The result of a merger between Bill Gates Sr’s firm and a historic City shop, this global giant balances international work with a cosier British culture.
K&L Gates training contract review 2024
It’s not too often that the Brits add their own twist to US creations (it’s usually the other way around, right? Think Shameless, or The Office) but K&L Gates is just that. Though born in Pittsburgh in 1940, K&L Gates is now an international sensation, with 48 offices around the globe and a substantial base in London. The US behemoth bought out London-based firm Nicholson Graham & Jones in 2005 and has been growing ever since, with a new Dublin office opening in January 2023. Even though Brits and Americans might not agree on a lot of things, this partnership has worked out well. “It’s a global firm with a UK feel,” interviewees were glad to say. “You’re still doing high-profile cases with amazing clients but you’re not working those crazy hours you hear of at typical US firms. K&L Gates sells itself as the exception.”
Our colleagues over at Chambers UK can give us a better idea of what that high-profile work entails, with the firm’s capital markets, policyholder insurance and rail projects and infrastructure practices earning recognition from the guide. Chambers Global also awards top accolades to a few of the firm’s Asian banking & finance groups. Trainees were familiar with K&L Gates’s strength in corporate/M&A and energy, which are highly regarded by Chambers USA in the firm’s home state of Pennsylvania.
“Trainees are an integral part of the firm from the start”
Managing partner Tony Griffiths adds: “We have more than 2,000 lawyers across the globe, and everyone’s equally invested in what we do. All equity partners are part of a single equity pool.” This even playing field also shows itself more informally in K&L Gates’s workplace dynamic. The small trainee cohorts (only six a year!) combined with partners’ eagerness to give rookies substantive work means that “trainees are an integral part of the firm from the start.”
Out of the starting gate, newbies will have their first seat chosen for them by HR based on department availability and trainees’ previous experience. “You can tell that they don’t do it willy-nilly,” one trainee was grateful to say. “They look at trainees’ interests from their applications and try to assign seats they think you’d genuinely enjoy.” Out of the four seats, trainees will typically do at least one contentious and one transactional seat.
“We get to be part of every task you can imagine in the life cycle of a transaction...”
Interviewees explained that real estate is one of the bigger departments, with 14 fee earners who bring in a variety of work. “You can get involved with everything there is to do as a real estate lawyer,” one interviewee gushed. We heard that clients range from retail and fashion to investment funds and global pharma companies, with residential and commercial matters on offer as well. The firm recently assisted Workspace Group, a provider of flexible business space, on The Chocolate Factory. This isn’t anything to do with Willy Wonka, it’s a regeneration development scheme based in Wood Green (in the London borough of Haringey).
Insiders particularly enjoyed the level of responsibility, which became more substantive as they gained the trust of partners. One insider explained: “We get to be part of every task you can imagine in the life cycle of a transaction, on the buyer and seller sides.” Sources were pleased to report that there are a lot of drafting opportunities, as well as the chance to take the lead on due diligence, doc review and legal research – “it was NQ-level work!”
Constructionis another one of the firm’s bigger teams under the energy, infrastructure and resources umbrella, and trainees can undertake either a contentious or non-contentious seat.On the transactional side, interviewees were impressed with the level of client exposure, explaining that it “was heavy in terms of liaising with the client’s professional team.” Clients include the likes of TfL and Crossrail. The group works closely with the real estate team, assisting with financings and due diligence on major construction projects, such as the construction aspects of the St James Quarter in Edinburgh, one of the biggest construction projects in the UK. The contentious construction seat sees trainees getting hands-on experience with “very high-level disputes.” If you're lucky, you’ll get to help prep and attend a hearing during your six-month stint, which can involve witness interviews, bundle prep work, attending briefings with counsel and liaising with experts.
Trainees in corporatecan try their hand at M&A, private equity and capital markets matters across a variety of sectors. The department has plenty of clients in financial services, tech and oil & gas. More specifically, K&L Gates advised Amaroq Minerals on its joint venture with ACAM for the exploration and development of mineral assets in Greenland. Responsibility for rookies varies depending on the size of a deal, with trainees explaining that, as well as drafting, “primarily, our role is to review due diligence and take charge of ancillary documents.” Although partners are always there to help, trainees told us they were often trusted to run certain things by themselves. For one interviewee, “it was definitely the best seat for time management, as you always have to know what deadlines are coming your way.” However, we’ll add that “it’s famous for being the fun team at K&L Gates!” with plenty of socials and support when the work gets intense.
We heard the joint competitionand IPseat was particularly competitive among trainees. Trainees get the chance to work with some high-end luxury fashion brands (such as Ralph Lauren and even Nike!) on IP matters. In fact, the firm acts as IP counsel on UK design matters, including the trademarking of the iconic AirMax and Vapormax trainers. I’ll take a size 4, please. One trainee mentioned how carrying out the legal and commercial review of brand names and designs involves “quite a lot of googling.” After finding third-party uses of these names and designs, trainees get the chance to write cease-and-desist letters which are tailor-madefor each client. There’s some more contract review on the competition side and one trainee mentioned how they were tasked with “keeping on top of the latest case law and judgments.”
Although most of our interviewees were typically working from around 9am to 7pm, they were clear that “there’s no pressure to put face time in. We all appreciate that when it’s busy everyone stays behind, so there’s no need to stay late on a slow day.” Insiders were thrilled that work/life balance is a reality and not a distant dream: “It’s not a sweatshop culture. It couldn’t be further from it.” These more liveable hours come with a slightly lower salarythan other US firms in the City, but the £110k NQ pay is certainly not to be scoffed at. “I don’t think there are many firms who pay as much with the same work/life balance,” one interviewee summarised.
“Partners are approachable and happy to answer questions”
K&L Gates’s blend of US roots and pre-merger UK history was felt most strongly in the firm’s culture. “Friendly” was a common adjective among our interviewees, with many adding that it’s not as harsh an atmosphere as other US City firms. “There are some partners across teams who are legacy, home-grown partners from the time of Nicholson Graham & Jones,” one source explained, “which brings a London office feel.” Trainees generally felt welcomed into the firm’s community and were pleased that “partners are approachable and happy to answer questions. Everyone else is likeable, chatty and confident.”
Communication with partners is aided by the fact all trainees share an office with their supervisor, so “it’s easy to just turn around and get feedback!” Individual departments also offer training to welcome trainees to their seats. The comfortable office environment – accompanied by its “stunning” view of St Paul’s – means many trainees are going in as many as five days a week. Although the firm encourages this, departments often only ask trainees to go in two to three times a week. Those who do make the commute can take advantage of the subsidised food in the canteen, with a chef who cooks a different menu every day (!)
Sources were generally pleased that the social life was picking up post-pandemic, with a monthly drinks trolley and internal networking events, even if it’s not back to the pre-COVID norm. “The firm has tried to encourage more and more activities now people have returned to the office,” one source said. The most recent Christmas party was held at the Churchill war rooms. Fancy. Trainees can join the social committee to get stuck into more formal event planning, but interviewees explained that it's common to go out for team meals when finishing a case, or just out to the pub after work.
A recent Sip and Paint event was held to promote awareness around eating disorders, and we heard that the firm generally doesn’t shy away from conversations around various aspects of DEI. Interviewees recalled an International Women’s Day themed menopause discussion and regular talks about race from guest speakers. The firm is also involved in the SEO London contextual recruitment scheme, and sources praised its efforts on gender representation. Some mentioned that a side effect of such small cohorts was a lack of racial diversity but noted that the firm seems to be bringing in more diverse lateral hires than before.
Just as you’d expect from a US firm, pro bono is a pretty big deal here. Every trainee gets involved with the Battersea legal advice clinic on a six-month rotating basis, with two trainees dedicating a Wednesday each month to the programme. Additionally, lots of trainees were keen to highlight the KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) initiative, which helps undocumented migrant children apply for UK citizenship. “The firm really encourages it and recognises the hours you put into it,” a trainee mentioned.
“It’s a place where people stay for a long time”
Qualification was described as a “slightly informal” process, as you submit your CV to the department you want to join and then do an interview with them. However, trainees felt the firm could be a bit more transparent about NQ job listings, but understood that getting senior approval for NQ positions can be a lengthy process. When it comes to long-term retention, interviewees generally agreed that “it’s a place where people stay for a long time, and some partners have been here for 25 years or more.” In 2023, the firm retained four of six trainees.
Trainees, associates and partners can all get involved in the firm’s new running club, which meets at lunchtimes and after work. Bring your Nikes!
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Training contract deadline (2025): 31 July 2024 (opens 1 November 2023)
The vac scheme route
K&L Gates offers a two-week vacation 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 online followed by an online verbal reasoning test. Successful candidates 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 the firm's graduate recruitment team. “But that's not the only route; it just gives us longer to get to know them.”
Direct training contract applications
Direct applicants are tasked with a short online assessment that 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,” the graduate recruitment team tells us. We say take the hint: get talking. A written test and reasoning tests are also part of the day.
We also got 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.
The firm tries to avoid a homogeneous trainee intake. Managing partner, London, Brussels, Dubai ＆ Doha Offices and managing partner, Europe ＆ Middle East, Tony Griffiths explains: “That's the beauty of our process – we get applications from all kinds of universities and backgrounds, and we look at them all. 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.”
“We want our trainees to have a fairly entrepreneurial view of things, to like and enjoy new challenges. An individual who isn't fazed by that does quite well,” Griffiths adds. “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.”
One New Change,
K&L Gates is one of the largest law firms in the world with more than 40 offices located in key capital cities and world commercial and financial centres across five continents. At K&L Gates, we foster an inclusive and collaborative environment across our fully integrated global platform that enables us to diligently combine the knowledge and expertise of our lawyers and policy professionals to create teams that provide exceptional client solutions. We marry process with vision, success with dedication, and method with passion.
Main areas of work
K&L Gates is active in the areas of Corporate/M&A, Capital Markets, Private Equity, Restructuring and Insolvency, Banking and Asset Finance, Structured Finance, Derivatives, Aviation, Debt Capital Markets, Islamic Finance, Funds, Financial Services Regulation, Antitrust, Competition and Trade Regulation, Public Policy, Real Estate, Planning and Environment, Intellectual Property, Technology Transactions, Construction, Energy, Infrastructure and Resources, Insurance Coverage, Regulatory, Tax, Employment, Litigation, International Arbitration, Investigations, Enforcement and White-Collar Crime, plus other forms of Dispute Resolution.
The firm ensures each trainee is given exceptional opportunities to learn, experience and develop so that they can achieve their maximum potential. Trainees spend six-month seats in four of the areas mentioned above. Each trainee sits with a supervisor and is allocated an individual mentor to ensure all round supervision and training. The firm has a thorough induction scheme and career development programme. High importance is placed on the acquisition of business and professional skills, and early responsibility. The training programme consists of weekly legal education seminars, workshops and a full programme of skills electives. Pro bono and corporate social responsibility activities are also encouraged.
The firm’s formal summer legal work placement scheme is open to law and non-law students and other relevant postgraduates. Your two weeks with us in July will provide you with broad exposure to opportunities in diverse areas. We aim to give you a seat in at least two departments, and wherever possible we will allocate you to a seat of your choice.
Subsidised sports club membership, season ticket loan, permanent health insurance, life assurance, GP service, cycle to work scheme, employee assistance programme and pension.
Open days and first-year opportunites
Our commitment to diversity goes far beyond rhetoric and initiatives. We seek and welcome the talents of those from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. We strongly believe we build better teams, forge better client relationships and provide better customer service because of our diverse team of professionals.
In 2020, the firm pledged to listen, be educated, take action, and work together to help in the fight to end inequality and foster a more inclusive society. We encourage everyone to get involved in any way that inspires them, whether by continuing to educate yourself, engage in challenging conversations, or work alongside clients and one another in the community. We also recognise the important work our people contribute around the world and have instilled the Global Diversity Hours Policy to offer non-billable, credited hours to all lawyers for their time spent towards diversity and inclusion. The policy encourages our lawyers to have meaningful participation in diversity and inclusion efforts both within and outside the firm for the benefit of K&L Gates, its clients, and all of its constituents.
In our commitment to listen and be educated, our firmwide Diversity Committee and Women in the Profession (WIP) Committee lead numerous programmes and initiatives to further our steps as a firm to better understand our shared history and to meaningfully improve the outlook for our shared future. Launched in 2020, our firmwide speaker series, Conversations About Race and Diversity, focuses on the lingering effects of inequality and systemic racism in our society, and the importance of diversity and inclusion. Thousands of stakeholders at the firm have listened and learned from our guest speakers, making this series the most well-attended web event this firm has ever held. Past notable speakers include:
• Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of NAACP
•Honorable Bernice B. Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
•Reverend James M. Lawson, Civil Rights Movement activist, professor and minister
•Clarence Dixon, Executive Director, Global Head of Loan Services and Head of UK D&I Committee of CBRE
•Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal
•Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, author, historian, and journalist
•Honorable Tony Coelho, former U.S. representative (CA), House Majority Whip, and principal author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
In addition to listening and educating ourselves, we also take action to connect and support our historically underrepresented lawyers at the firm. Launched in 2020, we partner with Ms. JD, a nonprofit in the US, to offer a 12-week business training and client-engagement program called Pathway to Success to our high-achieving women associates. The programme was piloted in the US and has since expanded to our offices in Europe. We also have initiated a similar programme for our junior women partners across our global platform. Other notable programmes include our recently launched region-wide diversity mentorship programmes that are structured to be tailored to the interests of each mentoring pairs, a region-wide diversity retreat in the US, and robust diverse pipeline programs aimed at diverse first year law school students.
One of K&L Gates’ diversity and inclusion goal is to build a stronger diverse community at the firm. By way of example, we have local diversity and WIP committees across our offices, including a diversity and inclusion committee in London who meet every month to plan events, and share and communicate ideas and office initiatives. Everyone in the committee, from junior employees to partners, has a voice at the table. The London diversity and inclusion committee is composed of champions who spearhead various diversity groups for the office including women, wellness, LGBTQ+, and multicultural society groups. Our multicultural society group organizes and participates in several initiatives focused on educating and celebrating our culturally diverse workforce. Some of our notable efforts include recognizing and honoring cultural days, conducting a reverse mentoring initiative to help educate non-Multicultural Society colleagues on the issues experienced by Multicultural Society colleagues, collaborating with RARE to implement a tracking system for social mobility and collect contextualised data for consideration as part of the recruitment process and benchmarking with Pirical for an independent assessment of the London office’s performance on recruitment, retention and promotion. We also enjoy firmwide platforms to advance our LGBTQ+ and disability efforts through our LGBTQ+ subcommittee and employee resource group as well as our disability inclusion taskforce.
Lastly, we work together with industry leaders to ensure we are current in our best practices and policies. For the 12th consecutive year, the Human Rights Campaign awarded K&L Gates a 100% score in the organisation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), and named the firm a ‘Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.’ Our firm has also been awarded a US Gold Standard Certification by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) for a tenth time, recognising the high levels of success by the firm’s women as partners and leaders. In our inaugural year of participation, we are among one of only seven law firms to achieve the “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” distinction in the 2023 Disability Equality Index by DisabilityIN. Our firm received Mansfield Rule 5.0 Certification Plus status in Diversity Lab’s latest iteration of its innovative diversity programme, recognizing leading law firms that “have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” We have also frequently been named a ‘Top Performer’ and received the ‘Compass Award’ by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD). The designations recognise active LCLD member corporations and law firms who have dedicated the most time and energy to participating in LCLD programmes and supported its mission of creating a more inclusive legal profession. Furthermore, K&L Gates, along with longtime firm client Amazon, also recently received a 2020 Corporate Pro Bono Partner Award from the Pro Bono Institute’s (PBI) Corporate Pro Bono project for their joint contributions in support of Mary’s Place, an organisation providing shelter and services to women, children and families in their journey out of homelessness.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: £100-800 million (Band 4)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)