Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP - The Inside View

With its New York pedigree and enviable reputation in the courtroom, Kramer Levin presents BigLaw with an intimate twist.

KRAMER, Jerry Seinfeld's enigmatic neighbor, is a New Yorker. He sports an eye-catching bouffant, has a habit of dramatically bursting into rooms, and seems to have no regular source of income. Summary: he's a little 'different,' but people love him. Kramer Levin is a New Yorker too, and – somewhat surprisingly – the similarities stretch beyond name and location: it too is a little 'different'. Why? Well it carries a formidable reputation despite being smaller than many of its Big Apple peers, and (to the relief of our interviewees) it eschews those BigLaw stereotypes that leave law students drenched in a cold sweat. “I wouldn't view it as the New York sweatshop type at all. There are busy times, but everyone is super nice, which helps!” said one junior, while another added: “People just wouldn't leave to go to another BigLaw firm.”

“We don't need to be all things to all people.”

Work-wise, the firm excels in advertising, white-collar and bankruptcy litigation, but Kramer doesn't just boast a stellar contentious practice: it picks up transactional nods from Chambers USA in areas like corporate, real estate, tax and capital markets. “Though it might not be as well known among our generation as some of the global powerhouses, whenever you meet older lawyers they respect the firm for being top-notch,” associates told us. Managing partner Paul Pearlman echoes this: “We've always been known for the quality of our lawyering. We've been referred to as lawyers' lawyers. It is much easier to maintain that quality when you're smaller.” To prove it, the firm recently represented New York mayor Bill de Blasio, and at the time of our calls was about to work on the Toys R Us bankruptcy.

Strategy & Future



Pearlman continues: “I think we've carved out a niche in the marketplace by being smaller than many.Bigger does not necessarily mean better; we can satisfy our clients' needs, and we don't need to be all things to all people. We're content to solidify our place in the marketplace, while other firms are moving in lots of different directions.” By solidifying, Pearlman means “adding breadth and depth. For example, we brought Richard Farley in leveraged finance because we wanted to be representing lenders on the transactional side.”

The Work



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, land use, business immigration and employment. Each department has an assigning partner, and associates fill out a weekly email detailing their availability. Juniors leaned on their assigning partners for work to start with, but soon “the majority of long-term assignments come from asking around or developing relationships with partners. That's possible in an office with just a few hundred people.”

Litigators can sample a range of work, including advertising cases, white-collar crime matters and general commercial disputes. On the white-collar side, “we often represent individuals within an organization, which means there's a more personal relationship with the client – as juniors we often interact with them.” All sources reaped the rewards of uber-lean staffing. Some had “client meetings with just me, a partner and another second year,” while those preparing for trials told us: “We are relied upon. I was drafting witness outlines, interviewing potential witnesses, dealing with expert testimony and preparing defense themes to be used at the trial. I got the full experience.” 

While that all sounds wonderful, junior litigators still recounted stints of doc review, and corporate attorneys found themselves “doing the customary due diligence. You can't take it personally: that is the hierarchy. It's about understanding the importance of it. Still, midlevel associates are interested in mentoring you to bring you up to speed.” The corporate group, which mainly serves middle-market private companies, has three branches: banking and finance, securities and M&A. “As a first year you are free to work on anything,” deal-doing sources told us. “Because the staffing model can mean it's just you, a midlevel associate and a partner on a private equity matter, you become acquainted with the real mechanics of the deal. On top of junior things like drafting ancillary documents, you might also run the whole due diligence process and send memos to the other side.”

Offices



The vast majority of associates are based in New York, and despite “having to wait in line for 20 minutes for the best salad places,” they still found their midtown location “great: we're in the center of Manhattan and the legal world – there are more than a dozen firms around us.” Inside, an office revamp “is making more efficient use of the space, adding more glass and bringing in more light.” Kramer's interior decoration gurus relayed that they didn't have “any complaints – it just needed to be brought into the 21st century via some additional flair.” Associates share an office until their second or third year, which associates were happy with: “We have a basketball hoop on the back of our door! It's nice to have a second pair of eyes for proofreading too, as well as someone to talk to.”

The only other domestic office, in Silicon Valley, has around 15 lawyers and specializes in IP litigation.

Culture



“We definitely work very hard, but this is a place that I look forward to journeying to every morning.” All our interviewees offered similar caveats. “It's just a little bit more laid back. I see ourselves as serious people who don't take themselves too seriously. When people are working they go all in, 100%, but everyone still gets along. There's no yelling.” Another junior added: “If there's a conflict – say you're needed on two different deals – people are open to you talking to them to figure out how to get everything done on time so nobody gets upset. There's always an open channel of communication.” Once again, the firm's smaller dimensions are a benefit here: “It's more collaborative and less bureaucratic because of its size.”

“They don't expect you to only exist as an employee.”

Kramer people aren't just 2D lawyers either: “The people here are really smart, but they have interests outside of law. As a result everyone is interesting, with certain hobbies or quirks.” And there's room to pursue these interests: “The firm understands that you have a life outside of the firm. They don't expect you to only exist as an employee. This is not a firm where there's pressure to constantly hang out.” Still, for those who do feel like mingling with their colleagues we heard of monthly cocktail hours in the firm's atrium, a Christmas party and summer events. The lure of cocktails couldn't win over everybody though: “I love it here, but it's a hard job and it's tiring. I want to go home when I'm finished, not to a cocktail party.”

Hours & Compensation



Associates must rack up 1,950 hours to get a bonus. That number, described as “extremely achievable” by our sources, was instituted relatively recently. The previous target was 2,150 and had attracted the ire of associates. “The fact that they listened to us and made changes was impressive.”

Associates typically arrive at the office around 9:30am and leave between 7:30 and 8pm. “If you do leave earlier, there's always the chance of getting an email and therefore doing more work from home. At weekends you won't be putting in full days, but there will be a few hours where you'll do work.” Hours can be unpredictably tough, especially in corporate. “You have quiet weeks, medium weeks and really crappy weeks.” Early morning finishes occur, though infrequently enough to avoid grinding associates down. “You do see people coming in with bags under their eyes, but there are always chances to catch a break and recharge.”

Pro Bono



“They both encourage and –  more importantly – don't discourage doing pro bono.” Backing up this statement, associates pointed to the fact that Kramer doesn't cap the amount of pro bono hours its lawyers can do, and that all of them count toward the bonus billing target. In addition, “the firm holds an end of year pro bono awards ceremony, where we can see that most people – even partners – dedicate a significant amount of time to it.” Interviewees had worked on housing matters and with KIND (Kids In Need of Defense), to take on “immigration status cases involving juveniles.” Kramer also has longstanding links to domestic abuse charity Her Justice, and offers its associates the chance to undertake a four-month pro bono secondment full-time via Brooklyn Legal Services.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 25,946
  • Average per US attorney: 85

Diversity



“There's room for improvement,” was a typical response from associates when the question of diversity was raised. “The partnership is heavily white and male, but hopefully that will change with time as our more diverse senior associates move into the partner ranks.” We did hear that “the firm is taking steps to refine its partnership track and is making more of an effort to hire internally.” In addition, “the diversity committee puts on events at the firm and does outreach events at law schools. There's also a Women's Circle, where groups of female attorneys meet – that's been well received, as it encompasses women from all levels.” Courtesy of founding partner Arthur Kramer, the firm has a historic connection to LGBT causes; together with his brother – the writer Larry Kramer – the firm helped to establish the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982.

Training & Development



New associates kick off proceedings with an orientation week that includes practice area-specific trainings. For corporate associates these covered “contract drafting, due diligence and the different phases of a deal. Every comma matters in corporate work, and they alert you to all the things you might miss. It's a great overview.” Another associate told us there's “a good bunch of CLEs afterward – maybe four or five a week – so many I can't keep track!” However, despite the bounty of CLEs sources still agreed that “the best training involves learning by doing.” Juniors also take a proactive approach to ensure they're developing matter by matter: “After a project comes to an end I go to an older associate's office, schmooze, spend 20 minutes breaking down my performance and come away with some inside tips.

Get Hired



You study, and you study hard. That's what law school is about. But that's not the be-all and end-all when it comes to recruitment. Being a legal genius is but one piece of the puzzle. So it is at Kramer Levin. Hiring partner Keri Ann Law makes the commercial case: “Lawyers who have outside interests can relate to clients with outside interests, so people who are multifaceted are an advantage.” So the message for 1Ls is clear; Keri Ann encourages students to “start becoming involved in the law school community and the things they care about. As a lawyer you will handle multiple cases, and so for students to be involved in multiple things shows they could manage that well.”

But the firm makes some compromises to find people who fit that mold. As one associate who'd been involved in recruiting told us: “We're not grades snobs, as long as you're smart. We look at the resume and we want to have a conversation with someone who has prepared well for the interview, but as an associate you're going to be in front of the client. You don't have to be the greatest writer in the world; we look for someone who is quick on their feet, is taking the initiative, and that's representative of the firm in general. We're not one those where if you weren't in the top 25 in your class your resume goes in the trash.”

This attitude leads to a particular angle of questioning in interviews. “We ask every candidate to describe a substantive project they have worked on so that we get to hear how they approached it and what they did,” says Keri Ann. “We hear their level of excitement about the project they worked on, and that is very important. We want people to be excited about what they want to be doing. If you like doing it, you're going to be doing it better.” And a source remembered their interviews being “a lot more personal. I could talk about my hobbies, they weren't just asking 'why litigation?'” It seems to deliver. One associate proclaimed that “there is definitely a 'type' of person: someone's who is really smart but has a natural interest in things outside of just working at a law firm. Everyone is interesting, they all have their certain hobbies or quirks.”

The summer program provides summers with a partner to assign work, and though there are no formal rotations, Keri Ann tells us the firm “encourages them to try things. Students often only see litigation on law school, and don't know what else is out there.” For support, summers get a first-year buddy, as well as a mentor.

 

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP

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

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $387,000,000
  • Partners (US): 98
  • Associates (US): 217
  • Contact 
  • Main recruitment contact: Lauren Tapper, Director of Legal Recruiting
  • Hiring partner: Kerri Ann Law
  • Diversity officer: Lauren Tapper, Director of Diversity
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 16
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 2Ls: 14, SEO: 1
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: NY: 14 2Ls, 1 SEO
  • Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,750/week 2Ls: $3,750/week
  • Split summers offered? Case by Case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of workBankruptcy 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 and Paris and fosters a strong culture of involvement in public and community service.

Recruitment Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
• Benjamin N Cardozo
• Brooklyn
• Columbia University
• Duke 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

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
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Immigration (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Securities Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation Recognised Practitioner
    • Immigration (Band 3)