Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
Published May 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 36
While nowhere near the largest firms in the world in terms of numbers, Fried Frank is still well respected in the New York market for a very diverse practice, including both strong litigation and corporate sides. It is most well known for its best in the country real estate practice.
Fried Frank’s history can be traced back to a number of small predecessor firms that existed in New York City in the early twentieth century, primarily founded by German Jewish attorneys. At the time, such attorneys were routinely discriminated against by the established firms, limiting career opportunities. The firm grew in New York through mergers, until it settled on its current form in 1971, and the name has stuck since.
Fried Frank has expanded to seven offices in total, but has retained its identity as primarily a New York based firm. It opened its first satellite in Washington D.C. in 1949 and began expanding overseas in 1970 with a London office. The firm attempted to expand in the United States, but its attempt to build a sustainable practice out of a Los Angeles office was a failure. Two-thirds of the attorneys in the firm work out of the New York office.
Despite being a major corporate firm, Fried Frank has acquired a left leaning reputation, in part from a number of notable alumni. Name partner Sam Harris worked for the SEC during its beginnings under a Democratic administration, and served as a prosecutor at Nuremburg. Meanwhile name partner Sargent Shriver served in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations as well as served as the first director of the Peace Corps.
Fried Frank has had to deal with the economy just like all the others. The firm was undergoing steady growth until 2008, when the wheels completely fell off. Revenue dropped nine percent, and profits fell twenty-three percent. Between 2008 and 2009, the firm laid off eighty associates, a significant number for a firm this size. Thanks in part to this action, the firm has increased its profitability again, though those who were laid off likely won’t be impressed.
Fried Frank is a full service firm, respected in a number of areas. It is particularly well known for its M&A work. Its corporate practice has numerous major investment banks, private equity groups, and investment funds as clients. It is well known for its work in the financial services sector. The firm has recently been involved in the creation of a number of multi-billion dollar funds on behalf of clients such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.
The firm is not particularly well known for its litigation practice, but it is still very strong. It is among the top teams in New York, and has represented a number of major clients in a variety of cases. It is particularly strong in general commercial litigation and white collar defense.
The firm is most well known for its top-flight real estate practice. The firm has been involved in a number of high profile real estate deals, including a number that most sports fans would be familiar with: Fried Frank represented the New York Yankees in the development and financing of the new Yankee Stadium; the firm is also representing Forest City in its bid to lure the New York Nets to Brooklyn and build a new arena.
Fried Frank is ranked number thirty-six overall by Vault. Though the firm has seven offices, five of which are overseas, the bulk of the firm’s attorneys are in the New York Headquarters, lending it a much higher New York regional ranking of number 20 overall. The firm also ranks number one overall in the Real Estate practice area ranking.
Chambers and Partners ranks Fried Frank either nationally or in New York in Band 1 or 2 for the following practices: Financial Institutions M&A, Financial Regulation (Banking), Investment Funds, Securities Regulation, General Commercial Litigation, White Collar Defense, and Real Estate. The firm also holds Band 3 and 4 rankings in many other areas.
Fried Frank follows conventional methods in hiring. Good credentials are necessary, but the firm also wants to see interesting backgrounds and experience, as well as outgoing personalities. The firm has tended towards hiring people with more experience, and pre-law school real world experience is a plus. Personality is important, and the firm actively avoids hiring those that they perceive as loners or shut-ins. Though having a variety of personalities is desirable, the firm values those who integrate well with the rest of the firm. Also the firm has historically considered second tier schools in both the New York and Washington D.C. areas, but they have become more demanding in the recession.
The firm operates a ten-week summer program in both of its domestic offices. Summer associates are assigned work based on their expressed areas of interest. Summer associates are expected to complete between one to one and a half assignments per week, and typically bill around six hours a day. Most summer associates are out of the office around 7:00 PM. Weekend work is uncommon, but not rare.
Approximately one third of the summer associates in the New York office have the opportunity to spend up to three weeks at one of the firm’s overseas offices, or two weeks with a local public interest group. Summer associates generally attend two to three associate lunches a week, budgeted at $65 in New York and $30 in Washington D.C. The firm hosts common social events each week, such as cruises, theater outings, and city tours.
The firm felt the squeeze of the economy early enough to manage to reduce their summer class size for 2009 by nearly fifty percent, to a total of thirty-six summer associates. Because of this, the firm was able to give offers to thirty-five of them. Incoming class of 2009 associates were deferred until January 2010, and given the option of taking $70,000 and medical benefits to work for a public interest organization for a year.
Compensation and Benefits
Fried Frank follows the standard lockstep system for associate compensation. First year associates make the market rate of $160,000. Until 2008, the firm also paid lockstep bonuses at whatever the prevailing market rate was. In 2009, the firm changed the bonus system to award individualized bonuses. Bonus amounts are based on class year, hours, quality of work, client service, and pro bono contributions. Unlike many firms which use the excuse of individualized bonuses to obfuscate and make it more difficult to determine just how much is being paid to associates as a group, Fried Frank has taken the complete opposite approach. Each year the firm publishes a chart outlining the number of associates that received a given level of bonus, and the eligibility requirements.
Associates must bill a minimum of 1,950 hours to be eligible to receive a bonus. Consequences for coming in below the target may go beyond just not receiving a bonus, however. The significant number of layoffs that were enacted quickly and decisively in response to the economic downturn looms in the back of most associates’ minds. No one should risk being seen as an underachiever. Though there is no official face time requirement, associates are generally expected to be in the office during normal working hours; face time effects perception of work ethic and availability. Weekend work and holiday work is the norm.
The firm provides four weeks of vacation, and most associates use the majority of it. However associates should be prepared for some partners who will expect to be informed exactly where an associate will be at any given point in time, should they be needed. Other benefits include a subsidized cafeteria, discounted gym memberships, dinner and car service in the evenings, occasional social gatherings, and an annual retreat. New associates receive a $3,000 bar stipend and $10,000 salary advance.
Fried Frank has one partnership track which ranges between eight to ten years to eligibility. There is no strong up or out policy. Senior associates who are passed over for partnership are reconsidered the following year, and allowed to stay at the firm if they do not make the cut (though admittedly many senior associates in that position are likely to seek partnership at other firms). Unfortunately most associates at the firm agree that partnership is at best a long shot. Very few partners are promoted each year, making the prospects very grim.
Fried Frank has earned significant respect as a firm for its relatively high degree of transparency when compared to other firms. This coincides with the firm’s reputation as relatively laid back, again compared to other firms. Readers should not assume that attorneys at the firm are any less intense, ambitious, or driven than their peers. Instead, the firm practices a culture of “no harm, no foul.” While there are exceptions, partners tend not to micromanage associates. Partners treat associates as peers, not underlings.
The D.C. office is known for being a bit more relaxed and having a less intense lifestyle, and having better work-life balance. There is a more relaxed attitude, and closer associate/partner relations. This is generally credited to the smaller office size.
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