A mid-Atlantic culture, a mix of contentious and transactional work and plenty of inter-office mingling awaits K&L trainees.
Early each day to the steps of St Paul's
The fact that St Paul's looms large behind K&L Gates' London digs is rather apt: “It still feels like a UK law firm, despite its small size and the network of US offices across the pond,” one trainee reflected. “We still have partners from Nicholson Graham & Jones,” they explained, pointing to a firm with City roots stretching back to 1858; it merged with Pittsburgh-headquartered Kirkpatrick & Lockhart back in 2005, and since then a further five mergers (four with other US outfits and one with an Aussie firm) have created the K&L Gates we see before us today. “You get the best of both worlds here,” other sources chipped in: “Great work and collaboration with the firm's 46 offices – especially those in the US and Europe – but also a more intimate, friendly environment.”
“You get the best of both worlds.”
K&L takes on just ten trainees each year, “exposing you to large matters without the pitfalls of being just a number within a huge intake.” Sources here were looking for something more than the standard corporate/finance City offering, and found that K&L presented a bit more variety: “You've got those more mainstream corporate areas covered, but you can also take more niche seats in areas like IP, competition and white-collar crime. There's a good balance.” Indeed: just under half of the office's work is contentious in nature, so for those who aren't sure whether they're litigators or deal-doers at heart, K&L could be the answer.
Up until 2015, K&L's London office was riding high on five years of consecutive revenue growth (since 2009 it had increased by a very healthy 60%). Yet in 2015 it hit a teeny snag when revenue dipped by 1%, compared to a decrease of almost 8% globally. “The worldwide fall reflects the slight slowing of markets across the globe,” training principal Tony Griffiths tells us. “As revenue dipped our profits per partner increased, which reflects partner departures across the firm but also more efficiency around the network.” Griffiths is clearly optimistic about London's future: “We've made lateral hires in our IP, financial services, tax and dispute resolution teams; all of these hires have either broadened our existing capabilities or helped us to offer something new to our clients.”
First-seaters don't get a say in where they head to, in order to ensure that second-years get priority. “This can be a good thing,” insisted glass half-full trainees, “as you might get put in an area you've never considered before and end up really liking it.” From then on, trainees have a catch-up with HR before the next rotation to discuss their preferences. “Most people get the seats they want. It can be tricky if you've got a lot of people wanting to do corporate, but on the whole HR does a good job and they put a lot of thought into where you go.”
With 30 lawyers filling its ranks, real estate is mostly known for its mid-market work for investors as well as retail and leisure clients. The group's recently helped long-term client Aberdeen Asset Management through a £90 million deal dubbed Project Pinball, which involved the acquisition of various retail outlets in Greenwich. Public sector work is also on offer: the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham is another regular client, and K&L advised it on a £150 million loan facility to finance urban renewal schemes in the area. Sources here found plenty of smaller matters to take control of: “You can be running between 15 and 20 at one time. You're drafting all of the licences to assign and alter, and managing everything from start to finish.”
Trainees noted plenty of real estate referral work pouring into K&L's corporate department, but the team also attracts a number of clients from the energy space: Aberdeen-headquartered Faroe Petroleum and American multinational Halliburton (an oilfield services company) are regulars here. On the subject of American multinationals, the department conducts a fair amount of work for US corporates looking to snap up entities in the UK and Europe; K&L's lawyers recently assisted Chicago-headquartered auto parts supplier LKQ as it acquired an Italian parts distributor, Rhiag, for a cool €1.04 billion. There's a mix of M&A and capital markets work for trainees to tackle: “I was liaising with the other side, drafting joint venture agreements and making sure that everything was signed correctly. I also got to work on a secondary fund-raising where I drafted the subscription agreement and assisted with verification.”
"I felt valued from the off.”
Cross-border disputes are common in the general commercial litigation team. K&L's London lawyers recently collaborated with the Hong Kong office to assist a group of Chinese shareholders in an English-incorporated mining company, Mwana Africa; the shareholders contested a series of decisions made in Mwana's boardroom, leading to the removal of the company's chairman. Boardroom spats aside, the team is also well versed in pharmaceutical and oil and gas disputes. “I was only a month in and I was already liaising with the client, counsel and witnesses,” reported one source here. “They trusted me and I felt valued from the off.” The larger cases can run on for a long time, meaning “they're harder to get your teeth into, but you still get to attend hearings and inquests to take attendance notes, plus you are the port of call for all parties involved.”
K&L's insurance work is top-ranked by Chambers UK. The department assists its policyholder-only client base with coverage disputes, but also deal-related insurance advice. Most risk-laden possibilities are covered here, from business interruption to professional indemnity to product liability. A recent highlight saw the team act for two individuals on behalf of the Axiom Legal Financing Fund; they brought a £100 million negligence claim against an insurance broker who they had placed a financial risk policy with. One interviewee told us: “Reviewing narratives to build the case is a hefty task for trainees, but you're also relied upon to keep an accurate record of everything said during meetings and interviews, as that information will be used to formulate the argument as well.”
“It's a hybrid between American and English,” said trainees of K&L's culture. Stateside influences include “the promotion of pro bono: every year we do a global week of service and during the most recent one we helped to paint a legal charity's centre. Trainees also advise at the Battersea Legal Advice Centre and tutor underprivileged kids for an educational charity.” There's also a very social vibe which sources felt was more 'American': “The NQs organise events and catch-ups frequently. We're very close knit and regularly go for drinks at Madison's, the cocktail bar upstairs, and head to the grounds of St Paul's to have lunch together.” But trainees discerned “a more English approach to work – the hours aren't nearly as horrendous as I expected them to be, and there's quite a good work/life balance.” The average day lasts from 9am to 7.30pm, “but if something big is happening a late night would be 11pm to 12am – it's very rare to stay past 1am.” And if something big is going down “you don't leave others to it, you pop in and say, 'Hey, I can stay until 9pm, what can I do?' It's very collaborative.”
There's also a fair amount of collaboration with the international network. “You're very aware of it,” said trainees, “as the offices share clients and help each other out.” K&L regularly posts stats about this: 480 out of its 500 largest clients used lawyers from two or more offices in 2015. But trainees did highlight that the amount of interaction depends on the department. In real estate, for example, “the other offices don't tend to get involved in the work we do,” but in corporate “lots of work comes from the States,” and in insurance “you get lots of exposure to the overseas offices.” The firm doesn't currently offer overseas seats, though most trainees would've liked to have had the option of spending time abroad. Training principal Tony Griffiths tells us the possibility is “constantly being reviewed,” but the firm has been saying this for quite a few years now, so don't hold your breath waiting.
All trainees expressed a wish to stay on at K&L as NQs. “Qualifying is not keeping me up all night, as you have partner supervisors in each seat and you maintain connections with them – they're happy to give out advice.” Many were interested in settling down into corporate, causing some to wonder if there would be enough space. “If it's a strong year they'll try to please everyone... I hope!” In the end, six of seven second-years stayed.
The 'Gates' in the name of this firm is Bill Gates' dad, founding partner of legacy firm Preston Gates & Ellis.
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: TBA
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
The vac scheme route
K&L offers a two-week vac scheme in July, during which applicants are able to sample a couple of departments and attend some outings into the City. “I found everyone very friendly during my vac scheme, and I got to do some proper trainee work like bundling and helping draft an article for a newsletter,” said one source who'd taken part.
Applications are made onlinefollowed by an online verbal reasoning test. For those successful in passing, they will be invited in for an interview with HR. After their fortnight at the firm, vac schemers are automatically invited to attend a training contract assessment day and progress their application from there.
“Normally people apply for a summer vacation scheme to come and have a look at the firm first, and for us to see them,” says Tina Two, the firm's director of lawyer development and diversity. “But that's not the only route; it just gives us longer to get to know them.”
Direct training contract applications
Direct training contract applicants are tasked with a short online assessment which tests verbal reasoning. Those with high enough scores are asked to attend an assessment day.
The day involves a group exercise followed by an informal presentation in which “all have the opportunity to speak,” Two tells us. We say take the hint: get talking. A written test and reasoning tests are part of the day.
Tina Two gives some insight into what kind of competencies assessors are on the lookout for. “We'll be gauging whether people can write well, think clearly and draw logical conclusions under time pressure. We're looking for team players, not prima donnas or dominators. We want to understand people's skills, and we want them to be able to work collaboratively.”
The final stage of the training contract application involves an interview with two partners, followed by an individual exercise with HR. After that, HR “gathers together all the information it has on each candidate,” and it's decision time.
Both Tina Two and administrative partner Tony Griffiths agree that the firm tries to avoid a homogeneous trainee intake. Says Two: “That's the beauty of our process – we get applications from all kinds of universities and backgrounds, and we look at them all.”
“We want our trainees to have a fairly entrepreneurial view of things, to like and enjoy new challenges. An individual who isn't phased by that does quite well,” says Griffiths. “At the same time, clients expect you to come up with fairly novel solutions to their problems, and that requires an imagination. You can't get such solutions from textbooks.”
Two adds: “What stands out for us are candidates with the drive and initiative to think something through and then really go for it – even if they're not successful in the end. We don't choose candidates who like to have things passively fed to them.”
Interview with training principal and London office head Tony Griffiths
Student Guide: Can you briefly outline the firm's strategy for the future?
Tony Griffiths: Our overall approach is to position ourselves as strategic advisors to clients. In order to do that we have to demonstrate that we can synchronise our capabilities in ways that other firms find difficult because of their structure. We want to act on our clients’ most important mandates and those rarely deal with just one issue or just one jurisdiction.
The removal of all profit and loss demarcation lines between offices, groups and departments facilitates a multi-discipline approach to meet our strategic demands. As a result thehe office has increased its productivity by 70%, and grown its revenue by 60% in the last six years
SG: Which areas are you looking to develop in particular?
TG: Current growth areas are projects and energy, mainly disputes orientated. Also, investigations in a multitude of disciplines: D&O insurance, corporate manslaughter, cyber risk and environmental risk. The approach is to be as inclusive as we can. We don't silo sectors or practice areas and we involve everybody in the office in all of our focus areas.
SG: Are there any new developments in the last year which have occurred at the London office?TG: We've made lateral hires in our IP, financial services, tax and dispute resolution teams. Arthur Artinian, on the IP sidehas really enhanced our international IP and anti-counterfeiting capability,. Jacob Ghanty works on financial services regulation, funds and payment services, so that has broadened our financial services offering. Giles Bavister is a real estate tax specialist and John Gilbert an international energy arbitration specialist. All of these hires have either broadened our existing capabilities or helped us to offer something new to our clients.
SG: K&L's worldwide revenue fell 7% in 2015. Could you explain why you think that happened?
TG: The worldwide fall reflected a slight slowing of markets across the globe. As revenue dipped our profits per partner increased. While reflecting partner departures this also reflects greater efficiency around the firm. Overall, globally, we positioned ourselves properly for a difficult market.
SG: How do you think the fall in revenue impacted the London office, where revenue fell by just 1%?
TG: I don't think it impacted us; the revenue streams from other parts of the business held up well. We exported a little more than the year before. We basically matched revenue figures from 2014 in a slowing market on the transactional side and increased our revenue per lawyer for the sixth year in a row, so we were delighted to match that.
SG: We have heard a lot about your white-collar crime department. Is that an area which you have focused upon particularly?
TG: It is an area that was founded in 2011 in Londo., I think we have 12 trained criminal lawyers, as opposed to civil litigators. Points of focus have included criminal defence work, risk assessment and criminal investigation – trying to help clients before they fall foul of regulators, prosecutors and governments.
One New Change,
- Partners 55
- Trainees 18
- Total staff 250
- Contact Hayley Atherton
- Method of application Online at www.klgates.com
- Selection procedure Online testing, full assessment centre and interview
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa TBD
- Applications pa 1,000
- % interviewed pa 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2015)
- First year: £37,500
- Second year: £44,000
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa varies
- Post-qualification salary (2015) £68,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification 85%
- Overseas offices Anchorage, Austin, Beijing, Berlin, Boston, Brisbane, Brussels, Charleston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Doha, Dubai, Fort Worth, Frankfurt, Harrisburg, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Miami, Milan, Munich, Newark, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, Perth, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Research Triangle Park, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Warsaw, Washington and Wilmington
Main areas of work K&L
Legal work placements
LPC funding: fees paid plus £7,000 maintenance grant.