What do Aaron Sorkin, Anthony Bourdain, Geraldo Rivera, Robert De Niro and Buddy Valastro have in common? Besides enjoying celebrity status, they turn to Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz for legal help.
The New York law firm of 67 attorneys represents movie stars and models, athletes and artists. Frankfurt Kurnit focuses on media, entertainment, advertising, intellectual property, and commercial and media-related litigation.
Among its more public transactions, the firm helped negotiate and secure Sorkin’s screenwriting deal for the movie Steve Jobs with Columbia Pictures as well as his deal with HBO for The Newsroom.
Managing partner Jeffrey Greenbaum said Frankfurt Kurnit does not follow the path set by big law firms; instead, it focuses on a smaller number of niche practices and provides top-notch expertise.
"The prevailing wisdom is to bring in a client for one thing and sell them on 12 other things," Greenbaum said. "What clients are really looking for is a high level of specialty. We are not trying to be the Wal-Mart of law firms. We really like this idea of being focused and specialized and not having clients see us as just part of a corporate machine."
Greenbaum attributed some of the firm’s success to its ability to build long-standing relationships with clients that have contributed to the success of the firm, including a 50 percent growth in profits during the past three years.
"The fact that the lawyers here have been so steeped in the business of publishing and media entertainment means that we really know the business of our clients," said Edward Rosenthal, chairman of the litigation and intellectual property groups. "Because of that, we deliver a very high-quality work product at a competitive price."
For all its advantages, Frankfurt Kurnit’s size poses its own challenges. Some matters are simply outside the firm’s expertise, Greenbaum said. However, he continued, clients appreciate that the firm aims to be the best at its selected practices.
Within the media and entertainment world, Frankfurt Kurnit has advised on projects including video games, reality television and independent films. It represented Scholastic Corp. in a suit brought by a plaintiffs firm seeking class certification for alleged copyright infringements. The court denied certification and the case ultimately settled.
Richard Heller, co-chairman of the entertainment group, has been with Frankfurt Kurnit since it was founded in 1977. He said that it has grown its stable of attorneys both organically through associate hires and by adding strategic laterals whose practices complement existing practices.
The careful growth contributes to the culture of togetherness, Heller said. The attorneys are focused on building the business — not just their individual success. "We have all learned that the smartest thing to do is promote your partners," Heller said. "We are not individual entrepreneurs working under the same roof; rather we are all partners in a law firm."
Another distinguishing factor is diversity: Of 31 partners, five are openly gay and nine are women. "Having a diverse place is not only more interesting, but it leads to a more thoughtful environment, which gets better results for clients," Greenbaum said. "I think that clients have made it clear that they expect their law firms to be diverse, and that their diversity should reflect the diversity of the client."
The firm uses a number of billing structures to accommodate its clients. It engages in traditional flat-fee arrangements but also contingency arrangements, Greenbaum said. It also has clients with whom it takes a percentage of profit. "If they don’t get paid, we don’t get paid," he said.
In addition, Frankfurt Kurnit uses mixed-fee arrangements, often a flat rate plus either a contingent or percentage fee.
Kathryn Thomas, director and managing counsel for Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. (Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins), said the company has used Frankfurt Kurnit since 2009 to work on marketing and advertising law as well as intellectual property matters. The lawyers understand the challenges of Dunkin’s business and help to minimize risk, she said.
"A lot of it comes down to level of service and they have tremendous business acumen," Thomas said. "It’s one thing to be a lawyer, but another thing to be a great business lawyer."