Mid-sized Seward gives associates the chance to navigate careers in its highly respected practices like investment management and maritime law.
If you’re looking for a firm that brings in a haul of premier accolades in areas like shipping and hedge funds, you’re in the right harbor. When it comes to maritime work, Seward is regarded by Chambers USA as one of the very best firms in the country, while its investment managementand private equity know-how is enhanced by its reputation for early innovation: the firm advised on the formation of the first hedge fund back in 1949. Other practices that come under the Chambers USA spotlight include bankruptcy, capital markets, corporate/M&A, and white-collar crime and government investigations.
“The small-firm feel alongside a much larger firm’s caliber of work.”
“We punch above our weight,” says managing partner Jim Cofer. “Our market position for several years has been as a leader in certain industries – specifically, we are ranked as one of the top firms in investment management, maritime law, and securitization.” Cofer is referencing the firm’s mid-sized dimensions, which you can read more about here. Indeed, Seward’s size was a major reason many of our sources gave for joining the firm: “It’s a mid-sized firm that pays a big-sized rate,” said one, while another emphasized that “the small-firm feel alongside a much larger firm’s caliber of work.” This interviewee noted that Seward’s scale means “you get a lot of hands-on experience right away – that’s the dynamic in place right off the bat.”
All of the second and third-year associates on our list were working in Seward’s New York HQ, but the firm does have another base in DC. When it came to practice areas, investment management and litigation scooped up the most juniors, but other areas represented on our list included bankruptcy, capital markets, corporate finance, and (of course), maritime.
Strategy & Future
“Business transactions growth is at a record pace for transactions outside of our key areas this year,” says Cofer, adding: “We’re always looking to add to the areas we’re best known for, but we’re looking particularly at the blockchain and cryptocurrency space.” Geographically, “we’re very comfortable being in New York and DC,” so don’t expect Seward to be opening up shop in other locations any time soon.On the international front, Seward has an alliance with London-headquartered firm Simmons & Simmons to bolster its global hedge fund and asset management reach.
After sampling different practices during their summer, Seward’s associates “got to rank our top three groups, and most people got their first or second choice.” Work allocation in investment management is “more free-market: we’ll get an email asking if anyone wants to volunteer to help out on a matter,” said one interviewee, but overall juniors seek out their own assignments. “It makes us more agile to clients’ needs,” concluded another source. However, there are partners on hand to help associates find work if they need it. Smaller groups can have more structured allocation processes (“you get assigned matters as they come in”), but litigation was also fairly free-market: “I think it works well – you hit the ground running!”
"It feels like you’re being thrown in the deep end, but you learn the most in those circumstances."
The investment management group “covers everything” including fund formation, regulatory/compliance matters and broader corporate issues. Sources spoke of working with hedge fund and private equity clients, who they communicated with “right off the bat – it feels like you’re being thrown in the deep end, but you learn the most in those circumstances. It’s a cool experience! A lot of our clients are based in New York, but also across the States and abroad, in places like China and the UK.” Another source highlighted how “we help our clients to strategize and meet compliance requirements. I really like the compliance side, as we’re always adapting based on changes to the law.” Drafting side letters (i.e. contracts between a fund and investors) was one task for associates, as was preparing manuals and training materials for clients on the compliance/advisory side. “My level of autonomy and responsibility has increased,” one contented junior concluded.
Investment management clients: PinnBrook Capital Management, Ocean Park Investments, Hurricane Capital. Represented Connecticut-based Haraka Capital Management as it formed management company and fund entities for the launch of a new fund structure.
Over inlitigation, a source noted that “we have white-collar work, as well as securities cases, labor and employment matters, bankruptcy disputes, and we’re getting into cryptocurrency cases as well.” We also heard that “most of our work comes from our investment management and maritime groups,” so you can expect the disputes here to have a financial bent or a shipping angle (or both!). Sources had been working on employment cases, which came with a fair amount of doc review and discovery work, but they also said that a significant amount of time had been devoted to disputes over transactions that had taken place. Banks, investment managers and entities operating in the shipping industry are all regular clients here.
Litigation clients: ING Bank, Broadwood Capital, Blue Wall Shipping. Represented Commodities & Mineral Enterprise in arbitrations relating to the company’s agreements with a Venezuelan entity to purchase and transport iron ore from the Orinoco River.
As a new starter “you have a plethora of training presentations when coming in, and there’s a lot you learn on the go. We all have Q&A sessions with a partner every other week,” an investment management source told us. Juniors also “get assigned a formal and an informal mentor, and I think the quality is great; I always feel comfortable going to my mentor, but everyone really is your informal mentor!”
“…the firm allows you to demonstrate your initiative.”
Managing partner Jim Cofer remarks that “we’re always looking to make partners and have strong candidates coming through the ranks.” Our interviewees were positive about the opportunities available to them: “We’re a small-big firm so there’s definitely the chance to make partner,” said one, while another added that “the firm allows you to demonstrate your initiative and the partnership process happens quite organically.” If partnership is not on an associate’s radar, “people have successfully gone in-house with our contacts and with the full support of the firm.” That “path is open to you,” a junior agreed, “and there are in-house opportunities with our clients.”
“…it’s easier to collaborate here – you don’t get lost like you could in a large law firm!”
“We are a small firm, so you can get to know everyone,” one junior enthused, “and it’s easier to collaborate here – you don’t get lost like you could in a large law firm!” Another added that “people aren’t treating you like a billing machine – on the people side, the reality of what Seward is like has lived up to my expectations.” This sentiment was echoed by this source, who told us that “the firm’s goal is not for us to be stuck churning the document mill. There’s a real sense of belonging here.” That sense of being in it for the long-haul was cemented by the approach to feedback, according to this interviewee: “We’ve just had our mid-year reviews and the feedback was constructive and actionable.”
Juniors also felt that the firm had done a good job of trying to keep its culture intact during the pandemic. “The firm set up a ton of virtual events,” an interviewee told us, which included “Zoom trivia nights where everyone got involved.” At the time of our calls, juniors noted that “we’re starting to do more things in person if people feel comfortable – in my group we’re having weekly meetings and outdoor lunches that people can join.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 – 2,100 target (tied to different bonus tiers)
Juniors told us that there are no billable requirements at Seward but lockstep bonuses kick in at 1,900 hours (with 1,700 client billable) and 2,100 (with 1,900 client billable). Associates can get a special bonus if they bill 2,100 client hours in a year. Sources were pleased to tell us that “we got the salary bump to market rate” in 2021, but one felt that in the midst of this adjustment “the bonus isn’t as transparent as it was before and they’re still figuring it out.”
“…although the hours can be long, I’m learning a lot.”
Standard working hours were deemed to fall between 9am and 6:30pm, but could stretch to midnight finishes during really busy times. “The hours are hit and miss sometimes,” a source commented, “so if something needs to be sent out on a Monday, then you may be working over the weekend.” A wise interviewee pointed out that “it’s just the nature of the business and the clients we work for,” while another junior said that “although the hours can be long, I’m learning a lot.” Taking vacation at sensible times “falls on you – you need to know when the firm is going to be busy.” However, once on vacation, “partners try not to bother you” and this junior found that “if you give enough notice people tend to be willing to cover for you.” Our survey respondents estimated that they’d worked – on average – 52 hours in the preceding week and taken ten vacation days over the last twelve months.
All pro bono work is counted as billable at Seward, which went down very well with our interviewees. “They let you run wild with what you want to do!” exclaimed one source. “You can do as much as you can handle,” another commented, “and I’m not aware of any suggestions that have been shut down.”
Juniors told us that there are a lot of immigration and asylum matters to get involved with, as well as work with organizations like Her Justice, “which we work with closely.” Sources also liked that “no matter what group you’re in, you can pick out pro bono that fits with your expertise,” and highlighted transactional work that involved “drafting the agreements and offering memorandums.” We didn’t hear of any trouble finding pro bono matters either: “We’re always getting emails on possible opportunities and sometimes you get drafted onto a case that’s being left behind by somebody else.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 3,496
- Average per (US) attorney: 20
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Seward’s efforts to promote and maintain gender diversity garnered the most praise from our interviewees. “The women’s initiative is great,” a source commented, and another added that “the firm is doing a lot of work with gender and I primarily interviewed women over the summer.” Interviewees agreed that the firm has work to do when building up the representation of other minorities, but did emphasize that “a new diversity initiative started up over the summer of 2021, and that was introduced to make sure we had concrete policies and were on track.” We heard that Seward had teamed up with the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance and partnered with legal education provider BARBRI to offer scholarships to diverse individuals.
“We don’t have numerical targets,” says managing partner Jim Cofer, “however, we’ve been very focused on hiring more diverse lateral candidates.” He adds: “In terms of retention we’ve revised parental leave policies to make those as competitive as possible, and our Diversity Committee is constantly evolving to ensure that there is an atmosphere of belonging."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 338
Interviewees outside OCI: 13
Seward & Kissel sees between 20 and 40 students per school/job fair, and attends over 24 on-campus programs and job fairs including Albany, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, GWU, Georgetown, Harvard, MABLSA Job Fair, Michigan, NEBLSA Job Fair, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Rutgers, Seton Hall, UNC, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington & Lee.
Partners, counsel and associates conduct the interviews. The firm looks for “well-rounded, mature individuals of demonstrated intellectual capacity and promising legal ability” in prospective associates, according to the firm’s hiring partnerKevin Neubauer. Interviewers will also want to see analytical ability, judgement and decisiveness in the students they interview. Good people skills are also important, so candidates with personality and character will fare well. Preparation, self-confidence and enthusiasm also helps individuals stand out.
Top Tips for this stage:
“Candidates who impress our interviewers are able to speak clearly and confidently and will be engaged in the conversation, providing sincere responses. They will be enthusiastic and demonstrate that they are the type of person with whom our attorneys would want to work.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 106
Callback candidates speak with a mix of four partners, counsel and associates (each of the meetings lasts for thirty minutes). Questions at the callback interview tend to be open-ended so candidates can answer freely, allowing the interview to become more of a conversation – and permit the candidate to do most of the talking. The questions will also require a candidate to show the ability to think about a subject area with focus and organized thought.
Before the callback interview, candidates should review their resume, as interviewers will delve into their experiences detailed on the resume. The firm’s website is another resource candidates should use to prepare: to get an idea of S&K’s practice areas to be ready to talk about which areas interest them. After the firm makes its offers, successful candidates are welcome to speak with more attorneys.
Top Tips for this stage:
“Confidence, ability to speak about your experiences and genuine enthusiasm for working at Seward & Kissel help make a great first impression." – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
S&K aims to give its summer associates a realistic overview of the firm’s practice during the summer program. Summers rotate through each of the major departments. One key feature of the program is feedback: the firm provides summer associates with extensive feedback on their work, through both formal and informal evaluations during the program.
The program is also designed to allow summer associates to get to know attorneys through training and social events. Summers can mingle at weekly events. Virtual events for the 2021 summer program included: Murder Mystery, Co-Worker Feud, Glass Painting, a Mixology Class, Pretzel Making, Wine Blending, Weekly Trivia, and Departmental Happy Hours. As for training, each department hosts a seminar to introduce the attorneys working in that group, showcase the work they do, and educate summers as to what would be expected of them if they ultimately joined as an associate.
Before the end of the program, each summer associate meets with the Chief Recruiting Officer to discuss practice group options and to list their top three choices for placement.The firm tells us it makes every effort to match the expressed choices with the firm’s needs. Most years, the firm achieves a 100% acceptance rate from its summer associate classes.
Top tips for the stage:
“Questions are encouraged and if a summer associate does not understand an assignment, they should seek clarification immediately. The summer associates should also take the opportunity to speak with as many attorneys as possible during their ten weeks at the firm.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
S&K hires lateral associates for designated practice groups depending on business needs, whether that’s increased work in a particular group, or to replace an associate who’s departed. Lateral hires generally have between three to six years of experience, and the firm tells us that its recent hires have come from other premier law firms and the government. In the past year, the firm has recruited laterals into its real estate, investment management, corporate finance, global institutional finance, maritime, capital markets, tax, and business transactions groups.
“Our firm is a friendly place that has a strong supportive. Most of our partners have spent their entire legal careers at the firm, and so, because the partners have effectively grown up here together, there is a clear sense of trust, mutual respect and team loyalty. We are down-to-earth people, which sets the tone for a wonderful working environment.” – Hiring partner Kevin Neubauer
Interview with managing partner Jim Cofer
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We punch above our weight. I think our market position for several years is being a leader in certain industries – specifically, we are ranked as one of the top firms in investment management, maritime law, and securitization.
CA: Are there highlights from the past year or in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
We haven’t had a lot of lateral partner hires in the last year, though we did promote two attorneys to partner status and five attorneys to counsel status. We have seen an expansion in blockchain and cryptocurrency. In addition, business transactions growth is at a record pace for transactions outside of our key areas this year; we’re always looking to add to the areas we’re best known for but we’re looking particularly at the blockchain and cryptocurrency space.
CA: Would you characterize the firm as in growth mode?
We have a compliance portal used by our investment management which allows for constant managing of surveys to assist in regulatory compliance, and we have more document automation in maritime. Geographically we’re very comfortable being in New York and DC, but we’re always looking to make partners and have strong candidates coming through the ranks.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
Like a lot of people, we moved to being out of the office very quickly – the infrastructure was already there because people were already looking to remote working before the pandemic. As we move forward, we recognize the way people want to work will change. We are going to be working in a hybrid fashion with three fixed days where everyone is in the office, and two remote days. We were busier during the pandemic and did not experience a financial downturn. Raises were right on schedule!
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
You always worry about firm size, so we see technology as an opportunity – some people think it’s a threat. With ALSPs it’s too early to tell, but one of the things is that growing in scale will be a conflict issue. Law is a very different business and we have a value proposition that is different with particular expertise over firm size… so we’ll have to see.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
We don’t have numerical targets – however, we’ve been very focused on hiring more diverse lateral candidates. We’ve expanded the law schools at which we interview to include those with a more diverse student body, we participate in diversity job fairs, we are involved in diversity outreach, etc. In terms of retention, we’ve revised parental leave policies to make those as competitive as possible, and our Diversity Committee is constantly evolving to ensure that there is an atmosphere of belonging.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
As people are going into the industry, look at your career as a business – how are you going to build that out and add value for colleagues and clients? Whatever I produce is ultimately going to go to the client – make sure it is of high quality. When you are junior it’s difficult to see but this is integral as well - being enthusiastic! People always appreciate it when you’re enthusiastic, clients and colleagues alike.
Seward & Kissel LLP
One Battery Plaza,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Partners (US): 45
- Counsel (US): 30
- Associates (US): 70
- Main recruitment contact: Royce Akiva (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Kevin Neubauer
- Diversity officer: Anthony Tu-Sekine
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 13 (NY: 11, DC: 2)
- Clerking policy: Case by case
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022:
- 2Ls: 12 (NY: 10, DC: 2)
- 1Ls: 2(NY)
- Summer salary 2022:
- 2Ls: $4,134
- Split summers offered? No
Main areas of work
Our New York office participates in the following OCI programs:
• Boston College
• Boston University
● Florida A&M University
• George Washington
• MABLSA Job Fair
• NEBLSA Job Fair
• New York University
• North Carolina Central University
• Seton Hall
• Southern University
• Texas Southern University
• University of the District of Columbia
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Vanderbilt Job Fair
• Washington & Lee
Our Washington, DC office participates in the following OCI programs:
• Boston College
• Boston University
• Cornell Job Fair
• George Washington
• MABLSA Job Fair
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Washington & Lee
Summer associate profile:
We rely heavily on our summer program for our hiring needs. The primary goals of the program are to provide summer associates with a realistic, broad-based view of our practice and an opportunity to become acquainted with our attorneys through our informal mentoring program, training sessions and social events.
Summer program components:
Assignments are from our practice areas. Training: weekly seminars, practice group meetings and in-house training sessions. Feedback is given formally at the middle and end of the summer program.
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Securitization: Trustee Counsel (Band 2)
- Hedge Funds (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 1)