Combining Southern charm with a global outlook, this top Texan is a great place to wrangle up a career.
LIKE the 20th century Texan economy, which jumped abruptly from agricultural to oil-pumping powerhouse, Akin Gump looks unstoppable. Founded just after WW2, it now has 12 branches across the US and nine more around the world. In 2014, the firm acquired all of the lawyers in Bingham McCutchen's London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong offices – almost 60 in total. With its expertise in bankruptcy work, the London office complemented Akin's Chambers USA top-ranked US restructuring practice.
Bankruptcy is far from the only practice area to pick up accolades on this side of the Atlantic. Chambers USA also gives the firm nods for litigation, corporate, lobbying, healthcare, Native American law, international trade, labor & employment, telecoms, and energy law, among others.
Litigation gets most new associates, with over twice as many juniors as the next-biggest practice group, corporate. Next in line are labor and Texas specialty oil & gas – the latter being a pervasive sector focus across all the firm's practices groups – and the remaining newbies sprinkled lightly across the other practices. These can range from intellectual property and financial restructuring to highly specialized areas like investment funds and cross-border transactions. The larger departments have a formal assignment system, with a firmwide partner responsible for making sure that work is fairly distributed. In the smaller niche practices there's less of a need for such a formal system.
"Sending the client the documents and answering their questions.”
Corporate is a good place to go if you're looking for client contact. “It's very common for the junior to be the one sending the client the documents and answering their questions,” one explained. Responsibility increases as juniors progress, with those slightly more experienced “drafting ancillary documents and managing the due diligence process.” Responsibility doesn't just vary with seniority, but also with the size of the deal: "If it's staffed with a lot of people, I'm more likely to do fewer high-level tasks.”
Over in litigation “we go to trial more than other firms, or so the partners claim.” This means attorneys stay busy researching and writing briefs, drafting motions, second-chairing depositions and, yes, “some doc review.” Not as much as we've heard about at other firms, though. “I don't know if we outsource doc review, or if I've just been lucky,” wondered one. Another source here described the workload as “too varied to describe,” but intimated that there's a lot of contract and insurance litigation, as well as a good helping of class action defense and the odd bit of antitrust. Chambers USA ranks Akin's white-collar defense practice too.
Litigation often works hand-in-glove with the financial restructuring group, particularly at the junior end. “Juniors quite often do the litigation side of the work, because it tends to be time-intensive,” which means “if you're interested, and I am, you can help them do research, draft pleadings and take depositions.” Similarly, the transactional side “works closely with the finance and corporate groups,” for example when disposing of distressed assets. What Texas firm would be complete without an oil & gas department? Akin Gump deals with both the regulatory and transactional sides of energy law. “We get involved in both 'note and comment' litigation and arguments in front of administrative law judges,” said one energy junior. This necessitates “a lot of research,” followed swiftly by “drafting pleadings.”
Training & Development
“A robust curriculum."
Akin Gump's first year orientation program won't cover you from the cradle to the grave, but in the firm's words it will get you from 'backpack to briefcase.' Orientation teaches juniors how to do everything from work with secretaries to mandatory litigation or transactional training. The former was described as “a more in-depth version of the stuff you'll cover in civil litigation.” This is followed by “constant CLE programs” and “a robust curriculum of technology training.” If this isn't enough, it's “not hard to find somebody to ask for help,” particularly in the smaller offices. Those core competencies pop up again in discussions about the review process. As with interviewees, they are the standard the firm measures attorneys against. Management seeks input from each attorney as well as the bigshot in charge of “every project you've worked 40 hours on,” which is followed by meeting. “Everyone takes it seriously,” said an attorney who'd been through the process a few times, “and everyone gives substantive feedback, which makes it work.”
“The craziness and politicos.”
Everything is famously bigger in Texas, but DC is actually the firm's largest homestead. Its DuPont Circle location was described as “perfect” – centrally sited, an easy commute from outside the city, but removed from “the craziness and politicos” of K Street. Unfortunately, the building itself is a little tired: “It's not one of those trendy new offices,” said one associate. The associates we spoke to were more impressed with New York, which they characterized as “what you would expect from a well-appointed BigLaw office.” We hear the entrance hall is particularly impressive: “I think the lobby might have sealed the deal for me,” quipped one New Yorker.
Akin hasn't forgotten its roots. Half of its US offices are scattered across the plains and prairies of Texas: specifically, situated in the state's major economic areas. We heard that the Dallas branch has been experimenting with “more collaborative office designs,” with part of the building given over to open-plan workspaces, treadmills and “glass doors to let in more light.” So far this is only a trial, and for the time being Texans, like their colleagues in other offices, “all get our own offices, even juniors.”
Law students with an interest in public service can apply to take part in Akin Gump's pro bono scholars' program. Think of it as an extended summer associate program, with a student's 1L summer spent at a pro bono organization of their choice, followed by an orientation at the firm's DC office. This is followed up by a more traditional summer offering in the student's 2L summer. “We're incredibly proud of it,” says hiring partner David Botter. “It's a two-year commitment by the firm to the student, and by the student to the firm,” he elaborates, “and an opportunity for them to do work that's valued by the law firm before coming to work at the firm itself.” Attorneys appreciated being able to “do pro bono without worrying about our bonus,” thanks to Akin's matching hours policy, although according to one source there was an understanding that “it shouldn't interfere with our billable work.”
"A two-year commitment by the firm to the student."
The firm recently hired a second pro bono head. Between the two of them they “help attorneys do the sort of work that they want to do.” From the juniors we spoke to, this could include everything from suing the French government on behalf of those who suffered under the Vichy regime to assisting animal welfare societies enforce judgments against people convicted of mistreating animals.
Pro bono hours
"Willing to help each other out.”
“Texas is wide open and entrepreneurial,” explained an attorney, “and Akin Gump is the same.” We heard of a partner with an interest in African infrastructure “befriending experts in African businesses,” and of junior associates “speaking to specialized newspapers, publishing articles and developing a public presence,” at an early stage of their careers. Beyond that, the good ol' folksy Texan charm is in evidence with “approachable” partners, and associates who are “very friendly and willing to help each other out.” Some sources even claimed to “enjoy coming to work...”
Hours & Compensation
With such a heady mix of enthusiasm and entrepreneurship in the air, we weren't surprised to come across a few early-bird attorneys who start their day at eight or even 7am. That said, if you aren't a morning person, most attorneys get in between the more sensible hours of nine and 9.30am. The working day tends to finish around 7pm, unless deadlines are approaching. “I have something due in a few weeks, so I'll stay later and get it done,” one told us, while another was more blunt: “When a deal is on, it's nuts!” There's no formal billable hours target, which takes some of the pressure off, but associates can find themselves staffed on international deals, which can take its toll. “I once did a deal that spanned ten time zones,” recalled one shell-shocked attorney. “The day never really ended.”
“I once did a deal that spanned ten time zones.”
Most of the lawyers we spoke to went into BigLaw with their eyes wide open, so were fairly sanguine about having to work hard. “I knew it was a big firm with big-firm expectations when I joined,” explained one, “but the partners do a great job of managing your time so you don't get stressed.” Another agreed, telling us that “when it's slow the partners insist that we take the time to relax and enjoy it.” And “a little pressure is healthy, but I'm not at the point of tearing my hair out.”
“Retaining diverse lawyers is a trickier subject.”
“The firm is very welcoming toward diverse lawyers,” thought one interviewee, “but there's a long way to go when it comes to diversity.” While “the overall majority of partners are still white men,” we heard that Akin has “a good number of female partners,” including the current chairperson, Kim Koopersmith. Associates told us about a number of initiatives to attract diverse lawyers, and the firm places an “emphasis on diversity when it recruits for the summer associate and pro bono scholars' programs.” Some thought that these were starting to pay off in terms of recruitment: “My summer associates were ethnically diverse and there was an even split between men and women.” Nevertheless, “retaining diverse lawyers is a trickier subject.” One diverse attorney opined that “retention is a very individual decision. Having diverse partners that attorneys can look up to plays a big role in their decision to stay.”
Strategy & Future
"Working on a Cuba initiative.”
“We're not looking to be all things to all people,” head honcho Kim Koopersmith tells us, “but we're focusing on making sure that every practice area we have is strong and able to meet client needs.” She cites financial restructuring, funds, tax, energy, policy, litigation, corporate and international trade as the areas that “brought us notoriety and client recognition,” and therefore “the ones we want to concentrate on doing well.” Internationally, the firm is still digesting the Bingham acquisition. While there are no plans to stake a claim on any new frontier, according to Kim Koopersmith this shouldn't stop the firm reaching new markets from its existing bases. In particular, “we're working on a Cuba initiative,” she explains, “and our corporate and energy practices have extensive experience in the African and Latin American markets.”
Good grades are a must, obviously, but as “only accomplished and capable” people make it to the interview stage, would-be associates must show they offer a little extra. The firm has a list of core competencies against which it tests interviewees. According to hiring partner David Botter, these include “ownership, professional excellence, service, teamwork and client focus.” Associates who'd been involved in recruitment sought similar traits in their interviewees: “I'm looking for someone I think I'll enjoy working with,” said one, “as well as someone who'll be able to handle the stressful periods without freaking out." Another associate thought interviewees used an informal 'Des Moines airport' test, “as in, would you mind having an overnight layover in Des Moines with this person?”
"Would you mind having an overnight layover in Des Moines with this person?”
The interview process had been less a grilling and more a pleasant discussion for our sources. “They looked at my resume, asked some general questions and chatted about my travels,” recalled one. “It was a really easy conversation.” Another told us that “my interviewer seemed really thoughtful and interested in finding out what I could bring to the firm.”
Akin Gump's Native American law and policy group
Among its many accolades, Akin Gump gets top marks for Native American law from Chambers USA. The firm advises a number of Federally Recognized Tribes on everything from land and water claims to gambling laws. Akin's Indian law and policy experts, who sit under the umbrella of the firm's public law and policy group, differ from those of many other large law firms in that they primarily represent tribal governments in their negotiations with outside businesses, rather than the other way around.
Federally Recognized Tribes have a unique status under US law: they are considered sovereign, and outside of the jurisdiction of their host states, but under that of the US government. Lawyers working with tribal governments can expect to grapple with a wide range of thorny legal issues. For example, Akin Gump has represented tribal governments in everything from the acquisition of water supplies to the establishment of tribally-owned casinos and helped tribal governments recover millions of dollars in settlements from the federal government arising out of the mismanagement of tribal land.
One of the team's biggest challenges was helping the Seneca Nation of Indians secure the adoption the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act by Congress. This helped close a loophole in US tax law that unfairly penalized the beneficiaries of US tribal government welfare programs. The IRS does not consider income from federal welfare payments when calculating taxable income, but did consider payments under tribal government schemes. Effectively, this mean that Native American welfare payments were treated the same as salaries. The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act helped change all that, and Akin Gump's legal eagles turned lobbyists were key to getting the Act past Congress.
The word 'lobbying' conjures up an image of slick, well-dressed men and women practicing some sort of dark art on the nation's representatives. While we're sure Akin Gump's lawyers have an immaculate dress sense, the reality is a little more mundane. Much of the attorneys' daily grind involved putting officials from the Seneca Nation in touch with relevant representatives, ensuring they went into the meetings briefed and ready and following up with letters. It's a far cry from anything Remi Danton might get up to, but it gets results. Even before the Act was passed, the IRS announced it was changing its policy towards Native American benefits.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Robert S Strauss Building,
1333 New Hampshire Avenue, North West,
- Number of domestic offices: 12
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $930,000,000
- Partners (US): 275
- Associates (US): 364
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? Select offices and through our Pro Bono Scholars Program
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 54
- Offers/Acceptances 2015: 43 offers, 34 acceptances
Main areas of work Antitrust, communications and technology, cybersecurity, privacy and data protection, corporate, energy, entertainment and media, financial restructuring, global project finance, healthcare, intellectual property, international arbitration, international trade, investment funds, labor and employment, litigation, policy and regulation, Supreme Court and appellate and tax.
Firm profile Akin Gump is a leading global law firm with more than 900 lawyers and advisors in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Akin Gump is widely recognized for its strength in litigation and international arbitration, high stakes appellate work, financial restructuring, corporate transactions, investment funds, energy, global project finance and international trade and for its depth in regulatory and public policy, which allow the firm to provide a comprehensive suite of services for governments, companies and individuals worldwide. Collegiality, commitment, excellence, integrity and intensity form the bedrock of Akin Gump’s core values. Akin Gump’s dedication to the advancement of these values guides relationships within the firm and, most importantly, with its clients.
• Number of 1st year associates: 42
• Number of 2nd year associates: 41
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd Year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
American, Berkeley, Boston University, Cardozo, Catholic, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, UCLA, Houston, Michigan, New York University, Penn, USC, SMU, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia, William & Mary
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 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.