Incoming trainees at the (K&L) Gates can expect global reach, a local London culture and a raft of specialisms ranging from energy to fashion.
K&L Gates training contract review 2022
We often hear from trainees at the mega global firms that while the subject matter of the huge deals and cases they work on is interesting, some of the more basic tasks they perform are not quite as tantalising. They know down the road that it’ll pay off, either through patiently waiting to get the good stuff or by leveraging the firm’s name on their CV. But what if you, dear reader, don’t want to wait? What if you want the experience of a massive firm, but also the individualised attention, top work, exciting deals and hands-on experience from the off? Then K&L Gates might just be answer.
“...no risk of anonymity.”
This US firm hails from Pittsburgh – once the home of the US’ booming steel industry – and has demonstrated its steely (but not unfriendly) fortitude by amassing a global network of 44 officesand an annual turnover of over $1 billion – placing it in AmLaw’s top 40 firms by revenue. Its London office comes with “no risk of anonymity” for its trainees, who together comprise a cohort of around 14 at any one time. For our interviewees, this scale allowed them to get “hands-on experience” across a number of different practices. Add to that “a friendly, supportive culture” and access to the firm’s global dimensions, and our sources’ wish-lists were fully ticked.
The firm’s London base secures high praise in Chambers UK for its insurance capabilities, as well as recognition for its capital markets, aviation finance, corporate/M&A and construction work. For our trainee sources, the office’s sports law practice and the fact that “fashion is a specialism” were drawcards as well. London managing partner Tony Griffiths tells us that the office has acquired “some significant partner hires in the last couple of months.” The areas bolstered by these hires include investment management (especially on the private equity side), white-collar crime, energy disputes (“a big revenue driver for us in the last few years”) and energy projects: “Those are the biggest areas of growth.” On its home soil across the pond, K&L Gates picks up many accolades in Chambers USA, particularly when it comes to energy, environment, insurance and healthcare matters.
If you decide to enter the Gates, the first of your four seats “is chosen for you. From then on, it’s based on your preferences.” Trainees complete a corporate and a finance seat, and must do a contentious seat, which at K&L covers “white-collar, contentious construction, or one of the litigation seats.” In terms of the chosen-for-you seat, we heard mixed reviews. One said: “I knew very little about it going in. I didn’t want to do it, but actually I really liked it. I could be tempted by it longer-term.” Others, meanwhile, noted laconically that “it wasn’t for me.” Fair enough. Our surveyed responses, however, indicated very few concerns with the seat allocation system overall, with most getting their first choices for their second and third seats.
“If I want to do fashion work, I don’t have to shout too loud.”
One popular seat was IP, which, for trainees is always a split seat with competition. Some sources ended up doing “two-thirds competition and the rest IP,” while for others it was “largely IP and regulatory matters.” The team, sources said, does “a lot of brand work for luxury fashion/goods, sports and electronics brands.” It also works with clients in the software, technology, food and beverage, architecture, and healthcare industries (among others!). It’s possible you’ve heard of some of K&L’s clients: Nike, Coty, Gucci and Ralph Lauren are on the books. Other familiar names are TripAdvisor and General Mills (the holding company of, among others, Cheerios and Häagen-Dazs). For those attracted by the haute couture, our fashionistas said that while “you do a bit of everything based on business need, if I want to do fashion work, I don’t have to shout too loud.” We heard that “on the IP side, it’s not bundling, but there’s lots of searching into the history of who’s done what before.” Trainees could also expect to do “copyright searches, where we look at competitors and uses in the past.”One big case recently saw the team represent Nike in a trade mark dispute against Puma, which had cross-border implications across the UK, the EU, the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
The symbiosis with competition involved making sure that selective distribution deals “meet the competition law, while maintaining the aura around the brand.” The team works closely with IP in terms of the clients and issues that come up; the firm prides itself on its distribution and brand elevation strategies, which would clearly work well with luxury goods and fashion clients, among others. For example, the firm advised Magine on its successful bid for the global media rights (starting in 2022 and running to 2032) to the Croatian Football League for a cool €103 million. The firm also advised Google/Nest, Diesel, and Prada, among others.
The firm’s financial crime unit does a lot of regulatorywork to ensure that its individual and corporate clients stay on the right side of the law. “It’s really interesting!” enthused our sleuths. “Especially bribery allegations.” The team advises clients on issues like anti-bribery, corruption and counter-terrorism finance, which certainly sounds interesting. K&L Gates represented the holding company Balli Group during its Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into alleged fraud to the suspected value of $600 million. The firm also advised public services provider Serco Group on a range of criminal and regulatory matters, including responding to an SFO investigation into electronic monitoring contracts. Trainees had done everything from “interviewing witnesses to drafting letters and court documents.” There’s a “lot of research as well,” sources explained.
Another department our sources “really enjoyed” was corporate. This practice, unsurprisingly, does a lot of cross-border M&A for US firms in the tech, real estate, industrials, sport, leisure, energy infrastructure and resources sectors. The firm represents clients like renewable energy company Ørsted and real estate investment firm PATRIZIA, who it recently advised on its £40.3 million acquisition of a residential tower development in London. The firm also advised brand and digital platform portfolio firm Red Ventures Holdco on its $500 million acquisition of CNET Media from ViaComCBS. For our happy trainees it was “easy to integrate into the team, even when working from home, and you get good training in the seat to allow you to develop wider skills.”
Of course, training at one of the top dog firms in the City means working hard and the 50+ hours per week average recorded on our survey was up there at the higher end. However, despite the long hours and occasional weekend work, our survey respondents and phone interviewees had few complaints. “I wouldn’t say I was flat out all the time,” one mused. “My experience has been that the hours are based on business needs, and on the days when there’s nothing to do, I log off at 6pm.” For those wondering about the personality types that thrive at K&L, we’d say the more ambitious sorts would be likely to feel at home: 60% of those surveyed intended to make partner at the firm. The first step on that journey is qualifying of course, and in 2021, K&L retained all five of its qualifying trainees.
Ambition doesn’t have to get in the way of a social life, however. Our sources tended to agree that the social opportunities at K&L were “pretty good.” They’re “not so much firm-led as led by associates and trainees,” an interviewee pointed out. Pre-pandemic we heard about “Friday and/or Thursday evening drinks near St Paul’s” (a stone’s throw away from K&L’s London base), as well as regular sporting activities. However, despite the lack of formal social occasions, we didn’t hear a bad word about the culture: “Everyone I’ve met has been really nice. I can see myself wanting to stay.”
“The firm's emphasis on pro bono work is very impressive.”
Sources also liked that “people want to help you develop. They pride themselves on the open-door policy.” While we hear this a lot, these Gates sounded as if they were truly and genuinely open: “People from different departments will come around and ask questions.” This example, a trainee noted, underscores the firm’s commitment to making everyone feel “able to ask a question,” as well as to cultivating a collaborative attitude and atmosphere. “Seniors are keen on me getting to know people in other offices,” one trainee confirmed. “There’s regular cross-department work, and you’re introduced to the international workforce.”
Our sources were “impressed with a lot of the diversity initiatives,” but it is worth noting that the firm has historically scored at the lower end of our statistics for ethnic diversity at partner level. Other trainees were keen to tell us that “the firm's emphasis on pro bono work is very impressive.” Sources explained that “many associates and partners work on pro bono matters for a wide range of pro bono clients.” These clients range from “large international charities and London museums to micro charities offering valuable services to their local communities.” A pro bono staple for trainees was “getting involved in the work done by the Battersea Legal Advice Clinic, which is very rewarding.” The firm has also recently “started working with Kids in Need of Defence UK to help non-documented migrant children apply for UK citizenship.”
The Gates behind the Gates
One of K&L Gates’ famous partners was William H Gates Sr – the father of Microsoft’s Bill Gates.
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 31 January 2022 (opens 1 November 2021)
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 July 2022 (opens 1 November 2021)
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 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 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 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.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- 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)
Click here to go to K&L Gates' website.