“Lawyers didn’t make that much money in 1982, and it didn’t seem like a big risk,” says corporate attorney Nathan Assor of the venture that he founded with litigators Jeffrey Golenbock and David Eiseman. “If it didn’t work out, we would all just go get jobs.”
Their cramped three-room Manhattan office made meeting regularly easy, and during those early days the most important meeting was a weekly brainstorming session about generating business. A fourth partner, Lawrence Bell, who joined from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, brought a few corporate clients—a venture capital firm and a company that manufactured fiber optic scanners—but generating new business was the key to the firm’s survival. The lawyers took on relatively small matters—some referred from colleagues at Kramer Levin—for clients looking for discounts from big-firm rates. “Initially we did a lot of things for very small companies,” says Golenbock. “Our first litigation involved a dispute for $100,000.” Over those first 12 months, the lawyers managed to gross $371,800. And ultimately, their compensation that first year was on par with what they made as senior associates, which Assor pegs at about $50,000.
Twenty-seven years later, Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe (Andrew Peskoe, who joined as an associate in 1986, later became a name partner) has grown into a firm of nearly 50 lawyers with revenues of $35 million. Even if Golenbock Eiseman didn’t have a detailed business strategy early on, its lawyers recognized the importance of having a diverse practice mix. “Over the long run, there were cycles, and the presence of litigation and corporate practices have helped to even out revenue streams,” Bell says. Today, in addition to litigation and corporate, which provide 70 percent of revenues, the firm’s specialties include tax, bankruptcy, and securities.
“One of the things we are very happy about is that we have been able to attract bigger clients with more complex matters,” Golenbock says. Work on smaller matters for large clients eventually led to more sizable assignments for them, he says. The firm now handles leasing matters nationwide for the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc. Golenbock Eiseman was hired by MasterCard Incorporated in connection with the TJ Maxx data security breach, and also represented the credit card company in a successful suit against the Fédération Internationale de Football Association relating to a World Cup sponsorship agreement. Additionally, in the Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Corporation bankruptcies, the firm advised Panasonic Corporation, a supplier to both companies. HSBC Holdings Plc called on the firm in connection with the Charter Communications, Inc., and SemGroup Corp. bankruptcies.
According to firm founders, a key part of the growth in Golenbock Eiseman’s corporate practice has been the rise of private equity shops. Golenbock Eiseman’s first PE client was The Wicks Group of Companies, LLC, which it started representing in 1993 after handling some work for Wicks’s principals. Historically, the firm has also been hired by private equity firms to do transactional work for their portfolio companies.
Those brainstorming sessions have become more infrequent, says managing partner Golenbock, but the partnership does meet at least once a month. “We still try to do most things by consensus,” he says. “We are still small enough that we can do that.”