Looking for an entrepreneurial environment, small trainee intake and a mouth-watering NQ salary? If so, the London base of this US outfit is likely to comfort even the most Akin of hearts.
Seventy-five years ago in Dallas, two down-on-their-luck lawyers pooled what was left of their cash in a post WWII economy and founded a law firm. That firm today has a weighty 900 lawyers across 20 locations worldwide and generates a global revenue of $1.14 billion. How’s this for a decent return on investment? It may be no surprise that Akin Gump is considered a world leader in investment funds – alongside international trade and restructuring/insolvency, according to Chambers Global.
Chambers UK recognises Akin Gump’s London office in nine practice areas, and is a market leader in restructuring and insolvency. Other areas of strength in the UK include financial litigation, tax, hedge funds and private equity, construction arbitration, and true to its Texan roots, the London team sits high in the rankings for oil and gas work. Corporate partner Vance Chapman has it on the DL: “The London office had its best ever year in 2019. The PE group expanded significantly. The transactional capabilities of the office, it’s a different beast to what it was five years ago.” The office has grown recently by hiring from US firms O’Melveny, White & Case, Vinson & Elkins and Orrick.
In financial restructuring the work is “very international, coordinating with different offices and teams.” The firm generally represents creditors, so trainees can expect to be dealing with big funds, banks and household names on transnational deals across jurisdictions. The department recently advised Oceanwood and other investors on a restructuring of aggregate debt amounting to around $1 billion for Norwegian paper and pulp company Norse Skog. On tasks and responsibilities, trainees told us, “when I showed I could handle it, I was given more. It’s a ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ situation.” Tasks can range from liaising with local counsel teams, recording and collating responses, documents and research tasks. Interviewees were impressed with the department’s structure, commenting: “The two partners are women. It’s very encouraging to see such strong female leadership.”
“It’s very encouraging to see such strong female leadership.”
Over in “litigation, there really isn’t any room for error and there is a great deal of responsibility,” said Spiderman. “I had to analyse the argument, go through and read a lot of documents and try to understand what was going on. There will be a bit of bundling, but I didn’t have to do that much, mostly research tasks.” Another source informed us: “I got to attend an arbitration which was pretty cool. You get to be around some pretty superior people. It’s quite glamorous.” Due to the nature of the work, you could be working on a civil case relating to oil and gas, a fraud dispute in construction, you name it. “You are expected to take the lead without your supervisor necessarily telling you.” A recent chunky matter saw the firm representing Renova Industries in a $1 billion litigation relating to the ownership of a private energy company in Russia that included fraud claims and interlocutory applications.
The corporate department has “literally everything going on, especially having recently expanded,” and offers a general corporate seat and a seat in oil and gas. The work could be run-of-the-mill M&A transactions or auction processes, joint ventures or strategic alliances, often with cross-border elements. One recent matter saw Akin Gump representing Vitol in its acquisition of an ownership interest in Petrobras Oil and Gas, with the work involving Nigeria and Brazil. One source told us: “You interact a lot with teams outside of corporate,” citing interactions with the firm’s US securities arm and its Russian-qualified desk based in Moscow. One source reported: “I did some crossover work in corporate with the restructuring team. The corporate team is so big, so they help on a lot of other deals.”
“You get to be around some pretty superior people. It’s quite glamorous.”
A seat in tax will see you getting right down to the nitty gritty including “lots of research tasks on technical issues. All the work was international, advising on the UK tax aspects of a huge deal involving a huge range of jurisdictions.” The department works closely with finance departments representing financial institutions and standalone clients. Acting as independent international legal counsel for Agrokor, a corporate group based in the Balkans, Akin Gump recently worked on a $6 billion restructuring of the group’s debt. Sources told us they really enjoyed their time in tax, with one commenting: “They made a conscious effort to get me involved and I got to work with everyone individually.”
Seats are allocated in a relatively informal process: “If they can accommodate, they will, provided there’s need in that department, and there isn’t someone in the year above who wants to try before qualifying.” The qualification process is transparent: “Once the trainees have expressed a preference there will be a discussion. You’ll be told by the partners and graduate recruitment but it’s a mutual process,” unless there’s competition for a seat, where there may be an interview: “You’re not competing with 60 or 70 trainees, so you know what everyone wants and if there’s popular demand. It allows you to be strategic.” The appraisal system includes mid and end-of-seat reviews, as well as a monthly catch-up.Commentators agreed the process was fair and thorough, and one said: “I think it’s very nurturing.”
Hours vary from team to team, but a good day could be 9.15am to 7/7.30pm (rumour has it you could even get out at 6 if it’s really quiet). But as with most top firms dealing with overseas transactions, adapting to other time zones is common, and on closings you might find yourself staying till 1 or 2am. Sources are realistic, though, and tell us: “Any trainee would be naive to go into a City law firm to expect to do 9 to 5, but it’s definitely not as bad as I was anticipating.” Most teams are flexible on late starts after late nights and often provide dinner and taxi home. The collegiate vibes are there, as noted by an interviewee: “Because the teams are smaller, the people you’re working with know when you’ve got a lot on, so people will be supportive.” It’s fair to say that trainees don’t stress too much about the pay, with NQs starting on $190,000 a year – the top market rate in the US. Vance Chapman offered some useful insight into what makes a successful trainee: “Partners stay heavily involved with cases, which is the US model. As a result of that, you need to be more self-starting and entrepreneurial, and have the robustness to take the knocks as you go up the learning curve.”
“A very intellectual firm.”
Akin provides regular training sessions, with “one or two associates or counsel giving a talk on executing deeds or whatever, drafting, skill sessions, legal sessions.” Trainees have had trainings from “an associate from corporate on how to run a closing” and “one senior finance partner who gave an introduction to debt.” Something that shouldn’t be overlooked is the plentiful pro bono work, which mirrors Akin Gump’s considerable pro bono achievements in the US. “Pro bono hours count towards billable hours. It is really heavily encouraged and offers great opportunities to work with other people in the firm.”
Sources describe Akin Gump as “a very intellectual firm,” with one adding that partners are “pretty chill, some are surprisingly chill and get involved and go for drinks. They’re not stiff, if you know what I mean.” There is an effort to encourage more socialising, with a new open-plan cafeteria, pool table and foosball. Let’s not forget the “two sleeping pods with kitchens and couches and shower facilities. The reception has marble floors and a beautiful view.” The firm lays on Christmas and summer parties, with reports of partners even having a bash at karaoke. “The Christmas party this year was really swish, held in the church in Spitalfields. I wouldn’t say people are raging drunk or going wild, but it is informal.”
On the firm’s culture, Vance Chapman noted: “We’re a successful and profitable firm but we try not to lose touch with that human spirit that has been a part of our history from the beginning.” There are plenty of diversity initiatives in place, with an LGBTQI group, a wellness programme, a women’s initiative and talks on topics ranging from unconscious bias to neurodiversity. A source told us: “I feel like they’re acknowledging these issues are out there and are making an effort to tackle them in the workplace.” Trainees are also offered scheduled sessions with a psychologist, in which they can talk about work or any other issues.
A trainee tip:
“They don’t expect you to bring every bit of legal knowledge with you, it’s soft skills and personal skills that will serve you best.”
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How to get an Akin Gump training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 17 January 2021
Training contract deadline (2023): 11 July 2021
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 12
- 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: October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: July 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: January 2021
- 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, 2020
- 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)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)