Kutak Rock LLP is one of America’s premiere finance, securities and investment law firms. We invited the firm’s Chair of Alternative Investments, Marc Lieberman, to talk us through how the firm came to be such a superpower in the private equity, hedge fund and real estate legal industry.
Marc, tell us a bit about Kutak Rock’s history.
Lieberman: As one of America’s first national law firms, Kutak Rock has been serving America’s investment community for more than 50 years. One of the firm’s founders, Robert Kutak, created the Kutak Commission, the first of its kind to develop a national code for lawyers’ ethics.
With over 500 lawyers in more than 17 U.S. states, Kutak Rock has represented nearly every major investment bank and governmental unit in the United States, providing innovative and intensely responsive service to its finance and investment clientele for over half a century.
The quality of our service and the depth of our expertise have led us to represent clients in nearly every aspect of the finance and investment space. However the firm is especially renowned for its representation of investors in the private markets, and in particular, in the private equity, venture capital, hedge fund, real estate, investment management and public finance fields.
Kutak Rock has over 100 lawyers dedicated to documenting real estate deals, and the firm has an entire team of highly-experienced lawyers who represent institutional investors in private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund transactions. In the past five years alone, the firm’s Alternative Investments Team has documented over $3 billion in transactions.
Who are the lawyers that staff your alternative investments team?
Lieberman: Our highly dedicated and experienced Alternative Investments Team is comprised of lawyers from every facet of th e profession (both former large and boutique firm practitioners, as well as those with private and governmental institutional experience) and this enables them to not only know what their clients expect but also to understand what issuers expect and deem to be “market” terms.
I am the leader of the Alternative Investments Team, and am both AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, the international lawyer rating service, as well as designated as a SuperLawyer®. Other Team members enjoy similar ratings. An AV rated lawyer is a lawyer with the highest rating by Martindale, one who rates 5 out of 5 in the categories of knowledge, integrity, honesty, forthrightness and ethics. People designated as SuperLawyers® have been rated as having a skill level among the top 5% of their peers, and I and some of my team members have also been designated by Best Lawyers in America® as having skills which place them in the top 4% of lawyers. I and several of my other Team members are also Board Certified Real Estate Specialists, and as such, are recognized as having special expertise with complex real estate transactions.
The entire Kutak Rock Alternative Investment Team is highly skilled and recognized as one of the pre-eminent investment lawyer groups in the business by their clients, many of whom have provided the firm with glowing endorsements. Being recognized as superior in the profession enables our Team to secure terms not otherwise capable of being secured by other lawyers whose credibility and experience might be questioned.
Collectively the Team comprises well over 100 years’ experience negotiating and documenting deals. They have documented nearly every aspect of the investable spectrum, including management agreements, direct and indirect real estate, hedge and private equity investments and derivatives contracts. The Team is also very experienced in negotiating and documenting international transactions throughout Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia.
How does your team stay abreast of the fast paced development of the law?
Lieberman: As you say, the legal industry is a fast paced market and this experience counts for nothing if staff are not supported in their professional development. As such our lawyers stay ahead of the curve when it comes to legal developments through a multitude of hours spent in continuing legal education. Firm lawyers regularly design and present educational programs and we make sure we have access to the latest electronic data bases and periodicals and government announcements and releases.
Does Kutak Rock participate in the development of the law?
Lieberman: Kutak lawyers regularly assist government officials to design new legislation and address existing legislation that has become ambiguous or outmoded. For example the firm’s lawyers were instrumental in obtaining clarification from the SEC on whether certain governmental officials were required to register as investment advisors, and Kutak lawyers are currently working with investor organizations and government officials to make issuer subscriptions more transparent. Our dedication to public service is a bedrock precept among Kutak lawyers, and every one of the firm’s lawyers is encouraged to dedicate a substantial amount of their time to efforts which improve the profession and the lives of our constituents.
Alongside this, as a practice we are always refining our negotiating techniques and terms and in response both to market forces as well as new legislation or regulation or client requests. Nothing is static in our business and therefore the firm has to adapt in order to stay ahead of the competition.
The word on the street is that Kutak Rock is an especially nice firm to work for. Is that true?
Lieberman: The experience and dedication of all of our staff has helped bring clients into the firm, and ultimately driven our success, and therefore we work hard to cultivate a supportive and engaging environment for our employees. Kutak Rock is well recognized as one of the most pleasant national law firms to work for. The firm has created an environment of respect, comradery and care almost unmatched among its peers. As a result, our personnel turnover rate is far lower than our competitors. The firm is quite diverse, employing a far higher percentage of women partners than almost every other law firm of its size.
The firm’s collegial atmosphere aids greatly in providing an environment for its attorneys to reach creative solutions utilizing areas of practice expertise beyond that of the Alternative Investment Team. Our interdisciplinary approach to problem solving allows us to borrow from other areas of practice, whether that might be public finance, regulatory law, litigation or a host of other legal areas. Accordingly, while we attempt initially to meet specific requirements with “tried and true” approaches, when those are unable to be applied, our attorneys reach out across practice groups and geography to find optimal solutions.
This caring attitude carries over to its clients, whom the firm treats as family rather than just “clients.” Thus, Kutak Rock endeavours to respond to client inquiries instantly, not in days, and to always place client interests above the interests of the firm or our lawyers. It is for that reason that many of our clients have retained us for decades.
How do you assist clients to adapt to the always changing financial markets?
Lieberman: Working closely with our clients has provided the firm with a unique and fascinating insight into the U. S. investment market. The environment for institutional investors at the present time is particularly challenging from a number of perspectives, as the low interest rate environment has propelled most institutional investors to seek yield in the private debt markets, but the overwhelming number of funds proposing to exploit those markets makes it difficult for investors to choose which funds will be among those reaching the top quartile in investment returns.
The same concerns over return are evident within equity investing: while some would say the greatest opportunities are now past us, the ingenuity of managers to find new ways to exploit the equity markets seem boundless, but the plethora of funds touting new strategies and opportunities makes it difficult for investors to separate the wheat from the chaff in choosing top quartile funds.
As more money chases established top quartile funds, negotiating favourable terms with those funds has become more difficult. While law firms are not in the business of selecting one fund over another, it is especially important to choose a law firm which is sufficiently well-experienced in dealing with top quartile funds to know when to push the envelope on allegedly “market” terms. Kutak Rock is such a law firm, and is especially well-suited to represent investors who expect value for their dollar and refuse to pay the exorbitant rates demanded by the coastal or international law firms.
Ultimately the financial markets are under constant strain from the many stakeholders which comprise them, and we believe that efforts to lobby the government for more regulation will only increase regardless of the outcome of the current U.S. election cycle. Thus, we expect much more regulation from both the SEC and IRS to further define the nature and scope of Dodd Frank, and we also anticipate more pronouncements from the SEC on private fund disclosures, at a minimum.
Kutak Rock is also renowned for its modest fees—how can the firm charge rates one-third of its peers and still deliver quality service?
Lieberman: One major challenge our clients are facing is that they are increasingly becoming sensitive to upward pressure on lawyers’ fees, and therefore Kutak Rock has continued to benefit from such fee sensitivity. Our firm’s rates are far below those of our peers in part due to our comparatively low overhead.
This is due to Kutak’s geographic footprint which focuses primarily on non-money centre cities across the U.S. and our back office operations that are centralised in the Midwestern U.S., where operating costs are far lower than the coasts. This advantage enables Kutak Rock to set fees a full third lower than its peers, but with no sacrifice to quality of service, a fact to which all of our clients can attest. Further, to enable our clients to better manage their legal budgets, we offer to work for flat or capped fees, and a growing number of our clients have taken advantage of these alternative fee arrangements to bring certainty to their strained legal budgets.
Despite this challenge the firm’s long and unblemished experience, coupled with the fact that its fees are one third lower than its competitors means that clients ought to conclude that their best choice for documenting investment transactions is Kutak Rock. The firm documents between $60 million and $300 million of transactions every month for institutional clients who have come to conclude that Kutak Rock is the best alternative investment law firm for their needs.
All existing clients of Kutak Rock will tell you a similar story about the lawyers with whom they work; that Kutak lawyers really care, and that caring translates into excellent and dedicated service which at the prices charged, simply have no comparison in the market.
What does the future bode for your firm?
Lieberman: Looking to the future, the firm will expand to have more offices throughout the U.S as new opportunities present themselves. It is also highly likely that we will strengthen our relationships with firms in Canada and throughout the Americas and abroad and will add numerous lawyers to further deepen our ability to fully serve our clients’ legal needs. The firm is working with securities regulators to assist in the effort to make issuers fully disclose their fees and conflicts to better assure our clients that there will be no surprises in their returns and that effort will continue for the foreseeable future.
Company: Kutak Rock LLP
Name: Marc R. Lieberman
Web Address: www.Kutakrock.com
Address: 8601 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 300
Scottsdale, Arizona 85253 USA
Telephone: (480) 429-7103 (Direct)