Lean staffing is the norm at this New York mid-sizer that punches well above its weight.
A FORMER hiring partner, Claude Szyfer, recalls being taught, as a young lawyer, the secret to success at Stroock: “One of my mentors used to always say 'I want people to take ownership over a case and make it their own'. The type of people who succeed at Stroock are those who can work independently, because we staff so leanly.” The prospect of doing BigLaw in a more intimate environment had been an appealing draw for the current batch of juniors we interviewed: “I'd heard this was a big firm in terms of the work you get,” one told us, “but not in the cut-throat attitude there is elsewhere.” Newly appointed co-managing partner Jeff Keitelman, the firm's first based in DC, suggests “an opportunity to make a meaningful difference is one thing that sets Stroock apart.” A new hiring partner, Nicole Runyan, took over from Claude Szyfer in January 2017.
“Big” work comes from big clients including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, AIG and American Express. Chambers USA ranks Stroock for its work in New York, DC, California, Florida and nationwide, singling out for particular praise its insurance, international trade, and real estate practices. New York, LA and now DC currently take new entry-level associates, and Claude Szyfer reveals that “we're thinking more nationally as a firm, which involves the New York, DC, Los Angeles and Miami offices working more interactively in collaboration. That's something that's proven very exciting for our attorneys.”
Summer associates get to pick first-choice practice areas, so “when making offers we can give them a sense of where they'll be,” says HP Claude Szyfer. Litigation and corporate take in most new associates, who typically start as generalists within the team before finding a niche. Financial restructuring, IP, tax, real estate and other groups also accommodate newcomers. Associates reported that “all the departments have an administrative partner. They're the central point for all assignments and as new matters come in they'll staff them.” Once they'd got to know partners and “developed relationships, you get work informally, but it's a mix of both. Even in your second year you still get work from the formal system. Repeat work from certain partners is how people specialize.”
In litigation, juniors typically “do legal research and drafting of papers. Many are put onto a large document review for a couple of months. There's also substantive drafting of briefs and motions.” For most, work wasn't hard to come by, and “our group jokes that you have no problem hitting billable requirements.” The majority felt the rush wasn't constant, and breaks were welcomed as “all of a sudden a ton of work comes and you're harking back to the days it was quiet!” A broad mix of clients includes financial institutions and real estate agents. In many cases there's “a fair amount of client interaction, and juniors get significant responsibility. There's usually not several associates between junior and partner,” thanks to lean staffing models.
“You have no problem hitting billable requirements!”
Corporate work spans “a whole plethora. There's a big private funds practice, mutual funds, derivatives, insurance, some energy work. We do smaller M&A.” Specialization in a particular subsection over time was common, though not universal. Juniors initially got “familiar with checklists and closing documents. In the second year they're still part of the day-to-day, but there's a noticeable change from that to credit agreements, drafting ancillary and smaller documents. You get a lot more ability and autonomy.” Happy to “generally do pretty substantive work,” corporate associates felt “you're not buried, but given opportunities.”
The financial restructuring team “typically does creditor-side representation in bankruptcies or out-of-court restructurings. It's pretty varied – as a first-year there's lots of research, but it's nice that once you've done a couple of things for someone they're willing to give you as much as you can handle.” IP work primarily consists of patent litigation and prosecution, and trademark litigation. One junior enjoyed “immense responsibility. When things are busy I'll be writing motions and drafting briefs from start to finish. I even went to trial as a first-year!” The smaller teams provide more scope for specialization early on.
Training & Development
“There's a week's orientation at the start, which runs you through basic stuff. It's not entertaining but it has to be done!” Associates then attend CLE courses that run once a week for the first six months. “The cornerstone of training is the mock trial in summer: a lot goes into that.” Otherwise, associates felt “the only real way to learn is in the trenches.”
Associates get biannual, “informal” one-on-one reviews with the practice group's administrative partner. “They give you a snapshot of what people say about you.” Daily feedback comes through “informal conversations. There's not a lot of structured telling you how you did. Some partners are forthright with comments, others will give honest feedback if requested. The fact I have to ask sucks, but it is at least available.”
Evoking Jay-Z, New Yorkers joked “we have 99 problems, and most of them are with the building! But it's going through renovations, and the improvements are nice.” Associates' verdict was “it's not fantastic, but not terrible.” Summers in New York share offices with first-years to integrate into the firm, and second-years get their own rooms when the new summer class arrives. Closer to Snoop Dogg's California cool, Los Angelenos loved the “building and Century City environment, with great views of downtown LA and the Hollywood sign.” Communication between bases “depends on the deal and partners,” but the firm is reportedly pushing for more.
Culture & Diversity
New York associates reported that “each department has a very different feel,” as each is exclusive to one floor. Litigators felt “everyone's friendly, not particularly outgoing but generally nice,” while the corporate team similarly has “a nice culture. The only thing I would say is some people think things are old-fashioned.” Financial restructuring associates were happy to discover “it's pretty collegial, everybody keeps their door open.” Partners firm-wide were considered “receptive to having associates involved with their discussions. Some are more old-school, but others will go out of their way to thank you.”
“Each department has a very different feel.”
Associates recognized that “Stroock is doing a big re-branding, and working on making things more unified.” Transition was also underway in terms of transparency: “That's something that hasn't been quite as great in the past. They're aware people are unhappy and are trying to make it better.” More social events were also on the reform agenda. Gregarious litigators felt they took more opportunities to socialize with colleagues than those in other departments, but “it's not like we're all dying to hang out. The work schedule is demanding enough that we want to go home after work. Last year's holiday party was really good and they're making an effort to encourage more” along those lines.
Acknowledging that “there are fewer females in senior positions, at associate level it's pretty diverse,” though “we are lacking in terms of ethnic minorities.” At associate level, only 35% are female, slightly lower than the BigLaw average. There are a variety of affinity groups including the Attorneys of Color, SSLGBT, and Working Parents, which all host regular meeting and events. While some associates suggested “it doesn't feel very diverse,” they acknowledged “the firm is looking to address the issue – during recruiting it's something that's considered. We've seen they've hired more LGBT attorneys in particular.”
The founding director of Stroock's Public Service Project (PSP), Kevin Curnin, coordinates pro bono work firmwide, and it's considered “part of the firm's culture in a big way,” according to associates. “They're always encouraging people to take more and are very supportive of us dedicating time and effort to it. A lot of cases are personal passion projects of various partners, and they're a very different experience and nice complement to more typical work.”
Projects have varied from “trust and estates pro bono work, and extremely rewarding cases for terminal illness sufferers,” to a more time-consuming “accusation of sexual assault.” One junior got involved in “a lot of family law stuff, which was a really good experience.” The firm has historically coordinated legal aid in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Our Bonus Features have more information on Stroock's Public Service Project.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 17,971
- Average per attorney: 55
Hours & Compensation
An associate billing target of 2,000 hours, 200 of which can be non-billable legal work (pro bono, journal writing etc.) was considered “attainable if you find the right work. Most people generally make it.” This translates to a ten-hour working day: 9am to 7pm was the rough average, though corporate juniors tended to arrive and leave the office later. One source explained that “on a good day you're out by 6pm, but plenty of times I've worked until 10pm or later.” Weekend work was exceptional, but expected, and interviewees felt “Stroock is really good about a work/life balance” for associates.
“Stroock is really good about a work/life balance.”
“It took a while to hear anything” about the 2016 Cravath-led salary increases (to $180,000 for first-years), but the firm matched and associates thought “they handled the increase well.” One reasoned: “I think Stroock is careful financially, so change can be quite slow.” Los Angeles associates get the New York lockstep level for their first few years, then switch to merit-based compensation – “they haven't given us a good explanation why.” In both offices, “the firm encourages taking vacation. It's luck of the draw timing-wise, and it's sometimes hard to plan; but people are very understanding, rest is something they value.”
Strategy & Future
Former hiring partner Claude Szyfer tells us the firm “wants to continue to grow, not so much opening more offices but strengthening those that we have. We've done some exciting five-year planning, in which we're considering the future of law firms. In particular we're looking at value propositions for clients.” Progress is underway in keeping associates more in the loop about firm strategy. “They're making some serious efforts,” according to interviewees, “there's a new vision for the firm and it will be interesting to see how the transition goes.”
Interview with co-managing partners Jeff Keitelman and Alan Klinger
Chambers Associate: How does having two co-managing partners impact how the firm is run?
Alan Klinger: We believe that no one person has a monopoly on good ideas, especially in this day and age, when management of a law firm has become more complex. As long as you can get along, which Jeff and I do, the firm benefits because you get different approaches to issues and problems. You discuss the issue, reach a conclusion together, and it leads to a better outcome. It also helps that Jeff brings ideas from outside New York, because he's our first co-managing partner ever to be based in an office other than New York. That gives us better exposure into how we can work better together. The most important thing is that it also means nobody has to cede the practice of law, as you can share responsibilities. We do some things together, and others separately. We're a good combination because one of us is instantly decisive and the other more deliberate! Coming together we get the best result.
Jeff Keitelman: We have considerable comfort with our joint responsibilities as co-MPs – it's a governance model that has been in effect at Stroock for a long time, the dual roles have always been there. The newness now simply comes with the fact that I'm relatively new to the firm, having only been here a year and a half. Different people bring different experiences – I was at DLA Piper previously, which was an amalgamation of different firms, so I've seen how small, medium and large firms operate. We have a nice balance here at Stroock, we get along great and it's been wonderful. My partnership with Alan is only just beginning, and we're very excited about what's to come.
CA: What are your plans for Stroock in the next few years?
JK: That's a good question, because it is a case of a few years – you can't make meaningful change in a short period of time. We've thought a lot about it, talked with our executive committee and consulted with our partners and associates. We've also set out to involve all our staff in identifying areas where we can improve and position ourselves better for our clients. We recently adopted the new Stroock 20/20 vision statement, wherein we recognize ever-increasing challenges in the legal industry and look to build our strengths to advance the firm on multiple levels. As such, we're committed to growth in all four offices in New York, DC, Miami and Los Angeles.
As part of our 20/20 statement, to which every level of the firm has contributed, we've decided on a four pronged attack: to put clients first; get superior results; establish a positive culture; and live our core values. That last piece is very important – Stroock has a great culture and we've defined that as respect for each person regardless of their title, class, or anything else, including longevity with the firm. Cultivating empowerment, openness and camaraderie creates a great community that strengthens us even more.
CA: How will Donald Trump's election affect the market? Are there any particular areas that you think we'll see a lot of activity in?
AK: There seems to be a sincere emphasis [by Trump] on making it easier for corporate business to thrive. If that happens, that would certainly benefit key aspects of our practice, including capital markets, M&A, private equity, finance, tax and other areas. Whatever happens in the realm of tax laws or estate planning, we're working on it and putting in place alerts for our clients.
JK: We feel like we've been ahead of the game in positioning the firm for a shift in national policy, in terms of our practice areas and locations. Our DC office is poised for growth coming out of expected changes in the new administration – we have a lot of regulatory practitioners in Washington as well as a good part of our real estate practice. We feel whatever way Trump’s agenda goes, unpredictability is the one thing we can predict. We're ready for it, have thought a lot about it and planned for it. We work very quickly, can make decisions nimbly and with a lot of flexibility. That's the nice thing about being a 300-lawyer firm, it's not a huge ship you have to slowly turn. That allows our associates to be a part of the business, they're a very important part of the firm. We're all one big team and family.
CA: How do you maintain a good level of communication and camaraderie between the firm's offices?
AK: Technology has certainly helped. You can be working on a document in one office, push a button and it comes out in another. It's much easier than it was 35 years ago when I started! Another thing is something we've moved towards, in part after Jeff's suggestions. We've divided Stroock into six broad practice groups – corporate, financial restructuring, intellectual property, litigation, real estate and regulatory support. Each of these spans all of our offices. This new organizational view of the firm is helping us build stronger ties – for instance, we practice real estate in all of our offices and have a national approach where we benefit from having the same clients in all of our offices. That also involves sharing resources which you then don't have to replicate across the network.
JK: Our hiring process takes that into consideration. When we hire in one place, we're not just looking for a candidate who is attractive for that particular location but whether he or she fits into the whole firm. We've also just reorganized our technology and futures committee, and are thinking about and adopting innovative strategies so we continue to deliver legal services in new and efficient ways.
CA: How do you promote the culture that you want the firm to have?
JK: Our size really helps with maintaining a coherent culture, as does our long history as a single firm that has evolved organically. It enables an environment that emphasizes respect, community and collaboration. We staff assignments more leanly so associates get responsibility quickly, and get a lot of feedback from partners and counsel. Part of understanding the millennial generation, we want younger attorneys to take ownership of matters and encourage them to function on a high level early on. A path for professional growth is different for different people, or for the same person at different times of their life. We're creating a unique and flexible working environment, that is balanced and shows commitment to each person's personal life.
AK: Our associates see that we're willing to invest in their growth, and that separates us from many other firms. What we're looking to do is improve on commitment. Each substantive area participates in Stroock University, offering specific skills training. And we are adding more training on business development, as we found it benefits both associates and the firm if they start thinking about how to get into a position to bring in business. That can be done through credentialing, networking events, writing commentary, even social media. I think people respond well when we see they're taking an interest in them individually.
JK: The last pieces of that culture are our pro bono program and diversity initiative, both of which are significant investments not only in terms of dollars, but time and seriousness. Those are both and always have been important to all of us at Stroock.
CA: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to a student looking to go into the law, what would it be?
JK: I would say find a place that works for you. I went to Columbia law school a long time ago, and everyone there went to major New York firms because they thought that was the thing they had to do. Find your own place, don't just follow the crowd or rankings. As you get older you do find that life is short and law is challenging, and you want to get the best of both.
AK: What are the factors that go into finding the right place? I'd suggest looking at a firm that contains the substantive areas that interest you, then look at the role of the firm’s junior and mid-level associates. Would you be able to develop substantive skills there?. At a lot of great law firms, in the first several years you're acting as a glorified paralegal. That's not why most people go to law school. At a place like Stroock, you'll find that people do get responsibility. You won't be arguing the most important motion or case as a second year, but you'll learn the skills of the craft that will benefit you, whether you stay on at Stroock or your career takes you in another path.
JK: Circling back to the first question, look for a place where the leadership is available and accessible. Find an opportunity to make a meaningful difference. That's one thing I think will set Stroock apart. Alan and I have made the commitment to know everyone in the firm and make a place for them in our team and family.
Interview with former hiring partner Claude Szyfer
Chambers Associate: What's been the most exciting thing the firm has done in the past year?
Claude Szyfer: There are a number of new initiatives that we have worked on this year, that are exciting. We've done a lot of work recently on the branding of the firm and looking at our future. We've adopted a Stroock 2020 vision statement and we spoke with partners and associates throughout the firm to seek their input and help identify areas that we should focus on to better position ourselves for our clients, given ever increasing challenges in the legal industry. In addition, we're thinking more nationally as a firm, which involves the New York, DC, Los Angeles and Miami offices working more collaboratively. That's something that's proven very positive for our attorneys. Lastly, we are looking to build out our strengths and advance the firm.
CA: What are the firm's priorities going into the future?
CS: We want to continue to grow, not so much by opening more offices but building out those that we have. We have made good progress and want to continue to work synergystically across offices and by way of example, I work with our LA office, which is not unusual.
CA: At OCIs, about how many students do you see at each campus?
CS: It depends on the school. At some schools, we do one schedule and see 22 students whereas at other schools such as New York University, Columbia, Penn and Fordham, we see significantly more students, so it varies from school to school.
CA: What's the typical criteria for who makes it through to callback interviews?
CS: I like the way you phrased the question because for us, it's not strictly based on grades, as we look at candidates more broadly than that. We also value work and life experiences, and how well the interviewees interact with the interviewers. I'm not afraid to say “my gut feeling is this person is going to be great, even if their grades are not as high when compared to another student.”
We take a holistic approach and a big part of what we are looking for in candidates is people who are going to become leaders and who will thrive in our lean staffing model. Beyond that, we're also looking for intellectually curious people who will be as interested in the cases they're working on as the partners. I work so closely with my clients that their issues become mine, and I'm looking for people who are interested in that same way.
CA: What sets the Stroock interview process apart?
CS: We tend to go further than a recitation of a person's resume. It's nice to know if somebody's worked for an investment bank or done a fellowship. But I want to know what motivates and drives a candidate, and not just what someone did, but why. One thing I always ask is “what's not on your resume that we should know about?” Law students are so geared to talking about experiences, but I want to know what drives someone and makes them unique. Because we don't have a large summer class by design, we make offers preciously, and will only make an offer to someone who we think is special.
CA: What type of person thrives at the firm?
CS: There is no one mold, but I can give some general criteria. I mentioned leadership – one of my mentors here at the firm used to always say, “I want people to take ownership over a case and make it their own.” Because we staff leanly, the type of people who succeed at Stroock are those who can work independently, albeit with guidance and development, and take the work and run with it. One thing I tell associates is to not just come in and ask “what do we do?” Instead I welcome those who suggest “this is what I think we should do next.” I much prefer towork collaboratively and collegially, rather than have a one-sided conversation. I want to work with people who are as engaged as I am.
CA: How do you ensure that the firm's summer program offers a realistic view of what it's like to be an attorney at Stroock?
CS: The work that first and second years typically get is what our summers get. We make it as realistic as possible, and want the work to simulate what they will do when they come back as an associate. There's an emphasis on making sure projects are not make-work but substantive assignments, and we ensure that by having two attorneys assign the summer program work. One handles litigation, the other transactional. They look at the projects before they are assigned and see if they make sense – the assignment may be too substantive and challenging for a summer or it might not be substantive enough. We try to always find the right balance.
CA: How are new associates sorted into practice areas?
CS: That process happens during the summer program. Before summer associates arrive, we ask them what their preferences are, which may include up to three or four different practice areas. At the beginning of the summer, we make sure they get projects in all the areas that they are interested in and as the summer progresses, we ask them to hone in on a first choice. By the end of the summer, the idea is you can say “I want to do litigation because...,” filling in the blank how you want. So you don't only know what you want to do, but also why.
CA: Is there anything else our readers should know about the firm, that makes it stand out?
CS: There are a number of things that set Stroock apart. It's obviously a place where you'll work hard and do great work as well as a firm that respects individuals and diversity, and recognizes that you want to have a life outside the firm too.
This isn't a place that's big on face time, if you get your work done well, you'll succeed regardless. We have adopted technologies that allow people to work remotely and, in fact, have a couple of associates who no longer live in New York but are affiliated with the office – they made the life choice to move, but we didn't want to lose them and wanted to make sure they continued to develop. It's that type of place – we'll work with you and develop you, respecting your choices and finding a way to succeed.
“Everyone's different” in the Stroock interview process, but common questions according to current associates include “what drives you? What environment do you see yourself in? Why Stroock? They know we're not a massive firm and want to make sure associates know what they're getting into.” They advised that interviewers are “looking for competence, the ability to work under pressure and whether interviewees would be good at interacting with clients.” Callback questions can be more “targeted, like 'what are your strengths and weaknesses?' They'll also ask you for your experiences that show these.”
To prepare, “take advantage of mock interview programs. The difference between your first and fifth go at interviewing are going to be vast.” Other strategies includeto “reach out to people at the firm and get a feel for the types of questions,” and “do your research about the culture of Stroock and what we do, and our biggest practices.” If you have an eye on a particular practice group, some background knowledge is invaluable. An IP junior who helped conduct interviews noted “some people were not distinctly interested in the area; but questions focus heavily on making sure people are really interested in IP specifically,” so don't fall into the trap of not showing your commitment.
Practice area knowledge will also help when picking a firm; for instance, in corporate at Stroock “we don't have a big M&A practice, which is fundamental at other places. The firm is pretty good about explaining what we are and what we aren't.” Research can also help when it comes to culture: one associate “didn't know a ton about the culture here, but I ended up fitting in pretty well. Try to meet the people you're going to be working with.” Finally, as with every firm, not being a jerk is crucial: “The thing that makes me most advocate for someone is wanting to hang out with them.”
Stroock's Public Service Project
Founded in March 2001, the Public Service Project is the central effort through which Stroock co-ordinates its pro bono. Just as billable work is carved up into practice areas, pro bono is divided into categories including Community Economic Development; Disability Rights; Environmental Sustainability; Schools and Education; Women, Family and Children; and Disaster Relief. The latter category has included some pretty high-profile work, including the co-founding of the 'Second Wind' advocacy group to assist small businesses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The scheme's founding director, full-time pro bono partner Kevin Curnin, was described by juniors as “extremely passionate. We're very respected for our pro bono and have a very well-established program because of him.” New York is the focus for many projects, including collaborations with the N.Y.C. Equal Justice Alliance and Rocking the Boat, a youth outreach non-profit which Stroock has provided general counsel for since the inception of the Public Service Project. Los Angeles associates also reported that in California “there's plenty of opportunities, we get emails pretty often” advertising cases ranging from human trafficking to billing disputes.
New associates are encouraged to “get started on pro bono straight away,” and found that “it gives you a lot of really good experience.” In total the firm's attorneys completed 17,970 hours of pro bono work in 2016, averaging out as 55 per lawyer. Associates were happy to declare that Stroock was “extremely committed” to pro bono, “in a way I never thought I would say. We see they really care about those who need our services, and we're encouraged to take cases no matter how big or small.”
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
180 Maiden Lane,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $270,000,000
- Partners (US): 88
- Associates (US): 204
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,461/week
- 2Ls: $3461/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,461/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 14
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 14 offers, 14 acceptances
Main areas of work
Primary practice areas include real estate; financial restructuring; investment management/private funds; commodities, energy and corporate transactions; insurance; financial services litigation & enforcement; government affairs, government contracts & national security; entertainment and intellectual property; personal client services and regulatory support.
Stroock is multi-disciplinary law firm known for 140 years as a market-leading advisor to the financial services and investment communities and for its special focus in financial restructuring, real estate, investment management/private funds and litigation/enforcement.
• Number of 1st year associates: 14
• Number of 2nd year associates: 14
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: A $50,000 clerkship bonus is provided upon completion of a judicial clerkship with a federal court or state judge in the highest court of that jurisdiction.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
New York Office: Boston C, Boston U, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, NEBLSA, NY Law School, NYU, Penn Los Angeles Office: Loyola, UCLA, USC
Summer associate profile:
matters and are able to function at a high level early in their careers. While not a prerequisite, those with prior work experience and those who have held leadership positions typically do well at Stroock.
Summer program components:
The firm’s program includes a flexible work assignment system, billable work across different practice areas, extensive training programs, pro bono opportunities, access to Diversity/Affinity Groups’ activities and social events. In addition, each summer associate has a partner and an associate mentor, as well as a first-year office mate, which allows summer associates to quickly build relationships with and work alongside Stroock attorneys. Summer associates receive formal feedback at the mid-point and at the end of the summer, as well as when they complete assignments.