Anybody looking to “throw themselves in quickly” with these “relentless litigators” needs their (Kaso)wits about them.
“I SEE us serving a very specific role in the market,” Kasowitz co-managing partner Albert Shemmy Mishaan begins. “Many large full-service firms are getting out of the litigation business to the extent that their litigation work isn’t directly tied to their transactional practice. That puts us in a place, with a handful of other significant litigation firms, to be the go-to firm for substantial business litigation in New York and across the country.” Kasowitz may be smaller and younger than some Big Apple counterparts but it's already developed an appetite for huge matters representing clients like AIG, Ford, Comcast and Visa. Founder Marc Kasowitz has also acted as President Trump’s personal lawyer, including on defamation action brought by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, though this work has significantly decreased in recent years. They may not know much about reality TV, but the experts at Chambers USA recognize legal talent when they see it and grant the firm top rankings for general commercial litigation in New York. Beyond the HQ, the firm has nine smaller offices spanning the breadth of the US.
Kasowitz is the name – and litigation is most definitely the game. The firm has a real estate arm to help service its client base, but 15 attorneys from the team left for Vinson & Elkins in spring 2019. This wasn’t a huge concern for most of our sources, drawn to the firm’s litigation prestige. They also shared its values: “I really liked people’s passion here,” one recalled. This ‘passion’ can sometimes come across as “uber aggressive and confrontational,” sources admitted; they clarified that “the firm is aggressive in its work but fairly relaxed in its day-to-day culture.”
“I really liked people’s passion here.”
Strategy & Future
Some felt “there could have been a bit more transparency” from management during the recent departures – “they just left, and we didn’t know whether it was a big deal or not.” Albert Shemmy Mishaan explains that the firm has “retained quite a number of clients" in the real estate space. "We managed to not only preserve the practice, but also have it in a place where it’s nimble, able to pick up work from existing clients, and bring in new clients too." Going forward, Mishaan highlights antitrust as “a burgeoning area, especially with the intersection of tech and antitrust." The firm recently hired antitrust attorney Kevin Arquit – “perfect timing” according to Mishaan. For more from him and co-managing partner Cindy Kelly, head to the Bonus Features tab.
Here’s how focused the firm is – all of its juniors practice litigation in New York andjust a few opted for a specialist area. Work comes through both a formal assignment system and directly from partners. “The two work coordinators assign you a case when you first start, then you fill out your availability every week. I’ve found that as you progress here you end up working with the same people – a lot of my work stems from ‘repeat’ partners.” Many felt that your path hinges on “who you clicked with and have got to know. I like that, but it might be a problem for people who don’t forge connections.”
Most keep a generalist practice for a while. Some interpreted this as “getting to do basically anything you want;” others reckoned “you end up doing what the firm needs.” Either way, our sources got stuck into a full range of disputes including commercial litigation, IP matters, general contracts spats, employment and securities litigation and white collar/fraud cases. There are also groundbreaking niches like software litigation, where sources described “working with clients who have suffered from failed software implantation which may have harmed their business in some way.” Most of juniors’ work was New York-based, but a couple of matters called for “specialisms from another office,” so interviewees occasionally got to work with folks in Florida, California, and Texas.
"The biggest misconception is thinking you’ll come in and go to court tomorrow.”
Juniors told us they “get more substantive experience than offered at other firms,”in the form of “doing the first draft of most everything, including sections of briefs and letters,” and “overseeing staff attorneys and paralegals doing document review.” Legal research was another staple junior task along with writing memos and taking notes in meetings. Levels of client contact increased over time, from “sitting in on calls” to “prepping witnesses for depositions or trial testimonies.” Interviewees noted that “the biggest misconception is thinking you’ll come in and go to court tomorrow. In any big firm that doesn’t always happen.” That said, Kasowitz's cases do still regularly go to trial and juniors seized any opportunities which did arise with both hands: “I’ve been to a bench trial which was pretty full-on and lasted about two weeks in federal court.” At first, juniors found the responsibility “can be daunting as it’s very ‘trial by fire’, but there is a lot of informal and formal training available. You build good relationships with the people you work with.”
Litigation clients: State of Hawaii, Woodstock 50, President Donald Trump. Defended Teva Pharmaceuticals in multiple class actions alleging price-fixing of various generic drugs.
“The people you work with seem pretty invested in your development and ensuring you learn how to complete tasks well,” sources reckoned. “Lots of senior associates and partners have sat down with me to go over a work product and explain how it could be enhanced.” Newbies enroll in Kasowitz University (KU), the firm’s comprehensive training program for first-years. “They give you a made-up case file and you have to prepare for the whole case, from developing the facts and writing the initial complaint through to the depositions and cross-examinations.” Despite some conceding that the program “is very time-consuming,” positives generally outweighed the negatives as juniors felt KU “really does help you gain confidence when you’re first starting out and everything seems new and scary.”
"The firm has a reputation as a litigation powerhouse, which puts you at an advantage if you want to continue down that path."
Juniors with their eye on partnership predicted they’d be in the mix or not “between eighth and tenth year.” They were heartened to see a number of homegrown partners and felt “there’s definitely potential to make partner if that’s what you have your mind set on.” Associates with other plans were similarly optimistic given that “the firm has a good reputation as a litigation powerhouse, which puts you at an advantage if you want to continue down that path.”
Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
Describing Kasowitz’s website design as ‘bold’ would be like calling Times Square just a little busy on New Year’s Eve. Words like ‘AGGRESSIVE’ fly off the screen at you while the eyes of stern-looking lawyers follow you with an almost frightening intensity as you navigate the site. “No one smiles on the website,” juniors admitted, “but that’s not what I see as I go about my day at all. It’s a complete contrast.” Instead, what they found as they wandered the halls was a “respectful, encouraging and collegial” environment. “We’re aggressive in that we go to the ends of the earth for our clients, but within the firm everyone is like a teddy bear.” Even founder Marc Kasowitz “occasionally pops by to say hi and ask what we’re working on.”Sources appreciated that above all the firm is genuine, “what you see is what you get.”
“We’re aggressive in that we go to the ends of the earth for our clients, but within the firm everyone is like a teddy bear.”
That’s also true of diversity, and “with respect to associates it’s a pretty even gender split. Unfortunately, as you go up the ranks there are a limited number of women in partnership or senior roles.” To address this disparity, the firm has launched various schemes including a ‘Women’s Initiatives Committee’ and a general diversity and inclusion committee. Kasowitz also partners with The Law Institute at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn to coach students in mock trials and provide long-term mentorship. Sources felt “there needs to be more people from a diverse background making decisions at the firm” and that “more formal training” on subjects of diversity and inclusion could help. Kasowitz also runs a formal wellness initiative and is a signatory of the ABA's Well-Being Pledge.
There was plenty of praise to go around for Kasowitz’s “genuineness” toward pro bono; sources felt “the biggest testament to the firm’s commitment is that all hours count toward our billable target.” Seeking to drive the point home, they added that “it’s not just something that a couple of people do – even rainmaker partners do pro bono.” The firm advertises various opportunities including asylum matters, landlord/tenant issues, criminal defense cases and collaborations with domestic abuse organizations. “If there’s something you’re personally interested in, you can bring that to the attention of the pro bono committee,” committed juniors noted. “We even had a pro bono case tackling measles in school – it's a pretty wide range!” Everybody of course has to balance their pro bono with paid work, but one insider recalled that “when a pro bono case took off I told the partner on my bajillion-dollar case that I couldn’t do something because I was working on pro bono. They said, ‘Of course! That’s important – put your time there.’ I really appreciated that.”
Pro bono hours
- For all offices: 14,368
- Average per attorney: 59.4
Hours & Compensation
Billing target: 2,150 hours
There’s no point beating around the bush: Kasowitz has one of the highest billing targets in New York (and therefore the US). “That number is a little scary when you look at it compared to other firms...” one junior understated. “But virtually everything counts – unlimited pro bono, business development, recruiting – so it’s really quite achievable from that point of view.” Others agreed and added that “most people are on track because we’ve been really busy.” To top it off, Kasowitz pays its juniors above market salary – “Once I’d realized what the hours were like I thought ‘oh, okay this is why.’”
"It can be difficult to make plans during the week… or do anything besides putting your butt in your chair."
“It can be difficult to make plans during the week… or do anything besides putting your butt in your chair.”Most estimated that they work 45 to 50 hours a week on average, getting to the office for between 9am and 10:30am then leaving around 7:30pm and putting in a couple more hours from home. “When I have a filing or a deadline there’s definitely a fair share of late nights and 14-hour days, but it balances out when it’s quieter,” we heard. Interviewees also sometimes aimed to get tasks done on the weekend “to lessen the load during the week.” Sensible.
Interview with co-managing partners Cindy Caranella Kelly and Albert Shemmy Mishaan
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
(Albert) Shemmy Mishaan: It’s a really interesting market for litigation attorneys in the US, and I think we’re really in a great spot. Many large full-service firms are getting out of the litigation business to the extent that their litigation work isn’t directly tied to their transactional practice. That puts us in a place, with a handful of other significant litigation firms, to be the go-to firm for substantial business litigation in New York and across the country. I see us serving a very specific role in the market with a small handful of other firms.
CA: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
Cindy Caranella Kelly: We’ve had some pretty high-profile successes in terms of trials. The core litigation groups have been tremendously busy. We represented an international gaming and resort company in connection with securing a settlement in a dispute with Disney and another party, which was a significant success. Our IP group has been particularly busy with several high-profile matters. We recently had a big win against streaming company Roku which is now going to trial. We also had some major restructuring and bankruptcy matters, particularly in the retail sector. The employment group has been extremely busy, especially with MeToo-related matters. Antitrust matters continue to thrive and grow as well.
In terms of recruiting, we’ve been very successful. We have a very successful summer program and were happy to extend offers to all our summer associates. It was a really fantastic group who meshed well with the culture of the firm. Because we’ve been so busy with significant trial work going on, they got to be involved in real substantive work.
In addition, the firm is committed to an overarching wellness program that enables our employees to enjoy a productive work-life balance. Among other initiatives, Kasowitz participates in the following initiatives, available to all of our employees in all offices: Work/Life Assistance Program, Emergency Child and Elder Care, Educational Courses, Student Loan and Debt Assistance, Retirement Savings Wellness Days and Health Resources. The firm is also a signatory of the ABA's Well-Being Pledge.
ASM: We also had Kevin Arquit join the firm – he’s a very senior and high-profile antitrust lawyer and a great friend of the firm. We’ve worked matters both alongside him and across from him. He’s an exciting addition to the firm, and really helps build up the antitrust group.
CA: And how about the transactional side? Has the departure of the real estate lawyers to Vinson & Elkins had any effect on the firm?
ASM: Our transactional side on general corporate stuff is relatively limited. We have three partners here who continue to practice in that area, mostly for litigation clients in connection to other things they’re doing. In terms of the real estate group, the more senior people from that group left but there is still a solid core here. We have a young partner in New York who is very skilled and connected in the industry, who is spearheading the efforts. We retained quite a number of clients – we managed to not only preserve the practice, but also have it in a place where it’s nimble, able to pick up work from existing clients, and bring in new clients too. As with all partners who move on, we wish them well.
CA: Are there any broader trends (whether political, economic, technological, sector-specific) that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm’s practices?
ASM: The biggest thing has been the international aspects of our work. I feel like it has really ramped up, both in terms of who the clients are, and in terms of American clients having disputes with entities overseas. It’s a much more international economy than it used to be and that is showing up in a lot of our practice. There are different considerations – it’s something everyone is getting used to.
CA: What is the general strategy going forward? Are there any practices/sector focuses/offices you have earmarked for growth?
ASM: We are very opportunistic, both in terms of clients and bringing in practice groups or areas. We’re in a nice period of organic growth for the practices at the firm. I think antitrust is a burgeoning area, especially with the intersection of tech and antitrust – it’s something that’s really going to be a front-page story. Today, as we speak, Mark Zuckerberg is testifying in congress. And it’s not just with the biggest names, but also all over the tech economy. I think that’s one of the biggest and most active areas. The addition of Kevin Arquit was perfect timing.
CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to navigate/adapt to in the future?
CCK: I think Shemmy touched upon this earlier, but many firms are facing the problem of doing more commoditized work – the same type of matters every day, and it’s not meeting the growing needs of clients. I think we are at the forefront of handling the most significant and challenging litigation situations, which provides value not just to our clients, but also in terms of what associates are looking to do. It’s the reason we get these high-quality associates coming to us, because they’re looking to do more challenging work. We have practices where clients don’t come to us with routine legal issues – they come to us with difficult issues. Other law firms that do that routine cookie-cutter litigation have not been able to navigate that well.
ASM: We want to be thought of as the go-to place for clients who have difficult problems that they need help addressing.
CA: The firm clearly has high standards – how do you support your associates on this front? Especially those coming out of law school whose first job this might be?
CCK: We have an associates committee, and a liaison to the associates committee with respect to the management committee. We have a standing monthly meeting where we meet with associates who sit on the committee (it’s a rotating membership). The primary purpose is to address how we can make associates’ lives better. It’s for everyone from new associates entering the firm, to more senior associates who are starting to develop business. We’re trying to meet the needs of making their work life better, at the same time as servicing client needs better. We’ve found having an open dialogue with associates facilitates that. When new associates come in, we have mentors in place (both junior and more senior people) to answer questions and help the transition. There’s training (Kasowitz University) in place on how to take depositions and how to write complaints. Most firms have some formal training in place, but what helps the transition better is that connection with other associates. We make sure first-years really know where all those resources are.
CA: Let’s talk about diversity at Kasowitz – how have the firm’s efforts been panning out on that front?
CCK: One thing we’re proud of is the recognition in the area of diversity; it’s something we really focused on and have had really good results. We’re proud of our recognition from the American Lawyer, which put us in the top 10% most diverse law firms. We’re proud of working to continue to improve that further.
We recently established affinity groups which have been well-received by associates. We’ve also taken advantage of various training programs and fellows programs where associates build relationship and leadership skills. There’s a ‘Pathfinder’ program for diverse attorneys to engage and network with other lawyers. We’re really encouraging our associates to take advantage of those opportunities. We have several in-house panels, for example, we had the CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) come in and give a fantastic presentation regarding diversity efforts. In addition, the firm is a signatory of the Statement of Diversity principles of the New York City Bar Association. We’re also proud of our involvement with the Law Institute with John Dewey High School in Brooklyn. It has a high percentage of diverse students, and we work as a mentor firm with their ongoing moot program. We’ve developed a relationship with this high school and have a couple of partners and associates who work with students to develop their oral advocacy skills, talk about the legal profession in general, then engage in court competitions. We also bring them to office and host various panels, one at which Hector Torres spoke about his career path followed by a Q&A. It gets students interested in the legal industry, and hopefully we’ll see the results later down the line.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
CCK: I would advise them to focus on the culture. There are a lot of firms in the city that do high-profile work and who have high-profile names. That’s very attractive. But you need to dig a little deeper. As someone in law school trying to make career decisions, meet with junior associates when interviewing and find out what kind of work they’re actually doing and whether they’re getting substantive work on cases. I think Kasowitz offers unique opportunities to juniors that they don’t get at other firms in terms of client exposure, and getting real substantive work early on, as long as they have the capability and desire to do it. I think students can sometimes be short-sighted – they look at the firm name and think “great, it’s a big New York City firm” and then go blindly in. If you want career development, you need to make informed decisions. I suggest they go in, meet as many people as possible, and have candid conversations. Look at the culture of the firm and see if this is the kind of place they want to be spending long hours. Look at the people and the nature of the work being done.
ASM: Many years ago when I came to the firm, one of the things struck me as very different coming from a big firm – at Kasowitz, you have to have the mentality that the client is your client. You’re providing important significant legal work which will be the building blocks for legal advice to the client – you have to act like a lawyer. In bigger firms, especially corporate-focused full-service firms, you’re often a cog in the machine and don’t get to see the big picture. You don’t have that client contact or relationship. Here, we see everyone on the team as representing the client – the client should know them and be in contact with them. That provides the best representation to the client, and certainly provides a great experience to attorneys on the matters. It’s the kind of place that should be attractive to those who want to be lawyer, and be litigators, and do that from day one.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Partners US: 84
- Associates US: 147
- Main recruitment contact: Mindy J Lindenman, Director of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring partner: Cindy Caranella Kelly
- Diversity officer: Hector Torres, Chair
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 10
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 2Ls: 8; 1LS:1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY 9
- Summer salary 2020: 2Ls: $3,750/week
- Split summers offered? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, Howard, NYU, and NEBLSA Job Fair.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume collects: Cardozo, Harvard, Penn and UVA. Review all applications received through our online portal.
Summer associate profile: We seek applicants from all backgrounds with a demonstrated interest in litigation who want to assume significant responsibility early in their careers. As a litigation firm, we look for candidates who are creative, independent thinkers and who are intellectually curious with the drive and motivation to litigate in and out of the courtroom. We require the highest level of academic achievement, writing ability and prior work/leadership experience. Judicial Clerkships, Law Review, Moot Court and Trial Advocacy are looked upon favorably. Candidates should possess outstanding judgment, strong character and exceptional interpersonal skills.
Summer program components: We provide our Summer Associates with quality work assignments and professional experiences reflecting the breadth and complexity of our firm. Summer Associates learn first-hand about trying cases and drafting legal documents, motions and agreements, and are exposed to courtroom appearances, depositions and client meetings. Summer Associates participate in formal training programs, a partner lunch series and an associate mentor program. Summer Associates also attend weekly work assignment meetings, receive ongoing feedback and are provided mid and exit reviews from the lawyers with whom they work. Summer Associates have the opportunity to work on firm pro bono matters and participate in offsite programs offered by legal services organizations, such as The Legal Aid Society, Sanctuary for Families, and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. We sponsor a variety of social and cultural events, providing Summer Associates the opportunity to get to know each other and our lawyers in an informal environment. The firm also coordinates a Women’s Initiative event and charitable events during Give Back week through Citymeals-on-Wheels ‘Eat Cheap for Charity’, Sanctuary for Families and Encore Community Services.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation Spotlight Table