A record year in London for this global firm has trainees reaping the benefits.
Go ahead and Gump
With its small trainee intake, eye-wateringly high NQ pay and a network of international offices, Akin Gump certainly fits the bill for what you'd expect of an American firm in London. But beyond these classic calling cards, London trainees had also been swayed by the firm's particular practice specialisms: Akin Gump has Texan heritage and along with that comes oil and gas expertise which particularly appealed to our interviewees. The firm also gains a top-tier Chambers UK ranking in another area you won't see at every US firm in London – restructuring, and is further ranked for investment funds, arbitration and financial regulation.
Akin Gump hasn’t always had much of a presence in London. Its operation in the City was much smaller until 2014 when it acquired the London office of defunct US firm Bingham McCutchen. In the years since, Akin London has gone from strength to strength: in 2018/19 the office's revenue rose a whopping 28% (compared to 3% firm-wide) and the firm increased its annual trainee intake from four to six. The office also recently picked up four private equity funds partners from O’Melveny.
Another recent change has been the introduction of overseas seats. The firm has 20 overseas offices and stints abroad have occurred in Moscow (for Russian speakers), Singapore and Hong Kong. At the time of our calls, three out of four second-years had been abroad over the course of their training contract and sources reckoned that in future international secondments will be “something the firm is looking to develop further.” Those that had been abroad noted that “the overseas offices are usually smaller than the London office, so you end up getting a lot of partner contact. It’s a definite step up in terms of expectations and the way you’re treated so it’s great preparation for life as an associate.”
Gump for my love
Trainees’ first seat is usually allocated to them based on business need; for subsequent seats trainees can submit preferences. “It’s quite flexible and more fluid because we have a smaller intake, so it’s possible to have internal discussions,” one trainee reported. Sources described the process as “very informal and accommodating.” Like seat allocation, the NQ process is a relatively informal affair, based largely on discussions with grad recruitment and the various departments. In 2019 the firm retained all four of its qualifiers. Litigation is the only compulsory seat, although trainees said: “Most people end up doing a seat in financial restructuring because it’s the largest group and a big part of the firm.”
“It can be quite intense... especially for a first-seat trainee.”
The financial restructuring team usually acts for creditors on “really complex, high-profile restructurings.” One interviewee recalled: “I worked on two matters that were in the multi-billions.” Akin Gump lawyers in the UK, US and Hong Kong recently acted for a group of unsecured creditors during the restructuring of over $3.5 billion of US and English law governed debts belonging to Singapore-listed and Bermuda-incorporated commodities trader Noble. As the work is with creditors rather than debtors, trainees find they're working with a lot of funds and banks as clients, for whom they handle case management, research tasks and the drafting of security documents. As you can tell from the example above, the work is also pretty international in nature, so sources found they were not only “liaising with clients, but also with local counsel – lawyers in Russia, Spain, France etc.” Interviewees admitted: “It can be quite intense because of the level the firm operates at, especially for a first-seat trainee. There’s a steep learning curve.”
The corporate practice offers two seats: one focused on general corporate matters, the other on oil and gas. General corporate trainees get involved in the corporate elements of matters such as capital restructurings, the establishment of funds, incorporating companies, and the classic buying and selling of companies, often with a cross-border element. For example, London lawyers recently worked with colleagues in Moscow advising Russian email provider Mail.ru on its joint venture with Alibaba; the firm also advised investment firm Ahren on a $10 million investment in biotech firm Cambridge Epigenetix. “We work a lot with other departments, which is a really interesting way of getting insight into them,” trainees said. Sources also mentioned “drafting corporate authorisations and board resolutions” and “conducting due diligence for potential transactions.”
The oil and gas practice deals with “the same type of work as corporate – the same agreements – but with an energy focus.” For instance, one source mentioned working on a “bid submission for a renewable energy project in Latin America.” Trainees have also found themselves working with colleagues in the US, Hong Kong and Singapore. The team recently represented German oil and gas firm DEA Deutsche Erdoel on its acquisition of Mexico's Sierra Oil & Gas, and advised the Palestine Power Generating Company on a transaction to develop a power plant in Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank.
“Good experience of both litigation and arbitration cases.”
In a litigation and arbitration seat, trainees were pleased to report “actually getting good experience of both litigation and arbitration cases – it's helpful to see how they differ.” The team deals with “a lot of technical financial litigation” that stems from its restructuring group, as well as oil and gas litigation, contractual disputes and “a lot of fraud matters.” Sources also explained that “the firm historically and presently has strong ties with Russian clients, so there’s a lot of Russian work that comes through.” For example, the team has been acting for Russian oil company Tatneft in $380 million English litigation proceedings against four Ukrainian oligarchs. Trainees get stuck into “preparing emergency bundles for court hearings” as well as a hefty amount of substantive research. One source explained: “Complicated questions come up – not just under English law but involving foreign law as well – so that requires research into what our position would be under the different laws.” The team also recently acted for the liquidators of the South African arm of defunct Danish marine fuel supplier OW Bunker in disputes related to unpaid fuel.
“It’s intense,” trainees said of working at Akin Gump. “It’s a very focused firm – people are not left to rest on their laurels.” Many agreed with this assessment, adding that “you’re not spoon-fed here – there’s an expectation that you will seek out work or think further ahead to get things done.” But alongside this, interviewees emphasised that “it is supportive as well. People are always willing to teach you and help you progress.” Sources said they enjoyed learning from “very intellectual people who are experts at what they do. It’s great for trainees to be around people who really enjoy their work and are good at it.”
"We went to a hotel in the countryside and drove army tanks!"
When it comes to the social side, interviewees reckoned “it’s something the firm is trying to improve each year.” One elaborated: “Now that it’s been a couple of years since the merger, there’s a bigger group of us and a bigger emphasis on the social side.” Sources highlighted “a pretty big Christmas party every year, and a summer party on our roof terrace that is more casual.” There are also socials in between which “tend to be more team-dependent.” One trainee recalled an away-day when sat in financial restructuring: “We went to a hotel in the countryside and drove army tanks as an activity! There were educational sessions too which were very interesting.” However, interviewees still noted that “this is not a firm where everyone is going out every Friday evening. It happens sometimes, but normally if people aren’t at work they tend to be at home.”
Even when they are at work, trainees found their hours to be “genuinely pretty good.” That's relative of course: our interviewees often spoke with their US competition in mind, and most signed up with knowledge of the demanding schedule. "You go into the TC knowing it will be hard." Still, the average hours weren't the worst: most reported getting in for about 9.30am and leaving at between 7pm and 8pm. "But there's a reason our remuneration is what it is," said one trainee. "Maybe three or four times a year, perhaps for a deal closing, you'll have one week to get everything done, and you will work until everything is done." But interviewees found “it’s never just one person doing it. Everyone bands together to get things done.” It also means that “if you haven’t got things to do, people are happy for you to go at 5pm because when things get busy again, you will be here late.”
Akin Gump has the joint-highest NQ salary in London, namely $190,000 which translates to around £150,000. Lorrrrdy!
How to get an Akin Gump training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 12 July 2020
University visits and work placements
Akin Gump doesn't currently send representatives to any law fairs, but instead candidates interested in the firm should apply for a two-week summer work placement via the firm's careers website. Akin Gump usually offers between eight to ten places, and vac schemers spend each week in a different department. Everybody's allocated a trainee buddy and they spend their visit working alongside associates. “We aim for them to see how commercially focused our work is, experience a mixture of contentious and transactional work, and get exposure to an area most don't get a chance to study – for example, restructuring or energy transactions,” says Widdows.
Trainee hopefuls at Akin Gump need consistently strong academics and should be on track for at least a 2:1 degree. “Legal work experience is a plus, but not a necessity,” Widdows says. “If you've got previous experience in a firm with a financial institutions or energy focus, then that is good as our work will be more familiar to you.”
Alongside questions about an applicant's commercial awareness and attraction to Akin Gump are ones asking about challenging experiences they've tackled and what they hope to gain from their career. On that note, Widdows has this to say: “We're not looking for someone who wants to disappear into a large programme in a full-service firm; we want people who are interested in collaborative working within a fast-paced, business law environment. Applicants also need to show that they understand the demands of our very commercially focused client base.” She adds: “Applicants should be sincere, solution focused and give us a sense of how they genuinely see themselves working and thriving in an immersive learning environment.”
Those the firm chooses to interview attend at least two separate meetings in person, which will include written exercises.
Widdows tells us that the interviews are “are very conversation-based – if a candidate can offer up interesting insights, solid commercial awareness and demonstrate an entrepreneurial and intellectually curious approach, then they tend to do well.” Interviewees can expect to be asked about their application form and their reasons for pursuing a career at Akin Gump. Those who impress are invited back for a one-on-one discussion with a partner about a topical commercial issue or current affairs article, with time to prepare beforehand.
Showing that you have a cool head and can not only handle but enjoy the pressure is key to securing a training contract here. As Widdows explains: “That's what our programme is all about – enjoying the early responsibility and the intellectual challenges that arise with this level of interesting and high-profile work.”
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
10 Bishops Square,
- Partners 41
- Associates 72
- Total trainees 9
- Graduate recruiter: Vicky Widdows, [email protected], 020 7012 9600
- Training partner: Vance Chapman, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 350
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A Levels: AAA or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 3 October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 12 July 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 3 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: $190,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong (via PCLL route)
- Overseas seats: Ad hoc
- Client secondments: Ad hoc
Main areas of work
An important part of Akin Gump’s culture is its commitment to pro bono. Trainees are encouraged to take part and are represented on local and firm-wide pro bono committees, including a unique scholarship programme. The firm has an inclusive working culture and actively supports a broad diversity strategy for its continued success.
We welcome applications from law students in their penultimate year of study, non-law students in their final year and graduates looking to commence a training path in two years’ time. Participants are offered a training contract interview at the end of the programme.
Participants are paid at the London Living Wage.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking Litigation (Band 5)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 5)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)