After Exits, Kasowitz Names Co-Managing Partners

By Elizabeth Olson, Big Law Business

Leadership changes are afoot at Kasowitz Benson Torres where high-profile founder Marc E. Kasowitz will be assisted by two co-managing partners handling the firm’s day-to-day administration.

On Tuesday, the firm named Cindy Caranella Kelly and Wallace L. Schwartz Co-Managing Partners of Administration. They are members of the firm’s management committee, and their appointment comes at a time when the Kasowitz firm has had repeated partner exits.

It is unclear how many such departures have been affected by negative publicity surrounding Kasowitz, who had been President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer for the legal issues raised by Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

“We’ve been talking about making this move for some time to better coordinate firm administration which had been spread out among a number of partners,” said Kelly. A 21-year firm veteran, she and Schwartz will assist Kasowitz, 65, who is the managing partner of the AmLaw 200 firm he founded in 1993.

Her duties, she said, will include legal recruiting, the hiring process for laterals, business development and firm expenditures.

She ascribed the reallocation of responsibilities to the growth of the Big Law firm, which lists such corporations as Hilton Worldwide, J. Crew and MetLife among its clients. According to the National Law Journal’s 2017 NLJ 350 ranking of firms based on size, Kasowitz has 263 attorneys and is the 168th largest firm in the United States, based on $217 million in gross revenues in 2016.

As for the departures of at least nine partners this year, Kelly said “that is something that happens naturally at firms.”

But there appear to have been strains underneath the firm’s surface for some months. Earlier this year, Eleanor Alter, known for handling celebrity divorces, and five colleagues left Kasowitz after two decades to form a family law boutique. Although the departure was described as amicable, it later emerged in court that there had been an internal firm dispute over whether a client could be represented in both his divorce proceedings and in his business dealings.

Kasowitz,  a longtime lawyer to Trump, this summer stepped down from his role representing the president amid reports of presidential dissatisfaction with his legal strategy. In July, a Pro Publica story said Kasowitz was not seeking the requisite security clearance necessary to see classified documents and it pointed to a drinking problem as a possible reason. A Kasowitz spokesperson denied that he had a drinking problem.

After the story was published, an individual suggested in an email to Kasowitz that his security problems should lead to his stepping down from his role as Trump’s lawyer. The lawyer responded by sending the person profanity-ridden emails. A Kasowitz spokesman later said the lawyer planned to apologize to the recipient of his emails.

Charles Miller, one New York partner who departed later in July for a smaller firm, told the New York Law Journal he sought “a little more warmth, more connection, more participation.”

And this month, partner Aaron Marks left the firm in early September after 24 years. He joined Kirkland & Ellis, along with fellow Kasowitz partner, Joshua Greenblatt, a 10-year firm veteran. Several other attorneys departed the firm this year in addition to Alter and her colleagues.

In a nod to the new firm administrative efforts, Kasowitz issued a statement that said: “Cindy and Wally have the tremendous respect of the full partnership. We are delighted that they have agreed to assume a greater leadership role within the firm, and we are all looking forward to their positive influence going forward.”

Kelly’s practice focuses on complex civil litigation, including cases involving securities law, corporate governance, antitrust, breach of contract and fraud. According to the firm, she has represented major financial institutions, creditors’ committees, energy companies, and individuals before state and federal courts, as well as in international arbitrations.

Schwartz is the head of Kasowitz’s Real Estate – Transactional group. The firm said he participates in “all aspects of the firm’s real estate practice, including real estate development, acquisitions, leasing, partnerships and joint ventures, capital markets and financings, gaming and lodging, workouts and restructurings, and real estate funds.”

Write to the reporter at egolson1@gmail.com.

Write to the editors at gabefriedman@outlook.com and csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.