We catch up with the single-site LA firm's managing partner to discuss strategy, Hollywood clients and his role in the sale of the LA Clippers
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Bob Baradaran: I would say it's excellent—things are very positive. The reason why I describe our current market position as excellent is because we are the largest single-office law firm in California, and we work throughout the majority of the states in the country from our one LA-based office. Also, we regularly compete with national law firms and complete matters in opposition to them; the matters we undertake on both the transactional and litigious sides are sophisticated. We can do all of this precisely because we are a single-office firm; our structure allows us to do the same work at a more efficient rate structure than national firms.
"I think that the public perception of Greenberg Glusker is different than our clients' perception of the firm."
In addition, our business model is such that we have little turnover at both the associate and partner levels, which provides our clients with a continuity of service from our lawyers. We have dedicated client teams that stay at the firm for many years. Clients themselves tell us that they choose GG because we have little turnover.
We also have the same talent pool as the bigger national firms, as we recruit out of the top 10-20 law schools, as well as laterally out of those larger firms. Our lawyers are of the same caliber. Therefore, we can provide clients with the same standard of lawyering, with more continuity and no pressure of rates.
CA: Your media and entertainment practice is well known regionally and nationally, but are there any other practice areas that you hope to expand upon in the years ahead?
BB: I think that the public perception of Greenberg Glusker is different than our clients' perception of the firm. The reason we are well known in the media & entertainment sector is because of the public nature of Hollywood; more people know about our work in that practice over our others because the matters are simply reported on more than those that occur in our other practices. The reality is that we actually started out as a litigation and real estate firm—those areas are equally strong, but they aren’t as sexy to write about as they don't involve movie stars as much!
We aren’t currently planning to expand into new practice areas, but we are always looking to beef up our existing ones.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
BB: Generally, the economy has been strong in the U.S. and as a result, our M&A and real estate practices have been booming, while our litigation practice has also been very busy. In light of that, restructuring work has been slow.
There has been a lot of disruption in the media and entertainment space with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services. As a result, our practice in that area has also been very busy.
"We’re still making partners at GG. I think there is a lot of pressure at other firms to not elevate their attorneys—firms have been tightening their ranks and shedding partners."
CA: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
BB: Well, firstly we’re still making partners at GG. I think there is a lot of pressure at other firms to not elevate their attorneys—firms have been tightening their ranks and shedding partners. We have been fortunate enough to do well, and as a result every year we've been able to make partners. We've recently hired Sky Moore from Stroock in our entertainment and tax practice; he has been a phenomenal and valuable add.
In terms of notable wins, we've had a lot! Litigation is an area in which we've shined over the last few years, and we've had a lot of clients coming to us for our expertise in that area. In our other practice areas, however, we have been fortunate to have handled some of the largest and most sophisticated matters that we ever have in the history of the firm. In the real estate and corporate practices alone, we have handled several billions of dollars of deals just in the first half of 2018.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
BB: We like our business plan and our market, so we have no interest in opening multiple offices. Our one-office model and our size give us the ability to be nimble. As a result, our plan is to improve and build upon what we have.
I would say my number one priority is to recruit the best and brightest, both from the top law schools, as well as laterally. We're in the business of providing the best service to clients via the brightest legal minds.
We have been fortunate to plan and implement our succession plan successfully. It's one that allows our lawyers to progress earlier than they potentially would elsewhere. For example, I became managing partner of the firm at the age of 42, and at the moment the other practice group leaders are in their 40s and early 50s. So, all in all I would say we have a great thing going, and in 2019 we will be celebrating our 60th anniversary as a firm.
"I actually went to law school with no intention of practicing law."
CA: Could you expand upon the firm's tag line, ‘The Counsel You Keep’?
BB: This tag line still works. It links back to our competitive advantage, which stems from the fact that most of our lawyers have represented our firm and our clients for many years. We are therefore entrenched in our clients' businesses and industries. Our tag line encapsulates the fact that we are our clients' trusted partners.
CA: When and why did you decide to become a lawyer?
BB: I actually went to law school with no intention of practicing law. When I graduated, I was fortunate enough to start at the Los Angeles office of an international firm. Although I had a good experience there, I almost left the practice of law as my view of it was purely filtered through national and international firms. That was the only experience I had.
I then moved to Greenberg Glusker and I believe that as a result of coming here, I realized that I could be a lawyer and have a work/life balance —that is a prominent aspect of our culture. We work very hard, but we also respect and value work/life balance and a collegial work environment where our lawyers can enjoy practicing law at a very high level and building a long-term legal career. This is what cemented my decision to continue practicing law, but also allowed me to enjoy the practice of law more. I’ve now been here for over 20 years!
CA: What do you consider to have been your big break?
BB: For me, I had the good fortune and experience of coming to this law firm and having most of the senior lawyers here mentor and entrust me with their clients and matters. They trained me and allowed me to become the person and the lawyer I am today, which I don't think would have been possible if it wasn’t for them. That was my big break—having multiple people taking an interest in my development and guiding me with their expertise and friendship.
"I handled the sale of the LA Clippers to Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft. I don’t think I will ever be involved in a transaction as unique as that one."
CA: What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
BB: That’s an interesting question. I would say, the point where everything I had done prior (in terms of training and experience) came to bear in 2014, when I handled the most challenging transaction of my career.
I handled the sale of the LA Clippers to Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft. I don’t think I will ever be involved in a transaction as unique as that one. Both Steve Ballmer (who was many years my senior) and a senior banker at Bank of America (who was many, many years my senior), said "Bob, you will never ever be involved in a transaction as unique as this one in your career.” They both had worked on their share of very interesting and sophisticated transactions throughout their careers, but even for them, this was the most unique transaction they'd ever been a part of.
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?
BB: I give this advice a lot to young lawyers:
- Do your research on where you want to practice law — bigger and more money is not necessarily better.
- Find a place where you can build a career as opposed to just have a job and collect a paycheck every month.
For me personally, I felt I could build a career at a firm like ours, as opposed to simply working with the biggest names at the biggest law firms that pay the biggest checks. Interestingly, a big chunk of the lawyers at our firm have come from larger national law firms. I cannot tell you how many times people have come to this realization: 'Oh I spent my time there working hard, but I have nothing to show for it.' They come to us with the mindset that they want to build a practice and have a work/life balance that is manageable.
I recommend that law students spend time thinking about where they want to be in ten years’ time and how they can achieve that, as opposed to leaving law school and then spending ten years arriving at the realization of what they actually want from life.
Interview conducted by Ayesha Hayat. Published Jan 2019.