“Associates are treated like adults” at this compact, elite New York outfit.
“I wanted a BigLaw feel and resources, but a smaller office vibe. I got that with Kramer Levin,” one junior shared, a statement echoed by almost all of our interviewees. For perspective, Kramer’s New York office houses just under 290 attorneys, which is a headcount a few hundred under that of some of the big New York names and results in "nimble and adaptable" groups, according to junior associates. Co-managing partner Paul Schoeman tells us that Kramer has “all the benefits of a smaller firm but packs a punch the same as a much larger outfit. We’re not trying to be all things to all people but in our key practices and jurisdictions, we certainly punch well above our weight while still maintaining a very close-knit philosophy.”
A glance at the firm’s Chambers USArankings confirms the weight behind Kramer’s punches. There’re top nationwide rankings for corporate crime & investigations, capital markets, and advertising litigation. In New York, its white-collar, commercial litigation, labor & employment, and restructuring practices also come with highly coveted ‘Elite’ status.
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partner Howard Spiko tells us that Kramer is “investing in the practices by hiring laterals, doing business development activities that are surrounding the client base in those practice areas, and investing in that space.” However, while the firm may be in a period of expansion, Spiko makes clear that “we’ve always been careful and strategic in our growth,” adding that “Kramer’s strategic focushas been and remains what we call our ‘destination practices.’” These practices are: litigation; bankruptcy; corporate/private equity; IP; real estate and land use; securitization; finance; and immigration/employment. This “well-rounded diversified scope of work” creates a “tremendous amount of stability in the firm,” Spiko emphasizes, and allows the firmto stay affluent in both the “good times and bad times.” Schoeman also gives a shout-out to the firm’s IP litigation team, who recently won “the first all-Zoom trial in history in the Centripetal v. Cisco case.”
Four juniors on our list were based in Silicon Valley, with the rest residing in Kramer’s HQ in New York. The firm’s litigation and corporate groups took most of the junior associates on our list between them. The IP and creditor’s rights group took the next largest amount – just over a handful each – while real estate and employment took just one each. Work assignment functions differently in each department. Whereas some opt for a more free-market approach, both litigation and corporate also have a staffing coordinator. “We have a weekly staffing meeting you show up to and they ask what you’re working on and how much time it’ll take. Once they gauge everyone’s availability, they’ll call people directly and ask them to accept new assignments.” Sources maintained that “if you have to say no, they’re OK with that. It’s a reasonable system.”
“The opportunity to work on a lot of different types of cases.”
Litigators start out as generalists for a few years, affording associates “the opportunity to work on a lot of different types of cases.” Sometimes cross-departmental work is also available to the generalists in the form of financial and employment matters. After a few years, there’s still “no formal requirement to specialize,” sources made clear, adding that “people tend to naturally fall into working with the same types of partners and matters.” White-collar investigations, commercial litigation, and bankruptcy litigation cases are among the most frequent to crop up. Sources told us that “there are a lot of former federal prosecutors in the department, which means we take on a lot of trial work.” Those interested in bankruptcy litigation should expect “a lot of overlap with the transactional side of the firm,” where the team mainly works for creditors on work that’s “unpredictable and quite fast-paced.” One junior provided us with a breakdown of their responsibilities: “It started out with just doc review, then it was research, then I was soon drafting parts of the brief.” Research is also a big part of junior associate life here, in the form of “conductingbackground research on niche issues and helping build the case around it.”
Litigation clients: Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, EIG Energy Funds. Recently defended private equity firm Centerbridge Partners against claims that Centerbridge interfered in a credit agreement with TriMark to raise $120 million to increase liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great to have a deep dive into a very niche piece of tech for a client.”
Kramer’s IP group bridges the Silicon Valley and New York offices. “We work hand in hand with each other and are in close contact daily,” sources confirmed, adding that “we’ve got a huge pool of resources between us.” Both the Silicon Valley and New York offices tackle a mix of patent litigation and post-grant proceedings at the US Patent and Trademark Office. “We’re very active in that area and spend a lot of time conducting inter partes reviews that allow people to challenge the validity of a patent,” sources highlighted. One insider emphasized that the work is “highly technical,” meaning a STEM background is “common – but not necessary. Partners and associates that don’t have technical background tend to get more involved in district court litigation.” There’s also trademark and transactional work available. Clients can be anything from “startups to big established companies.” Juniors reported doing everything from preparing briefs and second-chairing depositions to writing expert reports and interviewing experts. “It’s great to have a deep dive into a very niche piece of tech for a client,” one insider reflected, adding that “they have such a fascinating depth of knowledge on their subject matter.”
IP clients: Johnson & Johnson, Sirius XM Radio, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, Janssen Biotech. Recently represented a cybersecurity company, Centripetal Networks, in a landmark case against Cisco Systems, finding that Cisco infringed four Centripetal patents, resulting in the awarding of $1.9 billion in damages.
Our interviewees were clear that “pro bono is highly valued,” something that is clearly borne out in the raw numbers. Kramer falls in the top ten of all firms ranked in our guide for both the average number of pro bono hours billed per associate and for the quality of the firm’s pro bono opportunities as ranked by associates themselves. One source told us: “We have a pro bono department with at least two people working full-time on coordinating it for the firm.”
Pro bono was also viewed as a great training opportunity by our interviewees, who reasoned that “although first-years are given great opportunities, you’re just not thrown into cases in the same way you are on pro bono matters.” Juniors are typically paired with senior associates and partners who “develop your skills in areas you don’t know about yet. It’s great to meet people in other groups that you don’t usually work with.” Typical pro bono work includes immigration and asylum cases, helping veterans get benefits, landlord-tenant issues, as well as criminal work. Juniors can also attend a number of legal clinics such as an IP clinic for small business owners in Silicon Valley and a corporate clinic for entrepreneurs in New York. All pro bono hours are billable, which our insiders took full advantage of, with some having billed in excess of 200 hours.
- For all US attorneys: 29,749
- Average per US attorney: 102.7
New York juniors told us they get a “pretty extensive orientation during your first year,” which includes ‘Law 101’ sessions, career development talks, information about different jurisdictions, and “social events we can go to for networking.” Those in Silicon Valley have things a little different, owing to the comparatively smaller class size. Here juniors rely mainly on “learning on the job – it’s not standardized training.” However, they didn’t see this as a negative: “We’re provided with feedback on everything we do. Working with senior associates and partners directly acts as a mentorship informally.” Once a month, juniors can also attend “professional development office hours” where they can visit the professional development leader to “talk about writing for the blog and all different kinds of opportunities.”
“Somewhere I can see myself being for the long term.”
At Kramer Levin, “partnership seems very achievable,” one source stated, emphasizing that “the choice is there if you want it.” While some of our other insiders were less confident of the viability of making partner, the prevalence of ‘lifers’ was appealing to all. “In Silicon Valley, there are three junior partners that started as junior associates here. It’s good to see.” Departures do happen – usually people going into government or in-house positions, and associates following departing partners. “A few people left recently but the firm scheduled a meeting to tell us not to worry and that they’re recruiting new people immediately,” one source said. Many were attracted to Kramer Levin as being “somewhere I can see myself being for the long term. That’s the reality here if you want it.” Indeed, our survey results shows that only a small majority of associates intended to leave the firm within two years.
Career development is aided by the fact that “Kramer has a culture where people aren’t afraid to ask questions,” sources agreed. One added: “I know I can walk down the hall to the managing partner’s office and bother him – that wouldn’t be a problem.” There is a pervading attitude that “you’re an adult – you get lots of autonomy and you aren’t micromanaged.” Juniors told us this leads to “your opinions being valued no matter whether you’re a first-year or a senior partner.” Overall, we heard multiple reports of Kramer’s “laidback, inclusive culture full of freedom of expression.”
"The biggest difference is the way we dress."
Again, the Silicon Valley office gives juniors “a little different of an experience to New York life. The biggest difference is the way we dress,” one junior identified. While business causal was stated to be the norm for New Yorkers, those on the West Coast can expect a more dressed-down affair. Though the offices have their cultural differences, there’s no bad blood here: “The offices work so well together. There’s no turf wars or work hoarding.” At the time of interviews, associates in Silicon Valley were coming into the office “as much as we want,” whereas almost all New Yorkers were working from home as “it’s much harder to socially distance.” Moving forward we were told that associates are encouraged to be in the office three days a week as a rough guide but will differ by practice group.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Associates had no qualms about hitting their billing target: “We get a summary that gives you a projected track of whether you’re going to reach your bonus hours.” Being the elite New York outfit that it is, incoming associates can expect occasional levels of “crazy busy” that can see juniors working multiple 16-hour days.
However, one junior insisted: “I don’t feel like I’m worked to the bone. They try really hard to keep everyone lower than 2,000 and spread work around properly.” We also heard that “vacations are always respected,” with one junior highlighting that “I’ve been asked to do something on the weekend maybe two times and the request always comes with an apology.”
The firm matches salaries and bonuses in each market. To be entitled to a lockstep bonus, we were told that associates must bill the requisite number of hours, which includes billable time, pro bono, business development and firm citizenship hours such as recruiting, and committee work – the amount is determined each December. Though most our interviewees were satisfied, the system left some “wishing that it was adjusted for how much you do.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
"I’m proud of the firm’s efforts in this area.”
Interviewees were overwhelmingly positive about the firm’s D&I efforts, as embodied by one junior: “It’s something we’re very, very conscious of and I’m proud of the firm’s efforts in this area.” For many, it was important to revisit the firm’s roots: “Kramer Levin was founded by some Jewish attorneys who wanted to practice corporate law, but who firms wouldn’t take because they were Jewish. As such, the importance of inclusion is emphasized to this day.” In keeping with that ethos, last yearthe firm hired a new D&I executive officer, Nada Llewellyn, who is developing the firm’s inclusion initiatives. “They hold a lot of events and programs to promote and spread awareness about different things.” One source also highlighted that the firm commits to “prioritizing pro bono projects that affect people from diverse backgrounds.”
We heard that there are many allies at the firm, with “male partners in IP being really big advocates for getting women into the department and industry.” Still, our interviewees were also vocal about the fact that “racial diversity could definitely be improved” despite the firm’s efforts “to actively recruit diverse candidates.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Hiring partner Kerri Ann Law tells us: “We attend OCIs at approximately 15 schools, attend IP and diversity job fairs and review resumes that candidates send to us directly. The firm also hires law clerks every year.” Associates assured us: “The firm’s not elitist and people here have more diverse school backgrounds than other firms.” Naturally, an interest in the firm’s specialist practice is essential during interview. Law adds: “OCIs are typically conducted by a partner or a very senior lawyer at the firm. We also try to send alumni when possible.” Law says the firm is looking for students “who have performed well at a high academic level, are involved their communities in and out of school and have demonstrated leadership qualities.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Make a connection. OCI interviewers see a lot of candidates in a short time and you need to stand out.” – hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.
At the callback stage, “students typically meet with four attorneys, two more senior lawyers and two more junior lawyers. We try to match department interest if indicated by the student.” At this point, Law explains, “Kramer looks for the complete package. We have a very small program and want our summer associates to be long-term success stories. We look for students who are smart, well-spoken, engaged and interested in our firm. They need to explain why they want to work at Kramer, and they should be prepared to discuss legal issues that interest them.” In addition, our associate sources tell us: “The firm is very conscious of maintaining its culture and being a place where people are friendly, humble and eager to learn.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Be prepared and ready to explain how you can add your voice at our firm." – hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.
Summer associates are not assigned to practice groups and do not rotate through departments. Instead, Law tells us: “We tailor our program to the needs of each individual summer associate. We have an assignment attorney who meets with each summer and determines the assignments that meet the summer associate’s interests.” That’s not to say summer associates should be too quick to pigeon-hole themselves, however: “We encourage summer associates to try work in all different departments and be open-minded about new areas of the law. We try to balance substantive work assignments with shadowing assignments, which provide opportunities for summer associates to see what life will be like as they grow their career. Social networking is also important and we average one event per week as well as many lunches with attorneys.” As a couple of final pointers, Law advises summer associates to “be open minded and try new things. Make sure you attend everything you can.” From those who have already been through the application process we heard: “It can be intimidating but people recognize you need to ask questions. It’s a steep learning curve and it’s always best to ask if you don’t understand something.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Our small program provides a unique experience for summer associates. Take advantage of it!” – hiring partner Kerri Ann Law.
Interview with managing partners Howard Spilko and Paul Schoeman
CA: Describe to us some highlights from the past 12 months at Kramer Levin.
Paul Schoeman: The pandemic has been a huge challenge, but the firm is performing well. We’ve had an opportunity to look hard at who we are and what we do and focus on those things. We’ve done a few things. One important thing is we hired a chief diversity and inclusion officer Nada Llewellyn in July. This reflects a commit we and the entire firm have towards D&I. She hit the ground running despite the pandemic and was an important hire at a senior level of the firm. We’re already working on a bunch of new D&I initiatives, which is very positive.
On the work side, we’ve been very pleased that we’ve been busy. We’ve done innovative things such as when our IP litigators won a big trial. It was the first all-Zoom trial in history in Centripetal v. Cisco case. We won one of the largest patent infringement case ever. Our team was very nimble and adapted to the new environment really well. On the litigation side, there were other large trials during the pandemic in Delaware and in New York. So we’re very proud of the way that teams adjusted to the environment and did super high quality work.
Howard Spilko: One of the great things about the firm over the last 19 months is that we’ve been really busy and for the associates have created a tremendous amount of opportunity for them to develop their skills and increase client contact. It’s an all-hands-on-deck mentality. If I was a junior associate, it’s the exact kind of environment I’d want to be in to grow as fast as I could with a safety net where you can ask for help. There are tremendous opportunities here.
In our transactional practices we have such a high flow of work and we talked to our associates about that and they appreciate the opportunity to step up. There are junior associates who have matured very quickly and are second years performing at a fourth year level. The volume of work and the opportunity to develop is high.
CA: What are your plans for retuning to the office environment?
PS: For the New York and Silicon Valley offices, we’ve announced that starting March 28 we’ll be implementing our new hybrid working plan that has an expectation on the lawyer side that people spend the majority – three days on average – in the office. Different groups have different exact plans. In order to acclimate to that we’re encouraging people on a voluntary basis to come in one day a week starting now.
CA: What are Kramer Levin’s strategic plans for the next 12 months?
HS: Our strategic focus has been and remains what we call our ‘destination practices’. These are practices that generate their own revenue and attract and retain talent. We’re lucky because we have at least eight of those practices where we’ve been concentrating our efforts and we continue to do that. We’re investing in the practices by hiring laterals, doing business development activities that are surrounding the client base in those practice areas and investing in that space.
The destination practices include litigation, bankruptcy, corporate/private equity/M&A, IP, real estate and land use, securitization, finance, immigration and employment. It’s a well-rounded diversified scope of work. It creates a tremendous amount of stability in the firm. We have so many well-known prestigious practices that can generate revenue. It helps in good times and bad times. So we continue to expand in those practices with no plans to grow significantly. We’ve always been careful and strategic in our growth. We always think about in the lateral markets how that person or group enhances our destination practices.
PS: In the future that means associates will find a consistent and steady philosophy here. We’re big enough to get the most sophisticated work but we’re small enough that we are family, a close community and we know and treat each other will. People here are not fungible. We have all the benefits of a smaller firm but pack a punch the same as a larger firm. We’re not trying to be all things to all people but in our practices and jurisdictions we punch well above our weight whilst still having our very close-knit philosophy of the firm.
HS: Thephilosophy of the partnership is that we respect our colleagues and their boundaries. It’s difficult in this profession when we get busy, but we recognize our colleagues are very important for the future of the firm and we view people not as a commodity but as people who will be long-term colleagues, or even clients as friends of the firm. That’s a philosophy we deploy throughout the firm. We have a group of people who can be ambassadors of the firm and take us to higher places.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
1177 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $390,000,000
- Partners (US): 113
- Associates (US): 221
- Main recruitment contact: Lauren Tapper, Chief Talent Officer
- Hiring partner: Kerri Ann Law
- Diversity officer: Nada Llewllyn, Chief Diversity Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 16
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 2Ls: 14, SEO: 1; 1L: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: NY: 14 2Ls, 1 SEO; 1L: 2
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $4,134/week 2Ls: $4,134/week
- Split summers offered? Case by Case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
• Columbia University
• Duke University
• Fordham University
• Georgetown University
• Hofstra University
• New York University School of Law
• University of California at Berkeley
• University of Michigan
• University of Pennsylvania
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collects at other Schools. Write in submissions welcome to email Legalrecruiting@KRAMERLEVIN.com
Summer associate profile:
We seek lawyers whose academic achievements, journal writing, and prior work experience demonstrate exceptional ability, motivation and potential for leadership.
Summer program components:
Our summer program offers a realistic experience. We fully involve summer associates in day to day practice and assign work comparable to that given to junior associates. Summer associates participate in our departmental meetings, firm-wide events and training programs and are given opportunities to attend court hearings, discovery proceedings, negotiating sessions, closings, pro bono matters and client meetings.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
District of Columbia
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Immigration (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: PACE (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Derivatives (Band 3)
- Immigration (Band 3)