Cesar L. Alvarez, Executive Chairman
University of Florida, JD
Counseled SBA Communications in its $1.45B acquisition of TowersCo – the client’s largest deal in 13 years.
Overturned Florida’s gay-adoption ban – a 33 year old statute.
from the firm
Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
Richard A. Rosenbaum is the Chief Executive Officer of Greenberg Traurig. Richard joined the firm in 1985 as its 90th lawyer, and just as he has been a leader in its spectacular growth across the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, navigating the changing times in which we live, he has been fiercely devoted to serving the firm’s clients, lawyers and staff, and the communities in which they live and work, for the past 28 years. You can read his full bio here.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?
Traditional responses to a new world will simply not work. This is a time of great challenge but also huge opportunity. Delivering top-tier quality in defined practices for which your firm is branded while using a one-firm, one-culture platform of diverse cost centers to creatively deliver great value to clients and reasonable compensation to lawyers is the place to focus. For us, we have the culture, assets and platform, so the challenge is to nimbly execute. For many others, it will take a major overhaul or massive change at a time when neither will be easy. The U.S. will continue to be the number one legal market, and the middle market is growing and healthy, so strength, quality and breadth here is essential–we have those, no need to build them. You also need disciplined centers of excellence in certain key global locations which make sense for your firm, we are on our way there; but being yet another firm that is mediocre in every country worldwide adds no value to anyone–we never accumulated that baggage. And following the pack into high-priced, culture- and quality-killing mergers or vereins, raising an inordinate level of capital, etc., all to keep the same old outdated business model going, is not the answer and will not add value to clients or lawyers. As you can tell, we feel well positioned, but the challenge remains to come together and get it done.
2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
The biggest positive change is that clients are now much more focused on quality and value and more open to merit-based hiring decisions than they ever were. The firm’s pedigree, or that of individual lawyers, is less important than what you bring to the table in terms of substance, quality and the ability to consistently solve the client’s problems in a businesslike manner for a fair price. This has been the change that has allowed a firm like Greenberg Traurig to succeed. It is also the change that has allowed a more diverse range of individuals an opportunity to succeed than it did at the start of my career. Our firm practiced diversity hiring before anyone used that term or it was “politically correct.” Whether we are talking about our former CEO and current co-chairman, Cesar Alvarez, who happens to be a Cuban immigrant, or our many prominent women, African-Americans, Asians, and our large LGBT contingent, success here and I believe in the legal profession today, is about merit, performance and serving clients. That is a fabulous change.
3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
The biggest negative change is the move from a focus on long-term values, culture and professionalism to short-term profits. There are a variety of reasons for this. This has caused a breakdown in happiness at firms, a huge increase in lateral movement and other challenges. The good news is that I sense a movement back in the other direction. Many of us in management and the younger generations at our firm have been spending a lot of time together to determine ways to get our culture stronger than ever. There is a tendency for culture to slip, or be “put on hold,” during difficult times, if people are honest about it. That needs to be set straight and made a top priority not only at our firm, but across the industry.
4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?
My greatest satisfaction comes from the long-term relationships that I have developed with clients and the lawyers in our firm, many of whom have built their lives here. Knowing that I have played a small role in helping a number of lawyers and staff develop in their careers and find success in their lives, and that so many families have benefited over the years from the success of our firm, is what keeps me going every day. I know all those individual relationships are what I will remember at the end of my career, not the numbers; those are what have been most deeply rewarding to me on a personal level.
5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?
It’s frustrating to see that many individuals do not yet believe that the legal profession has changed permanently or are paralyzed by the changes they see and therefore do not take responsibility for their careers. I also get frustrated by those who spend all their time talking about what they will do instead of doing it. Today’s landscape encourages us to innovate, work collaboratively and elevate the firm. Our firm is financially stable, culturally strong, well-positioned in terms of our geography and practices and open to new ways of thinking – in today’s new world, that sets us apart, and we have no time to waste on anything but executing with a sense of urgency.
6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?
While we have many strengths, Greenberg Traurig’s greatest strength is its culture and values. I recognized early in my career that the firm’s emphasis on trust, respect, integrity, adaptation to change, empowerment of the individual, intense collaboration and merit pay, positioned it for lasting success. Related to this is the fact that our impressive growth has been achieved organically, not by mergers or vereins, to avoid diluting or fracturing our culture. We will continue to work hard to ensure that we always remain one firm with one culture. I would add that we have therefore successfully avoided picking up much of the baggage that would now have been obstacles to achieving the success now open to us.
7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?
There are many smart, competent and hardworking lawyers in this world and I have met many of them. But to me, what sets apart those who are most likely to achieve lasting success are their integrity and character. These are first and foremost personal traits. But at Greenberg Traurig, we have also institutionalized them through our Commitment to Excellence (CTE) program, which functions alongside a unique auditing system to ensure that the goals of the CTE program are being met.
8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?
10. What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
I have no doubt that I would own and run my own business. I was an entrepreneur before becoming a lawyer and attended law school in the evenings while working. This experience shaped my thinking, made me understand that you could achieve anything you set your mind to if you were willing to work harder than anyone else to do it, and helped develop my business-minded approach to practicing law and managing Greenberg Traurig.
Lateral Link’s recruiters are on pace to place hundreds of attorneys throughout the world this year. We are currently involved in over three dozen active partner searches including opening the office of an Am Law 50 firm in a new location, the merger of an Am Law 10 firm with a foreign firm, finding practice chairs for several Am Law10 firms, and searches for groups of partners in at least ten different cities, including Atlanta, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago, just to name a few. We are currently working with partner candidates with $500k to $35M in portable business. For more information, please call Michael Allen, Managing Principal at Lateral Link.
People can be so unreliable. Especially if those people are Biglaw litigators in a high-stakes intellectual property dispute. With a scheduling order set months in advance, with no warning as to the volume of disagreement, these lawyers dumped “joint” pretrial filings “so rife with disputes that the documents amount to two separate proposals” and a metric tonne of motions on the court to resolve in two weeks.
Scratch that. With less than two weeks, because they filed all this late. Oh, and they filed a bunch of them redacted and under seal without permission, just for good measure.
If that would make you a very angry judge willing to rip both sides for posterity, you wouldn’t be alone….
* Secrets secrets are no fun, secrets secrets hurt someone: Chief Justice Roberts named two judges to two secret courts. Congrats to Judges Boasberg and Tallman. [Legal Times]
* Bankruptcy just got a lot more fabulous. AG Eric Holder announced that the government would extend recognition of same-sex couples in federal legal matters. [New York Times]
* With reports of firms’ financials beginning to trickle out, partners are getting anxious. No one wants to be the next Dewey — or the next Gregory Owens. [Am Law Daily]
* This is the second year in a row that Greenberg Traurig has posted financial declines. Perhaps the firm started its lower pay, non-partner track residency program for a reason. Something to think about. [Daily Business Review]
* “It’s our duty as partners to help.” Law students articling at the recently dissolved Heenan Blaikie are learning a lesson in Canadian collegiality. The firm is trying to help them get new jobs. [Montreal Gazette]
* Speaking of Heenan Blaikie, we’re hearing chatter that the firm’s talks with DLA Piper may be in trouble. HB says the talks they’re off, but DLA says they’re ongoing. Hmm, that sounds dramatic. [WSJ Law Blog]
* “It’s a very L.A. thing. We’ll see how long it lasts.” If you had to choose, you’d probably go to Dumb Starbucks over Starbucks. Order a Dumb Frappuccino before they get a C&D letter. [Los Angeles Times]
Sometimes, there is a baby in the room. A real one, usually in the arms of a nervous mother. Because it is Brooklyn, still as diverse a place as there is in the world, the baby might be black, brown, white or yellow. It does not matter. What matters is that there is a freaking baby in the room. I am blessed with four children, all ten and younger, and am the oldest of five, so I am not one of those people for whom children are curiosities best viewed at distance. Even so, there is something surreal about having a baby in the room while I am manning an office at the Brooklyn Family Court for a few hours once a month, trying to help a beleaguered parent make sense of the chaos inherent in their involvement in an adversarial proceeding involving their child. But I, like my fellow volunteers from in-house legal departments, Biglaw firms, and solo practices around New York City, soldier on. And come back, month after month, in the hopes of helping one more person deal with their (literally) intimate and emotional legal issues. In my case, I have been coming back since late 2006. I plan on continuing for as long as I have the strength and the program remains in place.
I am not looking for recognition. If this column motivates someone to dedicate themselves to a pro bono project that they can believe in, that would be great. To be honest, I did not even think about doing pro bono for many years, for all the typical reasons. I was still too junior, too busy, too unable to commit myself to a project that could potentially conflict with my billable matters. While I respected my fellow Biglaw associates who involved themselves in the usual Biglaw pro bono fare — e.g., asylum issues, wrongful convictions, and the like — I was never moved to action. But that changed in 2006, when Greenberg Traurig, in conjunction with some large corporations and other Biglaw firms, announced that it was partnering with the New York City Family Court to start a volunteer-attorney driven program to assist self-represented litigants trying to navigate the hectic, crowded, and extremely fast-paced Family Court system. A system that is challenging for even the most hardened attorneys, but where 95% of the litigants choose, mostly because of financial reasons, to go without a lawyer until one is provided for them. Put simply, help was (and continues to be) needed….
Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.
When you work in Biglaw, you are pretty much assured you will have a nice office to go to everyday. Of course, you are also expected to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in that office, particularly as an associate.
My personal Biglaw experience when it came to offices was probably the norm. When I started at Greenberg Traurig, the IP department was located just above some of Bernie Madoff’s offices in the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue in Manhattan. A few years in, we joined the rest of the firm within the MetLife (former Pan Am) Building right over Grand Central. In the summers, and after the partners I worked with relocated more frequently depending on our case load, I would spend time working out of Greenberg’s New Jersey office. While not Manhattan, that office had nice suburban views and was easily accessible off the highway. And when I lateraled to Locke Lord, I got to enjoy a very easy commute from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and some beautiful views from my office of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.
Biglaw does office space right. In some respects, though, that is changing….
Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’ll be writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.
This is a position I never thought I would be in. I am sure my partners feel the same way. If someone would have told me last Thanksgiving that within a year I would, together with two of my colleagues, give notice at my firm to start an IP boutique, I would have laughed. After all, Biglaw was all I knew, starting with my first full-time position as a first-year associate at Greenberg Traurig over a decade (and well over twenty thousand billable hours or so) ago. Leaving Biglaw to start my own boutique? I had honestly never given it a thought before this year.
Now that I am a whole week into the experience, I am happy to report that I have never been more excited for the next stage of my professional career. Even though I no longer have a large office with a view of the Statue of Liberty (and actually am working from home as we negotiate for space), there is something sweet about trying to build a business on my own terms, working together with partners that I have come to value and trust. After all, they had the courage to make the leap as well. While the decision was not an easy one, it already feels like the right one.
* The right to choose… to drive out of state? SCOTUS rejected an application to block Texas from enforcing a law requiring abortion doctors to have privileges at nearby hospitals. [New York Times]
* Patton Boggs should prepare for the day when Locke Lord is too busy washing its hair to go on a date. The would-be merger is just one of many “interesting opportunities” the firm is considering. [Am Law Daily]
* Law firm merger mania, mid-size Midwest edition: Chi-Town law firm Shefsky & Froelich merges with Cincinnati-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister. [Crain's Chicago Business]
* When it comes to law faculty hiring, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what you’ve got between your legs, so long as your résumé is covered in Ivy and you’re dripping with prestige. [National Law Journal]
* Ave Maria School of Law is in need of a new dean. It seems the man who created the school’s “Advanced Critical Thinking Department” engaged in deep thought before deciding to call it quits. [Naples Daily News]
Two weeks ago, Greenberg Traurig announced a lawyer residency program — one-year positions where lawyers spend a third of their time on training, are paid “considerably less than associates,” and billed out at lower rates. When the program concludes, residents may be offered a position as an associate, become a non-partnership track “practice group attorney,” or get shown the door. The program has elicited a range of reactions over its implications for Biglaw, ranging from potentially promising (David Lat and Toby Brown), to shortsighted and risky (Jordan Furlong), to a mixed bag for associates (Adam Ziegler).
But from the perspective of lawyers who want to start their own firms and have the option of handling traditionally “big firm” matters, residency programs like that offered by Greenberg Traurig are a boon. Imagine being paid to do little more than spend a year learning the ins and outs of big firm practice and practice areas by observing depositions and trials and accessing unlimited PLI content. Plus, residents have a chance to meet and network with other lawyers at GT and throughout the legal community; presumably, fewer billable hours means more time to hobnob. At the end of the residency, lawyers could move on to start their own firms — but with the benefit of a year of student loan debt repaid and a big firm credential on the résumé — which can be a selling point for certain types of clients (usually the kinds of clients who won’t experience sticker shock at your $250/hour rates because they’re accustomed to paying double that at a large firm)….
Following the lead of Kilpatrick Stockton, Orrick, and other Biglaw firms, Greenberg Traurig has created some new non-partnership-track attorney positions. They pay less than traditional partnership-track — or, in GT parlance, shareholder-track — positions, but the billable-hour requirements are lower and the training is better.
What do these positions look like? Let’s find out….