This boutique firm is a one-stop shop for Manhattan real estate matters.
IN the city that never sleeps there’s a boutique law firm which spends all its waking hours focused on one thing: city real estate. This firm of 25 attorneys specializes in New York property matters, especially when litigation’s involved. “Any time there’s a major real estate dispute, there’s a good chance we’ll get a phone call,” says an interviewee.
Associates were drawn to the firm’s reputation for “remarkable cases” and its “high-caliber lawyers,” describing a hands-on experience that means “you get court appearances almost right away while partners and senior associates are there to guide you.” Keep reading to find out more.
Strategy & Future
“Cases are becoming more and more exciting, and as our clients get larger and we become more desirable, we get to be more selective about choosing cases,” says a source, adding: “We’re seeing significant victories and we’re shaping the law.” This may sound a little overblown, but the firm did recently achieve a settlement for its client (managers of an Upper West Side condominium) which also led to the creation of new case law.
“We’re seeing significant victories and we’re shaping the law.”
“When you come aboard you start out working with one or two partners and over time you start working with more people.” Teams are inevitably leanly staffed due to the firm’s size and associates described themselves as “generalists,” working on a variety of litigious and transactional matters. Litigation makes up the lion's share of the firm's work, although there is a transactional team that works on “bank closings, contracts, sales and mortgages.”
On the litigious side of the firm's practice, associates find themselves working predominantly on foreclosures on behalf of banks, title and mortgage litigation, and commercial lease disputes. The firm also works on Yellowstone Injunctions, which are New York Supreme Court proceedings that crop up when a landlord attempts to terminate a tenant’s lease. “Real estate in New York is unlike anywhere else," associates told us. "People think of the transactional side, but I’ve ended up working on operational issues and everything that goes into running a building successfully.” Clients include luxury condos and co-ops, predominantly in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. “There’s some more niche work too," a source reported, "for example we’re currently assisting with the implementation of a huge floodwall system in Manhattan.” And in one unusual case we heard that “the client was a dog.” Interviewees said that the fact "the subject matter is constantly changing" means that "even the boring tasks aren’t that boring.”
It's the law of the land, which means there's a lot to learn for anyone considering becoming a lawyer in this area. ALB's dedicated real estate attorneys tell us about the challenge of keeping up with ever-evolving laws; how the bustle of New York City presents all kinds of litigious and transactional opportunities; and why it's vital to channel your inner bulldog when negotiating. Read on...
“Real estate in New York is unlike anywhere else."
“Even though every case is different, the tasks are roughly the same day to day," an associate told us. "Usually I’m going to court to make appearances, and writing motions for summary judgment and compelling discovery.” Other tasks include calling clients to field questions and conducting research. “I’m currently working on about 25 different cases,” one second-year told us. A source who'd done some transactional work reported: “Typically I’ll be preparing files for closings, leading searches with a partner and resolving any issues post-closing.” One more senior associate revealed: “We’re constantly finding new areas to delve into. I’ve recently been involved in a development matter which isn’t something I would have thought about before. If I wanted to get into an area and proved I was able to take it on, [the firm] might even set up a new department.”
Clients: Verizon, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and First American. Represented the owners of a historic townhouse in a $20 million injunction prohibiting the owners of the adjacent property from building a renovation that would have reduced the property’s value.
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Associates told us there’s a 1,600 hours target to make bonus. “No one’s strict about it," an interviewee reported. "The main thing is to generate as much money as possible.” Insiders reported a typical working day of 9am to 8pm. “If I’m in the middle of a project I’ll be finishing at 10pm some nights," said one source, "and nights when I stay past that happen once or twice a month.” Starting in their second year, associates are able to work from home as long as one of the partners gives it the go-ahead.
“If I’m in the middle of a project I’ll be finishing at 10pm some nights."
ALB operates a revenue-sharing program that enables associates to earn a third of their billable hours (that the firm collects and clients pay) in addition to their base salary. There's also a bonus scheme that allows each individual (regardless of level) to earn up to 20% of any new business that they bring in. Some did feel that “the compensation system and the profit sharing plan makes people disinclined to do pro bono,” so if you’re looking for a firm with significant pro bono opportunities, this is probably not the right place for you. "They would let you do it if you wanted to," one interviewee commented, "but it would be more of a personal thing. I've done a couple of pro bono projects since I've been here, but it's not like every associate needs to do it."
Pro bono hours
- For US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
“I think of us as a large family,” one associate enthused. “Everyone is friendly and even though partners assign the work they're also our colleagues and friends. I consider them my bosses, but they are also open: if you want to discuss something or chat, people are always available." Another insider added: “People have been so welcoming here. A lot of folks here started out as juniors and they understand what it’s like to start out and not know your way to the bathroom, let alone around a case!”
“I think of us as a large family.”
On the social side, the firm hosts summer and winter parties, as well as firmwide parties for birthdays and those passing the bar. We also heard about manicures and massages provided by the firm every other Friday, as well as “Summer Fridays” on which lawyers can go out to lunch with colleagues paid for by the firm. Associates also enjoyed the “beautiful” Battery Park offices. One added: “I can get a company car home if I’m working late, and there’s a constant supply of snacks.”
"My career has really advanced under close supervision from partners," one associate reported. “There’s a strong focus on developing associates here.” ALB’s unique compensation system means “you move up the ladder based solely on your performance.” This in turn “gives people more reason to stay because your advancement is entirely on you.” Insiders agreed that “most of the training is on the job,” but we also heard that “you can select your own CLEs and the firm will pay for them.” Associates praised the supervision and feedback they’d received from partners. “They’ve molded me to the way the firm runs the business from day one,” one source said. In terms of progression, we heard that the firm “is set on making anyone partner as long as they’ve proven themselves after seven or eight years. You need to have knowledge and mastery of real estate law as well as client skills.”
“They’ve molded me to the way the firm runs the business from day one.”
Diversity & Inclusion
The firm “has been adamant from the beginning about equal opportunities,” an associate told us. “Before I joined I saw an article [the firm] had written saying they weren’t looking for Ivy League students and put an emphasis on hard work instead.” The article in question appeared in the Huffington Post in July 2015 and had the unambiguous title 'Why We Do Not Hire Law School Graduates from the Ivy League Schools'.
Sources drew our attention to the firm’s policies for women, such as three-month paid maternity leave and other health benefits. “There are successful female partners here that have families and children," one source shared. "It’s really nice to see you can have a career and a family and still be successful,” one junior explained.