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Kramer Levin's Litmus Test--Are You Presentable to Clients?

Vivia Chen

July 15, 2011

Grayer_J The Careerist's hiring partner Q&A series marches on. This time, James Grayer of New York's Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel is giving us the inside scoop about nabbing a job at the 375-lawyer firm.

Before Boies Schiller, Quinn Emanuel, and other boutiques landed on the map, Kramer Levin had established itself as an alternative to big Wall Street firms. These days, who are your competitors for new hires--the big firms or the boutiques?
The bigger places--Cravath; Paul, Weiss; Simpson, and maybe Schulte [Roth & Zabel].

I assume some people belong in a Paul, Weiss or Cravath, and that some would find nirvana at Kramer. So who belongs where?
Someone who will thrive here has to be comfortable in a dynamic, fluid environment. For instance, there's no separate group for M&A and securities within our corporate department; it's more general and client-focused, and it requires someone who's flexible. You need to be self-directed here and take control of your career at an early stage, which is probably not true at a Davis Polk, Cravath, or Paul, Weiss.

Sounds like you have to be entrepreneurial at Kramer or you'll get lost.
I'd say yes, but you could get lost in any system, and some people chafe under a system at Davis Polk or Cravath, because they're too rigid.

I know Kramer Levin is big on grades, clerkships, and all that good stuff. But is there a certain Kramer profile?
The answer is no. We're not looking for someone who looks like "X." We're looking at the total package.

Ah, that elusive total package. Besides grades, what else impresses you?
Interest that goes beyond oneself--like doing tutoring, something that involves the community. Something that shows that the person is thoughtful and well-rounded.

And what do you find off-putting during interviews?
People who put something on their resume that they can't talk about. If you're going to join a organization or if you're in a clinic for battered women, you should be able to talk about it.

Do your interviewers get a script--questions that they are required to ask?
No. There are no required standard questions. [But] we do ask interviewers to consider, "Would you introduce this person to a client?"

That's fascinating. So you have to visualize whether the candidate is presentable to clients.
Yes, it helps the interviewer put things in context.

I guess that would eliminate some academic superstars.
They can be first in their class, but we won't make them an offer unless they're right for us. We look for candidates that are personable and engaging. We're not a shop that puts a huge number of lawyers on a transaction. You have to interact with people right away.

Can you share some faux pas that eliminated candidates from the running?
People ask inappropriate questions--things having to do with people's marital status. Or they make a personal comment about someone they just met--like commenting about their appearance. Another faux pas is to be late to an interview without an explanation.

Ever had a candidate who made a great first impression, then absolutely bombed on the callback?
Sometimes they're fine on campus, but when they come to the firm, they get nervous. They see the big lobby, and they find it unnerving. The whole process is a bit unfair . . . you could just have a bad day.

Related posts: Hiring partner interviews at Baker BottsBoies Schiller; Debevoise & Plimpton; Jones DayK&L GatesPaul, HastingsPepper HamiltonSidley & AustinSkadden; Susman Godfrey; and Vinson & Elkins.

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Nice work Vivia. As usual, a great read!! Keep em' coming!!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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