Seward has sailed steadily for over 130 years and offers associates a masterclass in investment management work, as well as broader financial services matters.
“We’re midsized by New York standards,” remarks partner Kevin Neubauer, “but we compete with the top firms in areas such as investment and fund management. Our maritime practice is also very highly regarded and competes with the highest firms in that space.” Seward can certainly lay claim to innovator status in the financial services realm, as it formed the first hedge fund firm back in 1949. For a whole host of hedge funds today, going to Seward for legal advice on their activities is still a no-brainer. But there’s also a range of private equity funds, institutional investors, banks, and transportation companies on Seward’s client roster. The firm’s focus on financial services has paid off, as Chambers USA notes Seward’s capabilities in the hedge fund and capital markets spaces on a nationwide level. In its home city of New York, the firm is especially commended for its bankruptcy/restructuring and white-collar crime and government investigations expertise. The jewel in Seward’s nationwide crown, according to Chambers USA, is its shipping finance know-how.
“...we have second-years who are already chairing depositions around the globe!”
“What distinguishes us is the stability of the firm,” Neubauer reflects. “The longevity of partners at the firm is very stable, and we’ve only had one partner departure outside of retirement in the last 30 years. That really is remarkable, especially in New York.” Our associate sources were drawn to this perception of stability, as well as “the firm’s smaller size and BigLaw-quality work.” Seward’s scale means “associates get experienceat an early stage – we have second-years who are already chairing depositions around the globe!” an interviewee enthused. The firm’s more specialist scope was also a plus: “I liked that people didn’t necessarily know about Seward unless they were in the industry. The investment management group is a large one at the firm and I like working in an area that’s a primary revenue driver.” Seward has two offices – New York and DC – and most associates are based in the Big Apple.
TOP READ: Becoming a lawyer at a mid-sized firm - the view from Seward & Kissel
Seward’s investment management practice held the most associates on our list, with the other juniors fairly evenly distributed between groups like litigation, corporate finance, and business transactions. Work assignment was mostly free-market, even in the groups – like litigation – that had a staffing partner. “The firm’s smaller size means that there isn’t really much formality” in terms of assignment. “In the beginning you’re volunteering for assignments, and then the same partners keep coming back to you for different things,” an investment management source told us. Another flagged that despite the free-market system, “the work is distributed rather evenly, and there are some assignments that are just done by first-year associates.”
“You're not a glorified copy editor here – they give you the pen and you put it on the pad!”
The investment management practice handles “stock formation options, regulatory filings, subscription agreements and other fund documents,” a source informed us. The team regularly advises on new hedge fund launches, as well as fund restructurings and regulatory compliance matters. Some assignments also require advice relating to tax, employment, and ERISA considerations. There’s work on the private equity fund formation side, too, particularly in the middle-market segment of the area. Broader considerations do give juniors “an early opportunity to work with other practice groups, so we can figure out the how and why on certain matters.” That baseline knowledge comes in handy when juniors start drafting, which for one source happened at the end of their first year: “By that point you’ve learned how things are handled and they let you dive in. You're not a glorified copy editor here – they give you the pen and you put it on the pad!” Some interviewees found that “you get the most responsibility on the regulatory compliance side – I was handling clients all by myself on those matters.” Sources again highlighted that “we’re midsized, so you’re leanly staffed on a lot of deals early on. Looking back, it was an excellent experience, and now it’s much easier to handle my own matters.”
“It’s my ideas and my draft.”
On the litigious side of things, a source explained that “we do three main types of litigation: securities, commercial, and internal investigations with government.” The “big bucket” within that is “maritime litigation – probably the majority of the work comes from that area.” Clients here include banks, investment managers and maritime companies.Multi-jurisdictional disputes are something of a forte here, with many involving a mix of commercial, corporate, and restructuring factors. When it comes to white-collar and internal investigations, Seward’s matters include both state and federal agencies and pertain to the likes of securities fraud, insider trading, and alleged antitrust and environmental violations. "I’m very much happy with the responsibility,” said one source. “I’m the primary drafter, so I have a lot of client exposure. I’m on every call with the client, the government, and opposing counsel. I’ve handled large motions to dismiss, and as a junior it’s my ideas and my draft.”
Litigation clients: ING Bank, Commodities & Mineral Enterprise, Blue Wall Shipping. Represented Commodities & Mineral Enterprise in arbitration proceedings against a Venezuelan government-owned company – FMO – over the latter’s default on agreements made to purchase and transport iron ore from the Orinoco River.
If corporate finance sounds appealing, then Seward offers a mix of borrower- and lender-side work on a whole host of loan transactions, as well as specialist expertise in areas such as aviation finance and FinTech. Sources also mentioned a supply of derivatives and collateral loan obligations (CLOs) to get stuck into. As deals close, “you’re doing the signature pages, which can mean a lot of long nights, but that brings you closer to the group and you do get to see all the documents that are required for a closing to happen.” Interviewees also felt that they “got exposure quickly – you get taken out to meet the clients and learn about their businesses.”
Corporate finance clients: New York branch of DNB Bank, New York branch of Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank. Acted as lead counsel to DNB Bank in its capacity as administrative agent in connection with a collection of facilities granted to Seajacks International worth $175 million.
“My favorite thing about the culture is that you can forget you’re speaking to partners, as there’s a flat structure,” one associate who was living the midsize-firm dream told us. “There are no egos and we’re people first, with hobbies and vacations that we want to pursue outside of work. Everyone knows each other’s families as well!” This source agreed and explained that “it’s not all about work, and they do care about us as humans. I don’t feel like I’m replaceable or some kind of legal widget. When we started working in the office again people were checking in to see how I was doing. We’re definitely more than just the billables here and if I wasn’t working at Seward, I probably wouldn’t be working at a law firm!”
“...you can still feel silly and walk around the office floor laughing!”
There was some variation between the groups, with those in investment management detecting more of a “'work hard, play hard' vibe – we all meet up after work, and you can still feel silly and walk around the office floor laughing!” Those in corporate finance said their group was “very professional and work-focused – we're very productive! There’s not as much team bonding outside of work, but we have been out for a few dinners with clients.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 – 2,200 target (tied to different bonus tiers)
“The minimum hours target for a bonus does fluctuate," a source told us. As it currently stands, hitting 2,000 hours grants eligibility for a lockstep, first-tier bonus, while 2,200 unlocks the second-tier payout. Associates can count up to 150 hours of pro bono and firm matters (like business and client development, mentoring and recruiting) towards their hours targets. “I hit the target and if you want to do it, it is achievable,” said a litigator, while an investment management source flagged that there was enough work to go around: “This year I got the maximum bonus!”
“...we’re never getting crushed!”
The work itself can ebb and flow as naturally as the tides. “It’s definitely no standard M&A situation though – we’re never getting crushed!” an investment management junior told us. We were told that Seward doesn’t encourage people to work past 11pm, but it’s not unheard of. “During busy times, there are occasional all-nighters,” a corporate finance interviewee noted, “but generally you’re working from 9am until 6:30pm and then maybe going home to finish any work if needed.” Litigators explained that in the run-up to hearings “you might be working until midnight for a week, but that’s short term, so I just dig down, get through it, and take comfort in knowing that it’s not going to be 3am finishes for the rest of my life!” We heard that “the firm encourages vacation” and even allows everyone to work fully remotely during the entire month of August, so attorneys can soak up those rays from the comfort of wherever they choose to be. Attorneys can also work fully remotely from the week of Christmas through to the New Year. Talk about getting into the festive spirit! At the moment, Seward’s attorneys are expected to be in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We used to be granted an unlimited amount of pro bono, but that changed to a cap of 150 hours,” a source noted. However, “that change was not well received, so it may be looked at again.” As with many firms, “most of the opportunities are more litigation-based, so those in corporate roles don’t get that much coming their way,” but we did hear that the firm sends out a monthly email with a comprehensive list of pro bono assignments to sign up for. “They also encourage us to go out and seek our own projects that interest us,” a source added.
We heard of associates getting involved in transgender name change matters, but Seward also has links with the Her Justice organization, which helps women living in poverty, as well as the Urban Justice Center, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and the New York Legal Assistance Group.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 2,033
- Average per US attorney: 81.3
Juniors did note that there are “a lot of the homegrown partners at the firm” and consequently felt that “partnership is an attainable goal." Alternatively, “the partners constantly remind us that there’s more personalized support outside of the traditional partnership pathway available,” which can be tied to “going in-house, working reduced hours or staying on as a career associate. A lot of people stay here for a long time because they are so flexible when working with you.”
In addition, “they’re working on putting in place a more robust training program” that will move “the more informal fireside chats with seniors to something more formal. We were already doing the right thing, but we wanted to formalize it to further meet associate needs and ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks,” an associate explained.Partner KevinNeubauer adds: “We’re instituting a new development program that will supercharge our efforts and make sure that our next generation of lawyers have the skills that will enable them to be successful.” Associates can take part in various personal development programs, including a writing workshop, a managing priorities workshop, and a business development workshop. Our sources were generally happy with their sense of development at the firm, with Neubauer highlighting that “we don’t often lose associates to other law firms. More often than not, if they leave, they will move out of town or go in-house. That speaks to the quality of the work and the autonomy our associates have here.”
Diversity Equity, & Inclusion
Seward’s new professional development program “includes a DE&I element,” Neubauer tells us. “We’ve also increased the number of schools that we recruit at to diversify our summer classes and we’re in touch with our law school partners to show that we are the kind of firm that values diversity.” An associate, meanwhile, flagged that “the firm is aiming for 33% diverse representation in its upcoming summer associate class.”
Sources did note that Seward “doesn’t have many women in leadership roles,” but is “moving in the right direction – they've hired a bunch of new people in HR, with one stating that diversity was number one on their list.” The firm is working on improving diversity with new initiatives which include the formation of affinity groups. There's also programming and events run each month for Black, LGBT+, Hispanic, and Asian American associates. All in all, sources were happy to report: "Seward is not toxic at all and informally I haven’t ever felt any microaggressions directed at me.”
Strategy & Future
“We’re growing in terms of headcount and profitability, and we’ll continue along that trajectory,” says partner Kevin Neubauer. “We’ll continue to build on our strengths and remain strong in the sectors that we specialize in. We’re a rare bird in that we’re a midsized New York firm with no interest in merging with other firms of a similar size.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 420
Interviewees outside OCI: 13
Seward & Kissel sees between 20 and 40 students per school/job fair, and attends over 24 on-campus programs and job fairs including Albany, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, GWU, Georgetown, Harvard, MABLSA Job Fair, Michigan, NEBLSA Job Fair, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Rutgers, Seton Hall, UNC, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington & Lee.
Partners, counsel and associates conduct the interviews. The firm looks for “well-rounded, mature individuals of demonstrated intellectual capacity and promising legal ability” in prospective associates, according to the firm’s hiring partner Kevin Neubauer. Interviewers will also want to see analytical ability, judgment and decisiveness in the students they interview. Good people skills are also important, so candidates with personality and character will fare well. Preparation, self-confidence and enthusiasm also helps individuals stand out.
Top tips for this stage:
“Candidates who impress our interviewers are able to speak clearly and confidently and will be engaged in the conversation, providing sincere responses. They will be enthusiastic and demonstrate that they are the type of person with whom our attorneys would want to work.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
Applicants invited to second-stage interview: 195
Callback candidates speak with a mix of four partners, counsel and associates (each of the meetings lasts for 30 minutes). Questions at the callback interview tend to be open-ended so candidates can answer freely, allowing the interview to become more of a conversation – and permit the candidate to do most of the talking. The questions will also require a candidate to show the ability to think about a subject area with focus and organized thought.
Before the callback interview, candidates should review their resume, as interviewers will delve into their experiences detailed on the resume. The firm’s website is another resource candidates should use to prepare: to get an idea of S&K’s practice areas to be ready to talk about which areas interest them. After the firm makes its offers, successful candidates are welcome to speak with more attorneys.
Top tips for this stage:
“Confidence, ability to speak about your experiences and genuine enthusiasm for working at Seward & Kissel help make a great first impression." – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
S&K aims to give its summer associates a realistic overview of the firm’s practice during the summer program. Summers rotate through each of the major departments. One key feature of the program is feedback: the firm provides summer associates with extensive feedback on their work, through both formal and informal evaluations during the program.
The program is also designed to allow summer associates to get to know attorneys through training and social events. Summers can mingle at weekly events. Virtual events for the 2021 summer program included: murder mystery, co-worker feud, glass painting, a mixology class, pretzel making, wine blending, weekly trivia, and departmental happy hours. As for training, each department hosts a seminar to introduce the attorneys working in that group, showcase the work they do, and educate summers as to what would be expected of them if they ultimately joined as an associate.
Before the end of the program, each summer associate meets with the chief recruiting officer to discuss practice group options and to list their top three choices for placement. The firm tells us it makes every effort to match the expressed choices with the firm’s needs. Most years, the firm achieves a 100% acceptance rate from its summer associate classes.
Top tips for this stage:
“Questions are encouraged and if a summer associate does not understand an assignment, they should seek clarification immediately. The summer associates should also take the opportunity to speak with as many attorneys as possible during their ten weeks at the firm.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
S&K hires lateral associates for designated practice groups depending on business needs, whether that’s increased work in a particular group, or to replace an associate who’s departed. Lateral hires generally have between three to six years of experience, and the firm tells us that its recent hires have come from other premier law firms and the government. In the past year, the firm has recruited laterals into its real estate, investment management, corporate finance, global institutional finance, maritime, capital markets, tax, and business transactions groups.
“Our firm is a friendly place that has a strong, supportive environment. Most of our partners have spent their entire legal careers at the firm, and so, because the partners have effectively grown up here together, there is a clear sense of trust, mutual respect and team loyalty. We are down-to-earth people, which sets the tone for a wonderful working environment.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
Seward & Kissel LLP
One Battery Park Plaza,
Main areas of work
Our New York office participates in the following OCI programs:
• Boston College
• Boston University
• George Washington
• NEBLSA Job Fair
• New York University
• Seton Hall
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Vanderbilt Job Fair
Our Washington, DC office participates in the following OCI programs:
• Boston College
• Boston University
• Cornell Job Fair
• George Washington
• MABLSA Job Fair
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Washington & Lee
Summer associate profile:
We rely heavily on our summer program for our hiring needs. The primary goals of the program are to provide summer associates with a realistic, broad-based view of our practice and an opportunity to become acquainted with our attorneys through our informal mentoring program, training sessions and social events.
Summer program components:
Assignments are from our practice areas. Training: weekly seminars, practice group meetings and in-house training sessions. Feedback is given formally at the middle and end of the summer program.
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Securitization: Trustee Counsel (Band 2)
- Hedge Funds (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 1)