Shout it out loud for the hotter than hell midsizer that’s struck up a New York groove in funds and shipping finance.
Whether you’re hoping for substantive work right off the bat, a clearer route to a senior role, or you’re just bad at remembering lots of names, midsized firms are well worth a look. New arrivals at Seward & Kissel had sought out “a work/life balance, and the chance to work with great personalities while still getting interesting work and being competitive.” While the larger New Yorkoffice welcomes the majority of junior associates and offers both litigious and transactional work, Seward’s DCbase focuses solely on the latter and recruits in much smaller numbers.
“Seward & Kissel is pretty much the flagship firm to go to if you have an interest in investment management and hedge funds,” insiders declared. “They have a top of the list advisory practice.” The firm isn’t quite at the top of Chambers USA’s hedge funds ranking list but does earn a spot to go alongside a New York nod for corporate law, and a nationwide top-tier ranking for shipping and maritime finance. The “strong shipping presence” acted as another hook for the law student fish swimming through OCIs before settling in at Seward (let’s move on before we get seasick…)
Most of the juniors on our list were in either the investment management or corporate finance practice, though a decent chunk sat in litigation. Work assignment across the firm is generally free market, but we heard reports of some “ad-hoc structure” emerging as associates found themselves being “delegated work on similar assignments through a couple of partners.” One junior in the corporate finance department noted “there is an attempt at some formality. There’s one partner in capital markets and one in the maritime practice who dole out assignments among the associates.” In the corporate finance group in particular, “associates basically sign up to help in all aspects for at least two years, after which they can express a preference to specialize.”
“There’s a lot of trial by fire… teams are leanly staffed and so we do get more client contact than some expected.”
Having advised on the first ever hedge fund in 1949, Seward’s investment managementpractice is now a well-oiled machine. Day-to-day practice for associates includes advising clients on matters relating to ERISA, regulatory compliance, tax, employment and fund formation. New York is the place to be for hedge funds work, whereas the focus is on mutual funds in DC. The firm attracts “a lot of international clients” thanks partly to its “big shipping presence. We also have a longstanding partnership with Simmons & Simmons in London, and they tend to give us a lot of work based in Europe.” Our junior insiders were quickly in the thick of it: “There’s a lot of trial by fire at S&K. Teams are leanly staffed and so we do get more client contact than some expected.” Typical junior responsibilities include handling compliance and quarterly public and private filings for clients. “I would say the bigger proportion of my day is working on fund documents and revising them,” one interviewee noted.
Investment management clients: Discovery Capital Management, Landsdowne Partners, TIG Advisors. Acted for 140 Summer Partners on the formation of a management company and fund entities to launch a $450 million master-feeder fund structure.
The corporate finance practice primarily undertakes corporate and litigation work for commercial banks, investment banking firms and investment advisers. To make things simpler, the team splits into Group A – “primarily the global finance group” – and Group B, where you’ll find capital markets, real estate, maritime finance, business transactions and M&A/private equity subgroups. Asked about the firm’s client base, associates suggested the “geographical reach is pretty broad. Most of our capital markets clients, for example, interestingly aren’t US-based – a lot of them are in the EU and we communicate constantly with Greece, Norway and the UK.”
“I wake up to a lot of client emails, and that’s great!”
Associates in the business transactions group (BTG) mentioned working mainly with US-based clients. Insiders told us the firm “expects juniors to learn on the fly and take up the roles which would get you exposure to higher level documents, negotiations and phone calls.” One declared that their Seward experience “couldn’t be better. I wake up to a lot of client emails and that’s great!” Associates in the BTG get to handle stock or asset purchase agreements; maritime work is “mostly signing mortgages, debt security and lending”; and capital markets calls for basic filings, quarterly and annual reports.
Business transactions clients: Scorpio Tankers, Piper Sandler, TechInsights. Advised crude oil transportation business Frontline in its $675 million acquisition of ten Suezmax tankers.
A firm with a smaller headcount and fewer associates joining each year lends itself to “more personal conversations” and a relatively informal mentorship style. Juniors who were comparing their experience to peers at larger outfits found “it’s much more likely a partner here will take an associate under their wing and say ‘Hey, we have this deal coming in which would be great for your career.’” This encouraged many to stick with Seward: “I can see myself here for a while.”
“Part of the investment from the firm is throwing us in the fire and making sure we get better experiences, sooner.”
The informal approach doesn’t sit in place of structured training, and the firm runs “plenty of presentations and legal education webinars.” On the other hand, juniors said “part of the investment from the firm is throwing us in the fire and making sure we get better experiences, sooner.” Partners also got individual shout-outs for being “fantastic at mentoring by catching people up on points of law. The effort is sincere.”
Strategy & Future
Associates applauded Seward for being “very forthcoming at providing updates and constant communication throughout the pandemic,” confirming that “partners check in almost every week over Zoom.” Interviewees suggested the firm should continue with this level of transparency long-term, to avoid the worst of “future office dynamics.” Also looking to the future, those with ambitions for partnership were pleased to see the firm growing and making additional hires into investment management and litigation.
“It’s casual, but not like Cali-casual,” associates reckoned of their nonetheless cosy East Coast firm. A New York voice said this: “I guess it’s the kind of firm where you find people you want to be friends with outside of work.” Another chimed in that “there’s a great balance between being driven work-wise and promoting personal health and happiness.” Open-door policies have been made largely redundant by lockdown remote working, but associates told us the firm culture has translated well virtually and “you never have to question whether to reach out to a partner or not. Everyone is easygoing and friendly from top to bottom.”
“There’s a great balance between being driven work-wise and promoting personal health and happiness.”
Folks also still “like to schedule fun things” on the events calendar, pandemic or otherwise. “I think the firm favorite is the annual ugly sweater competition where we hold a runway show,” a junior laughed. “Everyone looks forward to it!” Attorneys can also dress a little more snappily for cocktail hours, which have given way to “virtual wine tasting sessions on Zoom.” Choosing to ignore Lana Del Rey, juniors described summertime madness on the social front: “It’s a great time. We do everything from escape rooms and bowling, to attending concerts and baseball games.” One junior recalled “dancing in front of the whole staff at a party despite having no natural rhythm whatsoever… I’m sure the video would have gone viral!”
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 2,000 target
Reaching the goal nets you a base bonus, “but there’s no internal pressure to hit the target. All pro bono hours count as well as research work for first-years.” Associates were pleased with the benefits offered at the firm, but there was some grumbling over salary: “We’re slightly below the mark. We’re aware it’s not a huge gap, but as you move more senior, it becomes more visible, and that in turn leads some to look elsewhere.” It’s some comfort that “Seward makes a flat $10,000 contribution toward your 401(k)" for each associate who has been with the firm for at least one year.
“One thing I like about Seward is that they don’t expect us to stick around for no reason.”
“The firm wants you in no later than 9:30am,” but there’s some more flexibility over when associates can finish their day: “One thing I like about Seward is that they don’t expect us to stick around for no reason. We usually get out around 7pm without anyone second guessing.” Investment management associates in particular told us “the team is pretty sociable and we like going in each other’s offices, but we’ve never felt nervous about leaving early if necessary.” That’s not to say Seward doesn’t call for longer hours sometimes: “We definitely go through late nighters during busy periods.”
The firm told us that a number of corporate associates recently teamed up with the Veterans Assistance Project of the City Bar Justice Center among other initiatives. Despite all pro bono hours counting toward billables, corporate juniors felt “opportunity is comparatively limited, as a lot of the cases are litigation-based. We do help establish nonprofits here and there and draft a couple of bylaws.” Litigators were more likely to get stuck into pro bono, whether that involved working on cases in collaboration with Her Justice or domestic abuse and divorce proceedings.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 5,027
- Average per US attorney: 31
Diversity & Inclusion
“I think we struggle when you look at the numbers,” juniors commented, with a consensus emerging that “the representation of women – especially at associate level – is a stronger point for Seward as opposed to racial and ethnic diversity.” An investment management associate was particularly critical of their department, “whereas corporate groups are more diverse. To clarify, that doesn’t mean it’s a hostile environment.” The firm has affinity groups in place as part of the effort to increase diversity alongside a dedicated committee.
“Efforts to stay in touch and be supportive have skyrocketed since the pandemic began.”
Moving the conversation to mental health and wellbeing, associates were impressed to see “efforts to stay in touch and be supportive have skyrocketed since the pandemic began.” Though now missing out on the office lobby “filling up with masseuses and various health programs on relaxation day,” our interviewees praised Seward’s recruiting department for “creating a very warm environment, virtually, with a handful of wellness webinars.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 346
Interviewees outside OCI: 10
Seward & Kissel sees between 20 and 40 students per school/job fair, and attends over 25 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 partner, Christopher Riccardi. 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 with.” – Hiring partner Christopher Riccardi
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 50
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 Christopher Riccardi
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, though both formal and informal evaluations throughout the program.
The program is also designed to allow summers to get to know attorneys through training and social events. Summers can mingle at weekly events. Virtual events for the 2020 summer program included: a Scavenger Hunt, Murder Mystery, Tipsy Scoop Cocktail Creations, Wine Tasting, Coffee vs. Tea Tasting, Weekly Trivia, Art Class, 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 educates 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 lets the recruiting department know their top three choices for placement, and 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, he/she 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 Christopher Riccardi
S&K typically hires between one and five lateral associates per year 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 “equally prominent” law firms and the government. In the past year, the firm has recruited laterals into its real estate and business transactions groups.
“Our firm is a friendly place that has cheerful banter among its workers in a stress-free environment. 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 Christopher Riccardi
Seward & Kissel LLP
One Battery Plaza,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Partners (US): 45
- Counsel (US): 27
- Associates (US): 67
- Main recruitment contact: Royce Akiva (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Kevin Neubauer
- Diversity officer: Anthony Tu-Sekine
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 12 (NY: 10, DC: 2)
- Clerking policy: Case by case
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021:
- 2Ls: 12 (NY: 10, DC: 2)
- Summer salary 2021:
- 2Ls: $3,461
- Split summers offered? No
Main areas of work
Our New York office participates in the following OCI programs:
• Boston College
• Boston University
• George Washington
• NEBLSA Job Fair
• New York University
• Seton Hall
• University of Pennsylvania
• University of Virginia
• Vanderbilt Job Fair
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, 2021
- 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)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 1)