Holland & Knight LLP - The Inside View

Completing the biggest law firm merger in the US since the pandemic began, Miami’s mighty Knighty is quickly becoming a titan in Texas.

If you were asked to sum up 2021 in one phrase, what would you say? ‘Uptick in law firm mergers,’ obviously. Following a decline in activity during 2020 and peak of the pandemic, the BigLaw market was quick to restart its favorite pastime. And by far the most high-profile deal of the past year, was the acquisition of Texas-based Thompson & Knight by national giant Holland & Knight. The move positions H&K as one of the largest outfits in in Texas, and takes its headcount to over 1,600, and its total state offices to 31.

Despite this, H&K's strongest foothold remains in Florida. As one source put it: “Holland & Knight is one of a handful of BigLaw firms to have any meaningful presence in Miami and is also the biggest fish in the Jacksonville pond.” Others were drawn to its prestige in specific practices: tax, banking, healthcare, litigation, environment and real estate were all areas mentioned in our interviewees. These groups also made an impression on our sister guide, Chambers USA, which has awarded the firm rankings in all these areas. Overall, the firm’s earned no fewer than 80 accolades across 13 states. Litigation was the most populated practice among the associates on our list, taking a third of first to third-years. Corporate came in at second place, followed by real estate. The remainder were spread across more niche areas like public policy and syndication.

Strategy & Future



Elaborating on the merger, managing partner Steven Sonberg told us: “Thompson & Knight was strategically aligned with us: they wanted to grow outside of Texas and we wanted to increase our presence there. They also wanted to expand outside of their key areas of energy and oil and gas, and we wanted to strengthen those practices here. Essentially, we had complementary strengths." He added: "Culture was also very important to us, and to them. Both firms have similar views about how firm operations should be managed. Obviously in a larger organization like Holland & Knight there are more lawyers and complexities to deal with, but our fundamental values were the same. On both sides, collaboration, collegiality and teamwork are integral."

The Work



The litigationgroup covers all facets of disputes, from product liability and healthcare to more niche practices, like cryptocurrency fraud. H&K also recently launched a dedicated asset recovery group: “It’s an intentionally vague name so that we can get business from lots of different clients,” one source joked, adding that “our biggest client is a litigation funder. If they’ve gained a financial interest in a previous case’s judgment, we’ll supervise and pursue the global recovery effort.” Some regions focus on specific areas: folks in Florida, for example, worked on what they dubbed ‘litigation-adjacent’ matters: “I’ve been busy trying to create a fair claim system for victims of crypto fraud. It’s a pretty new area of law so we’re learning as we go, which has kept me engaged!”

“Even first-years get to do a lot of drafting."

Other associates based here handled healthcare work: “We work with a lot of insurance companies in Florida, often defending them against claims by doctors and medical providers who are seeking more money.” Irrespective of the sector, associates agreed they “definitely do more than just research.” While juniors obviously leave the cross-examination to their senior colleagues, they do get to help prepare the case, like writing the opening argument: “Even first-years get to do a lot of drafting, be it discovery motions or motions to dismiss.” Overall, litigators scored the group highly for awarding plenty of partner interaction and the opportunity to establish themselves.

Litigation clients: BNP Paribas, Libyan Asset Recovery Management Office, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. Defended health insurer Florida Blue against a claim by Oscar Insurance challenging Florida Blue’s use of exclusive agents when selling health insurance.

Various groups fall under the wider transactional umbrella, including corporate, financial services, and private wealth services. H&K’s real estate group is also one of the largest in the US: its 300-strong group handles all manner of land use and real estate matters, ranging from mixed-use developments to financing real estate projects, both on the borrower and lender side. These associates were the happiest of the bunch, giving the group top marks for partner and client interaction. Our corporate sources were the associates most keen to develop a career in their practice area. While most of the larger offices are full-service, much of the government contract work is housed in DC. Florida, Texas, and New York we were told take on most of the private equity deals. High levels of responsibility came at the expense of a heavier workload compared to other practice areas. 

Transactional clients: Thomson Reuters, The City of Philadelphia, Bessemer Fund. Continues to represent Fisher Island Holdings in the development of Fisher Island, Florida, the most expensive ZIP code in the US.

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 2,000 target

Work allocation was a hot topic among our interviewees, some of who felt the system was “quite inefficient.” Partners are responsible for dishing out assignments but, in litigation specifically, we heard “some associates are struggling to meet their hours while others have too much work.” Accordingly, litigators were more likely to feel that their workload was less manageable than their transactional counterparts. However, our survey results show that at 47 hours, associates at H&K were billing a handful of hours less than the market average in a given week.

“I’m making New York money in Jacksonville... ”

That may be set to rise as the firm has recently increased its billing target from 1,900 to 2,000 hours as a result of the merger. “I’m making New York money in Jacksonville, so something had to give,” one insider reasoned. Others chimed in: “This is BigLaw so we’re never going to work nine to five, but I have colleagues in our Portland office whose salary has doubled overnight.” To help associates reach the higher billing target, the firm implemented a 25-hour shadowing component; observing a partner in a hearing would count, for example. Associates can also count pro bono and participation in DE&I events. All-in-all, there are 125 creditable hours to play with. To help with the stress, associates can “make use of free counseling as part of our health plan,” one source pointed out. “I used it and it was nice to not have to worry about the cost.”

Bonus allocation was described as a bit of a “black box,” with none of our interviewees clear on how they’re doled out. One vented: “My sense is that we get less than peers working similar hours at other firms.” One philosophical soul told us: “Ultimately, there’s an irreconcilable conflict between making money and letting people have a free weekend.” We were told by the firm that the amount varies by level and location, with hours billed being the primary contributing factor.

Pro Bono



H&K “places a premium on pro bono,” sources agreed. Juniors are encouraged to bill at least 50 hours of pro bono, but can credit up to 100 hours. Attorneys sign up to pro bono matters through an online platform called Paladin, although each office’s dedicated pro bono partner also broadcasts available matters. Our interviewees had worked on everything from military issues to guardianship cases. Floridians had been particularly busy with parole class action: “We’re challenging the constitutional due process, because less than 2% of prisoners in Florida get parole.” The firm also runs a Civil Discourse program with high schoolers “to get them talking about ethical responsibilities and engaging with government.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all (US) attorneys: 71,453
  • Average per (US) attorney: 48.18

“We’ve had lots of joint happy hours and integration has been pretty smooth so far."

Culture



Although associates hadn’t noticed a change in culture since the merger, the former Thompson & Knight offices were still separate at the time of our research. That said, “we’ve had lots of joint happy hours and integration has been pretty smooth so far," one source shared. "When Thompson was looking at potential merger partners, they told us that cultural compatibility was the number-one consideration.” One unifying theme, irrespective of the office location, is a clear hierarchy: “There are definitely some hard-drivers here. Partners look out for your best interests and will defend you in the rare instance that someone does treat you in a disrespectful way.” 

Those who joined the firm during the pandemic felt they’d been onboarded seamlessly: “They sent everything I needed to my house so I could set up a home office, and they’ve never asked me to go anywhere I’m not comfortable going to.” Others pointed to the firm’s Zoom program as an aid to integration: “They randomly connect a junior associate, senior associate, and partner to chat for half an hour every fortnight. Sometimes we talk about work and sometimes we don’t – it’s mainly about getting to know each other.”

Career Development



Nearly half of our survey respondents intended to make partner at H&K, nearly double the market average, underlined by a universal feeling that making partnership was very achievable. “Associates are hired for the long term,” sources agreed, adding that “partners have a strong interest in keeping us around.” On the other hand, maintaining quality training in a remote setting was cited as an area in need of improvement: “There are recorded training sessions online but anything formal, like group sessions, stops once you’ve been at the firm a few weeks.” Luckily, juniors found that working directly with partners and getting feedback facilitated learning opportunities: “As the old adage goes: the best form of feedback is being asked to do more work.”

Everyone is assigned a partner and associate mentor when they start, but “it’s luck of the draw whether you get good ones or not,” some insiders reflected. The firm makes sure mentors work in a different practice to their mentees “so that they’re more objective and not in your direct chain of command.” One source told us: “Mine have been great in helping me navigate different personalities in the firm.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



Like most firms, H&K has some work to do when it comes to retaining and promoting diverse attorneys, but the firm is attempting to increase its representation of minority groups through law school recruitment: “We bring in diverse students to work with us for a couple of weeks.” There are  also regular firmwide calls “to make sure diverse attorneys have an outlet to talk to their non-diverse colleagues about the issues they face,” sources highlighted.

There are, of course, discussions about marginalization outside of specific D&I calls, with one associate praising candor and attitudes they'd witnessed between partners: “During a catch-up, one of our diverse partners started talking about his experiences in relation to the BLM movement. It was so awful to hear that, once they’d finish speaking, the other partner decided to end the call as it wasn’t appropriate to talk about business after hearing their story.” H&K has several affinity groups, including veterans, disability and ethnicity-based groups. One junior told us: “I’m part of the women’s initiative and we’ve done events like chocolate tasting and virtual yoga. Even with the pandemic, we try to get together to just support each other.” In addition, the firm recently earned its Mansfield 4.0 certification.

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Each year Holland & Knight conducts interviews at more than 50 law schools and job fairs across the country. Hiring committee members from various offices interview, alongside alumni of the law school.

The questioning at this stage focuses on “a candidate’s intellectual, interpersonal and motivational qualities and prior relevant experience, if any,” says professional growth & development partner Deborah Bernard. Advance research of the firm’s practice areas and the interviewer’s background (if you know who will be assessing you) are essential.

Top tips for this stage:

"Be prepared, on time and familiar with the firm's practice areas. If you know the names of your interviewers, research their backgrounds. Above all, be yourself and ask thoughtful questions." – professional growth & development partner Deborah Bernard.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage: undisclosed

As a means of getting to know Holland & Knight, applicants meet with four to six associates and partners during the callback phase. They incorporate behavioural based interview questions to help identify summer associates with “the skills, work ethic and work style needed to succeed at Holland & Knight.” Those skills include independent thinking, self-confidence, interfacing with clients and working as part of a team.

Interviewers also assess each candidate’s writing sample and could discuss anything on their resume.

Top tips for this stage:

"Everything on a resume is up for discussion. Review your writing sample and be prepared to speak about it. Reflect on what you're looking for in a firm in terms of practice area, culture, training and associate support, and focus on those firms that meet your criteria and resonate with you. The firm is looking for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, and who will be proactive when they arrive.”professional growth & development partner Deborah Bernard.

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

The summer program is an integral part of Holland & Knight's hiring effort, as the majority of junior associates are hired directly from the summer program. They strive to give summer associates an accurate sense of what it is like to work as a first-year associate at the firm, and hire each summer associate with the expectation that an offer for a fulltime position will be extended at the end of the summer.

Assignments are provided from many different practice areas that will showcase analytical and advocacy skills while strengthening and highlighting writing capabilities. Feedback comes after each assignment and from mid and end-ofsummer reviews. There is also a Summer Associate Training Program (SATP) which focuses on providing summer associates with both practice-specific and soft skills training. In addition, summer associates are given opportunities to work on pro bono projects.

“Be authentic and work hard,” the firm advises. “Understand that every email and written communication is another example of your writing sample.”

Notable summer events: The firm has hosted cooking classes, scavenger hunts, paint nights and trivia, both virtually and in-person. Live events also include dinners at partners' homes, sporting events and restaurant dinners.

Top tips for this stage:

“Do as much as you can experience-wise. You want to turn out good work product, but I think sitting in on client calls and following people to court and doing the shadowing that you won't get the opportunity to do while working here fulltime is invaluable. Take ownership of your work and be your own feedback manager." professional growth & development partner Deborah Bernard.

And finally...

Each associate’s practice area preferences – along with business need – are taken into account when H&K makes offers.

Interview with Steven Sonberg, Managing Partner



CA: Tell us about the merger with Thompson & Knight. What were the main motivating factors for this?

SS: The most appealing factor was the fact they were strategically aligned with us: they wanted to grow outside of Texas and we wanted to increase our presence there. They also wanted to expand outside of their key areas of energy and oil and gas;  and we wanted to strengthen those practices here. Essentially, we had complementary strengths.

Culture was also very important to us, and to them. Both firms have similar views about how firm operations should be managed. Obviously in a larger organisation like Holland & Knight, there are more lawyers and complexities  to deal with, but our fundamental values were the same. On both sides, collaboration, collegiality and teamwork are integral. For example, being able to working across geographic borders is extremely important for partners and associates here, and Thompson & Knight agrees with that.

CA: Why was Holland & Knight interested in the Texas market?

SS: We opened an office in Dallas  in 2013, which was mostly  focussed on financial services at the time. We then had a great group of partners join us so we expanded into additional areas, like real estate. It’s an area with lots of economic synergy and many big companies are moving into that market. We don't pursue growth opportunities unless they match our  firm's overall strategy, and we found that strengthening our presence in Texas would provide us with enormous benefits. 

CA: How would you define the firm's place in the legal market since the merger?

SS: Our combined position has changed in many ways. Clearly the merger has pushed us further towards the top of the international energy industry. Our real estate capabilities, especially in real estate capital markets, have increased dramatically . The combination also added strength to our already significant respective practices in private equity, corporate M&A, and tax.  Finally, we added significant numbers and areas of expertise to our litigation practice in Texas and nationally. 

CA: How well have the two firms integrated so far?

SS:  Physical integration was always going to be tricky with the challenge of COVID. We don’t believe the deal is done just because the papers are filed; the deal will be done once we have consolidated all of the offices and people have had the chance to interact with each other. The Dallas attorneys recently migrated from the Holland & Knight office to the Thompson & Knight office. We are hopeful to have our New York offices combine soon. Getting everyone under one roof with be extremely beneficial to integration.

Some offices have had joint happy hours, and we  hosted an extremely successful firmwide meeting in Orlando at the end of March. Many of us haven’t seen colleagues  from our original firms for a few years now, so we’ll be focussing on renewing our relationships as well as welcoming Thompson & Knight's lawyers and staff. As I’ve said, collegiality is key for us, and the best way to achieve that is through in-person contact. Going into the merger, we were really lucky that both firms managed to meet a few times before the Delta variant appeared.

CA: How has the pandemic affected the firm?

SS: Everyone was very engaged and recognized the pandemic would be a challenge, but I think we did a good job of trying to get everyone on the same page. Obviously we made sure that all of our people had the equipment they needed at home. In some ways, the challenge of getting everyone out of the office in March 2020 is going to be rivalled by the challenge of getting everyone back to the office in 2022. We won’t require anyone to be in the office five days a week because lifestyles have changed, and we know we need to be sensitive to that.

CA: Tell us about the firm’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion.

SS: It’s been a priority of ours for many years, but of course it’s still a challenge not just for the firm, but for the entire legal profession. Of course we can now combine our efforts with Thompson & Knight’s. We already had a diversity partner, but now we have an additional diversity officer from Thompson & Knight. Building a diverse firm starts with a dedicated effort to recruit diverse young attorneys and giving them the support they need to succeed. The latest partnership class is actually the result of recruiting from about 8 years ago. We are extremely proud that our new partner promotions have been more than 50% diverse for the past five years.

CA: How does the firm approach wellbeing?

SS: We first started a consolidated effort to deal with the stress of this profession about five years ago. Each office has an executive partner and they frequently talk to people about stressors and encourage them to speak up if they’re struggling. The firm’s well-being program offers a best-in-class wellness app, and we've undertaken a mental health awareness campaign that includes access to telephonic and virtual mental health support. During the pandemic, we tried to combat loneliness and isolation by hosting Zoom events, so people could socialize and feel like they had an outlet.

We also ask everyone to submit annual self-evaluation reports, outlining their accomplishments and any difficulties they had faced. I read some heart-breaking stories about the losses people had suffered, so we’ve tried to ensure that we’re constantly reaching out to people.

Overall, we invest a lot in our associates and consider their growth, health and wellbeing to be an important goal for our firm, and it always will be.

CA: You became Managing Partner in 2008. How did the pandemic compare to the financial crash?

SS: Neither were fun!There were qualitative differences in that the crash was very frightening because it seemed like the entire capitalistic framework either had collapsed or was on the verge of collapsing. We experienced the big dip that we expected in 2009, but fortunately  by 2011 it became clear that the world was going to survive and we were able to start developing longer-term strategies.

The pandemic was, in some ways, scarier because it directly affected people’s day to day lives. We certainly recognise the difference between money and people’s physical and mental wellbeing, which was enormously strained in the pandemic. I think people are really hopeful now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, and hopefully the current crisis in Ukraine will somehow abate and people will be able to move forward with some degree of normalcy. Ultimately, the impact on normalcy was far greater in the pandemic than during the financial meltdown.

CA: What are the most significant trends in the legal market that you feel students should know about e.g. ALSPs?

SS: Tech is clearly a big factor and a priority at our firm. We established a formal Innovation Team about  six years ago. It looks into ways we can use tech and AI to improve our service to clients and improve the way we manage our business operations. A number of people at our firm have very strong tech backgrounds, so we’ve taken advantage of that; I think they find it an interesting adjunct to their practice of law, because they’re looking at how to do things better, faster and smarter.

The competition and dispersion in the legal industry is another challenge that everyone is facing, not just in terms of competition from other firms, but from ALSPs, too. I think anyone who assumes things will stay the same for the next five years is mistaken: the pace of change is increasing. For example, I'd encourage young lawyers to learn more about the blockchain, cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). We are increasingly seeing issues related to new technologies pop up in a wide variety of our matters.

CA: What advice do you have for students and junior associates who are just about to embark/have just embarked on their legal career?

SS: I think the demand for associates is outstripping supply at the moment: one key thing I’d like to highlight is that associates need to figure out their long-term interests and play to those, rather than looking for the highest dollar amount. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you have a long career ahead, so don’t take advantage of opportunities that may eventually evaporate, because everything has a lifecycle. Isaac Newton was right: what goes up must come down! People who haven’t experienced the downturns need to learn from history and realize that you have to think about the long-term, not the short-term.

Second, try and gain as much knowledge and experience as you can. When I was a young lawyer I realized that you learn a lot simply by being in the presence of people who have been there and done that. The importance of those lessons cannot be over-emphasized.

 

Holland & Knight LLP

701 Brickell Avenue,,
Suite 3300,,
Miami,
FL 33131
Website www.hklaw.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 26
  • Number of international offices: 6
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,402,502,000
  • Partners (US): 897
  • Associates (US): 538
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Carrie Weintraub, Chief Professional Development & Human Resources Officer (carrie.weintraub@hklaw.com)
  • Hiring partner: Deborah E Barnard
  • Diversity officer: Tiffani G Lee
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry‐level associates starting in 2022: 58
  • Clerking policy: Case by Case
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 10, 2Ls: 63
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: California: 6, Colorado: 2, Connecticut: 1, District of Columbia: 1, Florida: 24, Georgia: 1, Illinois: 2, Massachusetts: 6, New York: 5, Pennsylvania: 4, Texas: 19, Virginia: 2
  • Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $3,940/weekly salary 2Ls: $3,940/weekly salary
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Holland & Knight advises clients in a range of practice areas, including complex commercial litigation, corporate law, intellectual property, private wealth services, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and zoning law, and public policy and regulatory matters. Attorneys work collaboratively across practices and teams, drawing upon their legal and industry knowledge.

Firm profile
Holland & Knight is a global firm with more than 1600 lawyers and other professionals in 32 offices in the US and internationally. Interdisciplinary practice groups and industry‐based teams provide clients with access to attorneys throughout the firm, regardless of location. Every day, clients call on Holland & Knight to understand their issues, advocate on their behalf and create solutions to accelerate their position.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022:
American, Baylor, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Drexel, Duke, Emory, Florida State, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Hofstra, Howard, Loyola ‐ Los Angeles, New York University, Northwestern, Notre Dame, SMU Dedman School of Law, Stanford, Stetson, Suffolk, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Temple, UC Berkeley, UC Hastings, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Houston, University of Miami, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, USC Gould, UVA, Villanova, Wake Forest, William & Mary and others.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Attracting, retaining and promoting diverse professionals and fostering an inclusive work environment are priorities at Holland & Knight. We attend various events including Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group Boston Diversity Job Fair, Cornell Law School New York City Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, Northeastern Black Law Students Association (NEBLSA) Job Fair, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, University of Connecticut Boston Off‐Campus Interview Program, University of Pennsylvania Miami Regional Interview Program and the Western Region of the National Black Law Students Association (WRBLSA) Job Fair.

Summer associate profile:
Holland & Knight seeks students of substance from diverse backgrounds with superior academics, leadership skills, involvement in extracurricular activities and demonstrated commitment to their communities. We look for candidates who have the desire and ethical foundation to make significant contributions as lawyers to the firm, the profession and in the community. We have been very successful in hiring students who meet these criteria, and our firm as a whole reflects these values.

Summer program components:
Our summer program provides a real‐world law firm experience, with opportunities to learn how to practice law by working with experienced lawyers on complex matters for sophisticated clients; attend client meetings, depositions, hearings, trials, closings and other external events; build relationships with our attorneys through work assignments, our mentoring program, practice group meetings and events throughout the summer; work with your peers in the office and throughout the firm; meet our top leaders and learn about the history and future of the firm; improve your substantive and practical legal skills through customized training programs; and connect with associate and partner mentors who help you navigate your summer associate experience and begin your career with us.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.hklaw.com
Linkedin: holland‐&‐knight‐llp
Twitter: @Holland_Knight
Facebook: HollandKnightLLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022

Ranked Departments

    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Appellate (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 5)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
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    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
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    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
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    • Construction (Band 3)
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    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Finance (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
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