Over the past 15 years US firm K&L Gates has built up a strong presence in London, with the office serving as an international hub.
“Every single piece of work that I do has an international element to it,” one K&L Gates trainee told us. Well, you sure would expect that given the firm has 44 offices across five continents, from Seoul to Singapore and from Paris to Pittsburgh (the latter, in Pennsylvania, is the firm's HQ). Even children are taught to share. K&L Gates’ London office “is in the middle of all of it and the work flows through us to other offices.”
The firm's Anglo-American London office has its origins in the takeover of a mid-market City outfit in 2005. That mid-market legacy can still be seen in the firm's work and its Chambers UK rankings, which come for areas including mid-market M&A, AIM capital markets, construction and insurance. The deals the firm works on are typically worth eight-figure sums but can stretch into nine.
“Work flows through us to other offices.”
When we spoke to London managing partner Tony Griffiths, he highlighted the firm's representation of Pittsburgh-based financial services firm Federated Investors during its £260 million acquisition of a 60% interest in London investment manager Hermes Fund Managers as one of K&L's biggest recent mandates in London. The deal, though mid-market in value, spanned nine jurisdictions and involved K&L lawyers in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Australia. As this example suggests, Griffiths saidthat “further growing our funds practice here in the UK” is a significant aim. But this firm does more than just dealwork and Griffiths was keen to draw our attention to London's “multidisciplinary approach” as well as a 12% hike in London revenues in 2018.
When it comes to trainees' seat choices, “one has to be contentious, and in reality we don’t have a choice when it comes to our first seat.” HR is known to place trainees based on their previous work experience. “If you’ve indicated that you have previous experience as a paralegal in commercial property, for example, they will try their best to place you in the real estate department.” Further down the road, discussions are held with HR during mid-seat reviews to pave the next step. Despite the firm's extensive international network it does not offer overseas seats.
Finance at K&L covers Islamic finance, aviation finance, asset finance, real estate finance and energy projects. Trainees described an “intense” experience which is a “baptism of fire” if you do this seat first, as rookies work with everyone across the department. Our interviewees described working on everything from Shari'a-compliant loans to leaseback transactions for the aviation industry – “this involves working on a big contract between an airline and say Boeing which stipulated that every year the manufacturer will deliver a certain type of plane worth millions. If the airline doesn’t require the plane, it will essentially lease it back to another airline who will pay the repurchase price.” For example, the firm recently advised budget airline flydubai on the sale and leaseback of six Boeing 737 MAX planes and the restructuring of three other Boeing 737s, with a value of $600 million. The team also acted for Lloyds Bank on a £45 million loan for a Scottish office park. Trainees are tasked with reviewing security and facility agreements, and in addition “finance definitely has the most client contact of any seat.”
“Trainees do the groundwork in terms of research and document review.”
K&L’s corporate team works on M&A deals, capital markets and AIM matters. Besides the Hermes deal mentioned above, lawyers also recently represented Aberdeen-based oil producer Faroe Petroleum during its hostile takeover by Norwegian oil and gas operator DNO – the takeover was reported on the BBC News website. The firm also advised US financial services company First Data on the €375 million sale of its card processing businesses in seven Central and Southern European countries. On the capital markets side, the team frequently works on corporate structuring, tax and securities issues, as well as matters involving international stock exchanges. For example, lawyers advised AIM stockbroker finnCap on a £19 million fund-raising for Australian card payment company eServGlobal. On major deals, “trainees do the groundwork in terms of research and document review,” we heard, “with less client contact than in finance.” One source said that secretarial work and managing document data sites is “typical when starting off, but as you work on bigger deals, supervisors get more comfortable allowing you to take on further responsibilities” – e.g. drafting ancillary documents and handling completions via email.
The real estate team acts for clients including CBRE, Lloyds Bank and the London Boroughs of Croydon and Barking and Dagenham. The team also represented the Loftus family on its £120 million sale of 22 Baker Street to property company Lazari. Trainees can do a split seat between real estate and planning, resulting in “a herd of document review but less time pressure compared to the finance and corporate seats.” Typical tasks range from drafting licences and doing due diligence, to hosting seminars and presentations. Interviewees welcomed the chance to do more “lawyerly” work here – such as handling Section 106 planning applications and running small matters with little supervision – as opposed to the “more project management role” which trainees have in corporate.
A commercial litigation seat can see trainees work on disputes for clients ranging from high net worth individuals to fintech companies to public bodies to private equity firms. K&L has a small corporate crime practice which acts for both individuals and businesses – lawyers have been helping public service contractor Serco respond to the SFO's criminal investigation into electronic monitoring of prisoners. The firm also recently acted for the governments of France and Spain in a $1 billion dispute about an oil spill off the coast of Spain in 2002. And lawyers represented a group of horse race broadcasters in a copyright infringement stand-off with several bookies including Ladbrokes and Betfred about the use of race and betting data. Trainees said you can “really get involved in the matters after earning the trust of your supervisor.” One commented: “Generally there's not as much client contact as in other seats – the partners handle the clients more. But on a big case I did have a lot of meetings with technical experts. I also did lots of bundling and research tasks – there wasn't a lot of hand-holding, as everything that goes out is reviewed, but research tasks don't require as much supervision.”
Trainees spoke about K&L Gates' culture in broadly positive terms – “friendly and open-door,” was one of the somewhat clichéd phrases we heard over and over. More distinctively, sources said the office is pretty sociable. “Thursdays and Fridays at the firm entail being summoned by a call of 'Who’s buying the beers?'” we heard. As well as a drinks trolleys being regularly rolled around the “flashy and modern” offices at One New Change, K&L hosts an annual Christmas Party and cricket event. Insiders did say it would be good to create stronger links between departments by organising more firm-wide events. “The reality is that some teams are far more sociable than others,” one source shared. “For example the disputes team is a fun sociable team, whereas real estate is partner-heavy and so they have more set social events across the year rather than drinks every Friday.” All in all though, trainees concluded: “Basically… we like to go out and have fun.”
“Basically… we like to go out and have fun.”
Our sources said they pack up to go home, on a good day, at around 7.30pm each evening with a 9am start. “There’s an unwritten rule to get in before your partner sits down, and we all try to follow that as far as possible,” we heard. Interviewees did add that hours fluctuate heavily between departments with finance and corporate having longer hours than the average (“it's either feast or famine”), whereas “the property department is more consistent as the clients usually work regular nine-to-five days.” Trainees in corporate and finance experience “more midnight to 2am finishes than in any other department – at least three or four over six months.” Trainees assured us things did quieten down from time to time and there is “no expectation to stay in late if you’re not needed.”
Trainee retention at K&L Gates is usually around the market average of 80%. In 2019 5 out of 8 qualifiers stayed on.
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)
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 training contract 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.”
One New Change,
- Partners 52
- Associates 77
- Total trainees 16
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Austin, Beijing, Berlin, Boston, Brisbane, Brussels, Charleston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Doha, Dubai, Fort Worth, Frankfurt, Harrisburg, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Miami, Milan, Munich, Newark, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, Perth, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Research Triangle Park, San Francisco, São Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Washington DC, Wilmington.
- Contact Hayley Atherton, Recruiting Manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: TBD
- Applications pa: 1,000
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st July 2020, August start
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- 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
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, with considerable emphasis on client contact 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.
Open days and first-year opportunites
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 2)