach out to the pro bono partner, he'll make contact with organizations.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 9,903
  • Average per attorney: 38

Diversity



Juniors reckoned that diversity at the firm leaves “room for improvement.” One interviewee described their class as “mostly white men,” though others felt there was “a nice representation” of female associates. Women make up less than half the associate ranks while minority attorneys count for 16% of the associates. All that said, we should note that of the seven attorneys promoted to partner in 2016, four of them were women. And “in the last few years it seems like there's been more of a push in our summer and incoming classes for diversity,” one source reckoned. “It's moving in the right direction but we could do better.” The firm points out that of the eight current first-years, three are diverse.

The firm supports minority organizations (such as the Cuban American Bar Association and the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association) and sponsors a variety of networking events. It also recently introduced a women's committee.

Strategy & Future



Kasowitz sees no reason to deviate from its litigation focus; the firm reckons it will continue to expand its work in privacy, IP, banking, antitrust, and white collar.

In the past we've heard from associates that the firm keeps its cards pretty close to the vest when it comes to the game plan. Some reckoned this was still the case: “When big decisions are made they email us but I'm not in the inner circle where things are going on – it's tight knit at the top.” Others felt they were kept relatively well informed: “We have a committee that liaises with partners and passes along information. We were in the news a bit with the Presidential election and Marc Kasowitz was good at getting out in front and talking to associates and partners about what was going on.”

 

Associates give us their hiring tips



Kasowitz is also a place where “a lot of people exude confidence. This is the kind of place where Marc Kasowitz makes chit chat with you. If that scares you, this isn't the place for you. If working for a high powered partner puts you out of your comfort zone, this isn't the place for you but if you're willing to give your all and speak up, you can be really successful here,” one interviewee outlined. “Since juniors are given a lot of responsibility it's really important you can conduct yourself like an adult, speak clearly and give off an aura of confidence.”

You'll also find “a lot of people who really like to write and take pride in it,” one source noted, though another was quick to add: “Maybe you can write like Hemingway but you need to be someone who can handle the social ways here too. You have to be normal and hold a conversation. It never ceases to amaze me the number of law students who aren't adept at holding a conversation.” Don't think you can get around this by being able to string together a few banal sentences about the law either:  “We have substance and interests outside the law, books and black letter. People are less impressed with how many sections of the UCC you can name and more impressed with your ability to express your feelings and thoughts on recent world affairs or music.”

Juniors who'd conducted interviews told us they look for the following: “Are you looking me in the eye? Do you seem friendly? Have you got interests outside of the law? I talk about law all the time so if we went for lunch as colleagues I would like not to talk about law – what about sports? It can be literally anything but can this person show me they're not one dimensional?”

Another had some straight forward, but crucial, advice. “First and foremost be sure you want to do litigation. Don't tell me you're not sure as it means you didn't do any research. I like to ask questions based on legal experiences so if someone has clerked for a judge I ask about a specific legal issue they tackled and get them to walk me through it and explain their position on it. That can show you a lot about how someone communicates. I think I'm really looking for someone to hold a pleasant or interesting conversation with for 30 minutes.”

We talk with hiring partner Aaron Marks



Chambers Associate: What's the past year been like? What were some defining moments?

Aaron Marks: The past year has been a very active year at the firm. We have all sorts of new and interesting clients and very active cases. This week some of our partners just started a very big and high profile trial in the Southern District of New York representing the estate of MF Global which went bankrupt around five years ago and was led by former New Jersey Senator and Governor, and chair of Goldman Sachs Jon Corzine. On behalf of MF Global we are suing PwC, charging them for their role in the demise of the company; it's a multibillion dollar case and is getting a lot of attention.

We've recently been retained to represent Teva Pharmaceutical, the largest generic drug brand manufacturer in the world. They and other pharmaceutical companies have been sued in multiple federal courts over the last six months regarding price fixing and are the subject of a DOJ investigation. They're a relatively new client for us.

There are a couple of other cases that are hot and heavy these days: we continue to litigate on behalf of the AMC network in the case brought by the creator of The Walking Dead. We just finished briefing summary judgment and that case is likely to go to trial in the next year. We've also continued to do work for The Trump Organization – some of our partners got some attention over the last year for representing Mr. Trump during the election campaign.

CA: The firm was certainly mentioned a lot in the news with regards to its representation of Trump. Associates were particularly excited that name partner David Friedman has been recently nominated for US Ambassador to Israel. What can you tell us about that?

AM: We are super excited for David. In fact, he recently had his confirmation hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and the committee voted in favor of his nomination, which is terrific. David is a brilliant lawyer and has been a wonderful partner for twenty-four years. For a long time one of his true passions has been Israel and he's just the perfect candidate for this job. He's a brilliant and thoughtful individual and we're confident he will do a terrific job for our country. At the same time it's bittersweet as he'll be departing the firm and we'll miss him terribly.

CA: Have there been any notable lateral hires this past year?

AM: We've had a couple in Los Angeles, we recently hired Dan Saunders who joined us from Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Dan's a former US attorney in Los Angeles and has a terrific regulatory and white collar practice. In Florida we added a couple of real estate transactional partners, Albert Delgado & Manuel Fernandez, who came from Akerman. Our real estate practice is really booming. When the core of the practice came over from Skadden it was two partners and two or three associates and now they're a group of twenty-five people made up of five partners, a few of counsel, and fifteen associates. They're busy round the clock.

CA: What should students know about the firm's current strategy?

AM: We're certainly growing. We're hiring laterally and have just hired half a dozen lateral associates in the last month or so. We're doing this to keep up with a very high volume of work. As far as what the future holds, we're not looking to open other offices. We're happy with the current direction of the firm. We see ourselves getting busier and to some extent that relates to the new administration. I'm sure that we'll be adding some people strategically, looking at lateral partners and lateral groups. We're probably about 280 lawyers today; the growth will be smartly done but there is no question we need more people.

CA: Which practice areas do you think will see a lot of activity, particularly within litigation? 

AM: I think we'll continue to see growth in antitrust, as well as in the white collar and investigations areas, otherwise we see general commercial litigation continuing to be very busy.

CA: How’s your summer program looking next year compared to previous years, in terms of the numbers you're taking on?

AM: It's a little bit bigger. The last couple of years was really in the six to nine range for summer associates. This year we have eleven. We had to cut back a little bit after 2013 when some of the credit crisis litigation started to slow but now we have more of a need for incoming classes in September. This September our incoming class is eight people and we're going to have to supplement that with lateral hiring. Our summer program is back to the twelve to fifteen range.

CA: What kind of person thrives at the firm?

AM: In the first instance we're looking for a baseline of somebody who writes well and who presents well, then someone who is a self-starter and is motivated to take on more responsibility. The type of person who will thrive at our firm is someone who is assertive, strategic and forward thinking, and an overall good team player.

 

Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP

1633 Broadway,
New York,
NY 10019
Website www.kasowitz.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 9
  • Number of international offices: N/A
  • Partners (US): 90
  • Associates (US): 125
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
  • Summers 2017: 11
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 8 offers, 8 acceptances

Main areas of work
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, one of the largest litigation firms in the country, represents clients in high-stakes lawsuits, with a particular focus on commercial litigation, securities litigation, antitrust litigation, bankruptcy litigation, and white collar defense and litigation. The firm employs a decidedly aggressive approach to litigation and strives to achieve the most favorable results for its clients by focusing from the beginning of each case on preparation for trial. While litigation remains our core focus, the firm also has a strong real estate transactional practice.

Firm profile
Our success in implementing uniquely creative and successful legal strategies across practice areas has brought us clients with exceptionally interesting and challenging work. Such clients include leading companies in the financial services sector, including major hedge funds, private equity firms, and commercial banks, as well as companies in the real estate, high-tech, manufacturing, chemical, automobile, retail, pharmaceutical and telecommunications industries.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 8
• Associate Salaries 1st year: $180,000
• Number of 2nd year associates: 12
• Associate Salaries: 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking Policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, NYU, NEBLSA Job Fair, and Penn

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Strong academic achievement, writing skills, prior work and leadership experience. Outstanding judgment, character and personal skills. Commitment to the practice of law with demonstrated interest in litigation (participation in Moot Court, Law Review and/ or other journals preferred).

Summer program components:
Our summer program provides students with quality work assignments and professional experiences reflecting the depth and complexity of our litigation practice. 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. Our program also provides the opportunity to gain insight into the work and culture of the firm.
Summer associates participate in formal training programs, a partner lunch series and an associate mentor program so that students can get to know our lawyers and our firm. Summer associates receive ongoing feedback from the attorneys with whom they work, as well as formal mid and exit reviews.
Kasowitz hosts social events and coordinates various charitable events throughout the summer which provides summer associates and our attorneys the opportunity to get to know one another in an informal environment.