It’s BigLaw but not too big; a New York litigation hot-shot but “not so uptight” – there’s a nice balance to life at Kramer Levin.
IF you’re going to sell a razor that claims to ‘shave as well or better than a Mach 3’, you’d better make sure it does, or you’ll have Kramer Levin all over you like, er, a shaving rash. This was one recent case Kramer Levin fought on behalf of Gillette. A stream of fascinating cases – from defamation to misinterpreted pregnancy tests – flows through the firm’s advertising litigation department, making it one of the very top in the country.
The firm’s litigation department ventures way beyond advertising, of course, and wins commendation from Chambers USA, as do its teams in bankruptcy, capital markets, immigration and several others.
“A nice compromise on the big firm idea.”
The firm has come a long way since 1968, when it had just 14 lawyers and full-service ambitions. It now numbers nearly 300 attorneys, with bases in the Silicon Valley and Paris as well as its Big Apple HQ. Associates appreciated that this isn't a whale of a law firm, nor a Manhattan shark tank – more of a canny koi carp with a genial personality. “It's a nice compromise on the big firm idea – while we're a large firm, it has a better feel than a 1000-person firm. I feel a connection to the whole firm.” A junior noted that “when I interviewed here I got a really good vibe, I felt it wasn't so uptight.”
On the summer program, students can sample work from across departments. At the end of the summer, the firm doesn't give department-specific offers, but students' preferences are taken into account. Shortly before they arrive to begin full-time work, newcomers find out what department they'll join. While some sources didn't like the general offers system, others weren't concerned about it: “I personally had nice experiences with a number of groups during my summer, so I thought I’d be happy wherever they placed me.”
Kramer's litigation and corporate groups take the most juniors overall, while most of the rest go to intellectual property, real estate and creditors' rights (bankruptcy) teams. The remainder are spread around tax, immigration, environment, financial services and the individual client group.
Each department has an assigning partner and associates fill out a weekly email detailing their availability. “In the beginning a lot of work comes through the assigning partner but as you start to work with people they'll come back to you for other projects.” Reassuringly, the assigning partner is always there as “a good resource if you're slow.” A junior in the corporate department remarked that “I get an appropriate amount of work, although the work flow is maybe a little inconsistent. It's the industry that's a problem – you can’t control when things come up and I've definitely had weeks where I wish I was busier or slower.”
“Sometimes it's just a partner and me, which means I’m doing basically everything.”
There's a good variety of work open to litigators and most of our sources had worked on general commercial cases, white collar and government investigations. “One of my first cases was a large business divorce for a private company involving a lot of contract disputes between commercial parties. Recently I've been doing bankruptcy litigation too.” Typical tasks include “a lot of research, drafting motions, writing memos or outlines detailing what the state of law is, what cases say and my opinion of whether something can or can't be supported.” Another source mentioned that “I've had a good range of case sizes. Sometimes it's just a partner and me, which means I’m doing basically everything. Other cases have 20 lawyers on them, so then I’m doing more of the more junior things.” Inevitably doc review is on the agenda.
Meanwhile, over in the corporate department “we don't have separate groups for M&A and securities, which big firms typically do.” Instead, “we get exposure to both, so we develop an expertise in general corporate work, which is great.” Most of the clientèle is made up of middle market private companies. “I've been coordinating with counsel about due diligence, doing legal research and keeping track of documents like the signature pages and the warranties. A lot of it is legal research, and there's some drafting of documents like registration statements for the SEC or resolutions.”
“It was really kind of fun and I was sad when my officemate and I had to split up!”
Sources uniformly praised the firm's New York location in midtown Manhattan – “we're in the center of where law firms should be” – and felt pleased enough with the office interiors. “It's very nice although it would never be an exhibit in an architecture museum. In terms of décor it's not the nicest law firm I've ever been to, but it's very pleasant and there's lots of natural light and interesting art prints and lithographs on the walls.” Associates get their own office in the second or third year, but had no complaints about sharing. “It was really kind of fun and I was sad when my officemate and I had to split up!”
The firm's only other domestic office, in Silicon Valley, has around 15 lawyers and specializes in IP litigation, particularly involving tech and life sciences. Kramer's single international outpost, in Paris, was acquired in 1999 as the unexpected result of Clifford Chance's merger with Roger & Wells. The Paris office of the latter firm decided not to participate in the transaction, so Kramer saw their chance, et tout le monde connaît la suite.
Nearly all interviewees echoed this: “The reason I picked the firm was the informal feeling I got when I visited. It's very pleasant and humane: not a harsh, cut-throat place at all.” Another piped up that “I love it here! The firm wants to foster this cordial environment. Even if I hated the work I'd still love where I worked.” And coming back down to earth for a second: “Of course, it's not all rainbows and butterflies – there are definitely stressful moments, but that's not because people are driving me crazy or putting me down!”
“It's not fratty here.”
“There's enough socializing but no huge expectation to spend tons more time away from your personal life,” associates agreed. “I have a few very good friends from my summer class but it's not fratty here. People like working with each other, but don't feel they need to go out drinking all the time. Although maybe they do and I’m not invited!” chuckled an associate. As you'd expect, “over the summer the social stuff heats up” and Kramer attorneys hit the town with more regularity. Year-round, there are department-wide social gatherings “with wine, beer and snacks” every so often and an associate breakfast.
Hours & Compensation
“I mean, it's a good amount of money but...”
Associates need to rack up 1,950 hours to get a bonus. This target was introduced in January 2017 in response to associate feedback – the previous target for a full bonus was a hefty 2,150 hours, a figure which associates agreed was too high when we interviewed them in fall 2016. The previous target was described as a “common gripe” and we weren't surprised to hear from a recruitment source that there was general jubilation among associates when the new target was introduced.
It's typical for associates to arrive in the office around 9.30am or 9.45am and leave at around 7pm or 7.30pm, “but if I do leave then it's not like I leave and then I'll be totally off; I'm still connected in case anyone needs something.” Of an evening, putting in some time from home is common, as is doing some work at the weekend. On the whole sources were at ease with the work/life balance. “I would say coming into the firm it was a concern, because I have kids, but outside of a few months where I was overwhelmed with work, nobody has any problems if I leave at 6pm. I've found people to be very respectful of holidays and vacations and they're happy not to bother you. Other attorneys are willing to step in and take over work if necessary.”
All pro bono hours count toward the bonus target and “the fact that there's no cap on hours shows that they take it seriously,” sources felt. All of our interviewees had taken on projects, including divorces, asylum cases, copyright matters and the creation of a non-profit organization for transgender youth. Kramer has longstanding links to domestic abuse charity Her Justice. “The firm is very pro bono focused,” insisted juniors. “Although I doubt they'd be happy if you just did 2,000 hours of it.” That said, associates can undertake a full time pro bono secondment for four months.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 19,633
- Average per US attorney: 66
“I definitely see a change now.”
“It's an ongoing process,” mused a junior on the subject of diversity at Kramer. “When I was a summer, there were only four women in my class and one person who counted as diverse. I definitely see a change now – there's a more diverse presence. The firm has a way to go in terms of a female presence at the top, but we're moving in that direction – of the four people who became partners or counsel most recently, two were women. There are discussions about it – they're cognizant of the disparity.” The diversity committee “puts on lots of interesting lunches. I recently went to one about living with mental illness as part of national disability awareness month.” The firm also has an extensive history of working for LGBT rights: in 1981 it helped to set up the Gay Men's Health Crisis.
Juniors reckoned that the firm contains “a big mix of folk, but what people have in common is that they're grounded, not flashy and out to impress other people. People are confident and self-motivated.” Managing partner Paul Pearlman adds that “our culture is very important, and we look for those who'll fit in well – enthusiastic, approachable and well-rounded people.”
Strategy & Future
“Our strategy remains the same – we want to remain an independent firm. We're not seeking to grow for growth's sake, because big is not necessarily better – we'll grow organically and through selective lateral hires,” Pearlman tells us, noting that the firm brought in three lateral partners in 2016. He adds that it's been a “pretty active” year for Kramer across a number of practice areas, including antitrust, white collar (“we have a number of large ongoing investigations”), restructuring, corporate, IP and real estate. “We've also had some big pro bono wins such as protecting the custody and visitation rights of non-biological parents.”
Training & Development at Kramer Levin: "Everyone is very willing to offer help.”
New associates take part in an orientation week which includes practice area-specific trainings. Apparently the firm has a “new focus on continued training for associates. I've been doing mock negotiation exercises and mock drafting exercises. It's been really useful.” Of course, sources acknowledged that “immersing yourself in the work” is the best way to learn lawyerly skills. One admitted that “I do feel like I don't know what I'm doing sometimes – but not because I didn't get a particular training session!” Day to day support and feedback is definitely there, thought juniors. “Everyone is very willing to offer help. Seniors sat with me and talked me through assignments in the beginning.” Kramer's size means that “partners are accessible – there's not the same level of hierarchy that you'd find in much bigger firms.”
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
1177 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $352,000,000
- Partners (US): 98
- Associates/Other (US): 205
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,750/week
- 2Ls: $3,750/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 18
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 13 offers, 9 acceptances
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.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP is a premier, full-service law firm with offices in New York, Silicon Valley and Paris. Firm lawyers are leading practitioners in their respective fields. The firm represents public and private companies - ranging from Global 1000 to middle-market and emerging growth companies - across a broad range of industries, as well as funds, institutions and individuals.
• Number of 1st year associates: 14
• Number of 2nd year associates: 19
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Benjamin N Cardozo, Brooklyn, Columbia University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Harvard, Hofstra University, New York University School of Law, St John’s University, University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Yale
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, firmwide events and training programs and are given opportunities to attend court hearings, discovery proceedings, negotiating sessions, closings, pro bono matters and client meetings.