You won’t be Levin anytime soon according to associates at this compact BigLaw firm: litigation prowess, an affable culture and generous pro bono policy keep Kramer’s attorneys billing for the long run.
“I think of us as a small BigLaw firm,” one of our interviewees reflected, adding: “In New York, people know the firm's name and that it does sophisticated work, but at the same time we’re significantly smaller than many of the other firms doing the same caliber of work.” With just under 400 attorneys spread across three locations (New York and Silicon Valley in the US, and Paris overseas), Kramer is dwarfed by the zillion-office global giants that surround it in Manhattan. But what about that competitive standard of work? Well, Chambers USA rates Kramer’s general commercial and white-collar crime litigation capabilities as some of the best in New York, beating much larger rivals such as Latham, and Skadden (for white-collar crime), and White & Case and Hogan Lovells (for general commercial). Other areas of strength for Kramer include bankruptcy/restructuring, immigration and real estate. Kramer’s sparkling jewel in its litigation crown is its advertising practice, which is regarded as nation-beating in Chambers USA.
“It's BigLaw work with a small firm feel."
The New York HQ (which has recently had a snazzy refurb) houses the vast majority of the firm’s associates. Our sources there were quick to highlight how it hits a happy medium: “It’s big enough that we have the infrastructure and perks of a larger firm. However, it's small enough that you get to know everyone in your group and have lots of partner contact – it’s BigLaw work with a small firm feel.” Sounds pretty great to us. Interviewees did make it clear, however, that “though there is some international work, we’re still very much a New York firm so you’re not going to get the same overseas exposure compared to a firm with millions of offices on every continent.”
Strategy & Future
“The pandemic has not affected our long-term strategy,” says co-managing partner Howard Spilko. “Rather, it has proved that our long-term strategy is effective.” He puts this resilience down to Kramer benefiting from a “wide range of practice areas – some of which are countercyclical and perform well in a down economy, such as our large bankruptcy practice, which has been very busy.” Following the implementation of a new leadership team in 2020, co-managing partner Paul Schoeman tells us that there’s a continued focus on growing Kramer’s M&A/private equity, real estate, IP, litigation, and bankruptcy capabilities. Looking at the next five years, Spilko anticipates that Kramer will remain “a New York-based firm with a focus on our many market-leading practices and cutting-edge, high-profile matters.” Read more from Schoeman and Spilko on the Get Hired tab.
Kramer’s litigation and corporate groups took on a fairly even split of the junior associates on our list. A handful had joined the firm’s dedicated creditors’ rights and IP teams, which had had their numbers bolstered by laterals and those returning from clerkships. One junior explained that “as a summer, you can take assignments from anywhere and be as focused or as general as you want to be. At the end of your summer, you give preferences as to which area you want to work in, which they factor in with the business needs of the firm.” Work assignment functions differently in each department. Whereas some opt for a more free-market approach, "in litigation there is more of a formal assignment system in place,” an interviewee explained. They added: “For me personally, there have been things that I wouldn’t have asked to be staffed on, but they turned out to be great opportunities from a developmental point of view.”
“Even on the largest case I worked on which had about 12 people on, I was still working directly with partners.”
Litigators remain generalists for their first few years with the firm, as this source detailed: “I’ve done some commercial litigation cases; internal investigations; trademark disputes; and some cases outside of litigation.” Kramer’s esteemed advertising expertise sees it represent a range of pharma and consumer products giants such as Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena. Matters include class actions under state consumer fraud laws and cases brought before the National Advertising Division. “Those cases tend to feel more low-key,” a litigator commented; “often it’s about hunting down who the original owner of an idea was.” On investigations, however, sources reported doing everything from “conducting research on civil procedural issues” to attending interviews and sifting through doc review – “a lot of doc review!” Overall, the “cases are staffed very leanly” at Kramer. “Even on the largest case I worked on, which was about 12 people, I was still working directly with partners.”
Litigation clients: EIG Global Energy Partners, Oppenheimer Funds, The Gillette Company. The firm represented T-Mobile USA in a challenge before the National Advertising Division related to its advertising of pricing in certain plans.
Juniors who were focused on bankruptcy matters enjoyed a balance of litigious and transactional work. One source told us: “Currently, I have one case where it’s 80% litigious and 20% transactional because both sides are pissed with each other and are fighting every point. I also have another one where both parties know where they stand and don’t want to waste money, so it’s 90% transactional.” On the litigious side of things, interviewees reported drafting motions and attending hearings, whereas on the corporate side juniors were conducting due diligence and helping to draft Chapter 11 plans. “There is a lot of crossover between the bankruptcy group and other practice areas in the firm,” a source noted. “We have a constant email exchange between ourselves and with those in the wider corporate, tax and employment groups.”
Bankruptcy and restructuring clients: Official committee of unsecured creditors of Hertz Global Holdings, Brigade Capital Management, official committee of unsecured creditors of Forever 21. The firm recently acted as counsel to the official committee of unsecured creditors of the Boy Scouts of America, which was seeking Chapter 11 protection in federal court due to its level of debt ($328 million) and pool of abuse claims.
Kramer’s reputation for pro bono was a big draw for many of our interviewees and survey respondents. Attorneys here bill on average 150pro bono hours each year, which is more than double the average of BigLaw firms in Chambers Associate. Associates have no limit to the number of hours they can bill – something our interviewees took full advantage of. One source told us: “Even if half your billables were pro bono hours, you’re not going to get into trouble. It speaks to how much they care about it.” Of course, billing hundreds upon hundreds of pro bono hours is certainly not the norm at any BigLaw firm. A dedicated pro bono coordinator is on hand to match cases with associates' preferences. We heard of associates handling four pro bono cases at one time, with matters covering the likes of immigration, asylum, housing, and criminal issues. They also explained that "it’s quite common for people to continue taking on a particular type of case to become an expert in that area.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 45,209
- Average per US attorney: 150
Attrition at the midlevel is common in any BigLaw firm, especially in New York. However, our interviewees observed that “people stay at Kramer longer compared to the typical BigLaw firm.” Another weighed in: “Something I noticed as a summer associate is that many of the associates who lateraled in were coming from larger firms; I figured that if there were lots of people wanting to move here, why not just start here?” Many of our interviewees were also comforted by the presence of “lots of senior associates and special counsel who are perfectly happy with where they are and don’t necessarily want to make partner – the firm encourages people to stick around.” Those who do leave “rarely go to another New York firm. They tend to go in-house or do government work.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“Diversity varies between departments,” our interviewees agreed. “Bankruptcy is less diverse compared to litigation and the wider corporate group," one pointed out. Another added that "there is a noticeable difference in diversity between the associates and partners.” 18% of partners at Kramer are women – an increase from last year but below the nationwide average. However, our interviewees maintained that “the firm is taking steps in the right direction and has been elevating more diverse candidates recently.” Another source was pleased to report that “there’s also a lot more activity in the affinity groups." Some associates had informally created a Latino group that coordinated meetings and events, "and the women’s group has just started a virtual book club.”
Reflecting on what made Kramer stand out from the pack, one source told us “there’s a real focus on individuality – you can be your own person here.” Another junior elaborated: “While it’s true many firms will claim to be friendly and collegial, there is still a very specific mode or form that you are expected to conform to. However, I’ve never felt that I need to make sure that I behave a certain way at Kramer.” While this interviewee conceded that “it’s very much a New York firm and it does have those roots,” they were quick to note that Kramer has “done a lot to adapt to modern times.” This junior agreed: “The firm culture is definitely more on the liberal side; there’s nothing about it that seems particularly conservative. The dress code is quite casual, and senior partners take the time to stop and talk to you.”
“The firm culture is definitely more on the liberal side…”
There were some differences highlighted between groups: “I know that the bankruptcy group is a little more outgoing and extroverted – that’s in comparison to litigation, which is a bigger group and, in my experience, tends to be a little more introverted.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Associates must meet the billing target to be eligible for a bonus. Kramer matches the salaries of its much larger competitors, so there were no complaints there. “It’s BigLaw so you have to work hard, but if you don’t make the 1,950, nothing is going to happen,” one associate told us, adding that in the past “nobody mentioned it” when associates didn’t hit the target. Another commented: “We are paid a lot to work hard and partners are very grateful for your input. They always give you credit for your contributions – there is positive accountability.”
One interviewee also reiterated that “you can bill an unlimited number of pro bono hours, and a good number of hours can also go toward business development. For a typical associate, I would say that around 1,800 of hours will be a mix of pro bono and billables, while 150 will go toward things such as writing articles, recruiting activities, developing a pitch or helping out on the summer program.” At the same time, “if you’re staffed on a string of three very busy cases it’s not impossible to bill 2,300 hours.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 355
Hiring partner Kerri Ann Law tells us: “We attend OCIs at approximately 15 schools, attend IP and diversity job fairs and review resumes that candidates send to us directly. 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 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 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, 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 and being a place where people are friendly, humble 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.
Interview with Paul Schoeman and Howard Spilko, co-managing partners of Kramer Levin
Chambers Associate: Describe the firm’s market position in three sentences or less.
Paul Schoeman: Kramer Levin is a world-class, New York-based law firm. We handle some of the most challenging matters facing businesses today while offering an informal and open environment that is highly attractive to both our lawyers and our clients. We are well known for our strong culture of involvement in public and community service.
CA: What is the firm’s strategy for the next five years?
Howard Spilko: We plan to remain a New York-based firm with a focus on our many market-leading practices and cutting-edge, high-profile matters. We will continue our policy of steady, strategic growth while maintaining the quality and culture of the firm.
CA: Are there developments in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
PS: Having recently completed a renovation of our offices at 1177 Avenue of the Americas, we offer a state-of-the-art office work environment that appeals to our lawyers and staff as well as our clients. Our leadership team — which was appointed in 2020 following a smooth and planned transition — has continued the firm’s tradition of strategic growth, both organically and through the lateral market, particularly in the areas of bankruptcy, M&A/private equity, real estate, intellectual property and litigation.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long-term strategy? Which sectors/practice areas have been most affected?
HS: We have weathered the pandemic well. We benefit from having a wide range of practice areas — some of which are countercyclical and perform well in a down economy, such as our large bankruptcy practice, which has been very busy. The pandemic has not affected our long-term strategy. Rather, it has proved that our long-term strategy is effective.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity? What policies are in place/what new policies is the firm implementing to ensure that the firm meets these targets?
HS: Kramer Levin is strongly committed to recruiting, retaining and promoting women and diverse lawyers in the firm. Over the past two years, 57% of the lawyers the firm promoted to partner were women, and 43% were racially diverse.
PS: Kramer Levin has adopted a multipronged approach to promoting diversity in the legal profession and beyond, ranging from periodic implicit bias training and leadership development workshops for Kramer Levin lawyers to partnering with outside organizations focused on training and mentoring, both within and outside the firm. For example, we were involved in developing Diversity Lab’s OnTrack program — a team-driven sponsorship initiative designed to accelerate professional growth, promote career advancement and unlock leadership opportunities for lawyers — through which we have sponsored training and mentorship for groups of Kramer Levin women and minority women lawyers each year. Through our longtime partnership with Legal Outreach Inc., a Harlem-based nonprofit educational organization, each year we help prepare groups of high school students from underserved communities in New York City for college and professional careers by providing a one-week internship and yearlong mentoring. Since 2007, we have partnered with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity to provide talented, underrepresented incoming law school students paid internships the summer before law school. In 2021, the firm will continue the efforts noted above with the launch of a number of new initiatives to broaden our diversity scope, including a commitment to sign on to the Mansfield Rule.
HS: Our pro bono program is widely recognized for its positive impact on racial justice and the LGBTQ+ community.
CA: What impact would a change in presidency have on the firm?
HS: As with any new administration, there will undoubtedly be a mix of new opportunities and challenges. We are confident in the firm’s ability to adapt and meet them all.
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: $390,000,000
- Partners (US): 99
- Associates (US): 205
- Main recruitment contact: Lauren Tapper, Chief Talent Officer
- Hiring partner: Kerri Ann Law
- Diversity officer: Lauren Tapper, Director of Diversity
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 15
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 2Ls: 13, SEO: 1; 1L: 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY: 12 2Ls, 1 SEO; 1L: 4
- Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,700/week 2Ls: $3,700/week
- Split summers offered? Case by Case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
• Columbia University
• Duke University
• Fordham University
• Georgetown University
• Hofstra University
• New York University School of Law
• University of California at Berkeley
• Boalt Hall School of Law
• University of Michigan
• University of Pennsylvania
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collects at other Schools
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, 2021
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Immigration (Band 1)
- 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: 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: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Derivatives (Band 3)
- Immigration (Band 3)