Confidence and independence are needed to succeed in this pack of “bulldog litigators.”
FORMED by an exodus of 19 lawyers from Mayer Brown in 1993, Kasowitz is one of the few major firms younger than most of its associates. But you'd be foolish to equate age with ability. While Kasowitz has neither the numbers and international reach of Skadden or Latham, nor the pedigree of 'white-shoe' outfits like Cravath or Milbank, what it does have is drive and a reputation for “bulldog litigators, so we definitely command respect among the legal community,” one source asserted. The Chambers USA rankings confirm this assertion: Kasowitz is recognized among 'The Elite' for general commercial litigation in New York (and for some other areas too).
“We are not a Republican firm or a Democratic firm: we are a litigation firm and we believe everyone is entitled to legal representation."
No conversation about Kasowitz is complete without mentioning the “elephant in the room:” President Trump. Name partner, founder and “benevolent dictator” Marc Kasowitz has represented the president in a variety of hairy situations over the years, including defending him during the Russia investigation in 2017. However, political matters like this are not a big line of work for the firm and associates say they don't indicate a particular political lean among Kasowitz attorneys either. “We are not a Republican firm or a Democratic firm: we are a litigation firm and we believe everyone is entitled to legal representation," asserted one interviewee. Another commented: “From the outside you only see a snapshot of the firm. Some of the cases we have taken on make us look one-sided in the political sphere, but that's not case.” One candid junior told us: “I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and I don't think I'm in the wrong place.”
Upon arrival, juniors are “walked through the history of the firm” during initial training. This includes a look at some of Marc Kasowitz's most notable cases, which shows that while the firm's work beyond Trump is not political it doesn't shy away from contentious issues. For example, in the mid-90s Marc Kasowitz represented tobacco giant Liggett Group as it broke ranks with the tobacco industry to settle smoking-related litigation claims, saving it millions in potential liabilities over smoking deaths. Juniors felt that cases like this were emblematic of “the aggressive legal stances we take: we're always looking for the win.” While this may make you think the firm is full of alpha males, sources were quick to say that “being a lone wolf wouldn't work here. When I have a new case, the first thing I do is go to other associates and start spitballing ideas.” Another source believed: “Our bulldog attitude in law doesn't translate into our personalities. Nobody has ever been crass or directly critical of me.”
"Our bulldog attitude in law doesn't translate into our personalities."
Still, Kasowitz is certainly not for those who like having their hand held: “You have to be able to stand up for yourself and be confident in your work," said one source. "I have had multiple experiences of sending a piece of research through to a partner, only to have the phone ring five minutes later with them asking me to explain my research and how I got to my conclusion.” This is not a firm for those who want to be eased into practising law slowly. "People are eager to challenge you, for example partners in the way they delegate work to you," one interviewee said. Co-managing partner Wally Schwartz echoes juniors' views, describing Kasowitz's culture as “a perfect combination of being nasty when you have to be and being helpful for each other: it works.”
As the firm's longstanding managing partner, Marc Kasowitz has traditionally maintained a tight grip over the firm, but sources indicated that changes were afoot. In September 2017, following a string of exits, the firm appointed Cindy Kelly and Wally Schwartz as co-managing partners of administration. As a result, associates felt that “there is a lot more structure and a greater number of defined mechanisms for associates to communicate with the partnership and the partners to manage the business.” This includes a newly reinstated associate committee which conducts monthly meetings that have “already seen thingsbeing accomplished.” For example, juniors were happy to report on the introduction of new standing desks, dual monitors and a push for more flexible working – more on that later. While juniors believed that Marc Kasowitz was in no way “taking a back seat,” they did take the appointments of Kelly and Schwartz as an indication that he was more willing to “share responsibility” in an “attempt to match ourselves with other law firms.” Schwartz tells us that while “Marc continues to be the primary decision-maker in terms of the policies and priorities of the firm, we now have a more active management committee made up of an excellent staff of a senior level.”
Strategy & Future
Schwartz tells us that we can expect "more of the same" from Kasowitz in the future. "Don't expect Kasowitz to turn into a firm that does everything and anything. Our focus will always be on litigation and we are always looking strategically at areas of litigation to expand into."
Most of the firm's junior associates are based in the New York mother ship, though a handful are scattered across the other bases. Kasowitz has built up a national network of smaller offices over the years: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Newark, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Each has no more than a dozen attorneys.
After a pilot programme in 2016, juniors now spend their first 18 months sharing an office with an associate one year more senior. “It has worked out really well,” one guinea pig explained. “It provides us with another mentor and a person to ask questions in the first year.”
Nearly all Kasowitz's juniors are swallowed up by the firm's commercial litigation practice where they tackle anything from business disputes, antitrust and securities cases to IP and product liability. Only a handful of juniors each year join transactional areas such as real estate, bankruptcy and employment – they're usually put there because of prior work experience or their educational background.
Three assignment coordinators delegate work after reviewing associates' schedules, although many sources pointed out that they receive a lot of their work directly from partners they had developed relationships with. Most were content with the system, noting that “the firm is good at taking your preferences to heart. Where I've had autonomy, I've been able to carve out my own niche,but where I've been asked to work on a project where my views didn't completely align, the partners took that into consideration.” However, juniors also pointed out that the firm's “meritocratic” approach to work resulted in a system where “some people become more sought after,” reflecting that “the firm could work harder with people who are falling behind.”
“We leave no stone unturned, everything is constantly being appealed.”
Associates were happy to elaborate on how the firm's reputation for aggressive and creative litigation manifested in the approach to work. “Many of the times when we have won, there has been very little precedent," one junior told us. "This means we are always having to take different concepts from different areas and piece them together.” Another added: “We leave no stone unturned, everything is constantly being appealed.” This approach leaves little breathing room for juniors who quickly discovered that any “trepidations of being stuck doing doc review” were unfounded. As one junior summarized: “Six months in I was writing motions. In my second year I've been to trial, have second-chaired depositions and am about to first chair one.” Another second-year boasted of drafting a “45-page appellate brief,” as well as “reading complaints, opposing motions to dismiss and drafting discovery documents. I don't know the last time I did doc review...”
Hours & Compensation
Attorneys are tasked with getting 2,150 billable hours under their belt each year in order to get a full bonus. That's a high number, even for New York – one of the highest hours' targets of any firm in Chambers Associate.A junior commented: “2,150 initially seems scary but once you break it down by weeks, it's not overly suffocating.” The nature of litigation work also means it's often easier to clock up hours in this practice than in an area like corporate. "I usually shoot for a nine-hour day," one junior told us. "I probably stay until 6 or 7pm most days. For a longer day I might be here until 8pm or 9pm." Another busier source told us: "On a normal day I come in at 9.30am and stay until 8.30pm. And I've worked a handful of weekends."
“2,150 initially seems scary but once you break it down by weeks, it's not overly suffocating.”
Sources implied that remote working isn't as easy as at other firms, noting that “some partners see it as a right you have to earn – we are still quite traditional in that sense.” Still, associates were hopeful this was something that could be improved upon through the new associate committee. In addition, we also heard that the firm has recently upgraded its network to make remote working easier.
Hitting the hours' target is made easier by the fact pro bono, business development and recruitment tasks also contribute towards it. Bonuses are calculated by a combination of hours, reviews and participation in the likes of recruitment and professional development activities; doing well on all fronts affords attorneys a full bonus. Reviews are conducted close to bonus payouts to give juniors a better understanding of the amount they receive.
Pro bono was something sources believed “is going to take a huge step forward” in the near future with “even more opportunities coming from new partnerships we have.” David Abrams is the firm's pro bono coordinator and juniors commended him as “phenomenal for making sure opportunities are made available to us.” Cases range from tenancy evictions and veteran assistance to child custody and immigration. One recent case saw the firm help a decades-old Baptist church in the Bronx retain its property in the face of foreclosure.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 11,749
- Average per attorney: 39.13
Training & Development
All juniors are assigned a mentor upon joining the firm who is very helpful for learning to “navigate the different personalities at the firm and transitioning between years.” Incomers are also enrolled in 'Kasowitz University', “a six-month training program run by two partners which stretches over a period of time rather than being front-loaded.” Every junior is assigned to a fictitious case and tasked with things like carrying out the discovery process, writing complaints and conducting mock depositions.In addition, all associates have regular CLEs and “access to a ton of other resources.”
As well as the new associate committee, the firm's new infrastructure also includes a “newly revamped" diversity committee, headed by name partner Hector Torres. “It's not just an email being blasted out every month,” sources told us. “Partners take the time to attend meetings with us and do things like purchase tables at minority events. And if, for example, you find a diversity conference happening elsewhere in the country, the firm will sponsor you to go.” Sources also felt the firm's newly established women's committee has made great steps in “retaining and recruiting women.” The representation of women at the firm is roughly on a par with established New York firms like Cravath and Davis Polk. Kasowitz also recently joined the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD).
Kasowitz is a place where “a lot of people exude confidence. This is the kind of place where Marc Kasowitz makes chitchat 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 by how many sections of the UCC you can name and more impressed by 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 straightforward 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.”
Interview with co-managing partners Wally Schwartz and Cindy Kelly
Chambers Associate: Does the appointment of yourselves as co-managing partners represent a change in how the firm is structured?
Wally: I think for the most part, the structure of the firm is probably still more similar to different than what it has historically been. While Marc continues to be the primary decision-maker in terms of the policies and priorities of the firm, we now have a more active management committee made up of an excellent staff of a senior level. I think what Cindy and I have added is the ability to help coordinate that a little bit better and hopefully that is what is going to happen.
CA: Arethere any other highlights from the past year you think our readers should be aware of?
Cindy: In terms of internally at the firm we have instituted several committees that we are excited about. The diversity committee, the woman's initiatives, and the newly formalized pro bono and associate committees.
The diversity and inclusion committee is new to the firm and aims to strengthen and further our existing efforts. The committee currently consists of attorneys ranging from a very junior level through to the head of the program who is one of our named partners, Hector Torres. Some of the things we are looking to implement are the provision of diversity awareness training for all our attorneys, the establishment of specific affinity groups, and the invitation of local leaders in the community to give talks and provide insight. We have also joined a variety of nationwide networks, such as the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and the Signatory of Statement of Diversity Principles of NY State Bar.
The woman’s initiative is also new to the firm and is looking to promote mentoring and business development among all our female attorneys. I had lunch yesterday with a group of eight women ranging from first-year juniors to partners which served as an opportunity for us to forge more cohesive connections, discuss our work, and talk about the issues women face, such as work life balance. That is something we are looking to grow a lot in 2018.
One of the other things Wally and I have been involved in is establishing an associate committee. We have had associate committees in the past but what we have done is to make it a more formal committee with a commitment to meet more frequently. We hope it will foster more communication between our attorneys, give us a better understanding of what associate issues are, and what is needed to make them do their work better. For example, we recently responded to requests to install dual monitors and stand up desks, which has helped them to work more efficiently. We've also been looking at what social events they want to see, more of which recently resulted in an Barista event in the office where all attorneys could stop in and connect with each other throughout the afternoon. It's been really effective so far.
Wally: I would add that in connection to their concerns, we have been able to update and significantly expand our family leave program and introduce some significant reductions to the cost of healthcare plans this year.
Finally, we have our pro bono committee. The firm has historically been very committed to pro bono work but what we have done is formalize the committee in an effort to grow the program and facilitate younger attorneys' involvement in the program. We have a coordinator to make sure junior associates are aware of all the pro bono opportunities available to them. We have a pipeline initiative coordinated with a local high school in Brooklyn where we bring in students to our offices and expose them to a legal environment and potential legal careers. Senior partners sit down and talk to them about their career paths and teach them skills such as how to win in a moot court competition.
CA: What do you think has enabledthe firm to succeed in establishing itself in the NY market?
Wally: The firm will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. When we started, we did so with only one major client and Marc's reputation, and from that the firm has grown to represent thousands of different clients. Marc's ability and talents have set the tone for the rest of the firm and its attorneys and with that reputation we have had amazing growth.
CA:What's the firm's five-year strategy? Which practice areas within litigation do you anticipate growth in?
Wally: More of the same. Fundamentally we intend to continue to be a premier litigation practice. When I joined the firm around seven years ago to start a real estate practice, Marc made it very clear to me that the real estate practice was being set up only because of the synergy with the firm's existing real estate clients which they were representing in litigation. Don't expect Kasowitz to turn into a firm that does everything and anything. Our focus will always be on litigation and we are always looking strategically at areas of litigation to expand into. We also have many potential lateral partners that would like to work with us with their own ideas of which areas of litigation we could expand into.
CA: What do you think defines Kasowitz's culture?
Wally: We like to describe it as 'creative' and 'aggressive,' and that is emphasized on our new website, which we just launched. Our team of people here are all experienced litigators in terms of their courtroom experience. That not only gives them an edge in being creative and aggressive but also provides us with reputation that allows for litigation settlements to occur more often, because adversaries do not want to be in court with us. However, in terms of culture, we save our aggressiveness when representing clients. Here in the office it's exactly the opposite. There is a great sense of collegiality and people helping to support each other. It's a perfect combination of being nasty when you have to be and being helpful for each other: it works.
CA: With that in mind, is there anything in particular you look for in candidates when interviewing?
Cindy: I think that it is a given that anyone here has to be very intelligent and very accomplished. What I look for is an ability to think outside the box and a willingness to offer creative ways to represent clients, regardless of what year they are. Everyone’s contributions are valued, and from that dynamic we believe you get the most creative solutions. Secondly, someone who is a team player; that is very important to our culture here. We need lawyers who are talented and dynamic but also there when they need to be. If candidates can show that they have agood character, leadership skills and outstanding judgement, that will impress us.
Wally: I don't there think there is anything in particular by way of extracurricular activities we are looking for. It's more of a matter of candidates feeling comfortable that this it the right culture fit for them.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 9
- 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 2018: 9
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 2Ls: 13
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: NY 13
- Summer salary 2018: 2Ls: $3,462/week
- Split summers offered? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, Howard, NYU, NEBLSA Job Fair, Northwestern, 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 summers 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
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs Spotlight Table
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)