Phillips Nizer LLP | Sophisticated Legal Service | Law Firm Leaders: Phillips Nizer Managing Partner Marc Landis is featured in <em >Law360 </em >
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Law Firm Leaders: Phillips Nizer Managing Partner Marc Landis is featured in Law360

Law360 (May 27, 2020, 7:34 PM EDT) -- Marc Landis is entering his sixth year as the managing partner of New York-based Phillips Nizer LLP, a 75-lawyer firm founded in 1926 by attorneys Louis Phillips and Louis Nizer.

Here, Landis chats with Law360 about how the firm has evolved since its inception, its operation during the coronavirus pandemic and his goals for the firm's future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me a little bit about your firm, when it was started and its specialties?
Our firm started in 1926 when Louis Nizer, who had recently graduated from law school, started working with a friend of his father named Louis Phillips. So we had Louis and Louis. They became partners, and their focus was on, like many small law firms back in the mid-1920s, anything they could find, especially as we moved into the Depression.

Lou Phillips had worked at Paramount Pictures as associate general counsel. A specialty even then was entertainment work, as well as general business and general litigation. The firm's practice has grown into a major player in those fields, particularly the entertainment area, where the firm represented some of the most famous stars of stage and screen and in the art world, like Johnny Carson, Salvador Dali and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as sports stars like Julius Erving, who played for many years with the New Jersey Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers. So there was a celebrity and intellectual property [element] then to the practice, but the practice grew into much more.

Today, the firm is a sophisticated blend of commercial litigation, especially financial services, real estate and intellectual property. It's a full-service transactional practice, including cutting edge real estate, leasing, restructuring, but also ground-up development and work with the new Opportunity Zones program and general corporate work, labor and employment.

How has your firm changed over the past decade?
The firm has been a midsize firm for many years, even while the definition of a midsize firm has changed. We're currently about 75 attorneys, and it's slightly more than we were perhaps a decade ago.

What's changed is that the firm has become a desirable destination for attorneys looking for the right kind of platform. We are midsize, which means we're still nimble and agile, to be able to react to changing circumstances.

We don't have rules of bureaucracy that get in the way of practicing law. Our focus is not to add another partner. Our focus is what can we do for our clients, and that's a very attractive model to attorneys who have been either at very small firms, where they don't have the full services available, or at larger firms, where they may not have the flexibility of rates or where conflicts become too challenging to bring in new clients.

So over the last few years in particular, we've brought in many new partners. And it served to rejuvenate the firm. We have a number of partners now who are in their 40s and 50s and 60s, in the prime of their careers. We continue to attract top-notch younger talent. But our senior attorneys are also very valuable to us. So we don't have a mandatory retirement age, and we take pride in their work and their expertise, and we encourage them to work as long as they want to do so.

How is your firm responding to the coronavirus pandemic?
Our firm is currently working remotely under New York's on-pause guidelines. When the pandemic first picked up steam in New York, we had some important decisions to make, and we prepared, and ultimately put into effect, our remote operations plan, moving attorneys to work from home, moving our secretaries and support staff generally to do the same as well, getting laptops into the hands of the people that didn't have them.

We asked for and were designated by the state of New York as an essential business when they had not decided that law firms were essential because we will provide essential services to our clients. Eventually, the state allows all law firms to operate, but remotely, and we've been following those guidelines since. But the focus of what we've been doing is staying in touch with our clients and their needs.

Has the firm and will the firm implement any cost-cutting strategies to reduce the financial impact of COVID-19?
We have not announced any cost-cutting measures. We have found that we are staying as busy and as profitable as we could hope to be under these circumstances and comparable to how we were doing at this time last year.

There are certainly going to be economic challenges ahead for our clients, so that means economic challenges for us too. But we believe that we're really quick to navigate. In May, we have brought on one new associate. We have also brought on our summer associate. We have maintained our summer programs —small, it's just one person — but our summer associate started work yesterday.

I expect to be announcing the arrival of three new attorneys shortly, in the next four or five weeks, in both our New York and New Jersey offices.

What are your goals for the law firm over the next five years?
We will still be a midsized law firm in five years. My expectation is that it will be a slightly larger midsize firm.

We will continue to grow strategically, not adding lawyers just for the sake of adding more lawyers, but adding lawyers who can bring something special to the firm. Whether it is an expertise that is in demand for our clients, or whether it is a skill set, particular experience in an industry sector that is relevant to our clients.

We're always looking at growth opportunities from the standpoint of how this will help our clients. So I would expect that we will continue to grow modestly.

What one trait do you think is most important for a law firm leader?
There are many styles of leadership. Some people lead from the front, some lead for the middle. But you cannot be an effective leader unless you are listening to those around you so that you're taking them into account — what's on people's minds, what they need, what their clients need — in order to integrate that into a strategy.

If you could have lunch with any lawyer, alive or dead, who would it be?
In my case, it would have to be Louis Nizer. I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.

Like many attorneys of my generation, we grew up learning about the law by reading books that Louis Nizer has written. There is a book called "My Life in Court," a book called "Reflections Without Mirrors
" that talked about some of the fascinating work that he has done. He not only handled the kinds of celebrities we spoke about before, but he also took on tough cases, defending against the death penalty in Illinois.

He was an adviser to the president of the United States at the time of Lyndon Baines Johnson. He was one of the people responsible for the fact that we have a rating system for our motion pictures. The MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] was founded with the guidance of our firm. And I think he would have such interesting tales to relate to his experience as an attorney.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.