At this sleek boutique, “there’s a shared sense of buy-in on growing the firm with the folks who founded it.”
Against the Mayans’ best predictions, the world didn’t end in 2012 – and for this litigation boutique, it’s when the world began.Formed by a federal judge and three high-flying partners from White & Case, this New York litigation boutique is still less than ten years old, just. “It feels like I’m at the start of something,” one associate shared. “We’ve changed, grown and developed a lot, even in the last few years.” And due to the firm’s youth and size (around 60 attorneys), associates felt like they were part of a “malleable” environment: “There’s room for every person who works here to shape the culture and practice of the firm.” They said Holwell Shuster “attracts and hires driven, smart folks. If you want to go as far as litigators can go, this is a great place to earn your chops.”
“If you want to go as far as litigators can go, this is a great place to earn your chops.”
The four founders (Richard Holwell, Michael Shuster, Daniel Goldberg and Dorit Ungar Black) work closely with the firm day-to-day – “the firm is their baby” – and many of them work one-on-one with juniors on cases. Shuster is a highly ranked litigator in Chambers USA, and he also has a seat at our sister publication’s spotlight table for his institutional plaintiff securities work. The firm itself is noted in New York for its commercial and securities litigation.
HSG is a strong performer across our research: in 2021 it made the US top ten in Retention; Quality of Life; and Pro bono>
Juniors told us the founding partners’ “guiding vision impacts us every day.” They reckoned the firm “wants to remain fairly small, like 100 lawyers including staff attorneys.” This is almost double its current headcount. “There’s certainly room to grow, but we want to remain a place where everyone knows everyone.” And from a work perspective, “we don’t want to put a million people on a team. We get good results with leaner and more efficient teams.”
The firm officially launched its petite summer program in 2019, taking about ten associates a year. Once they arrive at the firm full-time, they get right to work in a generalist practice. “There are no perceptible practice divisions,” they explained. “We’re lucky, we get the opportunity to do basically anything that comes up.” Case assignment is free-market and informal: “You often hear in the corridors what people are up to and get a chance to ask if you can help out.” Partners are “always looking at each associate’s development.” If someone hasn’t done a certain type of work, juniors said they’ll “prioritise giving it to that associate rather than someone with a lot of experience in it.”
“It’s crazy working on fallout from a financial crisis that was 13 years ago.”
The generalist approach at HSG means “people here have the capacity to learn new work and areas very quickly.” The firm handles cases concerning areas such as antitrust, contract disputes, investigations and white-collar matters. Contract disputes tend to revolve around financial contracts, but “unlike a lot of financial litigation, it’s very interesting!” The firm also handles a lot of litigation arising out of residential mortgage-backed securities. “It’s crazy working on fallout from a financial crisis that was 13 years ago,” one reflected. “The courts were overwhelmed then. And they still are now!” The pandemic has brought in even more finance litigation and breach of fiduciary duty work.
HSG tends to work on the plaintiff side of cases – the firm’s compact size means they’re less likely to bump into any conflicts of interest than larger firms might. “When we look on the other side, our opponents are huge firms mostly,” juniors said. “If work comes to us, it’s because it’s complex.”
“A partner passed me notes saying ‘you’re doing great’ and ‘take a breath!’”
Because of the size of the firm, juniors reckoned “it’s not hyperbole to say we’re involved in every aspect of the case. We have a philosophy of challenging folks early on.” As well as researching, answering questions and communicating with other parties, juniors were responsible for setting up the doc review process. “Our staff attorneys take responsibility of running many doc review processes, so we can get more involved in strategy.” Of course, “you still have to get into the documents to understand the strategy.” Associates brainstorm with the partners on case strategy and client calls. When it comes to trial, we heard that juniors got to write briefs, take depositions and even sometimes argue in court in their first year. “I was not expecting that,” one said, “but if they think you can handle it, they’ll give it to you.” When thrown at the deep end in depositions and in court, interviewees told us they “always felt 100% supported.” One even told us that “a partner passed me notes saying ‘you’re doing great’ and ‘take a breath!’”
Litigation clients: Visa, HSBC, Chubb, PetSmart. Represented Valassis Communications in a billion-dollar antitrust action against News Corp concerning its in-store promotion activities.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
The firm “fully matches market on bonuses and salary,” and it was also one of the firms that paid out special bonuses in 2020 in light of the pandemic. Our interviewees had billed between 1,800 and 2,200 hours in the last year. A typical day for them meant logging off at 7pm when it was ‘quiet.’ During busier times they found themselves “putting the kids to bed and being back at the computer again until 11pm, sometimes midnight.” Weekend working could also be common. “You can have spells where you work every minute and you’re awake for a long period of time,” one admitted.
“When hours were brutal, people were really kind.”
Fortunately, “when hours were brutal, people were really kind and understanding and helped out where possible.” Associates said senior colleagues “are approachable and understand you need flexibility sometimes. Partners have said to me, ‘You need some time with your family, why don’t I do that associate task instead of you?’”
From the get-go, juniors were “really impressed at how supportive the partners were.” As the firm is so young, associates felt that they were all “growing together as equals. There’s a shared sense of buy-in on growing the firm with the four folks who founded it.” As such, partners “understand that their responsibility isn’t only to grow the firm, but to grow the juniors too.” Both senior associates and partners “ask what kind of work we want to do, look at how to give us better development opportunities and get us involved in the firm as future leaders.”
One interviewee told us that they’d only seen one associate leave during their time at the firm, “and that was only because they were moving for family reasons. A couple of others have left to clerk and will come back.” Given that the firm has only been around for nine years (the standard track from junior to partner is eight years), interviewees were “not super clear how the firm makes its partner decisions.” They were adamant, however, that they want to “stick around a long time.”
Associates painted a picture of the firm’s culture like they were pitching the next legal drama, starring a cast of dynamic founding partners. Mike Shuster got the role of “a very dynamic and inspiring guy. When he speaks, people listen. He cares a lot about the firm and the people in it.” Juniors described him as one of the driving forces behind a “liberal, inclusive and empowering” environment at the firm. Daniel Goldberg also got praise: “After I took my first deposition he came into my office and said he’d heard I did a great job and said, ‘We’re very proud.’” 'Judge Holwell', as associates affectionately referred to him, was described as “really funny and a great guy.” Goldberg also highlighted the key role played by one of the firm's founders Dorit Ungar Black, who, we heard, is famous for driving to the courthouse in her convertible.
“At a giant firm they wouldn’t be taking cues from juniors.”
Of the wider team, associates told us “we’re close personal friends and go out of our way to help each other.” Before the pandemic, Friday drinks were common – “the firm always picks up the tab. They want us to be friends and socialize.” After the switch to remote working, weekly drinks were held over Zoom, “where one of the partners sent out a cocktail recipe and we all made the cocktail.” This eventually petered out due to Zoom fatigue – we get it! “One thing we have maintained is an all-firm Zoom call where Mike Shuster makes us feel cared for. It keeps us buoyant!”
Diversity & Inclusion
Interviewees noted that because of the size of the firm, juniors have felt able to have “a real impact” on the recently revamped diversity and inclusion committee. “At a giant firm they wouldn’t be taking cues from juniors,” one said. “There’s something exceptional about the fact that HSG allows its juniors to hold its seniors accountable and make changes before problems develop.”
Overall, interviewees felt “the firm is committed to making sure people who feel marginalized are heard.” They were keen to point out that all diversity and inclusion initiatives include “staff attorneys and other staff at the firm. Our firm is aware that just focusing on lawyers is classist, so everything we do involves all the staff.”
Juniors noted that there is a lack of female partners, but were hopeful “that will grow over time,” particularly with the help of the women’s affinity network. Again, “because the firm is so small it’s been a slower process on the ethnicity front, but at a smaller place there’s an opportunity for a fewer number of people to make a big difference.” In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, the firm decided to commit up to $250,000 over three years to fight racism in donations to social justice organizations.
"On one or two matters I’ve been the lead attorney. I got to sign my name on the brief and everything!”
All of our interviewees had done at least a couple of hundred hours of pro bono in the last year – “and that’s not a crazy number.” Juniors were grateful for their pro bono experience: “On one or two matters I’ve been the lead attorney. I got to sign my name on the brief and everything!” Partners are “really encouraging of us to do pro bono. Letting us spend lots of time on it is very common.”
The biggest pro bono project at the time of interviews was working with the American Civil Liberties Union to “bring a discrimination class action on behalf of a number of pilots and flight attendants who were not given accommodation to pump breast milk on flights.” The firm also works with nonprofit Her Justice on getting “access to justice for indigenous women and assisting with divorces and child support.” Other pro bono matters include overturning wrongful convictions, immigration work, and “providing an avenue of help for freelancers.” Pro bono is mostly brought into the firm by the partnership, but “the cool thing is that if you find something you want to do, you can just propose you do it and they’ll probably allow you.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 8,923
- Average per attorney: 159
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
Number of OCI applicants interviewed 2021: 6
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.
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
Offers 2021: 8
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.
Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Partners (US): 17
- Associates (US): 20
Main areas of work
The firm specializes in the following areas: antitrust, appellate, arbitration/mediation, bankruptcy litigation, complex commercial litigation, distressed debt and fund litigation, intellectual property, pro bono, securities litigation, transnational litigation, white collar and internal investigations.
Holwell Shuster & Goldberg is a litigation boutique specializing in complex commercial cases, with a particular focus on sophisticated financial, securities, antitrust, intellectual property, and bankruptcy-related disputes. HSG strives to provide the highest level of service by furnishing unparalleled judgment and offering fee arrangements that ensure complete alignment of interests with its clients.
Our hiring process is extremely selective. Our lawyers graduated at the top of their law school classes. Many held prestigious judicial clerkships: our lawyers have clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court; the Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits; and federal district courts throughout the country. Many of our lawyers have distinguished themselves in other ways as well—in academia, industry, and prior practice at some of the nation’s finest law firms. We are proud to celebrate our lawyers’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation Spotlight Table