The Big Interview: Cindy Caranella Kelly & Albert Shemmy Mishaan, Kasowitz co-managing partners

Kasowitz may be known for representing President Trump, but we're more interested in the firm's strapline: 'Creative. Aggressive. Relentless.' Two top lawyers explain all.

Kasowitz partnersChambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our student readers?

(Albert) Shemmy Mishaan: We’re a national and these days often an international firm. We’re very focused on every aspect of litigation, mostly civil and commercial, but we certainly do a substantial amount of white-collar and SEC work. Really our litigation practice runs the gamut of everything that’s out there. Our main standalone transactional department is real estate and it has been significantly growing. It has really great synergies with our litigation practice and our real estate litigation practice, which was already substantial even before the transactional group joined.

In terms of the cases we handle, we are comparable to all the major full service firms. In fact, our litigation practice is more robust than all but a handful of firms in the world. In terms of litigation focused firms the obvious competitors we usually hear are Boies and Quinn Emanuel. But we are one of the top litigation firms around, if not the top.

"There really are very few national firms that have an Aspen presence."

Cindy Kelly:
Since we spoke last year we’ve had a very strong year. We’ve had some high-profile successes in terms of trials, and our recruiting has been very successful. We’ve had a steady influx of candidates, so from my perspective, recruiting has never been stronger. Once again, we were happy to extend offers to all summer associates. They were very high-performing over the summer, they really fit in with the culture of the firm, and on all accounts they had great experiences, so I think the firm has had a successful twelve months.

CA: Which work highlights would you like to point out from the last twelve months?

Cindy: We recently had a large trial victory for Fairfax, the largest insurance company in Canada. We had an $11 million jury award, all on the heels of a $20 million pretrial settlement. That case has been going on for some time and it was a huge success for the client. We’ve also been handling restructuring matters for J. Crew and creditors for Nine West. We continue to represent one of the largest automobile manufacturers in connection with antitrust recoveries. You may have also seen Kasowitz has opened an Aspen office, led by David Bovino.

CA: What was behind the decision to open in Aspen?

Shemmy: First of all, we’ve been working with David on matters for years, so we know him very well and he’s a notable lawyer in the Aspen market. There really are very few national firms that have an Aspen presence, and given that fact and the number of prominent people who spend time in Aspen and have businesses there, it seemed like a great opportunity. We really think it’s going to be a situation that is much greater than the size of the office that will help to expand our franchise. And it’s our first foothold in the middle of the country, so we think it’s going to be great.

CA: Are there any broader trends (whether political, economic, technological, sector-specific) that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in by the firm?

Shemmy: It’s a very dynamic situation both in the financial and the business world. We are dealing with a lot of legal changes, and changes in enforcement priorities in the US and throughout the world, so that presents a lot of challenges for our clients. There’s been substantial activity on the antitrust front. That’s a complex area of law, but certainly a growing challenge for a lot of clients.

"The fact is we have attorneys and partners here across the political spectrum. We’re certainly not a Republican or a Democratic firm."

Let’s talk about the firm’s most famous client – President Trump. It’s obviously been a controversial couple of years for the President. For the students whose politics don’t align with Trump’s and who might be wavering on whether Kasowitz is right for them, what’s your message?

Shemmy: We are a large multi-faceted law firm with a lot of clients. We’ve represented Mr. Trump for many years in his private business. We are very dedicated to all our clients and we help out with the legal challenges they face. He’s no different. We don’t think it’s an issue for people here in their day-to-day practices.

Cindy: I echo that 100%. I’ve never seen it as an issue for summers or first-year associates. The fact is we have attorneys and partners here across the political spectrum. We’re certainly not a Republican or a Democratic firm. If you sat down with lawyers you’d find we cover the gamut. I don’t think there’s any lawyer who comes here who feels uncomfortable with the fact we are representing the President. It’s a non-issue.

CA: Looking firstly to the next 12 months, have you earmarked any particular area of work or any particular office for growth?

Shemmy: We just added a new restructuring partner in Houston, so that office is growing. Our LA office is growing, our DC office is very active with Senator Lieberman. And then our core New York litigation and real estate practices have been expanded. We just brought in a new IP partner focused on Hatch-Waxman litigation in New York and he’s going to substantially grow his practice over the next few years.

"The state of the economy is such that we’re in a period of increasing finance-related litigation."

What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?

Shemmy: We are on a growth trajectory now. I think the state of the economy is such that we’re in a period of increasing finance-related litigation. There’s a little more volatility and uncertainty, and there’s probably going to be fair amount of finance-related litigation over the next five years or so. And that will help bolster our restructuring practice as well as the general litigation atmosphere.

CA: You’ve got the words creative, relentless and even aggressive emblazoned on the website. Aggressive is quite an imposing word, what do you mean by that?

Shemmy: We are aggressive for our clients in servicing their legal needs. We don’t do cookie-cutter litigation. People come to us with problems they can’t use their normal corporate counsel to handle. They come to us when they really need someone to help them figure out a difficult situation. That’s where they need someone who’s creative and aggressive, so it’s important to highlight that for clients.

With respect to our working atmosphere, we couldn't be less aggressive, frankly. I think people who spend their career here and end up elsewhere for whatever reason are startled to see what the rest of the legal world is like. They don’t fully appreciate just what kind of culture we have.

Cindy: People who come as laterals are quite pleasantly surprised by the culture as well. They didn’t know they could find it in their practice in New York City.

"One way in which the aggressive aspect of our practice translates into their practice is the amount of responsibility [junior associates] receive."

The office culture here and among lawyers, whether associates, partners, counsel or non-legal staff is remarkable. It’s an easy and friendly place. There’s very little standing on ceremony, and when people are uncomfortable with an issue, they are very comfortable talking about and raising it. And we work together to make sure everyone is having a good experience.

Cindy: When I interview potential laterals, the example I give is this: I work on very big teams, and if you ask me which years the associates are on my team, I don’t know, because everyone in the room is equal. Everyone is participating in the same way; contributing creative solutions, ideas, and thoughts. There’s no emphasis on someone being treated as junior or more senior. It’s very much a group effort.

Shemmy: And in terms of speaking to law students and potential junior associates who might be thinking of coming here, one way in which the aggressive aspect of our practice translates into their practice is the amount of responsibility they receive. Sometimes it’s a little surprising to people once they’re assigned to something. People will want to know what you think, they want your views, opinions and analyses. They don’t want you to just churn out some very basic work product and move on. You’re really acting like a lawyer from day one, and having spent seven years at a Wall Street firm I can tell you that’s not a universal experience.

CA: What advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?

Cindy: My advice is to look at the culture of the firm, not only look at the name, but to really take that opportunity to learn about the culture; where do they see themselves not just in one year but hopefully where they see themselves in five or ten years, professionally and also personally. Sometimes they’re short-sighted there. I tell them to really get to know people at the firm, go back even two or three times with an eye toward the culture of the firm.


Published March 2019. Interview conducted by Leah Henderson.


We spoke to junior associates to give you the Inside View on working at Kasowitz.