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Zuckerman Eschews Labels in Rapid Growth of Manhattan Office
New York Law Journal
When Zuckerman Spaeder adds Mitra Hormozi, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, to its roster of partners next week, the Washington-based firm will have 16 lawyers in its New York office, up from three in the fall of 2011 when Steven Cohen was brought on board to build a team that could attract high-level appellate work, investigations, complex civil litigation and white-collar defense and advisory work.
Hormozi, a former prosecutor and chair of the state Commission on Public Integrity, follows close behind Barbara Jones, also a former prosecutor who left the Southern District bench after 17 years to join the firm last month.
Among the recent recruits to Zuckerman Spaeder's New York office are, from left, Mitra Hormozi, James Sottile and Barbara Jones. NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
In fall 2011, Cohen, who is leading the firm's office expansion in New York, wooed Paul Shechtman of Stillman Friedman & Shechtman, who served as the top criminal justice advisor to Governor George Pataki; and Andrew Tomback, a former senior advisor to the undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department who joined from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Meanwhile, partner James Sottile, who focuses on commercial litigation, including bankruptcy and insurance matters, relocated to New York last year from the firm's Washington office.
The current team, said Cohen, is the "culmination of months of strategic planning" to bring in partners with experience in the Southern District and Eastern District, as well as in state and federal government, who span a few generations in their legal careers.
Cohen eschews firm labels that focus on one particular practice area and said the firm isn't trying to fill a certain niche in the market.
"There's a kind of sophisticated law that's practiced where you're dealing with complex issues, involving litigation and investigations," he said. "The mistake of the last 30 years in the practice of law has been the over emphasis of specialization. There are times when you need a specialist, but in most instances, when you're involved in a litigation, specialization doesn't help and specialization might hurt."
Cohen, former secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo and chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general, said he is expecting to hire one or two more partners this year in New York.
"I'll relax a little" when the head count is above 20, he said, adding that he is not looking for an office with more than 35 lawyers.
Zuckerman's New York office is now set to compete with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Shearman & Sterling; and Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, and others for complex, high-end litigation and investigation matters, Cohen said.
The 90-lawyer firm was founded in 1975 in Washington, D.C. Recently, D.C.-based partner William Taylor represented the former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in criminal and civil actions after a hotel maid accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office eventually dropped the criminal charges. Strauss-Kahn and the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, reportedly reached a settlement in the civil case.
Hormozi, who joined Kirkland in September 2011, served as the special deputy chief of staff for litigation to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, where she worked with Cohen. After leaving the attorney general's office, she took over as chair of the former state Commission on Public Integrity.
She also spent six years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, working primarily on organized crime and racketeering cases. She prosecuted the so-called "Mafia Cops" matter, a racketeering case involving two corrupt former police detectives. She argued and won the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Hormozi said she was very happy at Kirkland, but once Jones joined the firm, Hormozi said, "It was like, 'Hmm, I can't say no. I'm going to miss my chance.'"
The work at Zuckerman is "right up my alley," she said. "It's people I adore and I think they're brilliant."
Hormozi said she will bring some work with her to Zuckerman, including the special master position in a New York City firefighter discrimination case where she helps oversee damages for victims, United States v. City of New York, 07-2067. Three others are also appointed special master, including Cohen.
Cohen said he looks for colleagues who would best fit the firm's culture, not necessarily someone who brings a ready book of business, like Jones, who will focus on monitorships and internal investigations and compliance work.
"It doesn't matter whether she comes to you with business or not, she's going to develop business," Cohen said. "If you're doing an internal investigation, where the credibility of the investigator is ultimately going to be crucial to the regulatory or prosecutorial agency, who could be better than Barbara Jones?"
"Somebody can come to you with $10 million worth of business and if the fit isn't right and they join you, that $10 million worth of business is going to slip away from you, or they may not be happy, it may not work, after two years they may leave," Cohen said. "But if you have the right person, and it's the right fit, and you support them in the right way, it will work out, the business will come."
The firm's revenue-per-lawyer stands between $1 million to $1.25 million, said Graeme Bush, chairman of Zuckerman. Bush added that last year was the firm's most profitable. Hourly rates vary from the low $300s for some associates to just under $1,000 for some partners, he said.
While it's not uncommon for law firms to bring on former federal and state prosecutors, Zuckerman's hires have attracted some attention in New York.
"I can't think there are many firms that have three people with such an extraordinary breadth of experience in the New York legal community," said James McGuire, a Dechert partner and a former justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, referring to Jones, Cohen and Shechtman. "The new hires reflect the firm's confidence that they are going to be increasing their business in the New York market in both civil and criminal areas."
@|Christine Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.