"We want to continue to move toward being in the top 15 firms in the world." Paul Hastings' top partner isn't short on ambition, and Nitzkowski places this at the forefront of the firm's culture – but could it be that, despite Brexit, the firm's London office holds the key to its goal?
Chambers Associate: Which jurisdictions have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
Greg Nitzkowski: I distinguish between strategic growth and opportunistic growth. We would like to grow in every market we’re in, but when you look at firms in the market, it’s pretty clear that New York, DC, the Bay Area in California, and London – despite Brexit – are the areas where real strategic headcount growth is most focused, and we’re no exception.
CA: The firm has a specific focus on growing its London office. What do you hope that office will look like in five years time?
GN: We particularly need to build on our growing finance presence, and we need to add more breadth in our M&A and private equity practices. That’s a big focus for us, as is continuing to add to our regulatory capability.
In five years – if we’re doing our job on building our strategic global practices – London should be our second or third largest office. You can get into the argument of whether law firms are going to look a lot different, and smaller, in the future – and that is starting to be looked at in London – but the expectation is it’s going to be our second or third largest office. We have strategic practices in the areas I mentioned [finance, M&A, private equity] which are integrating with the firm’s global practices. That makes London's future as compelling as our most successful growth stories have been around the world.
"If your goal is to be in the top 15 or the top five, it’s ten times more difficult than the prior 30."
CA: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our student readers?
GN: Over the last 20 years we believe we have moved more northward than any other firm in the market. We’re very focused on not being in a shrinking, no man’s land, middle. We think the market is going to continue to concentrate talent in the high end and squeeze the middle so that a new middle is defined.
We want to continue to move toward being in the top 15 firms in the world, whether that’s measured by AmLaw or UK-based rankings or profits or league tables in various practice areas. However you define it, we’d like to continue our path by moving northward. It becomes harder the further up you go. If your goal is to be in the top 15 or the top five, it’s ten times more difficult than the prior 30.
CA: Can you comment on any significant trends that are currently shaping the kind of work conducted in any of the firm's practices?
GN: Like most firms that have a big US practice, we’re starting to see the market focus on the role of data technology in law firms, particularly in the litigation area. It’s starting to reshape aspects of dispute resolution. We’ve seen the SFO [Serious Fraud Office) using AI-enabled data technology to help business investigations because they’re slogged with so many documents in complex investigations.
"We have a striving and ambitious belief in where we can move in the market. I think there’s a restlessness in that personality that always focuses on the future, and that’s a deep and shaping aspect of our culture."
So I think for the first time we’re starting to see the real impact of data and technology. It’s less clear how that trend will play out on the transactional side, but we’re investing heavily in knowledge management tools because we think using data technology and other tools is essential to improving our internal processes, providing efficient services to clients, and allowing lawyers to perform high value work, rather than the mundane tasks which are much more susceptible to data-driven solutions.
CA: What is the common culture that connects Paul Hastings’ international network?
GN: The culture focuses on client service, because that’s the nature of what we do. There’s a different mindset to being a banker than there is to being a lawyer. Everything we do is about our client, so creating a culture in which client service is the center of everything we do is defining of all great firms.
For Paul Hastings specifically, I think it’s the fact that we always view the future as brighter. We have a striving and ambitious belief in where we can move in the market. I think there’s a restlessness in that personality that always focuses on the future, and that’s a deep and shaping aspect of our culture. We always believe that next year can be better if we’re smarter, work harder, and make the right investment. We never focus on the golden past; we’ve been moving northward for 20 years, so our future always looks more golden than our past.
"You have a responsibility to yourself to be an active participant and shape your career rather than being acted upon."
CA: When you look 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?
GN: Put yourself in a position to understand the changes that are happening in the market. Those changes are going to provide great opportunities, but those opportunities may look quite different five to ten years from now. Early on, you have to think deep and hard about that and take responsibility for setting yourself on a pathway. You have a responsibility to yourself to be an active participant and shape your career rather than being acted upon. You can do that by being thoughtful and strategic. Understand the way clients think about the future, be a participant in that change, and you’ll learn to be able to take advantage of the best opportunities ten years from now.
First published March 2019. Interview conducted by senior researcher Leah Henderson.