According to another famous Gump, life’s like a box of chocolates – between the work, office size and delicious salary, trainees at this US firm have plenty of reasons for celebrations.
Akin Gump training contract review 2022
Cattle ranches, oil fields, hats… everything is apparently bigger in Texas, but when it comes to the London office of this Texan-born firm, it doesn't have to be massive to be mighty. With just 140 lawyers manning the one UK base, a pocket-sized trainee intake can quickly settle in. “I wanted lots of partner exposure and first-hand experience,” one new Akin Gump-er told us. “In the first week of my second seat I’d spoken to all the partners in the group.” Others were attracted to the firm’s “big international scope, which keeps things varied and interesting,” pointing to its strong presence in the Middle East in particular as “really appealing.”
With many high-profile bankruptcies hitting the headlines in the wake of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, trainees also flocked to the firm for its reputation for restructuring expertise. Akin Gump earns a top Chambers UKranking in London for restructuring along with nods for construction arbitration, investment funds, oil and gas work and more. The firm’s also in step with the legal market on diversity, thanks partly to US-based chairperson Kim Koopersmith: “She’s driving loads of initiatives to make the profession more sustainable. We have loads of successful female partners who are willing to mentor us juniors.”
Trainees are allocated their first seat based on what graduate recruitment know about their interests. “We meet with the graduate recruitment team once a month, expressing interests for the next seat as part of that,” sources explained. “The firm listens to what you want and because of the small intake, things are quite flexible.” For example, those who don’t fancy a litigious seat can satisfy SRA requirements by doing a course depending on business needs at the firm. Pre-Covid-19, secondments to the Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai offices were common and will go ahead again once the broader situation with the pandemic improves. We heard foreign language speakers can apply to do a seat in an office where they can use their skills.
“People are really receptive if you tell them what work you want to do.”
Because the corporate group has been growing, “the firm’s grouped several sub-teams under the wider umbrella. You can do traditional M&A or something specialist like energy – it’s very flexible.” Private equity, project finance, media & entertainment, special situations (restructurings) and debt finance matters are also covered here. Akin Gump’s clients include international companies, investment vehicles, and private equity firms like Emerging Capital Partners, whom the firm advised on its proposed acquisition of a 95% stake in Burger King South Africa. “I was exposed to all the different types of work we do, from restructuring to private equity,” a trainee shared. Handling checklists, last-minute amendments to closings and due diligence are part and parcel of the seat – “due diligence is a crucial job and you learn lots from it.” Our sources praised the team for letting them sit in on negotiations, even though transactions can be cost-conscious: “People are really receptive if you tell them what you want to do.”
Financial restructuring “is like corporate on steroids. You get even more responsibility and it’s very fast-paced because we advise on large, complicated transactions with lots of moving pieces.” The firm generally represents creditors, so trainees can expect to be dealing with big funds, banks and household names on transnational deals across jurisdictions. Common tasks included drafting, research and updating the team on matter progress. “There’s a lot more law involved in financial restructuring than other seats,” a trainee reckoned. “I’ve looked at insolvency law from all over the world.” Recent matters have involved businesses hit hard by Covid-19 including Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Premier Oil Group and Travelex.
Variety is the name of the game over in litigation: “One matter could be about a freezing order, the next could involve tech companies’ IP issues.” The group is representing Russian oil giant Tatneft in $380 million+ theft and cross-border fraud litigation against Ukrainian oligarchs; other clients include Deloitte and Bridgestone.Some of our interviewees spent the majority of the seat working on one big case: “It meant I got exposure to loads of different workstreams like correspondence between solicitors, expert reports and cost issues.” Admin including due diligence crops up “but you do get a lot of responsibility. I did the first draft of everything – even though it was my first seat, I was really thrown into it!” Those who worried the pandemic would scupper their chances of attending court were relieved to log into virtual hearings: “A highlight was watching witnesses being questioned, and watching the judge interrupt the trial!” Privacy and AI are exciting, growing litigation sub-streams.
“They create an office environment even though we’re working remotely.”
Investment management splits into private equity and hedge funds. The department largely deals with launching and structuring funds, and we heard a seat here is less varied than some others. Trainees did feel they do “associate-level work like drafting prospectuses and agreements.” Managing document flow throughout the project is another key task. The firm’s private equity clients include Lighthouse, Coller Capital and Harbour Litigation Funding, whom the firm advised on its £1 billion fifth fund-raise. Client contact is high in this group, even for first-seaters: “Being trusted to liaise with in-house teams and external counsel was a highlight.” Trainees also gave presentations on legal issues during daily team calls: “They create an office environment even though we’re working remotely.”
Interviewees scored Akin Gump highly for its handling of the pandemic, especially in transparency, mentoring, partner contact and all things tech: “They sent everyone all the equipment we needed. It was literally just shifting the office to our homes.” Some secondees even managed to continue their training contract abroad. 2020 first-years felt the firm integrated them “as effectively as possible. We had a few socials like online escape rooms.” One told us they “started the first seat with several Zooms to introduce myself. It’s been great to put work aside and get to know to people; even if they can only join a meeting for a few minutes, they still show their faces.”
The firm's Be Well programme “has massively increased its initiatives” to help remote workers and their wellbeing. These include bi-weekly talks hosted by the firm's external counsellor on topics like mindfulness and resilience, as well as confidential one-to-one sessions. We heard that the firm is a signatory of the Mindful Business Charter; as part of this, trainees and lawyers are encouraged to block out some time each day in winter to go for a walk during daylight hours. Akin Gump also introduced a new buddy programme through which first-year trainees “can chat freely with” second-year mentors. Each seat also comes with an associate mentor who’s “there to answer silly questions. They’ve been in our shoes, so they know how certain partners like things to be done.” Finally there are supervisors who are responsible for dishing out feedback and reviews, alongside the graduate recruitment partner.
"One of the first things they asked when I joined was what type of pro bono I was interested in.”
“About 80% of the training model is learning on the job,” sources felt, with the remaining 20% covered by a formal technical training programme. “We have sessions every other week to introduce us to practice areas or skills we need as lawyers and we can request sessions on certain topics.” Trainees also deliver presentations on things they’ve been working on. When it comes to qualification time, trainees have regular conversations with the graduate recruitment team, before submitting their preferences for departments in early spring each year. Qualifiers find out if they've got an NQ position by June.Akin Gump retained all fivequalifiers in 2021.
This may be a US firm but “it feels very English” according to trainees… how so? “The vast majority of people here came from other British firms,” one suggested. Akin more than doubled its UK headcount in 2014 through hires from the now defunct Bingham McCutchen and welcomed a team of former O'Melveny funds lawyers in 2019. Laterals have also been added to the firm's corporate, finance and international trade teams.
The firm does match its US cousins on commitment to pro bono: “It’s heavily encouraged. One of the first things they asked when I joined was what type of pro bono I was interested in.”Pre-Covid, the firm’s pro bono partner would fly from DC to talk to each office about different projects (he now conducts these sessions via Zoom). “Lots of trainees work on death row appeals with the Reprieve charity,” sources revealed. There’s no cap on how much pro bono trainees and associates can do: “It’s good to know you can work on something without it negatively impacting anything.”
A fistful of dollars
“If you look at the salary, you expect long hours,” an interviewee told us. Akin Gump pays “better than most firms in the City” and matches New York NQ salaries in London. Better keep an eye on the exchange rate…
How to get an Akin Gump training contract
Training contract deadline (2024): 10 July 2022
University visits and work placements
Candidates can meet the firm at some of the autumn virtual law fairs. The firm suggests candidates apply for a two-week summer work placement via the and 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, 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 44
- Associates 94
- Total trainees 13
- Graduate recruiter: Joanna Hewitt, email@example.com, 020 7012 9600
- Training partner: Vance Chapman, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 450
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A Levels: None
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 30 September 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 10 July 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: 30 September 2021
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 9 January 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First Year Trainee Salary = £57,500
- Second Year Trainee Salary = £62,500
- Post-qualification salary: $202,500
- 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.
You’ll experience on-the-job experiential learning which will allow you to develop a keen commercial awareness and to take on responsibility and ownership of tasks for each practice area you work in. Examples of tasks you may be involved in during your training include, but are not restricted to, legal research, preparing client communications, attending client meetings, organising deal closing checklists and preparing trial bundles. You’ll receive supportive supervision from England & Wales qualified practitioners with valuable ongoing feedback and two substantive evaluations during each seat.
You will also be provided with formal training which includes in-house seminars on relevant areas of law and practical competency skills. You will also join webinars and training sessions run by external training providers.
Akin Gump prides itself on a friendly, approachable culture and a strong support network. Our graduate recruitment team and dedicated development partners will coach and guide you throughout the two years. We also have a buddy system providing you with a peer mentor who can tell you things that formal training can’t and junior associate mentors to support you within each practice area. We have an in-house ‘Be Well’ counselling service which offers unlimited one on one support, as well as regular group training sessions.
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, 2021
- Banking Litigation (Band 5)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- 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)