Boston's Fastest-Growing Law Firm: Focus And Momentum

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Would you share with us some of the factors that went into Proskauer's decision to establish a presence in Boston in 2004?

Bauer: When Proskauer opened in Boston in 2004, we were an IP-only practice group. There were two basic ideas behind Proskauer's decision to open here: first, that there is no better place in the country to have an IP practice, and second, there are so few technology-oriented practice groups available anywhere in the country that, when our group became available in Boston, we represented an excellent opportunity for Proskauer to establish a Boston presence. It has worked out far better than we ever anticipated.

Editor: And Proskauer's experience since opening the office in 2004?

Bauer: We opened our IP-only practice with two partners, a senior counsel, and about ten associates, and we rented space allowing us to grow to about 15 lawyers. We never expected the speed of the growth that began almost immediately with the addition of other practices loosely connected, like private investment funds, venture capital, corporate finance and labor and employment. We have been ranked as Boston's fastest growing law firm for two years in a row, and we now are number 18 on the Boston Business Journal list.

The key to our success, of course, is bringing in the right people. Very shortly after we opened, we were able to bring Mark Batten, a labor and employment attorney, into the office. Mark handles a great deal of work for The Boston Globe, and Proskauer, which does work for both The New York Times and The Globe, offered him extraordinary resources for his practice. Following Mark, we brought in three partners in corporate finance and mezzanine debt headed by Steve Ellis. Next came the private equity and fund formation group from Testa Hurwitz, which included Robin Painter, Dave Tegeler and Dan Finkelman as the more senior partners. We then added Ian Blumenstein in high yield debt, Peter Antosyk in finance, and most recently, Scott Harshbarger, the former Massachusetts Attorney General, whose corporate governance and ethics practice has simply exploded, and Richard Myrus, who has experience in both IP and complex commercial litigation.

Each person who joins us provides a stepping stone to the next level. If there is a common denominator, it is that people come to us because they want to grow their practices. Proskauer provides them with a national and international platform, with all the resources of a large New York based firm, and we all have been able to achieve extraordinary success very quickly. This is the momentum that constitutes the engine of our growth.

Editor: What kinds of barriers to entry are met by an out-of-town law firm?

Bauer: Many consider Boston to be the most insular and parochial legal market in the country, focused on local regional legal issues. For too long, this market has turned on alumni networks and cultural affiliations of long standing, and it has been difficult for out-of-town firms to break into this market. But, what you are beginning to see is that as business becomes global, Boston-based businesses are seeking out broader practices from national firms. And, the national firms are beginning to realize that the Boston legal market has tremendous opportunity. It's all about connecting with the right people.

Editor: What are the particular strengths of the Boston office today?

Bauer: We have chosen to focus on the complex and difficult practice areas where specialization is national and international. We know where our skills are, what our clients need us to know, and where their needs are likely to take us.

So, for example, our IP and litigation cases and clients are all over the country. We are able to draw upon the resources of the firm's New York, Los Angeles and DC offices, which combined offer one of the best known copyright, entertainment, software and digital rights practices in the country. Our biotech patent practice in DC, and our patent litigation practice in New York provide the depth and breadth our clients demand for complex matters. On the corporate law side, we have great transactional strength in M&A, private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, high yield debt, junior debt and, indeed, anything connected to money management. With respect to labor law, we represent an ever increasing number of companies with difficult labor issues, including ERISA and organized labor problems.

Editor: How do you accomplish growth? Lateral hires? Promotion from within the firm?

Bauer: We do not typically acquire large groups. We attempt to focus on individual practitioners. All of the partners residing in the Boston office, until the latest partnership promotions, have been lateral hires. We are particularly proud of the fact that almost half of our partners are ranked in the Chambers USA guide.

We actively recruit from law schools. Last summer alone, we had 12 summer associates, and we will have the same number this year. They come from the best schools in Boston, New York, Washington and elsewhere.

Editor: Who are the clients?

Bauer: The clients are among the best you could have. In technology we represent about 15 of the top 50 Boston-based public technology companies. We also handle a great deal of work for MIT and the other educational institutions here, in addition to Boston's major hospitals and health care institutions. On the finance side, our private investment funds group represents over half of the major venture capital raised in the world last year. In corporate finance, our development group represents a who's who list in New England, and our labor group is part of a national practice.

Editor: What is it that draws them to Proskauer's Boston office?

Bauer: I think the most important draw is the service they know they will receive. We are not low price discounters. The way we have grown is through getting an increasing volume of work from many very significant clients with operations in New England who have a specific need that this office has a reputation for handling well. These are sophisticated clients. They are well aware of the legal landscape here and across the country, and they are not influenced by fancy ads or false offers of discounts. They come to us because they want the best quality of work, the fastest turnaround, and a product that is responsive to their needs. We are in a position to meet this demand.

Editor: One of the principal challenges law firms face today is retaining its associates. How is the office doing on this?

Bauer: I take a great deal of pride in our retention record. As head of the office, this is something I hope I can have a small influence on, and I give it considerable attention.

Law firms expect a high rate of attrition. For every dozen young lawyers they hire out of law school, they typically expect to see only one or two remaining after 10 years. That rate of attrition hurts, particularly when the loss translates into lost business, extra recruiting and attorney ramp up time. Because of our growth in Boston, we simply cannot afford high attrition. We pay attention to our associates. We have fun associate events and outings, we have a strong professional development program and we try to stay ahead of our peers when it comes to salaries. The most important factor coming to our aid in the attrition wars, however, is that we offer the ambiance of a small and very collegial office and the advantages - most importantly, challenging and cutting-edge work at the very peak of the profession - of a large national platform.

Editor: Boston has the reputation of being one of the principal high tech destinations in the country today. How do you see this evolving?

Bauer: It is only going to get better. In the biotech and life sciences areas, the universities here are turning out some of the best new technology in the world. Private investment in technology continues to flow into Boston from all over the country and from overseas. Boston is also a gateway to the U.S. for European companies, particularly those with a technology orientation.

This is a very good time and place for a law office with our practice specialties.

Editor: Would you give us an overview of Boston's high technology practice of the 1990s?

Bauer: During that period the Boston legal market was an exciting place to be, particularly for any practice with a connection to the booming high tech economy of that era. We could not hire attorneys fast enough, and we had a problem retaining the ones we had in the face of the stock option incentives being offered by a variety of technology-based enterprises. We were taking technology companies public before they had income or revenues.

Editor: What took place when the tech boom stumbled?

Bauer: The biggest problem in the Boston legal community was that so many firms had grown so quickly and had put all of their eggs into one basket - technology. This contrasted with firms elsewhere - Proskauer, with its New York base and a very diversified practice is a prime contrast - and the Boston firms almost uniformly experienced pay cuts, layoffs and massive attritition.

I was at Testa Hurwitz & Thibault at the time. Testa Hurwitz had grown from 100 attorneys to 450 in a decade. In the two years before the market collapsed, the firm was doing at least one IPO every week . When the bubble burst, that figure went to zero. The firm's business simply evaporated.

Editor: What happened to all of the people who had been engaged in this practice?

Bauer: I am not in a position to say what happened with everyone, but I believe that every attorney at Testa Hurwitz found a job within 30 days of the firm's dissolution. They went to good Boston firms, and they took some solid clients with them. Most of Testa Hurwitz's private equity and private investment fund practices - including seven partners and 20 associates - found a home at Proskauer.

Editor: Steve, it's been a couple of years since we last spoke. It would be helpful if you could remind our readers of your background and professional experience.

Bauer: I came to Boston from New York, to attend MIT. I have been in Boston ever since, practicing for over 25 years in complex patent litigation matters. Unlike many patent litigators today, I have both bachelors' and masters' degrees in electrical engineering. MIT was a great environment for me to decide that a technology-related legal practice would be more exciting for me than a career in engineering.

Please email the interviewee at sbauer@proskauer.com with questions about this interview.