A training contract at the London base of this US giant will open the gates to an internationally flavoured legal career.
Charles and Camilla getting hitched may have dominated the front pages in 2005, but elsewhere in the legal press another union was grabbing the headlines: the joining of US mega firm K&L Gates with City outfit Nicholson Graham & Jones. From then on it was all engines go, with a snazzy base in One New Change (complete with “amazing views” of St Paul’s) to inspire K&L’s lawyers to pull off the firm’s global ambitions. Indeed, law firms don’t get much more global than K&L Gates, which has 44 offices spread across five continents. When speaking with our US sister guide Chambers Associate earlier in 2020 (just before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold), global strategic growth partner Craig Budner told us that K&L is “a globally integrated law firm – philosophically, we are a firm that encourages collaborative solutions and alignment across practices, industries and geography."
In London, Chambers UKrecognises K&L’s real estate expertise especially, awarding it rankings in areas such as construction (for supplier and purchaser work) and finance. The firm’s mid-market corporate/M&A capabilities also feature. On a UK-wide basis, it’s K&L’s insurance policyholder and capital markets AIM work that stands out. That’s not the extent of K&L’s London offering, though. One trainee recalled how they were “attracted to K&L’s white collar crime practice, which only boutiques usually do.” Other sources wanted a London firm with a strong reputation, “but also to be part of a small cohort – it’s easy to get lost in the crowd otherwise, and here you get better training as a small group.” As you can reasonably expect, K&L London does a fair bit of international work, which was another draw for our interviewees. For example, “the corporate team does a lot with US and European clients, so it doesn’t feel like you’re working in an English firm!”
Newbies are assigned their first seat, but list three preferences for each of their subsequent seats at mid- and end-of-seat meetings with HR. “It’s good that they put you outside your comfort zone initially,” thought one insider, “and then take into account what you want to do for the rest of your seats so you can shape your career.” Most interviewees got their first choice for at least two of their seats.
"I spent a lot of time with a famous QC, so that was cool!”
K&L’s white collar crime group is distinct from the broader litigation practice. Here the advice covers the likes of insider trading, internal investigations, bribery and corruption, and anti-money laundering. Clients include the Qatar Free Zone Authority, construction company Laing O’Rouke and public service provider Serco Group. The group have been advising the latter since 2013 on various matters, but recently did so on the company’s response to the Serious Fraud Office’s criminal investigation into its alleged overcharging of electronic monitoring contracts to the government. Sources told us that this seat is known for high levels of client contact, with one revealing: “I got to go to some client meetings alone and talk through documents which might help with their defence.” Others were able to work on a “massive” government inquiry, which involved “doing some interviews, which was amazing for the stage I was at in my training contract!” More desk-based tasks revolved around drafting witness statements and taking attendance notes.
Those who’d sat in commercial litigation told of working on energy, bankruptcy/insolvency and tax cases, as well as assisting with preparations for arbitrations. The firm also handles construction litigation, aviation litigation, sports litigation and corporate disputes. Trainees spent a fair few days in court: “I was just observing most of the time, but I did get to make an application once.” Others “got very lucky” and ended up on a Supreme Court case as “the team was ramping up for the hearing, which I ended up attending. I spent a lot of time with a famous QC, so that was cool!” Less scintillating work comes in the form of bundling and making court filings. Interviewees found the research side “satisfying because you try to get to the bottom of legal issues and find a solution.” Some trainees also reported working on more niche matters, and found that on these they got “quite a lot of client contact” and the chance to produce “a big client memo on a very new area of law, which was really interesting.”
Important sectors for K&L’s corporate department include real estate and energy, with Chambers UK highlighting how the deals often involve jurisdictions in Europe and the Middle East. Clients are frequently US companies looking to establish or enhance their activities in these regions. Trainees are free to tap into different areas of interest, which for one consisted of “a broad of range of public and private M&A matters, plus capital markets work.” On the M&A side, the team recently advised food colouring manufacturer D.D. Williamson & Co on its acquisition of the natural colours business of DuPont, which involved parties in the US, Chile, the Netherlands and the UK. A recent equity capital markets matter, meanwhile, involved advising oil and gas company Faroe Petroleum on a £650 million hostile takeover by Norwegian operator DNO. Trainees were pleased to be exposed to business development tasks, with one enthusing about how they’d “researched various broadcasters in different countries, which we’ll eventually contact about representation – that was pretty fun.” A favourite trainee task was verification, which involved making sure that everything written in a document was true at the stage when a company applies to join the Alternative Investment Market (AIM): “That’s a really interesting task because you get to learn about the industry and the client’s business.”
Pro bono work is a big deal in the US, and at K&L London the story’s no different: “Pro bono’s strongly encouraged, especially among trainees because we don’t have billable clients.” Some sources had picked up pro bono work from the seats they’d done: “I was the prime candidate for a certain matter because I’d done a seat in the area. I was successful in the case and people were really nice and picked up on it.” Others went to the Battersea Legal Advice Centre once every few months “to advise as many people as we can for the evening.” Trainees are expected to do pro bono alongside their usual work “but it’s definitely manageable. I had a big case on, so I was hesitant about taking on pro bono, but the team really encouraged me and helped me with it.”
“...people here really made an effort to train me...”
This level of support came up a lot in our interviews. “They expect a lot of you but not so much that you’re overwhelmed,” explained one insider. “They also don’t expect you to know everything from the get-go. Two of the partners I work with trained here so it’s nice to see that long-term career development as well.”Training happens in individual seats “but the quality depends on how busy the teams are – sometimes you’re just thrown in because they desperately need someone to help.” On a “normal day,” however, “people would always give me clear instructions, so there’s a strong support network.” Another agreed and relayed that the “people here really made an effort to train me when I joined and involved me in team meetings – the team took me out for coffee too, so it’s an inclusive place.”
Although “US firms have a bad rep for scary hours, that’s not the case here,” one source assured us. Another insisted that the “late nights aren’t horrendous” and typically mean a midnight finish during court cases. Wrapping up and heading out by 6pm is the norm otherwise, except, of course, for those in corporate. Like most firms, corporate is known for having the worst hours, with this trainee explaining that they’d “have dinner at the office most nights, but leave by eight or nine so I’d still get a good night’s sleep and go to the gym in the morning.” Fortunately, trainees felt that “compensation is definitely competitive with our peer firms.” Trainees start on £43,000, and NQs enjoyed a £10k pay bump in 2019, bringing their pay cheque up to £85k for the year: “That definitely boosted morale!”
Through the Gates: The NQ process “has been more rigorous since 2019 and we now have a formal interview process," according to trainees. Of course, this year’s process was “pandemic-dependent,” but interviewees had still had “conversations with various practice leaders.” In 2020, five of eight qualifiers stayed at the firm.
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2020 (opens 1 November 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 July 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)
The vac scheme route
K&L offers a two-week vac 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. For those successful in passing, they 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 which 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 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. Partner 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 phased 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.”
K&L Gates’ planning seat
Over in the planning department, trainees handled “a lot of Section 106 agreements” between councils and developers, which cover the latter’s obligations to the community when developing land: “Because the demand for social housing is so high in London, the conditions can be quite stringent, so there’s a lot of negotiation.” Trainees mainly amended the agreements rather than drafting them from scratch “because they’re very complicated.” One matter that involved a lot of technical planning of late was Nuveen Real Estate’s investment in lettings at a prime spot on New Oxford Street; there were various planning issues to contend with due to a council order against major chain stores occupying the area. Other real estate clients include property developer Avanton, London Borough of Croydon and investment company Aberdeen Standard Investments (ReAssure). Other drafting opportunities in this seat included putting together reports on planning and developments, with the aim of “making sure it’s not all legal speak so clients can understand them!”
One New Change,
- Partners 45
- Associates 55
- Total trainees 14 (1st +2nd years, as of 1 September 2020)
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 44
- Contact Hayley Atherton, Recruiting Manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: TBD
- Applications pa: 800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 predicted or equivalent (or the relevant academic equivalent)
- Minimum UCAS points: 320
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st July 2021, August start
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenence grant pa: Yes - £5,000 for GDL maintenance grant and £7,000 maintenance LPC grant
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunites
Diversity, inclusion & wellbeing
Our commitment to diversity goes far beyond rhetoric and initiatives. We strongly believe we build better teams, forge better client relationships, and provide better customer service because of our diverse team of professionals.
We seek and welcome the talents of those from different age groups, genders, identities, races, or cultural backgrounds. These are the threads that make up the fabric of our firm.
Since 2010, K&L Gates has consistently been named a “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality” and a “Top Law Firm for Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign after earning a perfect 100 score on their Corporate Equality Index survey, and we were honored as a top achiever in advancing diversity within the legal profession by Microsoft’s Law Firm Diversity Program.
One of K&L Gates’ core values as a law firm is to create and sustain a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture that encourages satisfaction, productivity and open communication. By way of example we have a Diversity & Inclusion committee in London, who meet every month to plan events, share and communication ideas and office initiatives. Everyone in the committee from junior employees to partners, have a voice at the table. We also have a Global Women in the Profession committee who share ideas and initiatives to support females in the workplace.
Most recently, the Global Women in the Profession committee along with our BD teams across the K&L Gates offices have hosted internal and external International Women’s Day (IWD) events across the globe. This year, K&L Gates events focused on the IWD 2020 theme of #EachforEqual and the premise that every individual can help to create a gender-equal world. As part of the “Each for Equal” theme, K&L Gates is encouraging employees, clients, and friends of the firm to make pledges to encourage, support, and embrace diversity and inclusion, recognizing that small changes can make a big difference in the workplace.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 2)
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