Kramer’s aggressive expansion approach hasn’t stopped it from Levin la vida loca: “It understands the importance of work-life balance.”
In a time of financial uncertainty, many firms adopt a wait-and-see approach. Not so for New York’s Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel (Kramer Levin to its friends). This AmLaw 100 firm is looking to bolster its already formidable reputation in litigation, launching a Congressional Investigations practice under the leadership of Barry Berke and merging with DC-based litigation boutique Robbins Russell.Berke comes with a formidable reputation, having acted as the chief impeachment counsel to the US House of Representatives for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. The merger with Robbins Russell, meanwhile, expands Kramer Levin’s geographic footprint into DC, to complement its offices in New York, Silicon Valley and Paris (France, not Texas.) The firm’s litigious reputation is already well established and Chambers USA gives it top marks for general commercial litigation, immigration, elite white-collar crime & government investigations, advertising, and corporate crime & investigations practices.
However, the firm’s expansion and expertise aren’t purely litigious. On its list of 28 second- and third-year juniors, over 40% were laterals. Of those, none were in litigation, while every one of its six corporate attorneys were laterals, as were the majority of IP and real estate hires – suggesting a firm looking to meet higher demand in its transactional practices. Co-managing partner Howard Spilko confirmed: “We took on a lot of lateral hires in the last two or three years in the transactional practices to build out the private equity space. That practice has been exploding in terms of market share.”
“The main appeal was that it was a smaller firm – with something like 12 to 15 summers – but it’s still BigLaw, with the same salary and prestige.”
Chambers USA, meanwhile, places the firm’s PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) capital markets securitization practice and its zoning and land use real estate practice at the top of the pile, highlighting that this is not a litigation boutique. For Kramer Levin’s juniors, the firm’s litigation prestige was a common reason for joining the firm, as was the firm’s culture. “The juniors I met seemed genuinely happy with their experience at the firm. People here are wonderful folks.” Another huge drawcard was the firm’s “humane hours,” which several relieved juniors made note of. For others “the main appeal was that it was a smaller firm – with something like 12 to 15 summers – but it’s still BigLaw, with the same salary and prestige.”
Strategy & Future
Kramer Levin’s outlook for the future is bullish, say co-managing partners, Howard Spilko and Paul Schoeman. The firm is looking to grow aggressively “within our destination practices,” says Spilko. Schoeman describes the firm’s merger with Robbins Russell as “a natural fit. More generally, the Robbins Russell acquisition was a great opportunity for us. They have a tremendous reputation for being outstanding litigators – that we knew well from past experience. The cultural fit was also so immediately apparent we got very excited about it.”
Almost all the juniors on our list were based in New York, with just three in Silicon Valley. Litigation took the most juniors, while corporate took roughly a fifth. IP and real estate followed closely, while the creditors rights group took three juniors, and employment just one. Work coordinators exist in one form or other across the practices, and assignment tends to be more coordinated for a junior's first three years. Litigators felt the process “worked well,” while transactional sources told us “people still reach out to see if you have time and you can reach out to partners as well.” However, this more free market approach tends to fall in place later in an associate's career. “The chair partner asks us to submit a weekly workload email and he tries to make sure all the associates are connected,” sources explained. “If I say I’m overwhelmed, he’ll push back on your behalf.” Balance.
Starting with the transactional side, real estate, which consistently accounts for around 15% of the firm’s revenue, sees juniors cut their teeth helping private investment funds buy and lease property. Deal values are between the hundreds of millions to the multiple billions. Real estate was described as offering a full service to its clients and juniors liked that they were given a lot of responsibility, including “drafting ancillary documents and reviewing documents that pertain to construction, for example.”
“I don’t feel as junior as I thought I would.”
Corporate was another area with good levels of responsibility. “Juniors across firms generally just pull docs together,” opined one, “but here we get to draft docs and do ancillaries, making notes on calls, updating checklists, following up on anything outstanding…” Corporate juniors also felt they had decent client contact: “I won’t be leading things,” sources said, “but the partners and associates try to give me space to do specific things.” Admittedly, sources said, “there are days when you’re coordinating signature pages and incorporating changes,” but, overall, “you’re given as much work as you can handle. I don’t feel as junior as I thought I would.”
The firm offers clients and, therefore, juniors a range of work. Sources we spoke to mentioned securitization capital markets work, and banking and finance work on both the borrower and lender side. On the securitization side, “the work we do concerns capital markets deals and warehousing deals,” one junior explained. Not to be confused with storage buildings, warehousing is where people stock up on several small shares, with the aim of an eventual takeover. Clients were kept under lock and key, but we can disclose that the firm does things like “esoteric asset-backed securities.” Sounds complicated.
Corporate M&A clients: NewPoint Real Estate Capital, The NPD Group, VICI Properties. Advised BlackRock in connection with an investment, along with Warner Music Group, to purchase the music catalogues of several artists with a focus on female and diverse songwriters.
Over in litigation, Kramer deals with contentious securities, IP, real estate, advertising and white-collar crime and government investigations work. The latter concerns insider trading, corruption, fraud, and money laundering matters, among others. “What I like about the practice,” enthused one, “is that we represent individuals, mostly. It becomes more interesting to represent people with liberty interests or financial interests at stake.” However, while sources confirmed “we do represent lots of individuals – a lot CEOs – we also represent big companies.”
Another well-regarded area is advertising litigation. The team’s forte is false advertising disputes, though it also in an advisory role, clearing copy before it goes to print, for example. As with its other litigation practices, the firm represents massive clients with Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, ExxonMobil and T-Mobile. It’s “defendant side,” one source confirmed, “with lots of big companies on the books.” The downside of working on such high-profile matters is “I’ve not had a lot of client interaction. There’s been a lot of doc review, which is typical. But,” they added, “there’s also a lot of research. Discrete stuff that will help toward a brief or motion.” However, this is not to say juniors were unhappy with their lot. Both survey respondents and interviewees overwhelmingly indicated they were happy with the work they got.
Litigation clients: Amgen, Deloitte, former Lieutenant Governor of New York, Brian Benjamin. Defended Meta against allegations it engaged in discriminatory practices against US workers by refusing to hire them for positions as part of the green-card process.
To develop their skills, juniors thought, “the firm expects younger attorneys to do more pro bono, where we get more substantive stuff like writing briefs, talking to clients,” and, in some cases, “getting some court experience.” That pro bono work isn’t limited. Happy juniors told us: “It all counts as billable.” The firm has both “a pro bono coordinator and a billable coordinator and they work together to manage the ratio of pro bono to billable,” we heard. In addition to KIND and Her Justice, organizations which multiple firms work with, our sources had also helped The New York City Bar Association and The Door, a charity aimed at empowering young people. Pro bono opportunities were available to transactional attorneys too, who mentioned “working on asylum cases and corporate work like creating an NPO.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 32,792
- Average per (US) attorney: 108
Other career development opportunities included “a lot of resources to learn stuff.” To specify, corporate interviewees explained, “the head of the group holds office hours once a week and, when we’re not too busy, we have training sessions.” Juniors also have “a CAP [Career Advisory Program] adviser who is a partner” along with “a senior associate mentor. Those have been helpful,” interviewees agreed. Sources liked that they could reach out and ask for specific types of work. “I mentioned wanting more writing and court experience and they got me that,” one said. Sources also liked that the firm “tries to ensure the mentors reach out, rather than just the juniors, because diverse candidates are less likely to reach out.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
While associates observed the partnership (like so many BigLaw firms) isn't super diverse, one source noted: “I know they’re trying.” Alongside affinity groups, “Kramer recently did a racial justice scholars program for minority students for a couple of months during the year.” The program takes eight-to-ten people from different law schools, which, sources said, “Kramer is hoping will lead to getting more summer applications from diverse candidates, which will lead to a more diverse intake.”
Culture, Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
The lack of existing diversity, however, had not put juniors off. “I’m so happy with my choice,” said one female junior. “It’s been interesting talking to my friends at big firms who are experiencing a lot of stress. That has not been my experience.” According to our survey results, the firm scores well below the market for stress levels, with around a quarter at Kramer indicating they were stressed, compared to the half in the rest of the market.
“It feels like a place you can put down roots.”
What contributed to this low-stress environment was the feeling that “you can reach out to anyone and they will help you, even if they’re not on your team.” Others, meanwhile, mentioned Kramer Levin’s hard-to-define but tangible “homeliness. It feels like a place you can put down roots.” However you define it, sources unanimously felt valued: “Ihave a lot of positive interactions.”
More concrete examples of homeliness included a feeling of genuine work-life balance. The firm has a 1,950 target for bonus, which includes the unlimited pro bono hours mentioned above. “The firm understands the importance of a good work/life balance,” one told us. “Many people go home at a reasonable hour to be with family and then will log back on later in the evening.” The firm has also “definitely embraced hybrid working,” said one. “I really like it,” said another. “They want you in the majority of the time, and it varies by department how strict or flexible they are.” The COVID-19 hangover, sources felt, contributed to the fact that “we haven’t had much of a social scene. This summer there were a lot of great events,” but “this is more of a lunch firm than a cocktail one.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
Hiring partner Kerri Ann Law tells us: “We attend 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.
At the callback stage, “students typically meet with four attorneys, two more senior lawyers and two more junior lawyers. 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 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,
• Columbia University
• Duke University
• Fordham University
• Georgetown University
• Hofstra University
• New York University School of Law
• University of California at Berkeley
• University of Michigan
• University of Pennsylvania
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collects at other Schools. Write in submissions welcome to email Legalrecruiting@KRAMERLEVIN.com
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
District of Columbia
- 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)
USA - Nationwide
- 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)
More from Kramer Levin: