Are you Akin for an “ambitious” firm filled with funds, finance and financial restructuring? This Texan export could be your answer.
Akin training contract review 2024
It’s been just over two decades since this Texan firm touched down in London town. In law firm years, that still makes Akin a reasonably bright young thing in the City. In that time, its base in the Big Smoke has become a hub for its international practice, particularly in the world of hedge funds. It’s also known globally for its restructuring reputation. “I was interested in insolvency as an area of law,” one trainee told us, “and Akin has a top-tier practice,” achieving the highest possible ranking from Chambers UK. The firm is also particularly strong in the oil and gas sector, and its international arbitration practice enjoys the spotlight too.
It’s certainly set itself apart among trainees who were “focused on US firms” in their hunt for a training contract. US firms in London are known not only for having cross-border work and sky-high salaries, but also for their small trainee class sizes. With up to eight joining the ranks each year, our interviewees enjoyed “being the only trainee on a matter, having direct mentorship, and working closer to senior people.”
“An ambitious place.”
With fewer than 150 lawyers based out of the office in Spitalfields Market, it’s a modest size, but trainees observed the firm had grown even in the short time since they joined. “The teams have gotten bigger and that’s a nice thing to see,” said one. “There are more varied workstreams and people to learn from.” Described as “an ambitious place,” trainees said “they’re always expanding departments, such as the projects & energy transition practice and corporate & finance.” The firm made a spate of additions in 2022, adding to both of these groups, as well as its financial restructuring team. Most recently, the firm hired two finance partners from White & Case, both with a focus on private credit.
Of the firm’s 17 overseas offices, you’ll find one in Geneva, three in Asia, two in the Middle East, and the remaining 11 in the USA. While Akin has its roots in Texas, New York and DC are home to the firm's major offices. International secondments are available at the firm; the most recent one was held in Dubai, with Hong Kong historically being an option, too. Closer to home, client secondments are available according to business need; recently, trainees have undergone stints with a hedge fund client.
The firm assigns first seats to newbies upon their arrival. “It can be based on the interests you expressed during your vac scheme or in your training contract application,” insiders explained. Due to the small cohort, they felt seat allocation thereafter is a breeze, with second-years generally given preference for their preferred seats. With that being said, it's highly likely that trainees will spend one seat in one of the firm's busy transactional practices.
The elite financial restructuring team handles a mix of contentious and non-contentious matters, advising companies in financial distress, and handling litigation and investigations arising from bankruptcies. Trainees said that lately, complexities surrounding Russian sanctions “have added a whole new layer to some restructurings.” The firm’s work with creditors is especially strong, and trainees enjoyed “a lot of creditor correspondence.” The group has a market-leading reputation when it comes to advising major lenders on complex cross-border matters (often in the billions). “The deals tend to be over a longer period than in other seats,” one insider explained. “You might be staffed on a handful of big matters that are noteworthy.” One recalled working on a contested restructuring with “a lot of novel points of law,” while on another gnarly matter, “we were representing the bondholders rather than a company, so that was good to get my head around!” Given the complexity, “in the first instance, doc review is what trainees help with. There’s a lot of admin, with enormous document lists and bespoke creditor agreements!” But trainees enjoyed “a lot of client contact as well – following up with clients and making sure everything is all in order.” Trainees work closely with partners: “It was great to sit in on calls and hearings and ask questions.” And some words of caution: “Everything is urgent. When I asked what the deadline was for a piece of work, the answer was, ‘Now!’”
By contrast, “you could spend time thinking things through” in tax. The department works closely with numerous others in the office, which means trainees had a great overview of all the deals going on – “you can get involved with sales and purchase agreements in M&A.” Akin’s tax team recently advised Edison Energy on its £28 million acquisition of Alfa Energy. It also worked with investment manager Quinbrook in fundraising for its $1 billion UK fund. The work is all advisory, with trainees conducting lots of tax research to support teams including finance, restructuring, and investment management. As this source explained, “it’s usually complex tax law and can take four or five hours to answer a question that no one has really looked into before.” Tax trainees also got a chance to assist with composing advice notes on HMRC guidance or tax legislation.
“We go through the share purchase agreement line by line with clients.”
Akin’s litigation practice specialises in disputes within the energy, finance, and tech sectors, and much of the work is cross-border. “Trainee workloads are ‘normal’, except for the two weeks before a filing when it’s really busy.” With a headcount of 15, the department is on the smaller side compared to others, which made it easier for trainees to flag their interests. “I was keen to do a little less restructuring in litigation and more arbitration,” one interviewee shared, “so I voiced my preference.” It also meant that “everyone has the same opportunity to make suggestions” on a case. “It was nice to feel like a trusted member of the team.” Trainees worked on bundling and filing, as well as managing expert witnesses. They also got to draft witness statements and letters to court. Some of the department’s clients include Goldman Sachs, Apollo, and software company Endava. The team recently advised investment management firm Elliott in its claim against the London Metal Exchange (LME), after suffering a $456.4 million loss off the back of a decision by the LME to cancel nickel trades.
The corporate department handles M&A, private equity and secondaries transactions, as well as additional matters stemming out of the financial restructuring team. “Trainees help with lots of transactional documents, like Company House filings and share transfers,” they explained. “A trainee takes a draft of a share purchase agreement and sends it to a counsel to review.” A common thread that cropped up in our research was that everyone in the department made an effort to take trainees under their wing. “A partner asked me to draft a head of terms – a big responsibility for a first-seat trainee!” one reported. “They then offered to talk through my work product one-on-one so I could learn what I did well and what I could improve on.” Others highlighted that “trainees get a good amount of client contact too. We go through the share purchase agreement line by line with clients.” Akin recently advised the Greek bank Alpha Bank on the sale of its merchant acquiring business to Nexi, an Italian bank. In addition, it guided European payments provider Online Payments Group through the English and US law aspects of its acquisition by fintech company Shift4.
Trainees were unanimously full of praise for senior colleagues. “I’ve had really good supervisors,” said one. “They always wanted to hear my opinion. Even when I tried to defer to them, they would say, ‘No, you take the lead.’” This left our interviewees feeling able to “run things with confidence.” As is common with US firms, most of the training at Akin is done on the job, so it helps when partners are on hand to help. “I was going back and forth with a partner for 20 minutes and there was never a moment where they were going to say, ‘Can’t you figure this out yourself?’” one recalled. Trainees are expected to come into the office three to four times a week, and a few said they wanted to see this applied to senior colleagues: “Just hearing their client management and chatting to people about their work adds to our understanding.”
Similarly, “it would be nice if we were slightly more social,” a few voiced, with one suggesting that “this is inevitable from having a small number of junior lawyers.” By that same token, “the juniors become quite close,” and their social calendar isn’t empty. There are firmwide summer and winter parties, spontaneous trips to the pub, regular darts sessions, and a football team. In the office itself, “it’s very rare to have a week where there isn't free food in the canteen or goodies in the kitchen for one reason or another!” Trainees also get the invite to “attend client drinks in fancy hotels" to celebrate the closing of a deal, and “if we’re working late, we all have dinner in a conference room together. It feels like you have a group of friends around you.”
“Juniors feel quite in control of their schedule because their seniors know that they work hard when it is busy.”
On that note, working hours differ between departments, with those in transactional seats reporting upwards of 50 hours a week in our survey. This is typical of a US firm, but trainees found “the biggest, most pleasant surprise at Akin is the enormous welfare effort which is made.” One highlighted that “most supervisors take an interest in their trainees’ work/life balance. ‘This can wait till tomorrow’ has been said more than once.” As such, “juniors feel quite in control of their schedule because their seniors know that they work hard when it is busy. The partners don't expect people to twiddle their thumbs until 6pm!” It probably also helps that trainees at Akin are compensated with one of the highest salaries in the City. See the Firm Facts in the top right for the details.
Finally, at some time during their third seat, thoughts turn to the qualification process. “They send around a form for you to fill in with your preferences,” trainees explained. “But people tend to have conversations way before that.” We heard that partners will often grab coffee with the trainees to answer all their questions about the practice and career opportunities. “I spoke to most partners in litigation and restructuring,” one recalled. “They’re quite frank and honest about the expectations and progression.” In the rare case where there are more trainees applying for fewer roles, there is a written assessment and interview with the partners. In 2023, 5 out of 6 qualifiers stayed on as NQs.
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How to secure a place on Akin’s two-year training programme
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 7 January 2024
Law fairs and work placements
Candidates can meet the firm at some of the autumn virtual law fairs. The firm’s preferred method of hiring is via the two-week summer vacation scheme, and it suggests candidates apply early in the autumn for this via the firm's careers website. Akin usually offers up to twelve places. Vac schemers spend each week in a different department. Everybody's allocated dedicated scheme supervisors, while also working alongside trainees, associates and partners. “We ensure they get involved in real work from a mix of contentious and transactional cases, to experience first-hand how commercially focused our work is. We want the work to give them a genuine insight into what the working life of an Akin trainee is really like,” says Amy McCarthy, Graduate Recruitment Manager.
Trainee hopefuls at Akin need consistently strong academics. The firm does not have an A-Level minimum requirement but looks for a 2:1 degree. “Legal work experience is great, but it’s not a necessity, nor a barrier to selection. Transferable skills are gained from multiple life experiences – whether that be formal law firm experience, part-time work, or extra-curricular activities. What’s important is candidates identify the skills they’ve developed that will help to make them a good lawyer,” says McCarthy.
Alongside questions about an applicant's commercial awareness and attraction to Akin, the firm also asks about challenging experiences they've tackled and what they hope to gain from their career. On that note, McCarthy has this to say: “We’re not looking for someone who wants to disappear into a big trainee cohort; we want people excited to hit the ground running from day one, who enjoy working collaboratively in small teams within a fast-paced business law environment. Applicants also need to show that they understand the excellence demands of our very commercially focused client base and give us a sense of how they genuinely see themselves working and thriving in Akin’s immersive learning environment.”
Those who progress after the initial application stage will undertake an Akin bespoke strengths-based online assessment and a telephone interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team, and attend an assessment centre in the London office.
McCarthy tells us that the interviews “are very conversation-based – if a candidate can offer up potential for industry understanding and 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. Those who impress at telephone interview stage are invited back for an assessment day in the London office, which includes a discussion 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 place on Akin’s two-year training programme. As McCarthy explains: “That's what our programme is all about – enjoying the early responsibility that being part of a small cohort brings, and thriving in the intellectual challenges that arise with this level of interesting and high-profile work.”
10 Bishops Square,
Main areas of work
Market-leading practices include financial restructuring, corporate transactions (including mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures), private equity, finance (including debt finance and project finance), energy including renewables, debt and equity capital markets, financial services regulatory, disputes, international arbitration, investment funds (including hedge and private equity funds and secondaries transactions), international trade – including in relation to the new National Security & Investment law – as well as EU/UK competition, share incentives and tax.
An important part of Akin’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.
By focusing on a smaller intake we maintain flexibility and seek to grow through our junior lawyer retention. Over the course of our two-year training programme, you will rotate across four different practice areas, spending six months in each. 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 and Wales-qualified practitioners with valuable ongoing feedback and two substantive evaluations during each seat.
Akin’s two-week summer vacation scheme provides an excellent opportunity to experience what life is really like as an Akin trainee. Through a comprehensive programme of interactive training sessions, workshops, mentoring and social activities, you will get to know our firm. Through working side by side with partners and associates on live deals, you will get to know our practices and clients.
We welcome applications from law students in their penultimate year of study, non-law students in their final year and graduates of any subject looking to commence a training path in two years’ time. At the end of the scheme, participants will be offered the chance to interview for our two-year training programme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 5)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Secondaries (Band 2)
- Sanctions (Band 3)