You’ll need plenty of ambition and an entrepreneurial approach to keep up at Kirkland – a firm with world-beating financial results and elite standing in the private equity sector.
Kirkland & Ellis training contract review 2022
Another one (DJ Khaled voice): yes, Kirkland did it again in 2020 and maintained its crown of highest-grossing law firm in the world after posting its $4.83 billion turnover result. On domestic turf, the legal press suggested that the London base’s revenue increased by a very healthy 29% to around $550 million. So, what’s the story behind these impressive figures? Well, Kirkland is a Chicago-founded firm that has become synonymous with top-tierprivate equity work: Chambers Global places Kirkland in the number-one position for its know-how in this area. Kirkland is also an elite player when it comes to capital markets, corporate/M&A, banking & finance and restructuring matters the world over.
“Everything is centred around private equity."
In London, the firm’s private equity prowess is as strong as you’d expect: “Everything is centred around private equity,”declared one source. “All seats build your knowledge in this area in both a commercial and a technical sense.”Chambers UKonce again positions Kirkland as a top-tier firm for private equity, but also celebrates Kirkland’s restructuring, capital markets and sponsor-side banking & finance work. “The firm really has a finance focus and that’s what drew me in,”another interviewee reflected; “it’s at the top for debt finance work in London so it was a no-brainer really.”
You don’t get stellar financial results and top-tier dominance without hard graft though, and our sources were equally drawn to the go-getting vibe at Kirkland. “The people are assertive and dynamic at all levels,” a trainee commented, adding: “It’s meritocratic and less hierarchical than other firms.” For trainees, this means that “you are always encouraged to try tasks that may not necessarily be typical ‘trainee’ tasks. If you prove you have the ability and drive then you will have a wealth of opportunities.” So, if you’re someone who enjoys “the challenge of being entrepreneurial” and has a significant interest in the private equity sector, then Kirkland could well be the one for you...
Three of Kirkland's main practice areas are corporate, investment funds and debt finance so it is likely trainees will spend a seat in each of these groups. Given the size of these areas, trainees found it “enables you to get to grips with how our deals are structured and the clients we work with.”Trainees submit preferences for their two remaining seats and felt that “graduate recruitment try to give people what they are interested in.”Unsurprisingly, most trainees also want to complete a stint in Kirkland’s investment fundsdepartment. In more normal times, trainees also have the option of completing an overseas seat (usually in their second year) in destinations like Hong Kong and New York.
Corporate is “a great first seat to do, as the department sits at the heart of Kirkland, so it’s a good way to see the firm’s working practices.” The department advises across the full range of M&A activity (both public and private). M&A revolves around “private equity clients that are buying or selling portfolio companies – we're involved from the start to the finish.”For one source, that meant conducting a lot of due diligence on target companies: “We want to try and find out if there are any problems with the company. For example, we look at how the company is run, its finances, who the key players are, whether there’s a significant gender pay gap. You take part in a lot of calls to find out what you can and then pull it all together into a report.”Some of the companies being acquired can be “worth billions of pounds,” so trainees can find themselves coordinating with local counsel in various locations to “present the bigger picture of what the asset is for our client.”Major private equity firms like Advent, Blackstone and Bain appear on the client list. Transactions can cover public to private deals, joint ventures, buyouts, investments and sell-side advising matters. The team recently advised on the largest-ever European buyout recorded, which saw a consortium of bidders (Advent, Cinven and RAG-Stiftung) acquire a division of engineering giant thyssenkrupp for €17.2 billion.
“You’re at the front of it all and you can’t even tell your mum!”
In debt finance, “we’re helping our clients with any financing needs they have, whether they want to buy another business, or, if a company is in financial trouble, they want to refinance and rework existing agreements.”Sources had come across many leveraged buyout deals, where the capital comes from banks or other private lenders. Fund finance is covered alongside real estate-focused investments. “My supervisor runs a funds practice and the coolest thing I’ve done so far is work on a transaction worth over four billion euros,” one excited interviewee reported. “I’ve had a lot of exposure to really complex, market-leading transactions.”Sponsor-side (i.e. private equity) clients include Starwood, Hg and Lone Star Funds. The group recently advised the latter on the financing of its €3.17 billion acquisition of a construction chemicals business – the matter involved parties in Japan, China, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the UK and the US. On acquisitions “it’s exciting to be involved with the banks and coordinate the documents,” while on refinancing matters “you are the client’s go-to and run the process, often because the matters are smaller.” One trainee raved about how often they saw the deals they were working on in the news: “You’re at the front of it all and you can’t even tell your mum!” Another told us: “The team is exploding with activity! We’ve been incredibly busy, which makes for great responsibility. Value is placed on the work you produce, not your level of seniority.”
The investment funds department also works for private equity sponsors on fund formations and secondary transactions (where existing interests in funds can be sold or bought). Fund formations and raisings “occur over a long period of time, so as a trainee you’re reviewing subscription booklets, as well as compiling and reviewing documents.”Secondary deals “give you an opportunity to take on more responsibility: you get to run your own miniature transaction where you liaise with the other side’s counsel, discuss terms, review agreements and coordinate the whole process.”Another source told us that “it’s a more technical area of the law, so it can be harder to get stuck into the documents, as you need a greater level of understanding. One of my highlights was negotiating non-disclosure agreements [NDAs].”One of the documents that trainees can get to grips with is the Limited Partnership Agreement (LPA) that establishes a partner’s interest in the fund: “I was inputting comments into those.”PE heavy-hitters on the client list here include Vitruvian Partners, Nordic Capital and Montagu Private Equity. One recent fundraising saw the team represent Basalt Infrastructure Partners as it raised $2.75 billion for its third fund.
"Everyone is excited about the work and about being the best lawyer they can be, and that spurs you on to get better each day.”
Litigationis a smaller department at Kirkland London, but it covers white-collar crime and internal investigations, international arbitrations, restructuring matters and even IP cases. As you no doubt expected, “there’s deffo a private equity focus” here too, and disputes can emerge from the M&A deals and shareholder arrangements that the firm’s private equity clients enter into. Among the PE clients you’ll also find familiar names like Boeing represented here. A recent dispute involved representing a private equity-backed business group called ‘Galapagos’ during cross-border proceedings tied to the group’s $800 million restructuring. Sources highlighted that there had been a lot of white-collar crime work, which enabled them to get involved in Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigations, interviews with employees and “drafting submissions to regulators.”This interviewee was pleased to report that “the client exposure was phenomenal. I was pulling together key documents to make the case for the client and went to meetings with them regularly.”
Sources were quick to highlight some of the stereotypes about US firms being “aggressive and only caring about hours.”What our interviewees found at Kirkland was an office filled with people who are “really hard-working, driven and ambitious,”while also being “very willing to talk you through things: the approach is very much ‘Let’s take a first stab at this.’ There are no horror stories!”This source also said that “while everyone is very busy, I haven’t yet found someone who wouldn’t take 20 minutes to walk me through something.” This led one interviewee to state that despite the predominantly virtual set-up, they’d “established really strong relationships with my colleagues, even though I haven’t met most of them!” Another felt that the atmosphere at the firm is “infectious: everyone is excited about the work and about being the best lawyer they can be, and that spurs you on to get better each day.”
Given these standards, “a lot is expected of you,” which includes the stamina to work some long hours when required. This isn’t a Kirkland-only reality of course, as this interviewee pointed out: “Industry-wide the hours have gone up with working from home and the nature of the market right now – it’s so hot!” Most interviewees started working at 9.30am but their finishing times fluctuated somewhat depending on the seat or the stage of a matter: we heard of trainees clocking off between 9pm and midnight. “You aren’t treated like a trainee, which is a good thing,” a source told us, “but that also means that you’re expected to work junior lawyer hours.” Another put it this way: “I think people applying to City law firms are aware of what they are signing up for: it’s your career, not just a job, and it’s important to be working with people who are as committed as you.”
“...if you’re entrepreneurial, motivated and want to succeed, then Kirkland is your oyster.”
Interviewees did cite the positive influence of supervisors, who are “very focused on making sure we’re not burning out. We have weekly if not daily catch-ups and I haven’t yet worked with someone who hasn’t made sure that I'm okay or asked what’s keeping me up so late if they saw that I was online.” This trainee added: “You do feel supported during these hours. You are working very closely with your team members, who are encouraging and supportive. I was recently stretched and one of my colleagues turned around and said, ‘Look, we’re a team, I’ll sort this out and you go work on that.’”Kirkland also hasa firm-wide wellbeing programme to help lawyers and employees improve their overall health.
On a learning and developmentnote, “one thing that is drilled into the culture at Kirkland is that you learn from doing as opposed to gaining experience theoretically.”One source said that “if you want a challenge then you are really encouraged to go for it, but you won’t necessarily be guided – you have to be willing to go the extra mile and get there yourself.”This doesn’t mean that there’s no formal training at Kirkland: we heard that there are several front-loaded sessions when trainees first join and department-specific trainings “once a week to once a fortnight – for example, we’ll go through a new ruling or finance act that has been announced. It’s quite reactive.”Underpinning all of this, however, is the understanding that “if you’re entrepreneurial, motivated and want to succeed, then Kirkland is your oyster. Everyone is really happy to give you a first shot at most things.”This approach is borne out in the firm’s partnership promotion policy, which allows associates to be considered for promotion as soon as their sixth year.
One source congratulated the firm for running “a very transparent qualification process – kudos to them for resolving it as soon as possible.” Another interviewee told us that every qualifier submits preferences for the NQ positions that interest them, and that candidates usually don’t have to interview for spots. “Everyone in our intake has worked really hard and deserved their spot – no one got turned down.”In 2021, nine out of the firm's ten qualifiers stayed on with the firm. After gaining NQ status, qualifiers earn NQ pay, which matches the top-end salary of entry-level associates in the US at a cool $205,000.
Lawyers (including trainees) are encouraged to complete 20 hours of pro bono a year. Weekly emails contain opportunities to get involved in, which include criminal appeals, discrimination cases and matters for non-profit organisations. “I’ve reviewed agreements for a high-profile charity and helped people who haven’t had their benefits applications approved,” one source told us.
Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 2 January 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)
Training contract deadline (2024): 10 December 2022 (opens 1 April 2022)
Kirkland & Ellis offers around ten training contracts each year, and attends law fairs with Aspiring Solicitors, Legal Cheek, Cambridge, Nottingham, Kings College London, LSE, Queen Mary University, Bristol, Oxford, UCL, Exeter, Durham and LawCareersNetLIVE.
Both vacation scheme and training contract applicants are invited to complete an online application form. They'll also upload their CVs, write a cover letter, fill out the usual details (academic history, work experience and so forth) and answer a couple of more in-depth questions.
Applicants are advised to read the application form carefully. Our Kirkland sources tell us "some applicants do not answer the specific question being asked. This is perhaps either because they haven't taken their time when reading it, and/or because they have copied an answer from another application form which asks a similar question, but is in fact slightly different. Attention to detail is a really important skill to demonstrate. It is also important to ensure that you tailor your application and cover letter specifically for Kirkland & Ellis. If you don't get these simple things right then it makes it more difficult for us to progress the application to the next stage given the strong competition."
Firm recruiters also urge candidates to research the firm thoroughly before applying. “There’s a huge amount of information about the London office online, particularly on our graduate recruitment site. Pick up on our clients, the deals we've worked on and what lawyers are expected to do here. All firms in London offer something different, so you have to think about why you want to come here, and what you can offer through your previous experiences and achievements.”
Each year Kirkland receives over 600 applications for around 30 vacation scheme places. Following a video interview stage, the firm runs assessment days in late January and early February and invites 20 to 25 applicants to each. The day involves a group exercise, an interview and an in-tray exercise. Our graduate recruitment source tells us the first is designed to assess how well candidates interact and work with other people, “which is important given trainees will often be working in small teams” while the latter tests their ability to prioritise.
Usually there are two fortnight-long spring and summer vacation schemes each year. Vac schemers sit with a supervisor during their placement, but “this is just a location” according to our source. They told us: “Students are actively encouraged to seek out work from all areas, and their supervisor, trainee mentor and the graduate recruitment team are all on hand to point them in the right direction.” Trainees recalled this as “a great opportunity to experience the work of different practice groups” and “everyone is so friendly that you don’t feel nervous about approaching groups, even if it’s something you’re not used to!”
It's unlikely vacation schemers will see a live transaction from start to finish, so the firm provides a mock transaction in which the students conduct a negotiation exercise, hammer out the terms of a sponsorship deal and attend a signing meeting to close the deal.
The firm also runs practice group overview sessions to give vacation schemers a chance to learn more about different departments and network with relevant figures. Everyone is allocated a trainee buddy, and there are various socials. Social events in 2019 included a private cookery lesson and a boat trip on the Thames!
All vacation schemers receive feedback on their performance and are offered the opportunity to interview for a training contract before the end of the scheme. “We hope to consider all of them for a training contract” our graduate recruitment insider tells us, noting: “We’ve already been able to get to know their personalities and see their approach to work in action, and the interview is another chance for them to really demonstrate their skills and shine in front of the interviewing partners.”
The firm generally receives over 500 direct training contract applications, on top of the hundreds it gets for vacation schemes. If applicants are successful at application stage they will be asked to complete a video interview, followed by a face-to-face interviews at the firm.
According to the firm, interviewers are looking to get a feel for a candidate's personality, business acumen and motivations. Some might pose situational questions to get interviewees thinking on their feet, but we're told questions will never be overly technical: “Applicants aren’t expected to have strong legal knowledge at this stage, as we accept applications from both law and non-law backgrounds.” Showing some understanding of the private equity (PE) market is a good idea though, given the firm's focus on PE and transactional work. Our advice? Read up on what PE funds do; know who the big PE firms are, and the range of companies they buy and sell, but don't worry if you don't understand the intricate make-up of different fund structures.
Kirkland & Ellis International LLP
30 St Mary Axe,
- UK partners c.150
- UK associates c.210
- Total trainees 21
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 17
- Contacts Graduate recruiter: Lauren Massey, email@example.com, 020 7469 2021
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: c.10
- Applications pa: c.1000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: c.30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 April 2022
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 10 July 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2021
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 2 January 2022
- Open day deadline: 7 November 2021 / 13 February 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £55,000
- Second-year salary: £60,000
- Post-qualification salary: $205,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- SQE fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong, New York
Main areas of work
The firm handles complex corporate, debt finance, investment funds, restructuring, real estate finance, tax, financial services regulatory, international arbitration and litigation, antitrust and competition, technology and IP transactions, IP litigation and capital markets matters.
The principal focus of the training is on transactional law with a specialism in private equity. Trainees complete four, six month seats and obtain training in areas such as corporate M&A, debt finance, investment funds, restructuring, real estate finance, international arbitration and litigation, financial services regulatory, antitrust and competition, and tax. In addition there are opportunities to undertake an overseas secondment to enable trainees to experience the international resources and capabilities of Kirkland & Ellis.
Our trainees gain experience through active involvement in deals throughout their careers together with extensive technical training.
We offer placements throughout the spring and summer months. Candidates are eligible to apply if they are in their penultimate year of a law degree, final year of a non-law degree or beyond. We look to recruit as many of our future trainees as possible from the vacation scheme.
Benefits include private medical insurance, travel insurance, pension scheme, bonus scheme, employee assistance plan, discounted gym membership, dental plan, cycle to work scheme, season ticket loan, and concierge service.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Our open day taking place in November 2021 is aimed at those eligible to apply for our vacation schemes and training contracts. The deadline for applying is 7 November 2021.
Our open day taking place in March 2022 is aimed at those in the first year of a law degree or penultimate year of a non-law degree. The deadline for applying is 13 February 2022.
University law careers fairs 2021
Bristol; Cambridge; Durham; Exeter; Kings College London; LawCareersNetLIVE; Legal Cheek; LSE; Nottingham; Oxford; Queen Mary; UCL.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
As a firm with a global presence, we embrace and promote diversity and inclusion, both within our own organization and throughout the legal profession. We are proud of our employees' rich and varied backgrounds, knowledge and skills, which make us stronger as a Firm.
Diversity and inclusion at Kirkland transcends race, gender identity, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin and political affiliation. We value and encourage diversity with respect to each individual’s work style, career path and professional and life experiences. We continually strive to build and maintain a culture that values and gathers strength from our differences.
To achieve this goal, a dedicated and active group of partners leads our Firmwide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The committee has racial and ethnic diversity, gender and LGBTQ+ subcommittees to ensure that our programs and policies address the needs of all attorneys.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 2)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
Visit the firm's recruitment page here.