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Chambers Associate’s 2023 Inside View

You’ll get a new lease of life at ALB, “the real estate boutique that everyone in New York knows.”

If the world of New York real estate was a game of Monopoly, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. would have its pieces spread across the board. “We have the biggest clients in the world, and we have some of the smallest,” eponymous founder Adam Leitman Bailey tells us. “We do the biggest and most exciting cases with the most interesting results.” Contrary to the size of its massive clientele – made up of some of the top Fortune 100 companies – the firm houses fewer than 30 attorneys. The firm also has a much smaller focus than its Big Apple peers, something which drew our interviewees to the firm: “If you want to be a real property attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey focuses and specializes in just that. You don’t have to do other things, so it’s a great firm for those who want to focus.”

TOP READ: Becoming a real estate lawyer – the view from Adam Leitman Bailey

If that doesn’t bring home the level of ALB’s prestige, look no further than Chambers USA, where founder Adam Leitman Bailey achieves high rankings for his experience in real estate litigation. Leitman Bailey’s own expertise helps solidify the firm’s “reputation for achieving favorable outcomes in trial settings,” one associate explained. As such, there’s a status to the firm name. Associates were familiar with the high quality of ALB’s work before they even got to the firm – work which encourages lawyers on the other side of cases to step up their game at trial. “People here joke, ‘What miracle do we have to perform today?’ I don’t promise miracles,” Leitman Bailey tells us. “We’re here to give you creative lawyering. And to produce victories.” Spots at ALB are certainly hot property, since “everyone in New York City  real estate knows the firm.”

Strategy & Future

We understand the money we are forgoing by not practicing in New Jersey or Florida,” Adam Leitman Bailey tells us, “but I’d rather give up greater wealth and focus on New York, where we have appeared frequently in front of every judge, allowing us to know them better, and where we are experts.” So, the ALB formula is essentially to pick one type of law, and one place, and be the best it can be. Associates echoed this sentiment: “The aim is to continue to get the word out that Adam Leitman Bailey is one of the top real estate firms in the city. To keep the name on everyone’s radar as a great firm and a great place to work.” ALB’s plans for the next year? According to Leitman Bailey, the firm is preparing for the recession, while considering the ways in which high interest rates and the economy more generally will affect the New York real estate market. “We do every type of real estate law that everyone would need in a depression or recession, such as landlord-tenant, foreclosures, litigation, closings, cooperative and condominium law – you need that in any economy,” Leitman Bailey explains.

The Work

Work at ALB covers the litigious and transactional sides of all things real estate. Associates typically end up doing one or the other, but there’s the option to do both as well. There’s a free-market system in place for work assignment, but sources reported that work typically comes through one partner: “One partner will assign me work or things will come into my inbox from existing clients. Work assignment is independent here, but partners will often reach out to ask if you have time to help on matters.” Leitman Bailey highlights that “newer associates go to court right away or get to do closings in transactional.” Associates echoed this level of early responsibility since: “I appreciate that they have faith that you can handle something.”

ALB’s real estate practice is litigation-heavy, and the department works on a little bit of everything within that. The scale ranges from representing institutional clients in foreclosure cases, to representing individuals with title insurance. “We’re familiar with anything that clients bring in and can go full speed ahead. You don’t want a client to come with an issue that requires learning a new area of law.” Junior litigators can get their hands on all aspects of the job, including research, drafting motions, and attending hearings and trials. “Given our small size,” one associate explained, “as a junior associate or even as an intern you’re able to do some significant work – not just discovery.”

“I’d give it a ten out of ten for client contact.”

On the transactionalside of things, one interviewee summed up how “a lot of attorneys here are well rounded and can tackle anything with their skill set. You get pulled in on random matters, so you have to be flexible.” Typical tasks include reviewing documents and trust agreements, prepping contracts, writing letters and working on leasing matters and tenant buyouts. There are an array of matters and clients to get involved with, from tenants, to landlords, to shareholders of cooperative boards. “We usually act as corporate counsel to companies that reach out with whatever real estate issues they’re facing,” one insider explained, “but sometimes our practice can blend into litigation.” The nature of the role means that associates get a bunch of direct client contact: “I’d give it a ten out of ten. Partners always encourage you to reach out to clients directly and give them a call to find out what they need. I appreciate that, as you have to do things yourself to gain experience and improve as an attorney.”

Real estate clients: Oosten Condominium, Mepa Realty LLC, Gendell. Helped the occupants (‘squatters’) of 544 East 13th St. in a $30 million foreclosure case.

Career Development

According to interviewees, the firm encourages associates to take the time to discuss career progression with more senior attorneys. “I’ve had conversations with partners about taking the next step in my career, as well as personal matters,” one associate explained. “I feel comfortable sitting down to talk about things.” As a smaller firm, career development is structured more informally. Rather than entering the firm on a formal track to partnership, for instance, associates are encouraged to be proactive and “really seek out questions, answers, and guidance.” When it comes to making partner, there are no hard requirements but, according to our interviewees, “the partners here now started as ALB associates. Partnership isn’t specifically discussed but it’s implied.” So, associates on track to make partner should be able to demonstrate “consistent work ethic – you’re putting in time, billing your hours and doing the best that you can at your job. But you don’t have to bring in clients to become partner, that’s clear.”

Hours & Compensation

Billable target: 1,600

Here’s where the math comes in. Rather than structuring compensation around the number of hours you bill, what you earn is calculated on a cash collected basis in which you earn a third of what you bill. For associates, there were clear benefits to this: “It’s a positive! It incentivizes people who want to make more money and work harder.” Others also noted how compensation is adjusted according to how much business you bring in, as it’s “more of a sales business model.” One drawback of not measuring by hours is that often it takes months for client payments to be finalized so, “even if you’ve worked x number of hours, if the client doesn’t pay straightaway, that won’t be reflected in your end of year report. It can be stressful when certain things are out of your control.”

“It incentivizes people who want to make more money and work harder.”

However, associates appreciated that “even though our manual says the target is 1,600, they’re very lax with that. As long as you meet enough to cover your salary, they don’t really hassle you on the hours you bill.” One insider noted how “most attorneys here bill below the industry standard [of about 1,800 to 2,000]. There’s no constant pressure on you to bill eight hours a day. When things need to get done, we get them done, but it’s not so rigid where someone’s breathing down your neck about your billables.” Even though it can get busy, associates get a very decent work/life balance out of this system and most work from around 9 to 6, with the odd late night. According to one interviewee, “I’ve worked a couple of weekends, but never to the point where I’m regularly working through Saturday trying to get stuff done.”

Culture & Pro Bono

Battery Park Plaza is the place ALB calls home, with windows that look over the Statue of Liberty. (“It’s gorgeous!” according to interviewees.) The firm is keen to make the most of its 25,900 square feet of office space by getting attorneys back into the office. “Everybody, including associates, has their own office,” Adam Leitman Bailey explains. “I believe we do better in the office where people can talk about cases and ideas.” Regular, in-person social events have facilitated this return to the office. Associates really felt ALB’s effort to “foster an appreciative workplace” and highlighted events such as birthday cupcakes, company-funded lunch trips, and office parties.

“The firm model is that we are family.”

Leitman Bailey’s clear on the firm’s “no jerk policy,” and associates can attest to the fact that “everyone has been nice and welcoming.” Although some have noticed a slightly higher turnover recently, others commented on how accommodating the firm has been to employees’ needs: “the firm model is that we are family.” In particular, working for such a small firm on leanly staffed matters does a lot to set the tone for the culture. “It’s collaborative,” one source noted. “We can bring partners onto cases and give them something to do. Communication on all levels is very casual.”

When it comes to pro bono, Leitman Bailey tells us, “I’m into preserving the history of New York.” The firm has set up its own charity called Building Foundations and Dreams, which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds access their academic aspirations. As ALB doesn’t subscribe to the typical billable hours system, there isn’t a special allowance for billing pro bono. “The firm will definitely allow you to do it if it’s something you want to do, but it’s not mandated,” one associate explained. Some interviewees explained that it would be nice to have more pro bono opportunities for attorneys, but this wasn’t a major issue as the firm attracts attorneys who are interested in focusing on all things real estate. However, in true real estate fashion, ALB is conscious of its physical footprint. Its community work is all about New York, since the firm works with and sponsors charities and organizations across the local area.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

One associate was glad to tell us how “there are a lot of female attorneys, and quite a few female partners as well. Some of them have been here for a long time, too.” Leitman Bailey explains how hiring the best talent will naturally lead to greater diversity of attorneys, meaning there’s no specific diversity track to ALB. One interviewee commented, “We do have some diversity throughout the firm, but I think it could do a better job in seeking out and promoting diversity. However, there are efforts to rectify the issue.”Associates noted that the small size of the firm meant that it was a little more difficult to establish any concrete initiatives on the diversity front.However, despite its smaller size, ten languages other than English are spoken at the firm. What’s more, the firm makes a conscious effort to hire outside of Ivy League schools and values the broader perspective that comes from hiring attorneys from a variety of educational backgrounds.

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