The Big Interview... Marc Kasowitz
Chambers Associate: What made you want to go into law?
Marc Kasowitz: I grew up in a middle-class family in New Haven, Connecticut, where my father owned a scrap metal business. I aspired to become someone to whom people turned when they faced significant challenges in their own lives or businesses, while remaining principled and steadfastly loyal to family, friends and clients. The lawyers were the wise ones in our community, and people regularly turned to them for advice. I also thought that being a lawyer would be intellectually challenging, which I found appealing.
CA: Who were your role models growing up?
MK: My father was my role model. He taught me that hard work and focus would always pay off in the long run. He was a natural leader, to whom honesty and fairness were essential. He had a strong moral compass, and always earned the trust of his customers.
CA:When did you get your big break?
MK: Twenty-five years ago, I got my big break when I and several others decided to leave the large law firm where we worked to form our own firm. We started with 18 lawyers and built our firm to more than 250 lawyers today. In the beginning, certain major clients decided to follow us to our new firm, and since then we’ve been successful in creating enormous value for our clients. I’ve never looked back.
"To us, aggressive means creative and strategic. We’ve found that thinking aggressively has enabled us to come up with angles, insights and approaches that other counsel either have not thought of, or, even if they have, they are not bold enough to have tried them."
CA: Did you always have the ambition to one day manage your own firm?
MK: Although I never really dreamed of running my own firm when I was young, as time passed and my practice grew, I, together with Dan Benson and Hector Torres, began to believe that we could do a better job ourselves, and decided to start our own firm.
CA: What is it about Kasowitz that enabled it to carve out its own space in the New York legal market?
MK: New York is the most competitive legal market in the world, and the most difficult to break into. We were able to come up with uniquely creative solutions to our clients’ problems that ended up being extraordinarily successful. Those successes enabled us to carve out a highly visible and very positive profile for ourselves in a relatively short period of time.
CA: How do you feel about yourself –and the firm more widely – being labeled as aggressive?
MK: I like to think of our lawyers as thoughtfully aggressive, which I view as a great thing; we are not aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. We are passionate about the work we take on and the clients we serve, and we are committed to doing what it takes to obtain a positive result for our clients. Clients don’t bring us easy problems – we often take on tough, out-of-the-box cases that other firms shy away from. In those instances, the clients are looking for lawyers who aren’t afraid to take strong positions to deliver a favorable outcome. There is no “same old” routine litigation work at Kasowitz – we approach each of our cases with a fresh perspective to determine the best solution for our clients.
CA: What are the advantages of an aggressive approach to business?
MK: To us, aggressive means creative and strategic. We’ve found that thinking aggressively has enabled us to come up with angles, insights and approaches that other counsel either have not thought of, or, even if they have, they are not bold enough to have tried them.
CA: How did you first come into contact with President Trump?
MK: A long-standing client introduced me to President Trump 15 years ago, and I have been representing him ever since then.
CA: What has acting for Trump taught you about being a lawyer?
MK: Representing the President has confirmed for me many of the important lessons I’ve learned during 40 years of practice – the need for absolute discretion about the representation, the importance of zeal and passion for the client’s position, and the obligation to render advice firmly and unwaveringly even under difficult circumstances. One of the most important lessons from representing the President has been the need to be cognizant of the extraordinarily intense media attention surrounding the President.
"Representing the President has confirmed for me many of the important lessons I’ve learned during 40 years of practice – the need for absolute discretion about the representation, the importance of zeal and passion for the client’s position, and the obligation to render advice firmly and unwaveringly even under difficult circumstances."
CA: What effect has the Trump presidency had on the legal market?
MK: I don’t think this Administration has had any particular effect on the legal market.
CA: What single achievement are you most proud of?
MK: My single greatest professional achievement has been founding and managing our law firm, which counts among its accomplishments some of the watershed cases in American legal history, such as the tobacco settlements. In handling these matters over the past 25 years, we have enabled generations of lawyers and professional staff to develop both professionally and personally, building their families and becoming active and contributing members of their communities.
CA: Which figures in law, politics or business do you hold in highest regard?
MK: In business, Prem Watsa, the visionary founder of Fairfax Financial; Bennett LeBow, chairman of the board of Vector Group; and Howard Lorber, president and CEO of Vector Group and chairman of Douglas Elliman. In politics, of course, President Trump, who defeated all odds in becoming President. My dear friend Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is senior counsel at our firm, is one of the truly great American politicians. And I have always considered Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt to be two of the most important and heroic leaders in world history. In law, I am amazed at the accomplishments of firm leaders like Brad Karp at Paul Weiss, Norm Brownstein at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and John Quinn at Quinn Emmanuel. All have built impressive firms, been close friends and have provided wise counsel to me. One of my closest friends, Vince DeBlasi of Sullivan & Cromwell, passed away recently; he was a giant in the New York bar and we will all feel his loss.
CA: What ambitions do you have for the firm over the next five years?
MK: My vision for the firm for the next five years is that it continues to obtain for our clients the same uniquely successful results it always has and, in the process, continues to attract lawyers and professional staff who are superbly talented and work extraordinarily well together in the closely knit and collaborative culture that we’ve worked so hard to build.