Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP - The Inside View

If you’re looking for BigLaw with a small-firm feel and unlimited pro bono, it’s a no-brainer: head for Kramer.

Beginning with just 14 lawyers and a brave determination to compete with its large New York rivals, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel (or just Kramer Levin to its friends) today is a formidable litigation powerhouse, amongst its many other talents. Kramer Levin’s merger with litigation boutique Robbins Russell in 2022 only bolstered this reputation, establishing an office in DC to join its New York main office, intellectual property specialists in Silicon Valley, and tax experts across the pond in Paris – ooh la la!

The firm’s litigious strength hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Chambers USA giving the firm major props for litigation in New York and advertising litigation nationwide, as the firm is known for its involvement in false advertising disputes. But this isn’t just a litigation firm; associates work across several practices – and they excel, as evidenced by Kramer Levin’s recognition for zoning and land use real estate and its PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) capital markets securitization practice.

“…a place to be challenged, to stay, grow, and learn a specialty rather than being a cog in the wheel.”

When explaining why they chose Kramer Levin, our interviewees cited the firm’s active pro bono work, its smaller size, and the friendliness of associates during the recruitment process. We also heard that the smaller size of departments gives juniors the chance to “put a name to a face,” so they “wouldn’t feel as lost as a little fish in the big sea as a first-year associate.” So, what kind of people is Kramer Levin on the hunt for? Associates affirmed that the firm is perfect for those “looking for a place to be challenged, to stay, grow, and learn a specialty rather than being a cog in the wheel.”

Kramer Levin’s New York home office had the most associates, with only a few juniors working at the firm’s Silicon Valley base.

Strategy & Future



When asked what Kramer Levin’s commercial focus looks like for the upcoming year, co-managing partners Howard Spilko and Paul Schoeman tell us that, “Our strategy is to stick with our destination practices, keep investing in them, and make sure the market knows that we intend to be consistent in that regard.” So, the aim is to “focus on what we’re really good at and add depth and breadth in those spaces,” elaborates Spilko. Schoeman shares that the firm’s recently opened DC office has been “a really great success” as something that “adds to the strength of the firm.”

Speaking to Kramer Levin’s recent activity within the lateral market at all levels, Spilko says the firm is “thrilled with our ability to attract talent,” and have been using “the opportunity when there’s a lull in the market to invest in our people.”

The Work



The few associates on our list were spread across practices, with around a third of them working in corporate and litigation, a few in real estate, creditors’ rights, and IP, and just one in land use. Every junior spoke of work being allocated by some form of coordinator, but corporate associates also told us that it was quite common for partners to approach associates directly with assignments – especially if they had worked together before. Our sources felt the system worked well and told us that there were good levels of communication in the process, as partners “won’t give you anything they think you can’t handle.”

Speaking to an insider in real estate, we heard that the firm represents a variety of clients “on both the borrower and lender side,” including private equity funds, family offices, and institutional and foreign investors. Different associates are involved at different stages of matters like joint ventures, space leasing, financings, workouts, and condominium work. One interviewee shared that they’d had the opportunity to work on matters across the country and that within real estate particularly, “each transaction is different. I’ve had an array of responsibilities, so I’m always learning.”

Real estate clients: The Madison Square Garden Company, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Extell Development Company. Acting as land use counsel to Mount Sinai Medical Center in connection with expansion of its Mount Sinai Brooklyn Hospital.

“The teams are relatively small; sometimes, it’s just you and a partner…”

Corporate boasted the largest number of juniors, all who were happy with their levels of responsibility within the group and felt satisfied that their work was contributing to the success of the team within their practice. Associates are given the opportunity to “work on a lot of different deals,” and while they reported having joined a specific team within their practice group, such as M&A or securitization & structured finance, one source explained that the firm “was very open to letting me try different types of work as a junior.” And due to the smaller size of the firm and its departments, insiders are no stranger to one-to-one work with partners: “The teams are relatively small. Sometimes, it’s just you and a partner – maybe with a senior associate.”

Kramer's corporate work regularly involves transactions ranging in value from $250 million to over $1 billion, handling a number of different matters within the department. Within this, we heard that juniors are “brought in on just about everything,” and one associate was proud to say that within one of their recent deals, they had “touched every single kind of document,” having the opportunity to draft documents, do legal research, due diligence, and other similar tasks like contract review.

Corporate clients: BlackRock, Deloitte, PureStar. Advised VICI Properties in connection with a number of sale-leaseback and other transactions worth a total of $460 million.

Litigation at Kramer Levin covers complex commercial disputes across the board, with associates able to take a crack at “a really wide range of things – civil and criminal, including some high-profile white-collar matters” and some appellate litigation. While partners and senior associates usually specialize within a particular area of the group, juniors told us that for them, “the divisions between practices are very fluid, so I’ve had the chance to do lots of different kinds of litigation – cybersecurity, data protection, real estate, bankruptcy, healthcare.” Litigation insiders also spoke about “really having a role” within the firm: “I see my work being used and that is very satisfying.”

One junior litigator also told us about the gradual increase in their levels of responsibility, and the progress they were making: “I’ve seen my level of responsibility steadily increase in the last year, going from drafting small things to entire paragraphs to whole first drafts of briefs. I’ve really been able to track that across the months.” When discussing their day-to-day tasks, one source described them as being in two buckets: one being legal research and writing, and the other being fact-based work like document review and deposition preparation.

Litigation clients: Ernst & Young, Sirius XM Radio, The Procter & Gamble Company. Representing major bar associations in a lawsuit against the State of New York and the City of New York in the New York Supreme Court.

Pro Bono



“We get little plaques on our door to say we’ve done over a certain number of pro bono hours.”

Associates were proud of the “million opportunities” to get involved with pro bono at Kramer Levin, with one going as far to say that pro bono felt like “part of the DNA” at the firm. With an unlimited number of pro bono hours to count towards their billable target,  juniors can work on matters “including immigration and asylum cases, family law cases, housing, veterans’ rights; really, anything that someone is interested in is already being done – or can be done.” Another junior spoke about conducting corporate pro bono work through the firm’s small business clinic “where we do introductory interviews and answer questions for small business entrepreneurs.” The firm clearly values pro bono participation, even giving its associates “little plaques on our door to say we’ve done over a certain number of pro bono hours.” Interviewees also felt that they could gain experience and widen their skillset through pro bono at the firm: “I’m a corporate associate, but most of the pro bono work I do is litigation.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all (US) attorneys: 29,088
  • Average per (US) attorney: 92

Career Development



Career development opportunities largely come from the firm’s mentoring program, with each junior assigned an associate and partner mentor and a budget of time to meet with them that is credited as billable hours. One associate felt that “the partners really want you to learn and become a good lawyer,” enhancing the “culture of making sure that junior associates are getting on the right track.” Sources also emphasized that there is “always an opportunity for training,” and that as a junior, “you can put your hand up and say, ‘I wanna do X or I wanna do Y!’

“The partners really want you to learn and become a good lawyer.”

Culture



In terms of culture, sources described the firm as a place where “everyone is really great, super down-to-earth, very reasonable,” as “even partners try very hard to set reasonable expectations and deadlines. People are also super respectful when you take vacation,” with 84% of survey respondents confirming that they feel as though they can take vacation on their own terms. The firm was described as a “really positive, collaborative environment,” where people “will pick up the slack from each other and be really good teammates.” Where some firms have weekly happy hours or regular social events, "that’s not necessarily the case here,” one interviewee confessed, but that didn’t bother our associates as the firm is plenty friendly.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



The firm has two full-time DEI staff members and insiders detailed an array of affinity groups to join too, including a women's initiative, women's circles, as well as a diversity committee. Inclusivity is also supported but “there could always be more,” as juniors noted that the firm is somewhat lacking in diverse representation. This is true of many smaller law firms, but Kramer Levin is continually working to change this: “I don’t think the levels of representation are where they should be, but I do think the firm is aware of that. It’s not something that’s changing overnight, but from what I can tell, they’re looking to move forward with that.” What's more, the firm has a 2L diversity fellowship, and racial justice initiative scholars program for 1Ls.

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 1,950 target

Our sources felt that their billable target of 1,950 was achievable and comparable to other firms in the BigLaw landscape. They were also pleased to tell us that this goal includes unlimited pro bono hours and 100 hours which can be logged for activities such as mentoring, training, and helping with recruitment-related events.

While associates reported that their usual working hours were quite typical business hours, working from around 9am to 6pm, they did caveat that they had been known to work much later when matters start to heat up. Even though our survey showed that the average weekly hours for associates at 44 – four hours lower than the market average – one particularly busy source told us, “The last month, my regular hours are maybe 8:30 until, like, 2am – and then weekends as well.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you! Despite long hours sometimes being unavoidable, we were assured that the firm does its best to give you a heads-up when work starts to pick up: “They try to prepare you if someone needs to be on a call on a weekend and try to be very conscious of times when that will happen.”

Get Hired 



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

Hiring partner Kerri Ann Law tells us: “We participate in pre-recruiting programs at our target law schools, participate in OCIs at approximately 13 schools, attend IP and diversity job fairs and review resumes that candidates send to us directly or through formal resume collections offered by law schools. The firm also hires law clerks every year.” Associates assured us: “The firm’s not elitist and people here have more diverse school backgrounds than other firms.” Naturally, an interest in the firm’s specialist practice is essential during interview. Law adds: “OCIs are typically conducted by a partner or a very senior lawyer at the firm. We also try to send alumni when possible.” Law says the firm is looking for students “who have performed well at a high academic level, are involved in their communities in and out of school and have demonstrated leadership qualities.”  

Top tips for this stage:  

“Make a connection. OCI interviewers see a lot of candidates in a short time and you need to stand out.”– hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.  

 

Callbacks

At the callback stage, “students typically meet with four attorneys (two more senior lawyers and two more junior lawyers), and a member of the Legal Recruiting team to answer questions on the recruiting process. We try to match department interest if indicated by the student.” At this point, Law explains, “Kramer Levin looks for the complete package. We have a very small program and want our summer associates to be long-term success stories. We look for students who are smart, well-spoken, engaged and interested in our firm. They need to explain why they want to work at Kramer Levin, and they should be prepared to discuss legal issues that interest them.” In addition, our associate sources tell us: “The firm is very conscious of maintaining its culture.  We are looking for people who are friendly, humble, inclusive and eager to learn.”  

Top tips for this stage:  

“Be prepared and ready to explain how you can add your voice at our firm."  hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.  

 

Summer program

Summer associates are not assigned to practice groups and do not rotate through departments. Instead, Law tells us: “We tailor our program to the needs of each individual summer associate. We have an assignment attorney who meets with each summer and determines the assignments that meet the summer associate’s interests.” That’s not to say summer associates should be too quick to pigeon-hole themselves, however: “We encourage summer associates to try work in all different departments and be open-minded about new areas of the law. We try to balance substantive work assignments with shadowing assignments, which provide opportunities for summer associates to see what life will be like as they grow their career. Social networking is also important and we average one event per week as well as many lunches with attorneys.” As a couple of final pointers, Law advises summer associates to “be open-minded and try new things. Make sure you attend everything you can.” From those who have already been through the application process we heard: “It can be intimidating but people recognize you need to ask questions. It’s a steep learning curve and it’s always best to ask if you don’t understand something.”  

 Top tips for this stage:  

“Our small program provides a unique experience for summer associates. Take advantage of it!”– hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.  

 

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP

1177 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10036
Website www.kramerlevin.com

Main areas of work Bankruptcy and restructuring; capital markets and M&A; commercial and white collar litigation; employment litigation; finance and banking; immigration; intellectual property; investment funds; real estate; land use and environmental; securitization; tax, employee benefits and individual clients.

Firm profile



Kramer Levin provides its clients proactive, creative and pragmatic solutions that address today’s most challenging legal issues. The firm is headquartered in New York with offices in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C. and Paris and fosters a strong culture of involvement in public and community service.

Recruitment Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2024:
• Brooklyn
• Columbia University
• Duke University
• Fordham University
• Georgetown University
• Harvard
• Hofstra University
• New York University School of Law
• University of California at Berkeley
• University of Michigan
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Yale

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collects at other Schools. Write in submissions welcome through Flo Recruit: https://www.florecruit.com/v2/app/kramerlevin/jobs/MTAxNTF-OUt0NFhKRWxTUzByeFJFem13Y0FLSXV1clFSb0x2/apply/

Summer associate profile:
We seek lawyers whose academic achievements, journal writing, and prior work experience demonstrate exceptional ability, motivation and potential for leadership.

Summer program components:
Our summer program offers a realistic experience. We fully involve summer associates in day to day practice and assign work comparable to that given to junior associates. Summer associates participate in our departmental meetings, firm-wide events and training programs and are given opportunities to attend court hearings, discovery proceedings, negotiating sessions, closings, pro bono matters and client meetings.

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
    • Immigration (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 5)
    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 5)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: PACE (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Derivatives (Band 3)
    • Immigration (Band 3)