Born in Texas, Akin Gump's biggest office is DC and management is based in New York. This is a firm with roots across the nation and growing international branches.
HUGELY influential in Washington, DC. Making a big impression on the international stage. Second name that rhymes with 'jump.' No, we're not talking about the 45th President: this is Akin Gump. “We're well known as a DC-type firm even though we were founded in Texas,” associates told us, “especially given our ties to Robert Strauss.” The former US Middle East envoy, ambassador to the Soviet Union and Akin Gump founder gives his name to the firm's diversity scholarship.
Akin Gump earns tippy-top Chambers USA rankings for bankruptcy, government relations and Native American law nationwide. The firm also merits Chambers Global rankings for international trade and restructuring worldwide. “I'm really proud to say we've doubled our international presence in terms of numbers of lawyers since 2012,” chairperson Kim Koopersmith tells us. “It's now at 20% in Asia and Europe, and almost half our offices are outside the US.”
Each office has its specialties – Philadelphia is an IP hub, for instance, and Houston has a sizable oil and gas practice – but everywhere that takes on juniors slots some into litigation. Staffing in the department is “fairly organic,” but “there's now a practice area coordinator in DC. Partners aren't quite used to it yet.” Associates were happy to keep things loose, and generalists got to work on “securities cases, restructurings and product liability. The latter involves more discovery and investigations – it's less intellectually rigorous but you get the nuts and bolts experience.” In contrast, securities work means “a lot of interfacing with plaintiff counsel, as the partners are very hands-off.” DC litigators tend to focus on government contracts work, balancing False Claims Act cases with commercial matters. They found “the more purely litigious matters are less predictable and more high-stakes, because you run the risk of missing court deadlines.” White-collar investigations work is also up for grabs.
Corporate is also common to almost every location, and is likewise shifting toward a more formal assignment system. “It's better now,” interviewees felt, “as allocation is kept fair.” Rookies are general goods for two or three years, and can try their hand at debt finance, SEC filings and public or private M&A. M&A work comes with “a lot of due diligence. Juniors organize all the specialists and draft small sections of ancillary agreements. Teams depend on you.” However, this does mean “it can be tricky to take vacation.”
“Juniors organize all the specialists and draft small sections of ancillary agreements.”
The restructuring group is coordinated by an assigning partner in each office – a system which “varies in how well it works. Sometimes everyone is busy so you'll get work even when you're feeling at capacity.” Akin Gump acts for both creditors and debtors, with one source estimating it splits “70:30” respectively. “On debtor cases there's a lot more client contact as there are so many different things to do, so you build up more of a rapport.” Walking the tightrope between transactional and litigious-style work, restructuring juniors strike a balance between “motion drafting, research, revising settlement sheets and implementing edits from seniors.” Given the firm's rock-solid restructuring reputation, it's no surprise sources were “always busy. I'm a person who learns by doing and I've got just enough responsibility to feel challenged.”
The intellectual property team is about 50 lawyers strong nationwide, and the trickle-down work system left some “feeling like there could be a little more structure and transparency.” The group primarily handles patent litigation defense for pharmaceutical and medical clients, but “we don't say no to anything – if it involves patent litigation we'll take it.” Juniors saw some document review, but also more intellectual tasks including discrete pieces of research and preparing summaries of invalidity contentions. “I'm happier than not,” one source concluded.
The healthcare group also handles some IP as well as litigation, regulatory counseling and corporate work within the sector. Interviewees reported: “We deal with issues across the practice and the firm makes sure juniors get fully involved.”
Training & Development
Novices have a week of initial training covering the basics, followed by some practice-specific sessions. Following that there's “not much formal training, though there are CLE opportunities to sign up to.” Some associates said training is "something the firm could improve on," requesting “more skills training.” But those who'd taken advantage of programs, including NITA deposition sessions and a “two-day boot camp” in restructuring, felt “we get enough. A lot of learning comes on the job.”
The firm's Individual Development Plans review system has been “retooled to be more open-ended, so you get more regular feedback from senior people you work with.” Sources were again split over the changes, but largely “preferred the new way. Some partners don't take it as seriously as they should but it helps to keep us on the development path.” Juniors are also assigned both a partner and an associate mentor.
Several of the firm's offices are also going through changes and moving to new buildings in the next couple of years. And that's a good thing too – Akin's DC office has “a great location, but the architectural style is definitely brutalist, with a lot of concrete. We're moving in mid-2019 and I'd imagine there will be a lot more glass.” The Dallas team are relocating in winter 2018 and are “really excited about the super-modern new building.” One positive feature of both current locations is external offices for all – that's not the case in Houston, “which kind of sucks, but that just comes down to the space we have.”
“The center of gravity is shifting toward New York.”
Akin Gump New York spans the 41st to 46th floors of the Bank of America Tower and boasts “spectacular views from the reception and conference rooms.” A recent lateral hiring spree means that “starting in 2018 first to third years will be sharing offices.” The growth led some to suggest “the center of gravity is shifting toward New York” away from the official DC HQ. Management is indeed based in NYC, but others clarified: “There's still a lot happening outside of it, even if it is the hub.”
“There is a unifying culture that the firm tries to develop, though Texas lawyers are inevitably going to be different to New Yorkers,” interviewees believed. Dallas juniors noted that “the partners here are a young group and are very engaged with the associate experience,” while a DC source said: “I've worked in a number of dysfunctional offices, and this is nothing like that. Partners will pop into my office to chat about sports.” Associates applauded chairperson Kim Koopersmith for “doing really well to establish firm values across all the offices. It seems like she's always everywhere!” The firm's website identifies those values, in capital letters, as 'Collegiality, Commitment, Excellence, Integrity and Intensity.'
Each practice group has its own character, too. “Litigation is more family friendly than corporate,” sources revealed, “and restructuring isn't all that social but other groups certainly are. People are generally friendly outside the office.” Summer is the busiest time in the social calendar, when attorneys often head to baseball games or the Kennedy Center in DC, but most offices also have biweekly happy hours and holiday parties. “We're all very friendly together, but I don't have to spend a lot of time hanging out with coworkers if I don't want to.” However, associates agreed “firm events are well attended,” including those run by the active women's committee.
In 2017, Akin brought in Michele Meyer-Shipp as its first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, tasked with overseeing firm-wide diversity efforts. Hiring partner David Botter told us: “We're really excited about her joining the firm. Our diversity efforts don't begin and end at OCIs – we work with law schools, affinity groups and other organizations throughout the year.” Implicit bias training has also been introduced, a program which “originated with an affinity group and management took to heart.”
“The head of the firm and of the corporate group are both female role models.”
Statistically, Akin Gump is roughly average for gender diversity, butsources pointed out that “the head of the firm and of the corporate group are both female role models.” Racial diversity “has been a struggle across the firm, and going into recruiting season it's something we really focus on,” insiders told us. “I was expecting more diversity in terms of individuals' backgrounds,” admitted one interviewee. As well as a national diversity committee, there are local groups in each office representing LGBT and ethnic minority attorneys.
Akin offers a Pro Bono Scholars Program, which sees seven to 11 students each year spend four weeks of their 1L summer at the firm doing pro bono before a (minimum) seven-week stint at a public interest organization of their choosing. It provides a good launchpad for associates who “love pro bono and have got heavily involved," one source said. "I try to do 100 to 200 hours a year.” Immigration, refugee and asylum matters are hot in the current political climate, but we also heard of cases like “representing inmates in the federal prison system who've had their parole mishandled.”
Pro bono is counted wholly toward associates' bonus target, and sources “hadn't experienced any discouragement to take it on. They do want you to do your billable work too, obviously!” Interviewees also praised central management for maintaining a good flow of interesting cases and encouraging attorneys to get in cases of interest.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 84,388
- Average per US attorney: 105
Hours & Compensation
Associates need to bill 1,950 hours to qualify for a bonus, and with all pro bono included most agreed “it's very achievable if you stay diligent.” The target isn't formal and “not reaching it probably wouldn’t be a big problem.” Higher-level bonuses are available for workaholics – there's no official upper target but sources suggested 2,300 hours as a ballpark. “Overall it's fair,” most agreed, “though it's interesting there are no stub bonuses for first-years.” The lack of first-year bonuses caused a stir in the legal press in late 2017, but in 2018 the firm announced it was introducing pro-rated bonuses for newbies.
“There aren't many people burning the candle at both ends; when they are they're doing it at home at least.”
Facetime is “important to an extent, but the firm is fine with flexible working and I've never felt like I can't go to a doctor's appointment or anything like that,” associates agreed.That said, most found themselves heading home around 6:30 or 7pm, as “everyone around here seems to do that. There aren't many people burning the candle at both ends; when they are they're doing it at home at least.” When pressed on how hot the candle can get, one source confirmed: “When it's super-slammed I've been here until midnight, but that isn't frequent. I've never been here all night or anywhere close.” Attorneys get 20 days of vacation and interviewees had “taken a ton of it. Things can come up but everybody else generally tries to pick up the slack if someone's away.”
Strategy & Future
Don't expect any dramatic policy shifts or major changes of pace at Akin Gump anytime soon: chairperson Kim Koopersmith suggests that “what we'll do in the future is much the same as what we've been doing in the last dozen or so years – grow within the areas where the firm already does well.” Akin Gump knows what it's known for, it seems. Koopersmith summarizes this as “energy, policy, international trade, restructuring, appellate law and disputes. I foresee continued expansion within all those areas, which may in some instances be geographic.” Associates noticed more laterals coming on board recently, but with “so much work coming in” they had no fears about the head count growing too quickly.
“The interview process is very casual," associates told us. "We try and set candidates up with someone who will click with them and is representative of the firm.” Akin Gump is looking for “top-performing people who are also personable and approachable. A sense of humor doesn't hurt!” When asked what sets the firm's approach apart from others, one source recalled: “One really thoughtful and practical question I got was 'when you get a research assignment, how would you go about starting it?' It's something I think about regularly now I'm in practice.” This more practical approach is a road the firm wants to go further down. A source informed us: “We're looking to retool the way we do interviews to be more effective. Instead of finding someone we like because of mutual interests, we're asking questions that will help us determine a candidate's ability to succeed at the firm.”
Discussions tend to cover “relevant work experience in order to nail down if candidates have the qualities necessary to be a good attorney: attention to detail, organization and punctuality.” So what work experience is helpful to get? “Certainly law review or journal experience is good,” sources reasoned. “Pro bono involvement with an organization is also beneficial as it's such an important part of the firm.” Candidates should be able to demonstrate “an understanding of the demands of large projects, a good work ethic and the ability to work well as part of a team and communicate with clients.”
As a candidate, it's also “really important to ask questions and show you've done the research. Know what the most important practice groups are in the office you're interviewing for and have a few things to say about pro bono work.” Don't be afraid of appearing too curious as “every Akin Gump lawyer loves to talk about what they do, so people are really receptive to questions about the work.” On the other hand, do your due diligence beforehand – “I'd advise researching who you'll be talking to and what their practice area is. Lack of basic knowledge like that is a really big turn-off for interviewers.”
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,522
Interviewees outside OCI: 48
Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 635
Interview with chairperson Kim Koopersmith
Chambers Associate: What's been the most exciting thing that the firm has done over the past year?
Kim Koopersmith: I'm particularly thrilled that we won the 2017 Thomas L. Sager Award [for the firm's commitment to diversity], and that we've been able to bring in Michele Meyer-Shipp to the new post of diversity and inclusion officer, creating a path to do more good going forward. I'm also really pleased with how the firm has progressed in terms of global growth, and building integration between our offices within the US and globally.
CA: To what extent has Akin Gump built on its international presence and how do you see that playing out in the coming years?
KK: When I became chairperson of the firm five years ago, I recognized the need to focus on increasing the scope of where we operated to ensure we can serve our clients wherever they most need legal services. I'm really proud to say we've doubled our international presence in terms of numbers of lawyers since then: it's now at 20% in Asia and Europe, and almost half our our offices are outside the US. This fits well with our strategy of building on our strengths within the areas we can distinguish ourselves.
CA: What’s your long-term vision for Akin Gump? Which new markets, locations or practice areas do you see the firm expanding into in the future?
KK: We want to be distinctive and stand out where we offer legal services. What I expect we'll do in the future is much the same as we've been doing in the last dozen or so years – grow within the areas where the firm already does well. Our core areas are energy, policy, international trade, restructuring, appellate law and disputes. I foresee continued expansion within all those areas, which may in some instances be geographic. Recently our trade practice has built beyond DC to multiple markets across the globe. On the other hand, expansion could follow what we've done within restructuring, which is build to become a leading creditors' practice not only in the US but now in London and Hong Kong as well. Growth will also take the form of building on strengths in new areas, such as in our traditional energy practice, which is now married to a successful renewables offering.
CA: Are there any particular practice areas the firm works within that you feel don't get enough attention?
KK: I'm pleased to say that the way we're viewed in the marketplace is consistent with where we believe we're at. Akin Gump is now well known for its international trade practice as well as policy-related work, and connections between that and our regulatory practice have developed significantly in the last couple of years. Our clients' issues often require both policy advocacy and regulatory attention, so that's been a really positive step. Where we've gone with our white-collar practice in the US, London and Hong Kong has also been very impressive and we're now thought of as one of the leading firms in that space.
CA: What are the biggest challenges facing law firms today?
KK: We definitely live in challenging times, so it's an apt question. The fundamental issue for all law firms is continuing to be the firm of choice for their clients, which is growing all the more difficult as the industry gets more competitive. We have to make sure that we have the right talent and expertise to make sure clients are loyal and continue to see value in what we provide. There are also challenges related to cybersecurity, which every firm faces, and technology in general is reshaping the legal landscape.
CA: You're one of the few examples of female representation at the very top of BigLaw – how does the firm try to promote opportunities for women?
KK: I myself am a good example of how we do it – when I joined the firm more than 20 years ago I had young kids and worked on a reduced workload schedule. After a few years I came back to work on a full-time basis, and now I'm in the position I am now. At Akin Gump we recognize that if we want to be inclusive, we have to find ways of encouraging diverse talent to stay long term. That's one of the guiding principles that helped me into my position, and we're now making sure there are opportunities for everyone to shine. As I was given those chances to prove myself, so the next generation of women and diverse lawyers need to get chances to show their expertise and what they can offer to the firm.
Interview with hiring partner David Botter
Chambers Associate: What's the main scope of your recruiting drive? Which law schools do you tend to draw from?
David Botter: Our recruiting efforts are very targeted in terms of the schools we focus on and our efforts to engage with students and organizations. Consistently, we have nine top national law schools as our core targets: Columbia University, Duke University, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, Harvard University, Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and the University of Texas.
Each of our offices also has key relationships with regional law schools. In DC we also recruit from American, the Catholic University of America, George Washington, George Mason University, William & Mary and Howard – the latter two are relatively recent additions. In New York we go to Cardozo, Fordham and Cornell; our California offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco both draw from USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford. Houston has the University of Houston and Dallas has the Southern Methodist University. We also see stellar candidates in other markets. It's important to note that we have distinct specialized interviewing for IP candidates with a hard science background.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
DB: Our diversity efforts don't begin and end at OCIs – we work with law schools, affinity groups and other organizations throughout the year. Recently, for instance, we participated in Columbia's diversity expo. We also have the Robert Strauss Diversity Scholarship, which awards $25,000 to a number of 2Ls with diversity and inclusion at heart. We want candidates who've experienced challenges stemming from diversity to go back to campus in their third year and be ambassadors for us.
We are also involved in several law school pipeline programs. The SEO [Sponsors for Educational Opportunity] program brings in really talented diverse college candidates who are about to attend law school, gives them specific training and matches them to firms who provide opportunities to understand what it means to be a lawyer from a practical perspective. We're an active participant, and indeed Akin Gump is one of the first firms with multiple SEO students across the country – I expect we'll have four or five in the summer of 2018. As well as all this, Michele Meyer-Shipp has just joined as chief diversity and inclusion officer. We have been discussing our strategy and ways we can enhance our involvement in diversity and inclusion efforts across the country. We're really excited about her joining the firm.
CA: How has your interview process evolved in recent years?
DB: Our approach has been fairly consistent. We focus on behavioral interviewing and trying to identify candidates who have the characteristics of successful associates. Our core competencies for success at Akin Gump are ownership, practical excellence, service, teamwork and client competence. We're looking for students who have all those qualities. As well as that, they have to be passionate about the law and other things in their life – we're looking for well-rounded human beings who will be great lawyers.
CA: Are there different criteria for those going to different offices?
DB: Aside from IP, which requires that hard science background, we take a consistent view on recruiting across practice areas and offices. We take a holistic approach in analyzing students, as what one candidate brings to the table could be completely different to another in terms of work or life experience, but the best share the drive to work at the highest level.
CA: The firm's summer program doesn't place prospective associates in just one practice area – what else makes it distinctive?
DB: I've been doing this for a long time, and my favorite part of our summer program is that it's realistic. We give summer associates the same type of assignments they'd have as first or second-years at the firm. There are also opportunities for the summer associates to network with our attorneys outside the work setting, including dinners and going to the theater and opportunities to enjoy the culture of the city you're based in. I think though that people come to us to get a realistic experience of the future work. Another one of my favorite things that happens during summer is when people request if it's okay to skip an event because they're working on a deal or case closing the next day and they do not want to miss out on a learning experience. That's the type of student we like – we don't want them to miss all the events though! Ultimately, what sets Akin Gump apart from other firms is the people. Summer associates have the opportunity to get to know us through both work assignments and networking.
Our summer program also involves our senior leadership. Kim Koopersmith was previously the manager of the people side of the firm before taking on the business-oriented role of chairperson, and she remains very focused on talent and making the experience of lawyers at every level as optimal as possible. Summer associates will see and hear from her throughout the summer, and I also try to travel across the country to make the program better each year. Finally, I'd also highlight the fact our summer associates get to work on pro bono matters and get a broad exposure to interesting matters which help give back to the community.
CA: Is there anything we haven't covered that readers should know about the recruitment process?
DB: Our summer classes aren't giant-sized: we take 50 or 60 summers each year firm-wide – fewer than some firms take in New York alone! That way we make sure summer associates get a personalized experience and are truly involved. We're going to keep it that way.
Notable pro bono opportunities (schemes, client affiliations etc.)
- Since 2008, Akin Gump has representedeight Bolivian families,whose loved ones were killed by the Bolivian military, in U.S. federal court litigation under the Torture Victim Protection Act against the former President and Defense Minister of Bolivia. The ten year human rights litigation has involved contributions from more than 100 lawyers and staff members at Akin Gump.
- Working alongside public defenders in South Carolina and Missouri, Akin Gump has spent over 15,000 hours representing seven indigent defendants facing the death penalty in their capital trials, one of which resulted in a 9-0 decision for our client by the U.S. Supreme Court. This past year, the firm represented death row inmate Reginald Clemons in his capital murder trial, resulting in Mr. Clemons obtaining a plea to second degree murder in exchange for life sentences with an eventual chance at parole.
- Akin Gump partners with the Global Center on Cooperative Security – a non-profit organization that works with governments, international organizations, and civil society – to develop and implement comprehensive and sustainable approaches to complex international security challenges, such as international money laundering and terrorist financing. Attorneys from our U.S. and international offices have so far assisted practitioners from the governments of Ethiopia and Jordan in crafting legal tools to identify, prevent and prosecute financial crime within their borders.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Robert S Strauss Building,
1333 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.,
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,039,000,000
- Partners (US): 267
- Associates (US): 386
- Main Recruitment Contact: David H Botter, Firmwide Hiring Partner.
- For a complete listing of our recruiting contacts go to: www.akingump.com/en/careers/lawyers/recruiting-process/contact-us.html
- Diversity officer: Michele Meyer-Shipp, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 53
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls 13 - 15, 2Ls 54, SEOs 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Dallas 1Ls: 3 and 2Ls: 7; Houston 1Ls: 3 and 2Ls: 7; Los Angeles 1Ls: 1 and 2Ls: 8; New York 1Ls: 3 - 5 and 2Ls: 18; Philadelphia 2L: 1; Washington, DC 1Ls: 3 and 2Ls: 13
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,500/week 2Ls: $3,500/week
- 1Ls hired? In some offices and through our Pro Bono Scholars Program
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
American, Berkeley, Boston University, Cardozo, Catholic, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Houston, Michigan, New York University, Penn, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, SMU, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington University, William & Mary
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Lavender Law, Loyola PLIP, On Tour Interview Program (CA), South West Region Black Law Student Association Job Fair
For a complete listing of our recruiting contacts go to: www.akingump.com/en/careers/lawyers/recruiting-process/contact-us.html
Summer associate profile:
Akin Gump seeks motivated candidates with outstanding academic credentials, overall achievement, leadership and interpersonal skills, and work experience. In addition, the firm looks for candidates who demonstrate the firm’s core competencies: ownership, professional excellence, service and teamwork and client focus.
Summer program components:
Akin Gump summer associates work on real matters for real clients. Summer associates gain in-depth exposure to the firm’s practice and hands-on experience with clients and work that interests them. With training, mentorship, teamwork and social activities, summer associates get a realistic and meaningful picture of firm life. Summer associates participate in pro bono projects through organisations with which Akin Gump has a pro bono partnership. These projects are geared to a summer associates’ interests and maximize front-line responsibility while ensuring appropriate supervision from experienced attorneys. Summer associates receive feedback on a project-by-project basis and at mid-summer and end of summer reviews.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust Recognised Practitioner
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
- Government: Government Contracts (Band 4)
- Government: Government Relations (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 2)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
- Native American Law (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)