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A vibrant history
Founded by Alfred Rose in 1875, Proskauer Rose truly blossomed after Judge Joseph Proskauer joined the firm in 1930. From that point on, Proskauer's litigation department grew to world-class status. Unfortunately for Proskauer, it was on the losing side of perhaps its most famous case, the Oscar Robertson antitrust suit, which established free agency in basketball. Although lead litigator David Stern lost, the NBA was clearly impressed with Proskauer's representation: The basketball league hired Stern as its in-house counsel in 1978 and later promoted him to NBA commissioner.
In the past decade, the firm has seen major growth, boosting its number of attorneys more than 50 percent. In 1994, Proskauer plumped up its real estate department by hiring 20 attorneys from disintegrating rival firm Shea & Gould. In 1997 the firm's name of Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn was truncated to Proskauer Rose, proving that a Proskauer Rose by any other name would still be as sweet.
A slam-dunk practice
Ever dream of being the commissioner of a sports league? If so, joining Proskauer Rose wouldn't be a bad start. Both David Stern and Gary Bettman, commissioners of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, respectively, started out at Proskauer. The firm is outside counsel to the NBA, the NHL and Major League Soccer and has dominated the area of sports law (along with its fierce rival Weil, Gotshal & Manges) since the mid-1970s. Proskauer's sports practice brought the firm into the spotlight in 1998 when its New York headquarters served as the site of the grueling negotiations surrounding the six-month lockout of the NBA players that threatened to shut down the pro basketball season. Proskauer partners Howard Ganz and Neil Abramson represented the league in the negotiations. In 1999, Proskauer attorneys Joseph M. Lecese and Bradley I. Ruskin represented ATP Tour, Inc. in a $1.2 billion marketing deal with Swiss based ISL Marketing AG. The firm also represented Robert Wood Johnson IV, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, in his $635 million purchase of the New York Jets in early 2000.
Labor and employment is the leader
But Proskauer serves more than just those in sports. In fact, the firm's top department is labor and employment law - arguably the best department of its kind anywhere. In a newsworthy case in 1997, the firm represented Yale University against an unfair labor practice suit. The case, filed by disgruntled graduate student teaching assistants, was argued before the National Labor Relations Bureau. (The charges were dismissed.) Alan Jaffe, who was elected in 1999 to a three-year term as Proskauer's chairman, leads the esteemed practice. Among Jaffe's clients are Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the New York City Ballet, and the New York City Opera.
Proskauer also has a strong litigation practice, with more than 140 lawyers. The firm is known for its liberal application of computer technology, including the use of animation in presenting cases to juries. Recently, in a highly publicized case, Proskauer Rose represented BDO Seidman, Deloitte & Touche, and Ernst & Young (along with their predecessor firms) in major securities lawsuits and in administrative proceedings before the Securities and Exchange Commission.
iPractice, uPractice, we allPractice...
Proskauer Rose took steps in 1999 to increase its attractiveness to Internet companies. The firm mirrored law firms in California by creating a new pricing policy for new media companies, including lower hourly rates and a willingness to take a company's stock instead of fees. The firm also created a new division, iPractice, in order to better serve its Internet clients. Proskauer's major new media clients include e-retailer dELiA*s, online advertising leader 24/7 Media (which Proskauer helped take public), and teen site iTurf Inc.
Looking for hires in corporate
In hiring, Proskauer focuses on two factors more than anything else: grades and prestige of the law school. "Personality only plays a role if you are a borderline candidate," a source says. Other factors that insiders suggest play a role are "undergraduate performance" and "demonstrated leadership abilities." A contact tells us that the litigation department is "looking primarily for people who can write." Some say that candidates who express an interest in corporate work have a better chance of getting hired. Remarks one associate: "The firm does not have the best corporate department, but it's trying to make it better." Notes another, "Most people who are interested in corporate work don't think of Proskauer. So if you want to do corporate work at Proskauer, you have a really good shot."
Relaxed yet productive atmosphere
Insiders describe Proskauer as a laid-back place to work. "For a law firm, it's relaxed and not stuffy - with real people," reports one corporate associate at Proskauer. Another insider is more specific: "The firm, as it was founded, is a Jewish firm, so we have lots of personalities, a casual atmosphere, and an open-door policy."
A unique assignment system, below average feedback Associates get their assignments from a centralized assignment system the first nine months. After that period, Proskauer employs a unique system: The firm has one non-practicing attorney in the corporate group, one in labor, and another in litigation who create a customized assignment system for associates.
A venerable institute
A senior associate recalls, "Five years ago, when I arrived, training wasn't good, but now it's gotten better." A more recent hire elaborates that "in the past couple of years Proskauer has put a lot of effort into its training programs, such as instituting a several-day training session ("Proskauer Institute") for first-years upon arrival and developing periodic departmental training programs throughout the year. Other than that, it's learning by doing. In our department cases are often staffed with one partner and one associate, which gives the associate opportunities to participate in the case and to see how a partner runs a matter." The firm also allows associates to bill up to 125 hours as training (200 for first-years) and to charge the firm up to $1,000 a year for training expenses.
Associates at Proskauer are not exempt from arduous workweeks. "People work hard here, because they know everybody else is working hard," a Proskauer attorney reports. "People don't have a problem hitting 2,000 hours." A New York associate adds, "For a large New York firm, the hours are fairly reasonable. If you reach 2,000 hours then you're in good standing." Moreover, many attorneys characterize the amount of hours worked by a Proskauer associate as being "self-selected." Associates don't hesitate to complain: "Corporate associates have been busier than litigators," one begins. "Moreover, more dedicated associates end up working a lot more." Another source reveals that at Proskauer "billable targets understate total hours significantly. While I find I can succeed with 2,000 or 2,100 billable hours, I must do at least 400 to 500 mandatory but 'nonbillable' hours each year, such as recruiting or writing articles for others."
Obscure partnership path
"Are you kidding?" asks one associate when asked about partnership prospects at Proskauer. "These days it takes a 10+ year miracle or a substantial client portfolio." Says a slightly more optimistic associate: "The odds are not very high; I think in the last few years around three people per class firm-wide made partner, with around the same number of new senior counsel." In truth, the firm actually made four partners and six senior counsel in 1999. Regardless of the numbers, "the vast majority of associates have already left for other places by the time those decisions are made." Another source is more analytical. "Each case is complicated," says this senior associate. "I believe that the firm does not want to make anyone a partner and will do so only when they have to. To 'have to' is a combination of how big a loss someone would be multiplied by the chance they will leave if not made a partner. It's very tough to figure." While the partnership track is generally eight to 12 years, associates note that "you don't really come here expecting to be partner."
Committed to pro bono
Many associates view Proskauer as being "quite committed" to pro bono work. An insider reveals that "there is a partner in charge of assigning pro bono options." Another attorney elaborates, "Pro bono counts only toward bonus-related 'billable' targets. It is considered 'legal nonbillable' for all other purposes (i.e., it is not reported to department heads for performance purposes and is otherwise not counted). The firm's commitment to pro bono seems to have decreased rapidly in the past few months since the latest salary hikes." A corporate associate reports that litigation associates are more likely to be encouraged to take part in pro bono work than their corporate counterparts. He recalls that the head of the department once asked, "Who gives a damn about poor people?" "He was joking, but the impression I got was that I would not be assisted, and it would not be looked upon well."
Centrally located offices
Proskauer's New York headquarters is located in Times Square, which the firm's associates describe as one of the advantages of working at the firm. "I like the fact that the place is always busy," a source says. "I feel safe if I'm leaving at 10 p.m." Associates share an office for their first year but get their own after that. Offices come equipped with a computer, a printer, and "always a window." Reports one insider: "There's a great river view from my office." The firm's cafeteria, although not subsidized, serves "very good" food and is "still cheaper than eating outside."
Diane M. Kolnik
Manager of Associate Recruiting
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy;Morgan, Lewis & Bockius;Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison;Weil, Gotshal & Manges;Willkie Farr & Gallagher
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