Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP - The Inside View

High-ranking Texan with global outlook seeks energetic associates for congenial career courtship.

BLEND an achin', entrepreneurial desire to serve clients with a whole lotta legal gumption and you've got yourself an Akin Gump. In the decades since its founding in post-WW2 Dallas, this outfit's amassed 20 offices spread across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the USA. Although Texas is where it all began, DC is the biggest base, in keeping with the firm's predilection for lobbying work. In addition to its government expertise, the firm's bankruptcy, investment funds, international trade and energy practices all earn recognition on a nationwide level from Chambers USA. Chambers Global also recognizes the firm as among the world leaders in international trade, hedge funds and restructuring.

The Work



The litigation department receives the largest amount of new associates, followed by corporate. Several join the oil and gas/natural resources group – which is a Texan specialty –  while there are other practices like investment funds and cross-border transactions that take on a sprinkling of juniors. The larger departments have an assigning partner who “keeps track of what's on everyone's plate,” but as associates find their feet they can receive work directly from partners or take a “walk down the hall” to seek out assignments “if I have extra hours to fill.” A corporate junior let slip that “earlier this year we had an issue when associates were billing 300 hours for multiple months in a row. It came to a head and partners set up a meeting. Now they're spreading out work from Dallas to New York and Houston so it doesn't happen again. It was good, I feel like communication was opened up amongst partners to associates.”

A litigator described their practice as one “combining three broad areas: one is white-collar, then there's some bankruptcy litigation, which is huge in New York and brings in a lot of work, and besides that there's general commercial litigation.” Another source told us that “on the white-collar side of things, I have insider trader investigations that I'm doing most of the legwork on. I coordinate with the client and contract attorneys. Since I'm junior, there's a certain amount of doc review but partners want you to present the case to them and analyze the facts. They're eager to have you sit in on preparation for interviews or depositions. It's not just isolated doc review.”

For commercial litigation, “most of our clients tend to be investment funds” while “there are big energy clients in other states, Texas in particular, that affect the work we get in New York.” A junior's daily grind might consist of “some doc review, but also research and motion practice over discovery disputes. I've taken a first draft of a brief and that writing experience is really helpful.” Over in bankruptcy, “there's lot of research and seniors encourage me to get involved in depositions and drafting outlines.”

“It's not just isolated doc review.”

Meanwhile, over in the corporate department, juniors get stuck into M&A, plus securities offerings and debt work. “For M&A, we mainly represent private equity companies and their portfolio companies although there's a little bit of work for public companies. Early on I did a lot of diligence, but in the last six to eight months I've gotten more client contact. It's actually very demanding – when the partner's gone out of town I interface directly via email and calls. I've been very surprised at the level of responsibility – it's above and beyond.” Other tasks include “drafting portions of purchase agreements, creating issues lists and dealing with comments from the other side.” Over in Houston, an associate in the oil and gas business revealed that “we do a large number of asset deals and I assist with the drafting and negotiating of the deal documents.”

Training  & Development



Novices have a week of initial training covering basics like “here's how HR works and these are the computer systems, etcetera,” and some practice-specific sessions on “advocacy and the life cycle of litigation, plus a writing workshop run by an external coach.” Several sources agreed that “there's not a whole lot of formal training targeted for first-years apart from CLEs offered throughout the year, and I was a bit concerned, like 'what am I missing?' I have friends at other firms who were training for a whole month!”

Experience of informal feedback and practical “on the job training” varied from source to source. “It wasn't something I was expecting and it happened, which is wonderful,” reported one gratefully. “In my first case I had to draft a discovery request. It wasn't difficult but I'd never done it before, and after I turned it in the partner took me out for coffee and went over the reasons for changes. He has any number of other cases but he took 30 minutes out to sit down, for my education. It doesn't always happen but it was really nice, and you improve faster than shooting in the dark and inputting edits.” On the other hand, another junior told us: “I don't want to say that I don't feel supported, but I don't want to say that partners are taking time out to teach me things. It's not like people don't care that there isn't that type of extra support, but nobody's saying 'oh, you're a first-year, what opportunities do you need?'” Juniors are assigned partner and associate mentors.

Offices



A Dallas junior complained that “the office is in the southern part of the downtown area, which is not quite as new and vibrant as uptown. Our office has a lot of dark colors and dark paneling, and people want newer, more modern space.” Well, their wishes were granted – shortly before we went to press it was announced that Akin Gump's Dallas base will move uptown to a gleaming new building. DC juniors also reported that an office move was in the pipeline.

“...everything seems to match.”

Over in the Big Apple, attorneys proudly declared that their digs are “very nice. We're in the Bank of America Tower where they film the HBO show The Newsroom.” First-years share an office but then graduate to their own space. “I'm on the 31st floor with a good view of Manhattan through big windows,” murmured one, but demurred when asked about the décor. “I'm the wrong person to critique the interior design. I mean, everything seems to match.”

Over in Houston, a chatty associate told us: “There's a wellness room where you can take a nap. They provide bottled water and soda. The carpets are regularly washed and there's nice art and stuff on the walls.”

Hours & Compensation



Associates need to rack up 1,950 hours to qualify for a bonus but there's no official billing target. The lack of a set figure “is probably one of my favorite things about this place,” said one junior. “The work can ebb and flow, so right now it's really, really busy and I'm working a lot, but then there are the slower months, in fall and summer. As a first-year I got super-worried when I didn't have much work, but people reassured me, 'hey enjoy this time you have when you're not swamped.' Even when it's super-busy it's manageable: you know what the project requires of you and can prepare your life.”

“It's not like I'm here until 3am for weeks at a time.”

Another junior admitted that “some matters are more unpredictable, like a fast-paced restructuring case, whereas with white-collar, it's easier to plan your life around deadlines. If I want to do something on a Saturday like go to a concert, then I'm happy to stay later on Thursday. Overall the work/life balance is pretty good but it's definitely not perfect. But I didn't expect to work nine to five.” Indeed, some interviewees reported staying into the wee hours, but “those are discrete times to do with a deadline. It's not like I'm here until 3am for weeks at a time.” An 11-hour work day is common, but “there's not a huge face time requirement. In your first year you want to be in the office as much as can to give the impression you're a hard worker, but once you establish that and people know you they won't be looking for you if you're not busy.” Taking a vacation isn't off the cards: “After a busy period I took an international vacation for two weeks. I didn't get work emails, only emails asking how my trip was going.”

Culture



In Big D, “people buckle down and get it done, but they're also very open and friendly. We talk about fantasy football and then go back and do our work. It's a congenial place.” Associates have a happy hour every couple of months, plus “there's always a lot of informal stuff, like a bowling night which is a lot of fun, and associates go to dinner with each other's families.”

A New Yorker mused that “some firms are very private, where people do their own thing, while there are others where the expectation is that you're going to go out on Friday night. Here, it's in between. It's common to grab a drink or two after work with a few closer friends but it's not like this is going to be your social life.” Apparently, “the diversity committee puts on pretty fun events, like wine tasting, a meal at an Indian restaurant, or showing a movie like Selma.”

“We talk about fantasy football and then go back and do our work.”

In the capital, “there's a very collegial atmosphere. I feel extraordinarily lucky, folk here have great personalities and a sense of humor, we don't have scary people screaming at associates.  We're fun-loving and don't take ourselves super-seriously.”

Pro Bono



“Pro bono is the norm around here,” stated a source, a declaration that every interviewee lived up to – all of them were working on pro bono matters at the time of our calls. Associates appreciated that “there's no cap on hours – you can count it all toward the billable total. There are so many avenues so it's easy to find the type of project you're interested in. I got five emails in the past two days about projects. It's like going into a candy store: you pick out what you enjoy.”

“There are so many avenues.”

Unsurprisingly, some of these matters are tough. We heard of sad cases including “a mother accused of abusing her child in the Bronx family court,” a murder-suicide, and “trying to get a juvenile lifer re-sentenced.” Others had taken on landlord-tenant cases, civil litigations against municipalities, breach of contract cases for local businesses, and human trafficking research.

Pro bono hours

•       For all US attorneys: 83,761

•       Average per US attorney: 100

Diversity



A diverse associate told us that “at the partnership level there's not a lot of diversity. I know that the firm's aware of diversity issues and is actively working on them, or planning to. I don't know how widespread that is. There are specific people who care a lot about it, but I personally think it's a little behind other firms.” There's a women's group that puts on events like happy hours, plus a range of intiatives to help recruit diverse lawyers. As well as an overarching national diversity committee, there are local groups in each office representing LGBT and ethnic minority attorneys. There's an LGBT retreat and a working parents' forum in New York and DC.

Get Hired



We all know that law firms everywhere are looking for good grades and good experience. But managing partner Kim Koopersmith lets us in on a few insider secrets that will help hopefuls through the interview process and beyond. First up, she advocates making the most of law school. “Use law school as much as you possibly can to explore your own interests and get a foundation in what you think you'll focus your future on.” Pretty standard stuff. In our discussions with her however, she tells us that things like moot courts, law clinics and “involving yourself in groups where you have a speaking role, are great experiences that will give you more confidence later on.” On a more general note, Akin favors candidates that “are on the offensive to get a seat at the table. We want spunky associates who are willing to think for themselves and express their thoughts to better serve clients.” 

So how do you show that? “Don't be shy about talking about yourself or about asking questions.” Questions are a good way to engage interviewers to let them know that firstly you've thought about the firm in a bit more depth, but also “in the course of your questions it can show how you articulate your thoughts and whether you're comfortable having a back and forth with the interviewer. This way we get more of a sense of who you are and whether you'll be a good cultural fit.”

Strategy & Future



2016 was a busy time for firms across the country. The new administration is taking some getting used to in the legal sector. Akin Gump lawyers were among those who pitched up at airports to help out people affected by Trump's immigration ban “and we will continue to do so as part of our commitment to pro bono,” says Koopersmith. In an attempt to balance things out however, the firm also hired a prominent Republican lobbyist “to better serve all our clients' interests by taking a bipartisan approach.”  Other firm additions include new offices in Dallas and DC, which are currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2019. “We live in a different environment to how we did 20 years ago when we first moved into these offices. Now it's all about collaboration and innovation, so we wanted to shape the new spaces to facilitate those goals. We've even included associates in helping with the design plans.”

“A total home run.”

Other than that, things seem to be chugging along quite nicely at Akin. Three years on from the Bingham acquisition, Koopersmith says that “it's been a total home run. They're so completely connected with our firm.” When we asked if there were any plans to repeat the success of the Bingham deal, the powers that be kept it broad saying: “We will focus on finding geographical opportunities or overlapping circles of expertise that will fit well with us.” While there weren't any specifics offered up as to what areas of expertise they wanted to find opportunities in, we were told that at the moment “our financial restructuring practice continues to be a dominant player in the distressed space and we are becoming more dominant in white-collar crime and global trade. We've been very successful in the things we care most about, which we will continue to do in the future.”

Get Hired



We all know that law firms everywhere are looking for good grades and good experience. But managing partner Kim Koopersmith lets us in on a few insider secrets that will help hopefuls through the interview process and beyond. First up, she advocates making the most of law school. “Use law school as much as you possibly can to explore your own interests and get a foundation in what you think you'll focus your future on.” Pretty standard stuff. In our discussions with her however, she tells us that things like moot courts, law clinics and “involving yourself in groups where you have a speaking role, are great experiences that will give you more confidence later on.” On a more general note, Akin favors candidates that “are on the offensive to get a seat at the table. We want spunky associates who are willing to think for themselves and express their thoughts to better serve clients.” 

So how do you show that? “Don't be shy about talking about yourself or about asking questions.” Questions are a good way to engage interviewers to let them know that firstly you've thought about the firm in a bit more depth, but also “in the course of your questions it can show how you articulate your thoughts and whether you're comfortable having a back and forth with the interviewer. This way we get more of a sense of who you are and whether you'll be a good

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Robert S Strauss Building,
1333 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, DC,
20036-1564
Website www.akingump.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $980,000,000
  • Partners (US): 268
  • Associates (US): 356
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,500/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 2017: 73
  • Offers/Acceptances 2016: 52 offers, 45 acceptances

Main areas of work
Antitrust, communications and technology, cybersecurity, privacy and data protection, corporate, energy, entertainment and media, environment and natural resources, 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.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 43
• Number of 2nd year associates: 45
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd Year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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, William & Mary

Summer details

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.