Transatlantic K&L Gates puts trainees in front of interesting clients and makes them do the work of real lawyers.
K&L Gates doesn't dare look down. It’s hiked across five continents, planted flags in 45 cities and carried 500 lawyers along the way. As law firms go, K&L is something of an adrenaline junkie, with its taste for rapid expansion. However, we learnt from the firm this year that the order of the day is consolidating those international connections now they've grown. Here in the UK, K&L is an Anglo-American hybrid: the firm has a huge US network with its biggest office being Pittsburgh, but K&L's legacy firm in London (Nicholson Graham & Jones) offers a certain local pedigree that means we wouldn’t lump K&L in the bracket of a US firm.
K&L flourishes in the middle-market City work: in finance, insurance, capital markets (AIM), M&A, real estate and construction, the firm receives plaudits from Chambers UK. This huge network ensures a regular stream of global clients, and strengths in electoral law, gaming and financial crime will offer the intrigue that you may not get from the more traditional City firms. On middle-tier transactions the teams are less hierarchical, so you’ll come across trainees saying things like this: “It was unbelievable to have been given the chance to shine like that.”
“Last year was a big year for us,” Tony Griffiths, London-based managing partner of Europe and Middle East declared. The firm hired two aviation finance partners from Arnold & Porter, a funds expert from Ropes & Gray and the three-strong energy arbitration team from Ince & Co. "It has helped us to embed ourselves in relationships with massive companies, funds and banks around the globe – and that remains our focus,” adds Griffiths. The London residence is now recognised as one of the corporate hubs, but what does this mean for trainees? Griffiths told us that in London, "our lawyers advise on a large variety of multidisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional matters across our three principal focus areas.” Translation: you won't be bored and clients will be global. These three pillars Griffiths refers to are funds; energy infrastructure and resources; and bordering risk (an umbrella for anything risky, from insolvency to white-collar crime).
“We don't get a choice with our first seat,” newbies told us. Like many firms, this ensures that second-years get priority as they gear up for qualification. The corporate and finance seats got a lot of mentions from our trainee sources. A few were excited about white-collar crime: “It's pretty popular, because it's one of the smallest but most up-and-coming teams in the London.” Before rotating seats, trainees meet with HR to discuss their next destination. “HR won't just plonk us in a random department,” and although the firm doesn't “accommodate international secondments, there are opportunities for trips abroad.” Trainees can apply for NQ postings in May during their final seat: all that's required is a CV, cover letter and brushed-up interview skills.
Trainees noted plenty of variety flooding into K&L's finance department. You'll recognise names like Citibank, Deutsche Bank and Sri Lankan Airlines. “I've focused on real estate finance, asset finance, aviation finance, Islamic finance...” one newbie enthusiastically reeled off, “and I was even able to do some sports finance work!” A recent highlight saw the team act for Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi & Brothers, a multibillion-dollar family company based in Saudi Arabia, on its settlement and restructuring of $6 billion of liabilities to over 100 international banks. One insider explained that trainees are given “a lot of work you'd expect a 2PQE lawyer to be doing,” which includes, but is not limited to, reviewing facility agreements, security agreements and financial documents. “I've also been involved in drafting and reviewing work that's coming from people in the magic circle who are already qualified," a source boasted. "And you can tell it annoys them because I'm a trainee! That's what I like about this team.”
“[I'm] on first-name terms with clients.”
Over in commercial litigation, trainees keep themselves busy with “five or six very large cases,” at any one time. “The volume can be a bit intense and research-heavy,” insiders noted, but they awarded top marks for the “massively varied client base,” which includes local government councils, high net worth individuals and large international corporations. A recent headline-grabbing case saw the team act for video production company The Racing Partnership during a copyright infringement stand-off against bookie giants Ladbrokes and Betfred as they had (initially) refused to pay the client's charge to broadcast their horse races. Another prominent spat came in the wake of a $1billion dispute over a major oil spill between the governments of Spain and France. Newbies can expect to get involved in “a lot of substantive tasks,” which includes drafting witness statements, contributing to negotiations and even “being on first-name terms with clients.” Another trainee told us: “I've also drafted the proof of evidence in an FCA investigation. It was unbelievable to have been given the chance to shine like that.”
New kids on the Blockchain
“I got to dip my toes in every type of corporate work you can do,” exclaimed one excitable newbie. This includes a mix of M&A, capital markets and alternative investment market (AIM) work. Clients flock from a variety of sectors including energy, pharmaceuticals, real estate and technology. One recent matter saw the team represent Sweden-based CLX, a global provider of cloud-based communications services, on its acquisition of UK mobile messaging company Dialogue Group for £60 million. Another example includes advising US medical device company, Electrical Geodesic, on its recommended merger by Philips, the Dutch technology company (you probably have their speakers at home). One trainee pointed out that “we are slowly getting more involved in Blockchain and initial coin offerings (ICOs). I think K&L is among the first firms to have a dedicated team on this.” With all the varied work available, insiders were keen to point out that “if the partners can see you're struggling, then they'll ease off on the gas a bit.”
The real estate department is known for working with major international investors like Investec, as well as scoring new wins with the likes of Amazon, the University of Utah and the London Borough of Croydon. One insider told us: “I got to manage my own files on matters like drafting, lease renewals, auction sales and a couple of acquisitions. You're very much given responsibility depending on your enthusiasm.” How much responsibility is up for grabs? “I was working with developers and was the first point of contact for their buyers and their solicitors,” one junior shared, “and on the bigger-scale stuff – like a portfolio sale – I'll take on a project management role so I can still be involved.”
“You have all the flash American stuff but with an English culture in the office.”
Trainees describe K&L itself as “very friendly and inclusive.” One insider shared that “I don't think I've met a single person that I felt intimidated by,” while others confessed to chilling out with partners in the cafeteria: “The good thing here is that everyone sits together at lunch regardless of level. Even partners come and sit on the tables with trainees – initially it's nerve-wracking, but then you realise they'd much rather have lunch and a chat than sit on their own.” Our insiders were keen to pay tribute to the firm's UK-centric vibe, explaining that “although K&L does go under a US umbrella, the English aspect is still very much here.” What's the reality of working in an Anglo-American firm? One source replied: “Although you have all the flash American stuff but with an English culture in the office, you still have to call Pittsburgh if your printer breaks down.” When it comes to firm-sponsored socials, “there's almost no forced fun here,” trainees were relieved to report. The firm throws annual Christmas blowouts and hosts associate drinks every couple of months, plus “there's inevitably trainee drinks on Thursday and Friday nights,” we heard, “andnobody has to be prompted for that!”
When it comes to pens-down time, our insiders happily reported that their average hours fall between 9am and 7.30pm. They also commended the fact that “you're not working the same dire hours at other US firms,” where trainees are expected to “hang around and wait for work to come in at 10pm.” The latest time we heard trainees leaving was 3am, which “was fairly regular for a few months, although that's probably the worst it's ever going to get.” We heard that teams tend to stick together through the tough times: “If the corporate team needed to stay late, we would all have dinner together. Usually it's the trainee who has to collect the pizza, but we don't have to pay for it!” Trainees assured us that it did quieten down during other periods, and supervisors do urge newbies to retreat back home: “My supervisor said to me at 5pm once, 'If you're really quiet, you can leave. We expect you to have a life!'”
K&L Gates kept on seven of its nine qualifiers in 2018.
How to get a K&L Gates training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
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 53
- Associates 84
- Total trainees 17
- 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, Warsaw, 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: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2019
- 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, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 1)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Electoral Law (Band 2)