David Friedman, left, and Donald Trump in 2010. (Bradley C. Bower/AP)
It’s not every day that one of a law firm’s name partners departs for a post in a recently minted presidential administration.
But that’s exactly what happened at the firm formerly known as Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman when bankruptcy attorney David Friedman was nominated—and eventually confirmed—as the Trump administration’s ambassador to Israel.
Now, the firm will go by Kasowitz Benson Torres, according to an announcement this week. The change was required under the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which blocks firms from including the names of a living, non-employed lawyer in their trade name.
The name change comes on the heels of a down year for Kasowitz, which saw declines in both income and revenue.
Before his selection for the ambassador position late last year, Friedman, a longtime bankruptcy lawyer, served as a campaign adviser on U.S.-Israel relations to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. He had also previously made public statements suggesting he was a hard-line Israel supporter and proponent of West Bank settlements, which drew criticism from many Jewish Americans.
In his Senate confirmation hearings, Friedman struck a softer tone, telling lawmakers that he regretted some of the harsh language he had used in the past when discussing Israel, and pledged to be more measured as ambassador. He was narrowly confirmed to the post on March 23 with a 52-46 vote and was sworn in on Wednesday.
After then-President-elect Donald Trump announced in December he had selected Friedman for the post, Kasowitz managing partner Marc Kasowitz told The American Lawyer that reaction within the firm was “hugely positive.” Kasowitz also said he didn’t expect a huge impact on the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring group, which he said shared client relationships between Friedman and other partners, including David Rosner, Andrew Glenn and Adam Schiff.
But the pick has served to solidify the firm’s ties to President Trump, who has turned to Kasowitz for legal counsel several times. During the 2016 presidential campaign, for instance, Kasowitz drafted responses to negative reports in the New York Times about the then-candidate’s tax returns and allegations of sexual misconduct.
Marc Kasowitz said in December that the selection could help the firm’s profile and reputation. But he stressed that Friedman’s business ties to the Kasowitz firm would be cut if he were confirmed. The change to the firm’s legal name took effect on March 24, the day after Friedman’s confirmation vote.
The name change comes on the heels of a down year for Kasowitz in several financial metrics. Gross revenue decreased by 7.5 percent to $217 million in 2016, while net income fell 10.5 percent to $72.5 million. Revenue per lawyer at the 263-laywer firm decreased by less than 1 percent compared with 2015, coming in at $825,000 in 2016.
The firm’s profits per equity partner increased by less than 1 percent year-over-year, to $1.86 million in 2016, although Kasowitz also reduced the size of its equity partnership ranks to 39 partners, down from 44 in the prior year. The overall lawyer head count declined by 6.7 percent, dropping to 263 in 2016 from 282 in 2015.
The firm’s 2016 results mark the second year in a row that Kasowitz has seen declines in some of its financial metrics and lawyer head counts.
Scott Flaherty covers the business of law with a special focus on plaintiffs firms. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sflaherty18.
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