Holland & Knight surprised by low marks from associates

In 1 on February 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

Adolfo E. Jimenez, the partner in charge of recruiting at Holland & Knight, was surprised when the midlevel associates survey published by The American Lawyer magazine ranked the firm so low.

The firm finished 142 out of 175 firms in satisfaction nationwide behind such firms as Greenberg Traurig; Hunton & Williams; Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and White & Case.

The firm finished 73rd of 75 firms in New York, 21st of 22 firms in Chicago and 56th of 59 firms in the District of Columbia.

The bleak numbers were for a firm that takes pride in creating a friendlier working environment than most large law firms. On its Web site, Holland & Knight touts its commitment to pro bono work, diversity and a balanced work-life program.

"We were very disappointed where we ranked nationally," Jimenez said.

The good news came in Miami, where Holland & Knight finished first among six firms in associate satisfaction. Jimenez characterized that as "great news."

A Miami associate wrote on the magazine survey that Holland & Knight's Miami office was characterized by "friendliness and [a] pleasant working environment" and was "a great place to work." The American Lawyer is an ALM Media affiliate of the Daily Business Review.

Jimenez said that there are several factors that make the Miami office stand out.

"We are a dominant player," he said. "We are significant, yet our size allows for a lot of interaction between partners and associates, a lot of opportunity for quality work."

David Shahoulian, an associate in the firm's litigation department in Miami, agreed.

"It doesn't hurt that we have always been one of the busiest offices," he said. "We have a lot of clients. We bring in a lot of money."

Shahoulian said the culture of the Miami office also stands out.

"We seem to have a nice culture here in this office, and that same kind of culture is not in some of the other offices that seem to be dissatisfied," he said.

But associates elsewhere submitted scathing comments about their employer.

"Our office [Tampa] is a miserable place to work," an associate wrote. "There is no leadership, and those in charge are completely unresponsive to associate needs."

Another associate said, "Several partners in Chicago have made disparaging remarks [about] the balanced-life or part-time programs and make it difficult for women to have families."

A New York associate wrote that partners give "lots of lip service to diversity and flexible work schedules without real action to retain these talented lawyers."

An Orlando, Fla., associate said, "Historically, our firm was a large law firm that respected the individual, family and community. Over the past couple of years, our firm has begun to mirror other large firms in terms of profit motives."

Several associates also expressed dissatisfaction with the firm's handling of the situation involving partner Douglas A. Wright, who was promoted to chief operating partner in Tampa in 2005 but resigned that position weeks later after news reports surfaced that nine female lawyers had accused him of sexual harassment.

"He got a slap on the wrist and then got promoted. Brilliant," a Los Angeles associate observed.

In an age of expanding national and international firms, it's not unusual that associates in different places would have different levels of satisfaction, said Joseph E. Ankus, a legal recruiting consultant based in Weston, Fla.

"It's very difficult to stereotype what it's like to be at any particular firm," he said. "These firms, they turn into monoliths, and I think to some extent culture becomes individualized and regionalized to whichever office you tend to be in."

Holland & Knight took the results of the survey seriously, and firm leadership has tried to address some of the issues raised by the associates, Jimenez said.

Holland & Knight has tried to better focus its professional training and improve mentoring and communication in its offices since the survey was issued last August, he said.

"Both in Chicago and New York, the level of communication that's taking place is much greater," he said.

Jimenez said firm leaders also have tried to expand their travel to other offices.

He noted the survey was taken just before Holland & Knight decided to raise the salary of first-year associates to $125,000 in Miami and $145,000 in New York. The firm just finished its best year financially, Jimenez said.

The firm recently announced it was stretching its partnership track from seven to eight years — a change Jimenez said was unrelated to the survey results.

An Orlando associate wrote in the survey that the firm needs "better communication on how to make partner and once achieved how to make equity partner."

The firm currently has 669 partners, 372 associates and 95 senior counsel.

Most major firms aim to have "less partners and more associates" than Holland & Knight because associates "are getting paid their compensation, and everything else that they return above their cost is profit that gets distributed to the shareholders," Ankus said.

By comparison, Miami powerhouse Greenberg Traurig had 738 partners and 705 associates, New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges had 304 partners and 829 associates, and New York-based White & Case had 396 partners and 1,277 associates last September, according to The National Law Journal, another ALM Media publication.

While conceding Holland & Knight was a bit top heavy, Jimenez said there is no formula for making partner and the idea that associates believe they have a low chance of making partner is false.
Daniel Ostrovsky, Daily Business Review Source

Posted via email from HKLaw Investigation


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