New Yorker Kramer Levin’s personal touch makes the firm a haven for associates and laterals alike.
“A LOT of people here lateraled from other BigLaw firms, so I figured why not cut out the middle man!” one Kramer junior reflected. So what is it that makes Kramer attractive? Well, associates appreciated that it's “a little bit smaller” than other BigLaw New Yorkers, while still having a “diverse range of practices.” Lawyers are based almost exclusively in New York, though there is also a 20-attorney Silicon Valley base and a small outpost in Paris. Managing partner Paul Pearlman tells us: “We have chosen to stay small compared to most of our competitors. We have fewer offices by design and that’s partly to maintain our culture, partly to staff our matters more leanly and also to maintain quality.”
“We have chosen to stay small.”
The firm picks up Chambers USA rankings both in New York and nationwide. In the Big Apple it's ranked for several litigation-related areas, plus corporate, bankruptcy, real estate, and tax. The firm is also nationally top ranked for advertising litigation. And the Silicon Valley office, which opened in 2011, has an IP and tech focus. At the time of our calls it was home to one associate from the class of 2016 and three from the class of 2017. All the other juniors were in New York.
Strategy & Future
In the past ten years Kramer's lawyer headcount has remained pretty stable at around 300. “The idea seems to be that bigger isn’t always better,” one associates observed, while another highlighted the lean staffing model as something “the firm makes a very conscious effort not to lose sight of.” Kramer's litigation practice is its most highly respected – it's ranked in Chambers USA's 'elite' category in New York, whereas corporate comes lower down. However, Paul Pearlman tells us that “the transactional practices – corporate, private equity, and real estate – have been particularly busy recently.”
Corporate and litigation are home to around a third of juniors each, with other New Yorkers in creditors' rights, real estate and environment, and all those in Silicon Valley in IP. Kramer recently introduced a new “formalized” work assignment system in its litigation practice, which sees associates assigned work by a nonpracticing coordinator. We were told by the firm that this system will be rolled out to the other practices in due course. At the time of our research this was being piloted and one junior said the experience had been “positive so far.”
Junior litigators can sample a mixed bag of white-collar, advertising, criminal and corporate litigation. Juniors “jump around quite a bit,” and even some partners have a generalist practice. There are specialisms though, including advertising. “I worked on a big false advertising case that went to trial,” one junior told us. “I was involved in every area from the discovery phase through the depositions, to post-trial submissions. I had a lot of different writing tasks – cross-examination outlines, briefs, motions...” Associates said you can take on “as much responsibility as you can handle, because teams are staffed pretty leanly.” A second-year reported “writing deposition outlines and second-chairing depositions.” Another praised the way work is allocated, explaining: “The firm takes the type of work you need into consideration. I had a case that was very document review heavy, and since then they’ve made an effort to give me more research work.”
“Writing deposition outlines and second-chairing depositions.”
Litigation clients: MGT Capital Investments, William ‘Bill’ Walters, RCS Creditor Trust, and Kevin Hart. Represented EIG Global Energy Partners in a suit against offshore rigging company Keppel over its role in the Petrobras Brazilian bribery scheme.
One junior noted corporate had been “growing in the year or two before I got here – Kramer has historically been seen as a litigation firm, but we’re getting more deals now, so it’s an exciting time to be part of the group.” Corporate mainly serves middle-market private companies and has three branches: banking & finance, securities, and M&A. Juniors roam across all areas. Deals are often leanly staffed, and a third-year reported: “On smaller deals it’s just me and a partner, so I essentially have the role of a senior associate. I’ve been able to draft key transaction documents like purchase agreements.” We heard that “there are pros and cons to working on bigger deals because there’s more grunt work, typically due diligence.” One reported on the other tasks a first-year typically has: “I communicate with the client, turn over a draft, and the partners and midlevels mark it up. Sometimes I'll do research into rules about how something works, but not often.”
Corporate clients: BlackRock, Atlantic Street Capital, Cineworld, Stone Point Capital. Represented gaming real estate company VICI on multiple deals totaling $4 billion, including the $73.6 million sale of undeveloped land in Las Vegas to Caesars for a convention center.
“We have very high retention,” one associate claimed. Indeed, while Kramer has a very small annual partner class, its summer and first-year classes are small too, so there is proportionally less drop off than at many bigger firms. One reason could be the quality of informal training and support. “I feel adequately challenged but there’s a strong support system,” one junior said. “I’ve never hesitated to ask questions.” Another gave an example of the support they got: “When I work with senior associates they’ll sit me down in real time or after a completion to go over the deal and help me understand how I can improve.” Practice areas start out with formal training and CLE programs, and there’s a “constant stream of emails” offering further training. A litigator told us: “I’ve had sessions on writing briefs and done mock depositions.”
“A lot of senior associates here did not expect to see themselves at a BigLaw firm five years out of law school,” one source said. “They just haven’t had a reason to leave!” Another gushed: “When I first joined I really wanted people to like me as much as they seemed to like each other.” Sources attributed the firm’s friendly vibe to a variety of factors, from the “casual dress code” to the small size of the firm to the recent renovation of the New York office. “My new office is very modern and shiny,” one interviewee beamed. “It reflects the fact the firm has the money to do that and wants us to work in a space that’s pleasant.”
“Down-to-earth people who you just want to hang out and shoot the shit with.”
Associates also appreciated the firm’s ability to hire “down-to-earth people who you just want to hang out and shoot the shit with.” We heard that “people here have friends at the firm who they might grab a coffee and hang out with.” And you can chat to people about serious stuff too, for example if you're “experiencing stress at home you could go to a partner to talk about your schedule and how to deal with that.”
Outside of working hours this isn't a super sociable firm. “Many people have families so there are not that many social opportunities,” one source reported. That said, there are client events, a Christmas party, and even “once a month Thursday night drinks with appetizers on the 29th floor – you don’t have to go but you can stop in.”
Hours & Compensation
“People are respectful of your other commitments,” one junior reflected, “though of course there are times when it’s a balancing act.” One interviewee reported: “I have heard of people doing the infamous 300-hour month. I've had one or two months where it’s been really tough but never to the point where my life is passing me by or I’m losing my social life.”
A litigator told us: “There are plenty of evenings when I do leave at 6pm, but when things are busy you do have to be there for your clients.” Another said their hours “fluctuate” and “there are days when I'm in 9am to 6pm, but sometimes it's 10am to 8pm.” A corporate associate said their day normally lasts from 9:30am to 6 or 7pm, adding: “Sometimes I have to stay late or log on at home.” Another corporate source said: “When a deal is in full swing there are late nights. Plenty of times that can be 10 or 11pm and last night I was working until 1:30am or 2am. But post-midnight finishes are the strong minority."
“There are days when I'm in 9am to 6pm, but sometimes it's 10am to 8pm.”
Kramer matched the 2018 salary hike, which was welcomed by insiders. Associates must rack up 1,950 hours to get a bonus, which sources found “very achievable,” particularly as an uncapped number of pro bono hours can count toward the target.
One associate described Kramer’s pro bono policy as “do as much as you can,” while another said: “It’s a big part of the firm’s mission. There have been several months when most of the hours I put in were pro bono-related.” Reflecting the firm's commitment “there’s a dedicated member of the team who coordinates pro bono. There's always work on offer, ranging from direct representation and taking depositions to writing amicus briefs.” However, this is a more common experience for litigators than it is for corporate associates.We heard about asylum, abortion rights, and contested divorce cases on the litigation side, plus corporate work for nonprofits. Kramer also has longstanding links to domestic abuse charity Her Justice, and associates can do a four-month full-time pro bono secondment with Brooklyn Legal Services.
“From direct representation and taking depositions to writing amicus briefs.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 30,911
- Average per US attorney: 106
Diversity & Inclusion
“Diversity is an issue here,” was the typical response to questions about how well women and minorities are represented. One interviewee described the firm as “the least diverse place I’ve ever been,” while another said: “There are a lot of white males up top.” We heard that “the firm is aware of the issues and is trying to take proactive steps with affinity groups and lunches with speakers from different backgrounds.” Some praised the firm’s efforts to provide flexible working opportunities for those with families, saying: “I’ve seen a number of people rotating in and out of maternity or paternity leave or working part-time – it’s encouraging to see those people excelling.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 449
Interviewees outside OCI: 6
Hiring partner Kerri Ann Law tells us: “We attend OCIs at around 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, who have had some work experience in the law 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.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 172
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 that “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 why you think you are the right fit for 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. And please, put your phones down! Unless a supervising attorney has told you to check for something, make sure you pay attention during meetings and are not on your phone.” 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.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
1177 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $423,000,000
- Partners (US): 99
- Associates (US): 205
- Main recruitment contact: Lauren Tapper, Director of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring partner: Kerri Ann Law
- Diversity officer: Lauren Tapper, Director of Diversity
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 16
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 14, SEO: 1, 1L:1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: NY: 14 2Ls, 1 SEO, 1L:1
- Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,700/week 2Ls: $3,700/week
- Split summers offered? Case by Case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
• Benjamin N Cardozo
• Columbia University
• Duke University
• Fordham University
• Georgetown University
• Hofstra University
• New York University School of Law
• St John’s University
• University of California at Berkeley
• Boalt Hall School of Law
• University of Michigan
• University of Pennsylvania
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collects at other Schools
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, 2019
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Immigration (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Immigration (Band 3)