Want to master the art of litigating in a petite environment with lots of opportunity for growth? If the answer’s yes, this New York boutique should be on your list.
“WE are one of the elite litigation boutiques in New York and nationally,” says managing partner and co-founder Michael Shuster. “In the past year we have brought in a number of new matters. We have some litigation going on in the media space; we’re representing McAndrews and Forbes against NewsCorp and its affiliates. We’ve also seen a significant uptick in our cross-border work and are currently representing a company based in Portugal that’s involved in a dispute relating to matters in Africa.” This all sounds very positive for a boutique that was only founded in 2012: a quartet of lawyers - including federal judge Richard Howell and three partners from White & Case – decided to start afresh and carve out a place for themselves in New York’s bustling litigious legal market. Chambers USA highlights the firm’s work on securities matters, especially for its work in the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) space. Michael Shuster himself is recognized by Chambers USA, which commends him for his commercial litigation know-how.
But what is really exciting for you, dear student readers, is that HSG has recently opened its doors to summer associates (having started its first formal summer program in 2019). “The size of the summer class depends on the number of applications we get,” says partner Blair Kaminsky. “We look for long-term potential and someone who will bring energy to the firm. I don’t imagine that our summer class will be much bigger than a handful in the near future.” Shuster himself comments on the “very happy development that is our recruiting of new associates. We’ve brought in a number of super talented young associates who have clerked on the circuit.” Our junior associate sources were drawn to HSG because boutiques are “completely awesome places to work” and allow attorneys to focus solely on “the art and expertise of litigating.” In addition, it was the opportunity to do “a lot more interesting work” that appealed: “HSG does a lot of good commercial work and has big clients, but also a nice mix of pro bono.”
Strategy & Future
“We want to continue in the same way, continuing to grow over the next five years,” confirms Shuster. He goes on to tell us that the emphasis will be on “promoting partners internally and developing lawyers from within,” which bodes well for future joiners. But what about geographic expansion? “We have a national and an international practice, but no plans to expand to other cities. Frankly that’s partly because we have a very tight culture and we value that a great deal. We never say never though.”
“With 16 partners and 19 associates [at the time of our research], there’s a highly personal free-market allocation system,” an associate highlighted. “It’s not anonymous free-market – they know very well what I’m interested in and what opportunities to send my way.” We were told that “on smaller matters with a shorter timeframe assignment happens in a more organic fashion,” but on larger cases a more formal assignment method “evaluates who is appropriate for the teams; it considers the strengths and weaknesses of associates and the experience we need.”
Litigation at HSG spans many areas, including antitrust, bankruptcy, complex commercial, pro bono, securities and white-collar. “There hasn’t really been a level of specialization,” commented one junior, “which perhaps is a result of the small size of the firm. We’re all ‘hands on deck’ for any opportunity and we get exposure to national and regional cases, as well as some international ones.” Interviewees had worked on antitrust disputes involving card payment networks, securities cases involving mortgage-backed securities, and matters involving the New York government and the political processes within New York state. Antitrust defense matters were described as “interesting and good for providing different vehicles to get various experiences,” with this source revealing that they’ve been able to “help write motions and briefs, as well as helping partners to prepare for depositions and second-chairing.” These large cases can take up most of an associate’s time, but at the same time “because they’re so multifaceted it feels like you’re working on five different cases.” Our sources were full of praise across the board: “We’ve definitely gotten substantive experience and the ability to have our hands in every part of the matter – the sky is the limit.”
Litigation clients: HSBC Bank USA, Caterpillar, Visa. Acts as lead trial counsel for Visa in various antitrust cases brought by well-known retailers such as Amazon and Target.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
There’s no official billing target at HSG and no informal one either. “I haven’t once been told that I’m not billing enough,” remarked one source, while another added: “I’ve certainly never been given one [a target].” In the absence of a target, compensation is pretty clear-cut: on top of market-rate salaries, “everyone receives a guaranteed bonus at the end of the year.”
“There’s very much a culture of trust.”
Associates tended to set foot in the office around 9/9:30am and head out by 6:30/7pm. “It’s pretty flexible when it comes to hours,” we heard. “One of the things I appreciate is that no one is looking over your shoulder and counting your hours. There’s very much a culture of trust.” Another mentioned how it was okay to “take the morning off to work from home; I’ll tell people if they need to know, but they’ll know that I’m working on something.” However, different stages of cases come with different demands hours-wise, with this interviewee explaining that during preparation for expert depositions “I had to be responsive, but that was just the nature of the period of a case. Right now I don’t have any pressing deadlines and don’t feel like I need to respond to 11pm emails.”
“Informal mentorship is a function of the firm’s size,” explained a junior, with this source adding: “I think the firm approaches mentoring as something that should happen organically.” Fortunately, that approach played out in day-to-day life, as interviewees attested. “All partners make an effort to be conscious of how associates across the board can be developed,” said one, which was followed by a thumbs-up from this source: “One thing I was impressed by was that a couple of the partners I’ve worked with have taken the time to provide helpful feedback – not just ‘this was good' or 'this was bad.’”
“All partners make an effort to be conscious of how associates across the board can be developed.”
Conversations regarding the pathway to partnership start to emerge around the fourth or fifth year, at which point partners let you know “if you’re heading in the right direction or if there’s more work to be done.” One constructive point of feedback centered on having a bit more clarity on the timeline for partnership. For those who don’t have their sights set on the partnership, then various options are available, as former HSG attorneys have moved on to larger commercial firms, gone in-house or decided to pursue a clerkship.
“There’s a flatter hierarchy culturally,” said one junior, explaining that work relationships between associates and partners are close: “I’ve helped partners prepare for depositions, and when I’ve done so it’s just me and the partner; we’re sitting in the room together, traveling together, getting dinner together. I really appreciate it.” Beyond the confines of work, each summer “the entire firm is invited to Judge Holwell’s house in the Hamptons for an outing.” Socializing continues with informal happy hours, panel events and networking lunches. If that doesn’t fit the bill, then there’s no shame in not attending: “There’s no pressure or obligation to participate since a lot of people have families to go home to at the end of the day – that’s pretty common.”
“...the entire firm is invited to Judge Holwell’s house in the Hamptons.”
Our interviewees emphasized that HSG “isn’t the typical New York law firm.” Why? Well, HSG’s lawyers certainly work hard, “but there’s an effort to avoid late nights and arbitrary deadlines when they’re not necessary. There’s a recognition of humanity among folks. The pressure comes in part from the nature of the work we do, and we get it done relatively quickly.” One recommendation for the future was that as the firm grows it “may need to develop more structure, for both training and mentoring – that's not about the individuals here, because they’re consistently awesome!” The firm is currently in the process of looking to formalize these things and will hopefully roll out fresh structures soon.
Diversity & Inclusion
Associates relayed the fact that diversity “in the junior associate ranks is strong and there’s definitely more effort on the firm’s behalf to broaden the pool of diverse talent. We’ve hired more women in the past couple of years and there has also been a visible effort to interview more people of color.” In addition, we heard that the firm has sent representatives to diversity job fairs and law schools with various affinity groups. “We also recently had diversity training,” one source commented, “which was illuminating for all staff and employees. It wasn’t just a dos and don’ts session; we spoke about real issues and what we’re missing out on if we don’t have a diverse workforce.” Partners Shuster and Kaminsky further explain: “We’ve also sponsored the National Latinx Law Student Association conference at NYU about a year ago and actually met our very first summer associates there, which was a really wonderful achievement. We’ve been focused and successful at bringing in and interviewing diverse associates and heavily recruiting them, so we definitely have a momentum going.”
Associates agreed that they were encouraged to do pro bono work: “They’re understanding if in a certain month you end up billing a lot of pro bono – you won’t get reprimanded for it.” Juniors told us of many pro bono opportunities, including working on appellate defense cases in Manhattan and the Bronx, assisting Her Justice with cases to help women living in poverty in New York, handling immigration issues, writing amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, and putting together family asylum claims. “The firm has flown a couple of us out to work on cases in Texas and has paid for everything – the support is immense,” one source revealed. This is in addition to working with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and International Refugee Assistance Project.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per attorney: 150
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
Interviewees outside OCI: 46
The firm does not participate in OCIs at any schools, however they do accept resume applications from students interested in the newly established summer programme, or a full-time associate position.
Applicants invited to second stage: 36
Successful candidates are interviewed at the firm’s sole base in New York and sit in front of a panel of partners and associates of different levels. These interviews may span across a few days or be wrapped up in one. Founding partner the Hon. Richard J. Holwell tells us the budding litigation boutique is on the hunt for “talented, creative, strategic lawyers.” Holwell also shines some light on the interview questions: “The questions we ask are geared toward confirming a candidate’s interest in litigating at a firm like ours and ensuring that we hire top talent. Our close-knit, collaborative, roll-up-your-sleeves culture is important to us, and we look for candidates who share that spirit.”
“Be yourself. We are looking for colleagues who we will enjoy working with over the long term, and the best way for us to assess that is if you are genuine and relaxed during the interview.”– Richard Holwell
“The firm has a pretty eclectic group of characters and people do well to be themselves here. So be sure to offer your opinion, whatever that may be.”– a third-year associate
The summer program at HSG allows summers to step into the shoes of first and second-year associates by working on deposition preparation, brief drafting and legal research. A partner dedicated towards structuring the summer is in place to assign a mix of work alongside creating networks with lawyers over a range of antics, including the usual happy hours. Holwell encourages potential candidates to “make the most out of your summer, dig in to your assignments, solicit feedback, and take advantage of the opportunities we offer for you to work and socialize with a diverse group of lawyers at the firm.”
“Be confident in your abilities, make a strong personal impression, and enjoy the give and take of discussing and working through challenging issues with your colleagues.” – Richard Holwell
“Take the mask off before you come here.” – a second-year associate
The firm's founding partner leaves us with some food for thought… "HSG is a non-hierarchical meritocracy where the value of one’s ideas counts far more than one’s seniority level," Holwell suggests.
Becoming a lawyer in a litigation boutique
Diversity & Inclusion
On the well-being side, the firm is “fairly open about having conversations on mental health struggles and seeking therapy. Associates are able to discuss taking time off work with partners. There have been partners who have shared their own experiences with depression, so there’s definitely a supportive culture here.”
Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Partners (US): 16
- Associates (US): 20
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation Spotlight Table