Kermit bemoaned that it’s not easy being green, but LA’s Greenberg Glusker makes it look like a breeze: everything from Tinseltown fallouts to real estate ventures and climate matters are covered here – and from just one compact office.
IT’S easy to get distracted by the bright lights and fame of Hollywood and ignore the bigger picture. It’s why media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said: “The medium is the message.” But these glitzy diversions shouldn’t get in the way of your understanding of La La Land’s Greenberg Glusker. Yes, it’s well known for representing entertainment luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey, Oscar De La Hoya, Francis Ford Coppola, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the Tolkien Trust, but that really is just part of the picture. In addition to being ranked in Chambers USA for its media and entertainment litigation, the firm is recognized for its bankruptcy and restructuring, environment, and real estate expertise. With high-flying clients comes the need for high-level private wealth know-how, and GG has this up its sleeve too: Chambers High Net Worth gives the firm a nod for this work in Southern California.
“...big enough to have a diverse practice and handle complicated matters, while also small enough to make you feel you have a shot at making partner.”
Managing partner Bob Baradaran tells us that GG’s “real estate and corporate/M&A practices have been on fire for a while. Those two areas continue to be very strong. We’ve also recently acquired a trust and probate litigator, who will augment our very robust private client services group and create synergies with other areas.” For our associate sources, the draws were clear: GG is “big enough to have a diverse practice and handle complicated matters, while also small enough to make you feel you have a shot at making partner.” With its sole office in Century City, GG is on the smaller end of the spectrum; the seven juniors on our list were dotted around six departments. For newbies who are about to join, sources told us that GG tries to put fresh faces into the department of their choice, but “it depends on the needs of the firm. So, if one department needs people, then you’re likely to go there, but they do have a conversation with you and try to accommodate your preferences.”
Strategy & Future
“Middle-market M&A is going to experience a lot of growth over the next year,” Baradaran predicts. He also expects an “uptick” in the bankruptcy space despite the fact that it’s “been quite slow for some time.” Alongside these strands, “there’s a ton of work” in environmental litigation: “We’re involved in a couple of very large climate-related matters – some of which may go on for decades.”
While Baradaran highlights that GG is more than its entertainment work, there’s no denying it’s a big deal. On top of the VIPs the firm represents, it’s also worked with some of the world’s best-known fictional characters: Winnie-the-Pooh, Godzilla and Spider-Man, to name a few. The entertainment practice handles defamation, invasion of privacy, contractual disputes and royalty queries for its VIPs – Spider-Man, obviously, can handle himself. The firm also handles the estates of several famous names and lends its expertise to the First Amendment issues in biopics and docudramas. Past the bright lights of soapy drama, GG also represents several Fortune 500 companies in its environmental practice.
Media & entertainment clients: NBCUniversal Media, Endemol Shine North America, filmmaker Rian Johnson. Represented the Oprah Winfrey Network and related parties during two lawsuits concerning alleged copyright infringement and alleged breach of implied contract.
In addition to its litigious offering, the firm has strong transactional tax and real estate capabilities. These departments, our sources told us, work closely together, as tax is “70-80% real estate focused. The department reviews real estate transactions, looks at tax structures, and examines purchase agreements.” The makeup of GG’s real estate’s clients, sources pointed out, is unlike that at other firms, which typically deal with banks: GG’s clients are reportedly often “high-income individuals, like rich dentist and movie exec types, but just generally a lot of wealthy people with big real estate holdings.” The client demographic lent deals a “more personal” scope, which juniors enjoyed: “It’s really interesting. In comparison, when you deal with an institutional client, you’re working off a preprinted form.”
Day to day, those in real estate conduct due diligence on properties; deal with a mix of stakeholders including owners, developers and investment companies; review titles; and draft contracts. There can be a lot of emails flying around: “It depends on where we’re at in the deal, but some days there can be between 50 and 100 emails!” Interviewees also reported “a lot of direct client contact” early on. The spread of work in real estate is overseen by the department head, but an interviewee mentioned how equal allocation “can’t always happen – some us work with certain clients, so if the client is busy, then we’re busy.” In other departments we heard that allocation is more “ad hoc – it can be pretty informal, with people asking me to look at certain aspects of agreements that they’re working with.”
Real estate clients: University of Southern California, Costco Wholesale Corporation, Drive Shack. Recently represented the last of these as it secured development sites for its golf courses in several locations, including Chicago and New Orleans.
Hours & Compensation
At the time of writing, GG doesn’t meet the Milbank-set base salary mark of $190,000, which received mixed reviews from our sources. One said: “I’m not upset about our salaries, but I think the firm should consider increasing them, given the cost of living in LA. It would also help with the recruiting effort.” Others, meanwhile, thought that given the comparatively lower billing target of 1,850 hours – compared to the 1,950 minimum of most Milbank-scale firms – “the net loss in terms of dollar value per hour is not that big a sum.” There was a bit of confusion over bonuses, with one admitting: “I don’t really know how the bonus works. If you hit the target then you’re getting something, but if you don’t, then I still think you’ll get something – it's discretionary.” The firm confirmed that bonuses are discretionary and that a number of factors beyond hours are considered when deciding amounts, including quality of work, firm citizenship, pro bono and marketing activities.
“I get in earlier and leave later because of the LA traffic!”
Our sources spoke of billing around “150 to 160 hours a month,” compared to the 200+ hours we often hear about at other firms. Interviewees were pretty relaxed on the topic of hours, with one stating that they’d “probably been working the normal ten-hour days in the office – I haven’t felt overwhelmed.” Another tended to get in by 8:30am and leave by 7pm: “I get in earlier and leave later because of the LA traffic!” One source added that “the few times when I’ve been too busy the partner has caught it and gets people to lay off to make sure I don’t get too bogged down.” Of course, this is the legal industry, which means that there are late nights: “I’ve never done an all-nighter. My worst was probably until 11:30pm. That was recently when we had a crazy deal flow.”
Roughly half the juniors on the list had lateraled in from other firms, with the other half coming through the summer associate program. Those who had lateraled in spoke about how GG was “less stressful” than where they had worked previously. Of those who had summered with the firm, a common reason for staying was the people they’d met. A source added that while the work is “siloed, I’ve still gotten to know a lot of people. It’s very social. People here are tight.” Another raised: “To the extent that things come up in people’s lives they respond as if that takes priority. In the last year there have been some unfortunate health issues and everyone rallied around; we put together a GoFundMe page to fund someone’s treatment, got cards and sent messages. The firm’s been super supportive.” Accompanying this caring touch is a more relaxed West Cost dress code: “I wouldn’t even say it’s business casual. The guideline is ‘we have clients coming in, look presentable.’ I’m wearing jeans.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“The stats aren’t great,” declared one junior, getting straight to the point. Another flagged how “we could do better in terms of ethnic and gender diversity” but did praise the firm for having “a lot of socioeconomic diversity, which is helpful and beneficial.” However, while the firm was deemed “mostly white male,” interviewees did appreciate that “they’re trying to be more proactive about” diversity, with one emphasizing that a uniform demographic and atmosphere is not “the culture they’re trying to promote.” We heard that the firm is increasingly taking diversity “into consideration when recruiting” but hasn’t put “much focus on implicit bias training.”
“When they get you they want to keep you,” sources summarized, emphasizing that GG’s a firm that aims to retain. Baradaran tells us the firm has “a lot of folk that come from other firms… [and] we have very rarely, if ever, had an associate leave for another law firm. Those that have, either come back or want to come back!” One female interviewee said that despite the diversity stats, “I’m not dissuaded from being a partner. There are good female partners here.” For those interested in climbing the ranks to the top, another junior highlighted how “the firm has a partner mentor scheme, which becomes available to you after a year of being here if that’s the road you want to go on.”
Low associate numbers meant “a lot of early responsibility; we’re big enough that we have resources, but small enough that I might be the only associate on a case,” one source told us. “I have direct contact with all the partners I’m working for.” Alongside CLEs and formal trainings throughout the year, juniors were pleased to mention that “they’re trying to promote a culture of ‘it’s okay to have a kid.’ There’s a pretty robust maternity leave situation [18 weeks for the primary caregiver] and recently an associate made partner and had a kid in the same year.”
All pro bono hours count toward the billable target. Our interviewees hadn’t been particularly active in pro bono matters, with one highlighting that “it can be difficult on the transactional side, as you can’t be first or second chair on cases.” They did, however, emphasize that the firm is “really involved in doing adoption work,” with an interviewee explaining that they’d helped “families fill in the necessary paperwork and attended the hearing. There’s an associate who coordinates the adoption work and reaches out to ask if you can help.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 1,118.25
- Average per attorney: 11.6
- Greenberg Glusker's 2020 summer program has been reduced from ten weeks to five.
- Depending on government restrictions, it may be hosted virtually.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 94
Interviewees outside OCI: 3
Greenberg Glusker’s California presence is clear in the schools it typically attends for OCIs: UCLA, USC, Berkeley, Stanford and UC Davis. The firm singles out UCLA and USC as its “key feeder schools.” But this shouldn’t put off any out-of-state hopefuls as the firm is also open to impressive resumes that it receives outside of the OCI process.
Interviews are conducted by both partners and associates, and the firm prefers to send alumni of the school in question to do the interview. Associates told us that “what’s most important to Greenberg Glusker is to choose someone who will be enjoyable to work with – a positive contributor.” The candidates the firm sees at OCI will most likely tick all the essential boxes with their resumes, but will they be able to hold a more off-the-cuff conversation? “I was extremely nervous going in, but we spent the duration of the interview talking about fantasy football!” one associate recalled. “It was clear that they were seeing whether I’d be a good fit for the firm.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The main aim at OCIs is to get a feel of whether the student will fit well with the firm.” – a second-year junior associate
“Lack of energy/spark is one of the most common reasons we hear for not bringing in a candidate for a callback.” – hiring partner Aaron Gafni
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 32
Callback interviews consist of 20-minute interviews with six attorneys (a mix of partners and associates from different departments), as well as a meal with two more attorneys. One associate recalled being impressed by the variety of the interview panel: “There were older partners and younger associates, and men and women from different practice areas.” Hiring partner Aaron Gafni tells us: “We use the interview process more to get to know the candidate’s personality, and less to drill down on the candidate’s legal knowledge, capabilities or experience.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Bring energy and show enthusiasm for the firm.” – hiring partner Aaron Gafni
The firm’s ten-week summer program is divided into three rotations that cover all the firm’s practice areas. Two designated work coordinators are on hand in each rotation to assign pieces of work to the summer associates. Gafni says that “attorneys often bring summer associates to court hearings, depositions, meetings and conferences.” There are also weekly social events. Past highlights include Hollywood Bowl concerts, Dugout Club at the Dodger game and a karaoke night – Gafni says: “Summer associates are strongly encouraged to sing.” Of course, it goes without saying that summers should “always remain professional.”
The firm tells us most of the summers return as full-time associates. Practice area assignment is based on associates’ preferences and the business needs of the firm, and associates felt “they do their best to accommodate your preference.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Ask tons of questions before diving into a project, and double and triple-check your work before turning it in.” – hiring partner Aaron Gafni
Number of laterals: 4
In a “typical year,” Gafni says, Greenberg Glusker hires around 50% of its annual associate appointments through lateral hires. Most of these hires comes “from larger, national law firms” and laterals are targeted on the basis of “need.” Gafni says the firm “generally looks for mid-level associates” when looking for lateral hires and is “currently looking to hire associates in transactional departments, including corporate, real estate, IP/tech transactions, entertainment and employment.”
Interview with managing partner Bob Baradaran
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Greenberg Glusker’s current market position to our readers?
Bob Baradaran: Our firm is relatively unique within the market as it’s a firm in which young people can start their careers and stay here long-term. We’re not a firm where people come in to work crazy hours and make a lot of money then leave to find a place to settle down and have a long-term career. Many of our attorneys lateral here from other firms – they recognize that our culture, work/life balance and the sophisticated work we do is something that’s very unique. On the other hand, we’ve rarely seen associates leave for a different firm, and those that do often come back. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another firm in Southern California that’s as good to work for as us.
CA: Which of the firm’s practices have been performing especially well recently?
BB: Real estate and corporate/M&A are on fire and have been for a while. I would say those two practice areas have been and continue to be very, very strong. Because of the thriving US economy, my guess is other firms are also experiencing a lot of activity in those groups.
CA: Which practices have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
BB: Middle-market M&A is going to experience a lot of growth over the next year and our bankruptcy practice could grow. We may experience some weakness in some sectors, but while bankruptcy has been slow for quite some time, I expect an uptick in that space as well as trust and probate litigation. We have a very robust private client services group and have also recently acquired a trust and probate litigator, which will create synergies between practices.
“We’re involved in a couple of very large climate-related matters some of which might stretch on for decades.”
CA: Which areas have been hot in the litigation space?
BB: One area where there’s a ton of work is environmental litigation. Our environmental group is probably the third among our most active groups. We’re involved in a couple of very large climate-related matters some of which might stretch on for decades.
CA: What do you hope Greenberg Glusker will look like in five years' time?
BB: We’ve been very fortunate to have recruited – directly from law school and as laterals – associates who are performing way better than I think anyone could have expected. I believe in the next five years our junior and senior associate classes will go on to define our firm and be the next generation of leaders that run Greenberg Glusker. Across law firms, the lawyer-partner population is aging, and we do of course have many senior partner lawyers, but the fact that our relatively younger lawyers are doing so well makes me feel extremely positive about succession and the transition from one generation to another. We give our young lawyers a variety of opportunities right out of law school – not only are they doing work for partners, they’re interacting with clients from day one. By encouraging junior associates to be part of the firm community they begin to develop into full, competent lawyers a little bit earlier compared to other firms, who often recruit junior lawyers and spend their first five to seven years purely billing.
CA: Is mental health an issue that the firm has had to deal with?
BB: Not that I am aware of; however, we do have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) available to everyone at the firm. Utilization of the program is strictly confidential, so while I hope that there is no need for use of the program, I also hope that anyone who feels that they could use some support does not hesitate to take advantage of the program. Most recently with the addition of an employee engagement coordinator, we have several educational programs related to health and wellness held throughout the year.
“I believe in the next five years our junior and senior associate classes will really go on to define our firm.”
CA: How do you think the legal industry can close the gender divide at partnership level?
BB: One way the legal industry can close the gender gap at the partnership level is to put women into positions of leadership and power as early as possible in their careers. This increases retention, leadership skills and visibility within the firm.
Greenberg Glusker has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the entire legal industry and we’re cognizant of working parents and allow flexibility. Our management committee is committed and actively engaged in ensuring that women have the tools and resources to be able to succeed and advance at the same rate as any other group.
CA: Do you think enough is being done to tackle implicit bias at law firms?
BB: No, and it’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed. The solution is about bringing awareness to implicit bias, and the more education you can provide around the issue, the better you can address it. We had an all-attorney retreat last year and brought in a speaker addressing implicit bias. That’s something we’re focusing on and I think it’s imperative that all law firms address this issue. There’s no magic bullet solution – it’s all about taking the time to provide sufficient resources and education toward it.
Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP
2049 Century Park East,
- Head office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Partners US: 72
- Associates US: 23
- Main recruitment contact: Aaron Gafni (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Aaron Gafni
- Diversity officer: Brian Moskal
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 2
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 2Ls: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Los Angeles: 2
- Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $ 3,077/week 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Bankruptcy/insolvency, corporate, emerging technology and new media, employment, entertainment, environmental, intellectual property, litigation, private client services, real estate, and taxation
Founded over 60 years ago, Greenberg Glusker holds a unique position in Los Angeles as a full-service law firm, with particular expertise in bankruptcy/insolvency, corporate, employment, entertainment, environmental, intellectual property, litigation, private client services, real estate, and taxation. Committed to providing a wide range of services, we combine the personal attention of a boutique firm with the strength and breadth of services customarily found in a multioffice, international firm. Results-oriented client service is how we continue to distinguish ourselves today.
Law schools attended for OCI in 2020:
UC Davis, UCLA, UC Berkeley, USC, and Stanford
Summer program components:
The main objective of our summer program is to provide the summer clerks with an honest and real experience of practicing law as a junior attorney at Greenberg Glusker. For purposes of the summer program, we divide the firm into three practice area subgroups. Each summer clerk will spend a minimum of three weeks in each practice subgroup.
Typically, the subgroups are organized as follows:
• Real Estate/Environmental/Trusts & Estates
• Bankruptcy/Business & Tax/Intellectual Property
Our clerks will have the opportunity to attend trials, depositions and business meetings. Also, as a part of the summer program, we plan social events in order to facilitate multiple opportunities for the clerks to interact with each of our attorneys as much as possible. Our summer social calendar includes a mix of formal events such as concerts, sporting events, theater, and cooking classes, as well as informal happy hours and dinners.
Recruitment website: www.greenbergglusker.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 3)