BigLaw, big clients and the Big Apple... this compact New Yorker is bigger than it seems…
THE Wright brothers. The Cohen brothers. The Stroock brothers. All three pairs of siblings have shown that keeping it in the family is the winning formula. Sure, the Stroocks didn't invent air travel or The Big Lebowski, but their achievements are noteworthy, especially for the firm's modest proportions. “Going after the biggest and the best,” Stroock's clients include Goldman Sachs, American Express and Sophia Loren. Chambers USA scores Stroock highly in a raft of practice areas, particularly in real estate and media & entertainment (check out chambersandpartners.com for the full breakdown). “We do sophisticated work for a prominent group of clients," co-managing partner Alan Klinger tells us. But the differentiating factor for juniors is: "not being tremendously large, we can staff more leanly so our associates don't end up working as glorified paralegals. They are given a lot of responsibility very quickly.”
Most newbies are split equally between corporate and litigation. The rest go into more niche areas including financial restructuring, IP and tax. Although “real estate is Stroock's flagship practice,” only 10% of new starters go there. Insiders believed that “for the most part every office does litigation, real estate, general corporate and financial restructuring." DC doesn't do litigation but "has a lot of work in CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States]. LA and Miami have a big entertainment focus.” There's also the “regular opportunity to cross-staff," according to a Big Appler. "Miami and DC and LA – work goes back and forth between everyone.”
“It's a meritocracy."
Typically, new associates start out as generalists in both litigation and corporate and “as we progress we specialize. They’re good at giving us work in our interest areas though.” Litigators are normally entrusted with “either high-level administrative work or low-level legal work. You might be given a hundred pages of handwritten comments and told to type them up.” On the flipside, “every litigation associate in the country will say that it’s all doc review. But I've drafted briefs for various motions, memos for research assignments and I've also negotiated a settlement.” Insiders emphasized that this was the norm as “it's a meritocracy. People don’t have formal views on what juniors should be given, as opposed to a midlevel.”
Corporate fledglings described how they initially “run managerial tasks like gathering documents.” Others elaborated they'd “had to learn a topic in the morning and then present it in the afternoon to clients.” They generally relished the chance to “do things out of my comfort zone, working closely with people who treat you simultaneously as a colleague and as a student.” Responsibility in real estate usually depends on the size of the deal. “In very large deals, like portfolio lending, you do diligence work. You’re likely to be in charge of the background agreements. Smaller deals are leanly staffed, so you can do the first draft of guarantees and loan agreements.”
Work in all groups is usually doled out by assigning partners who “ask for availability emails detailing your commitments.” Most juniors liked that “partners can approach you directly too.” Nonetheless, some warned that “sometimes it can get out of hand. Once I was juggling six assignments, all urgent and time-consuming.”
Training & Development
Rookies are treated to a “strongly structured first two weeks of basic training.” Associates then attend CLE courses that run once a week for the first six months. “It’s mandatory for first-years but optional for everyone else.” Other schemes specifically for litigators include “a two-hour writing class led by the head litigator, which covers email, memo and brief writing.” Litigation, IP and financial restructuring collaborate for a mock trial. Summers play witnesses, “non-legal staff are the jury and the managing attorney is the judge.”
“Most training is on the job, like a baptism of fire.”
Reviews occur “two times a year but there isn’t a lot of feedback unless you seek it,” some had discovered. However, those outside the NYC HQ painted a different picture: “Whenever a deal closes they give you positive reinforcement. It's more formal in New York as you work with more people across the board, but here I get feedback directly.” In 2014, a benchmarking system was implemented for associates to measure their development against a baseline of experiences per class level, although recently some felt “the focus on it has run out.” Others thought reviews “entirely perfunctory! But it's hard to blame them as they are busy taking care of clients, which is how it should be.”
Offices & Culture
The New York office offers “incomparable 360-degree views of Manhattan." Insiders rhapsodized too about the refurbishment of the building's shared lobby, which is finally nearing completion following the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy a few years ago: “They are trying to give it a Google-esque feel!” Meanwhile, LA associates feel like movie stars (or daytime TV fixtures, at the very least) whenever filming takes place outside their Century City base: “Every other week there’s a production crew outside. We'll often see our building in commercials.”
“There’s no bandwidth for attacking each other."
All juniors have their own offices except first-year New Yorkers, who initially “share with second-years for six months. It makes you feel comfortable in the firm.” Stroock attempts to cultivate an environment where “there’s no bandwidth for attacking each other." Does it succeed? "People are playful.”
Manhattan interviewees suggested that “we could have more group drinks to build camaraderie.” Perhaps they could copy LA colleagues who praised their own “habit of a happy hour which doesn't feel forced.” New Yorkers can, however, blow off steam in Stroock's “softball team for both partners and support staff.” Cali associates similarly described “our firmwide basketball league for all the different firms in LA. We play once a week.”
The founding director of Stroock's Public Service Project, Kevin Curnin, coordinates pro bono work firmwide. Stroock has affiliations with many pro bono organizations including, LIFT (Legal Information for Families Today), Sanctuary for Families, and Her Justice. Sources praised the “start-small, think-big clinic, which helps entrepreneurs without means get advice on their IP issues and what to do next.” Summers are also encouraged to get involved, with some running “a debate camp for middle school low-income students.”
“It gives you more responsibility early on.”
Pro bono hours
“The age of the old white man firm is gone,” insisted one associate. However, like at other firms, diversity is much more prevalent in the junior classes than higher up. IP interviewees in particular stressed that “this department is not diverse. There's one female partner and two female associates.” When asked if this was a product of the IP sector as a whole, a source replied: “Last year I would have said that, but there were women this year who didn’t get offers and I didn't know why.” Broadly speaking, fewer women do tech undergrad then law – and you need both to sit for the patent Bar.
"It's a working process over generations.”
Firmwide events are hosted by a variety of affinity groups, including the Attorneys of Color, LGBT, Women's Affinity (SW) and Working Parents groups. Of specific note was the “CLE put on by the partners to discuss the Supreme Court same-sex marriage case right before it came down.” However, most agreed that “from the perspective of the world we live in as opposed to BigLaw, it's not particularly diverse. But it's a working process over generations.”
Hours & Compensation
The average Stroock associate works 12-hour days with a 2,000-hour yearly billable target. From this, “200 hours can be non-billable legal work, which can include pro bono.” Juniors reasoned that “for hours that aren't clearly pro bono you need to explain how this benefits the firm.” One newbie ventured that “it's a black box what counts and what doesn’t. I think it counts when you prepare CLE material or pitch to clients.”
"200 hours can be non-billable legal work, which can include pro bono."
Many mused that the target “is achievable but depends on the cases you're assigned, which doesn’t incentivize efficiency.” Bonuses, however, keep up morale, “as generally associates don't stay late at night, but the pay is the same as those types of firms.” Juniors confirmed that “it's pretty much lockstep with the industry. Last year's first-year bonus was $15,000” ($3,750 prorated). Nevertheless, there is a “merit component, so you can hit the target and not get a bonus if they feel that you were working sporadically slowly.”
Stroock traditionally targets “top-tier schools in the Northeast, as well as at regional law schools in New York and Los Angeles.” Hiring partner Claude Szyfer recommends that candidates should “not just to be able to talk about their resume but talk about what drives them, which is a better barometer.” Insiders similarly advised that “people at Stroock appreciate authenticity more than formality.” Further insight was given by New Yorkers, who stated: “I would discourage anyone from saying 'I want to do litigation' if you're interviewing with litigation, as you can see right through that. No one after law school has any idea about anything!” Instead, some suggested that “you have to be dynamic and animated with a narrative that makes you memorable. Have an example for each answer from your life experiences.”
"No one after law school has any idea about anything.”
Strategy & Future
“In 2015, we've expanded our DC office by bringing in a real estate group from DLA Piper. Within a few years, I would be surprised if that office did not double in size,” explains Alan Klinger. However, juniors countered that “there is a little bit of remnant stress from the layoffs a few years ago, but that is the nature of people, they are nervous. Now it's pretty much all hands on deck.”
Furthermore, sources hoped that in the future there would be more midlevel associates to act as intermediaries between partners. Some indicated that “we've had smaller classes in the financial crisis so there aren't many people past fourth year. There aren’t many people to look up to.” Nevertheless, interviewees agreed that “Stroock has been smart in not overexpanding and managing growth.” HP Claude Szyfer agrees, stressing that “we have never expanded recklessly in the past and so we haven't had to retrench like some other firms.”
Interview with co-managing partner Alan Klinger
Chambers Associate: What are Stroock's best highlights from the past 12 months?
Alan Klinger: We view ourselves as running counter to what many other law firms are doing. We are not looking to become a mega-sized firm. When I started at Stroock after clerking in 1992, we had 75 partners. We are now a mid-sized firm as we haven't gone for a merger, like other firms. While we don't have offices all over the country, we believe that our model works well to foster our collaborative environment. In this way, we do sophisticated work for a prominent group of clients. Not being tremendously large, we can staff more leanly so our associates don't end up working as glorified paralegals. They are given a lot of responsibility very quickly.
In bankruptcy/restructuring, we've been working with Trump Entertainment Resorts representing them in a significant decision concerning obligations under the Bankruptcy Code. We have a bankruptcy speciality in casino work. We also represented an ad hoc committee in the Caesar's Entertainment Corporation bankruptcy filing.
In labor and employment, we represent public sector unions. We were the lead counsel for the NYC Municipal Labor Committee last year in the landmark contract between them and the United Federation of Teachers, which now serves as the pattern for bargaining agreements in healthcare and how to receive it. We've conducted the lead legal work restructuring how the city gives healthcare. It's ground breaking work, which makes us feel special to be part of.
In LA we represented a major Chinese investment group in funding a movie production at Lions Gate Entertainment. It's the largest entertainment deal of a Chinese investment in the US in the last year. In Miami, we represented Lee Daniels in a defamation suit involving Sean Penn. Our size does not prevent us from the opportunity to do important and first-rate work.
CA: What's your long term vision for the firm?
AK: I think growth is important. In 2015, we've expanded our DC office by bringing in a real estate group from DLA Piper. Within a few years, I would be surprised if that office did not double in size. We try to grow the Firm in ways that are connective and prudent. A large proportion of our corporate practice is in New York and we want to expand that into our DC regulatory sphere. We've added litigators to our Miami office. Even though people think litigation is slowing down, we believe that our institutional clients will need litigation year in and year out. To do this, we’ve done lateral hiring in Miami to expand this practice and we are working with both LA and NY to develop client synergies.
Our financial restructuring practice continues to grow, even though in other firms it's slowing down. Real estate is busier than it was earlier this year and I think that that growth will continue to be fuelled by our long term clients. It's true litigation was slow two years ago, but this year it has picked up because we have been using litigation in combination with our government relations practice and white collar work.
CA: How would you define the culture at Stroock?
AK: Our Firm culture is productive, collaborative and collegial. We want people to enjoy their work here and by that I mean they should find the work satisfying and have a path for growth and skill development. It is stressed here that we want associates to progress and do more sophisticated work to have a more rewarding career. We work hard when there's work and if there isn't, there's no need to stay just to be seen. It's more pleasant when you enjoy the work and the people you're working with. You want a productive working relationship with a platform for constructive feedback. We retain that smaller firm feel where people know each other. It fosters a good working environment when you can walk down the hall and people know you by name.
We also teach our attorneys to think creatively. We add value for our clients because our clients have a choice of which lawyers they could use. But they come to us. Take litigation for example. It's great to win a trial, but sometimes the client is better served if they reach an earlier settlement. We'll position the case so we have the upper hand like a chess game, which is what we teach. It's sometimes better for the client than waiting for a trial down the line. It's the same with transactional work. We inculcate into our associates to know when to fight and when to add further value for the client.
CA: How are renovations to HQ coming along after Hurricane Sandy?
AK: There has been more improvement in the last three months than in the last three years! We now have a new cafeteria and an athletics facility. There is also an art gallery in the lobby, so substantial progress has been made. DC too has just been renovated and it looks great. The same with the improvements we're making in LA and Miami. Miami in particular is now more spacious to accommodate our growth.
CA: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
AK: Look for a firm that has substantive work that you're interested in and where you get the feel that you have a real opportunity to grow within the practice. You don't want to have worked hard in law school for three years, just to be a glorified paralegal for the next seven. Ask your friends at different firms and find places that do meaningful work. After six months here, you're not going to be arguing the most important case at the firm, but you will be doing substantive work in an environment that allows you to advance.
Interview with hiring partner Claude Szyfer
Chambers Associate: What are some of the highlights from the past year that you'd like to bring out for our readers and roughly how many associates do you take on each year?
Claude Szyfer: We have made tremendous strides in further amplifying our national real estate practice. This past year, our firm has established a strong presence in DC, which has, of course, strengthened our national reputation as well. By design, we've really fortified the brand in quite an impressive way. The firm has taken the approach of bringing on practices that complement existing ones which we can build out.
In addition to real estate, our financial restructuring practice has also been very busy. Litigation has picked up from last year. We've been generally encouraged by where the firm is at the moment as it is both profitable and stable.
We are and have always been prudent about growth. We're stable because of this. We are always looking at whether or not to expand in certain areas, but there has to be a compelling reason to do it. As an aside, I have been here for 20 years and I've seen the tech and real estate booms. We have never expanded recklessly in the past and so we haven't had to retrench like some other firms. We always look at the issue in a pragmatic way.
In terms of our summer associate program, we are very healthy and have extended offers to all of our summer associates to return as first-year associates, following graduation from law school. In 2015 in New York, we had 11 summer associates and in LA, we had three. These numbers support the number of associates that we normally take on each fall, which is typically have 10-12 in NY and 2-3 in LA. In 2016, in our summer program we will have 12 in New York and two in LA.
CA: What is the scope of your recruiting drive?
CS: We recruit at top tier schools in the northeast, as well as at regional law schools in New York and Los Angeles. For New York, we also recruit at other law schools, such as Duke, Harvard and others. For our LA office, we typically recruit from UCLA, USC and Loyola.
CA: What does Stroock do to promote diversity in its recruiting process?
CS: Diversity is a focal point and we've done quite well recruiting in this area. In addition, we look for candidates who are well rounded. Academics play an important role but we also look for people who are leaders. Leadership skills are key. Just because you have the highest GPA doesn't necessarily mean that you'll fit in here.
Diversity and retention is a hard issue that all firms are dealing with at the moment. Over the past year, several of the lateral partners that we have brought on are women, which we know will help more junior associates in terms of mentoring, etc. In connection with diversity and retention, in our litigation department we are trying to institutionalize more associate development, to continue to be able to attract strong candidates to the firm.
I would also like to mention our Thomas E. Heftler scholarship, in conjunction with NYU Law School. Thomas Heftler was our co-managing partner who sadly and tragically died a few years ago and the scholarship is awarded in his honor. He was an amazing guy and an incredibly gifted lawyer and person who really championed diversity at the firm. He really embodied what Stroock is about, that collegial and inclusive atmosphere.
CA: What are the do's and don'ts of a Stroock interview?
CS: In our interview process, we are looking for candidates who are intellectually curious. The advice I always give is for students not just to be able to talk about their resume but talk about what drives them, which is a better barometer. For example, why did you decide to join the peace corp instead of what you did there. Also something to think about is what isn't on your resume that we should know about. Candidates should try to think about themselves holistically and present different aspects of their experiences.
CA: There seems to be a strong consciousness and respect for family life at the firm. Would you say that this feeds into the type of person that gets hired here?
CS: Yes, here there is a respect for family and family life commitments. We tend to look for people who are well rounded and this feeds into that. We have a respectful culture. That's why we encourage our affinity groups because we want people who can build a community. People have different interests and expertise and we are a place that will respect those qualities.
CA: What's on offer in your summer program?
CS: What you will get is the type of real work that a first or second-year would receive. Summers work with lawyers on cases and matters and take on different assignments, based on their stated interests. Summer associates should take advantage of the many development and training programs we offer, to get a realistic picture of what our work is like and the training that they will receive. We also give summers an introduction to some of the pro bono work we do, which is also a great opportunity for them to gain additional experience.
On the social side,, we do a variety of events, designed for the summer associates to get to know each other, as well as the partners and associates. For example, we have 'Cooking by the Book,' where we go to a learning kitchen and we all cook a meal together. Last summer, we had also had a private dinner at the Eataly, offered a private showing of a movie, and 'Escape the Room,' which was great, along with informal drinks with associates. We try to have a good balance between realistic work and fun, but interesting events.
CA: The firm places a keen focus on judicial clerking. What do you expect from associates who return from having clerked?
CS: I'm a former clerk myself, as are a number of my partners and associates. Clerking provides and invaluable experience. It's the opportunity to work one-on-one with a Judge. The opportunity is enriching for an associate's development, as it de-mystifies the decision making process and the court room. For commercial lawyers, who don't get to do as many trials, it provides an incredible education that is second to none. What’s great about it is that some associates clerk straight out of law school, whilst others have been with us for a few years and then go. Yet, almost all universally come back to us, despite having opportunities to go to other firms.
CA: What is Stroock's approach to lateral hiring?
CS: It's really on an as needed basis for lateral associates. When we have a particular need in a department, we will then do lateral hiring in order to meet that need. Other than this, we recruit from our summer program for our entry level hires. This is because we're not a huge firm and we like our size and where we are. Lateral hiring is based purely on need and then credentials, expertise and whether you'll fit here are also factors which are considered.
CA: How does the bonus system work?
CS: It's a combination of merit (quality of the work), coupled with an hours component. As it is a holistic process, it's not a case of if you hit the hours benchmark, you'll automatically get a bonus. Within this calculation we take into account pro bono and non-billable legal work. It's unique because in essence this work will be valued in the same way as billable work. This can include instances when associates work on presentations with partners or write articles for business development. At year end, associates are asked to compile a memo of their non-billable work, so that the firm can more accurately determine how this work should count.
The starting salary for first-years is $160,000, with a bonus of $15,000 (pro-rated). This was in line with the market rate. Associates will not be penalized in terms of hours that they have genuinely worked, even if they are written off. If they have worked the hours they will be rewarded.
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
180 Maiden Lane,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $265,000,000
- Partners (US): 95
- Associates (US): 192
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 14
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 14 offers, 13 acceptances
Main areas of work
Primary practice areas include capital markets/securities, commercial finance, commodities and derivatives, employee benefits and executive compensation, employment, energy and project finance, entertainment, environmental, financial restructuring, financial services/class action, government relations, insurance and reinsurance, intellectual property, investment management, litigation, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, national security/CFIUS/compliance, personal client services, private equity/venture capital, private funds, real estate and tax.
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP provides transactional, regulatory and litigation guidance to leading financial institutions, multinational corporations, investment funds and entrepreneurs in the US and abroad. Our emphasis on excellence and innovation has enabled us to maintain long-term relationships with our clients and made us one of the nation’s leading law firms for almost 140 years.
• Number of 1st year associates: 14
• Number of 2nd year associates: 24
• 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 2016:
New York Office: Boston C, Boston U, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, NEBLSA, NY Law School, NYU, Penn Los Angeles Office: Loyola, UCLA, University of Chicago, USC
Summer associate profile:
Successful summer associates are self-starters, quickly take ownership of their 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.