Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP - The Inside View

A global restructuring practice served this BigLaw heavy-hitter well in 2020, but there are many other elements that make it run, Akin, run! 

 

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your arrears! Even outside of turbulent economic times, companies still fall foul of one of capitalism’s circles of hell: bankruptcy. Luckily, Akin Gump is a specialist at deftly handling such matters, and an inspection of Chambers USA and Chambers Global will show you this firm handles bankruptcies and restructurings very well on both a nationwide and global scale. Given what’s happened to economies all over the globe during COVID-19, Akin Gump is well positioned to ride out the storm. Associates also singled out their firm as the best performer in the US for its internal response to the pandemic.

There are many other strings to this BigLaw maestro’s bow though. Akin Gump stands out for its work in regulated sectors. Its nationwide strengths include government relations, international trade, renewable energy and oil & gas work. State-specific highlights include a robust media & entertainment practice in California, highly regarded healthcare and labor & employment expertise in DC, forensic white-collar crime and government investigations capabilities in New York, and a life sciences-oriented IP group in Pennsylvania.    

All this expertise requires attorneys who are “go-getters that like to be in a position where they can take ownership of a matter.” Our interviewees said there was an emphasis on maturity and “respect – for fellow attorneys, support staff and clients alike. I think that’s certainly helping us lean on each other during COVID.” Just under two thirds of associates on our list were in Akin’s litigation and corporate departments. Around a dozen each were in international tradefinancial restructuring and investment funds, with the rest spread among seven smaller groups. About a third each of the cohort were based in New York and DC, with the final third being spread mainly between HoustonDallas and LA. It’s worth mentioning that Akin Gump has Texas roots, but its main power centers today are New York and DC, which oversee a global network of 20 offices spanning Asia, Europe and the Middle East. 

Top read: Becoming a government regulatory lawyer, with Akin Gump

Strategy & Future 



At the time of writing, Akin Gump was holding up well during the pandemic, with interviewees reporting that they hadn’t heard of any layoffs or cutbacks. They added that the firm’s expertise would see the firm through until the boom times begin again: “There are going to be so many more bankruptcies and white-collar matters due to what’s happened with things like funding for small business loans, so I think we’re going to be fine.” 

The Work 



Newbies get placed in their practice groups after ranking their top three preferences at the end of summer. "They really do try to put you where you’ve got an interest,” said an associate, but of course they may be some occasions where getting a top choice may not be possible for everyone. We heard that there’s a practice group manager in most groups and locations, but the extent to which they are relied upon varies. “In DC it’s much more organic,” a litigator noted, “which allows me to control my own schedule a little more. The flipside is it might feel easier to get lost in the crowd.” In New York, however, we heard that the practice manager in litigation “runs the show  all the partners, anytime they need something, will let her know. There’s an unspoken rule that you don’t get an assignment without it coming from the practice group manager.” 

Litigators get exposure to matters across three main areas of work: white-collar, commercial litigation and bankruptcy litigation. There’s variation by office: the Texas offices, for example, work for a lot of retail, telecommunications and oil and gas clients, while New York reportedly works mainly on bankruptcy litigation and white-collar defense cases, with a smattering of commercial litigation. DC covers everything one would associate with the capital, “from antitrust, white-collar defense and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act claims to Congressional investigations and government contracts work.” Most associates are generalists, though some offices may “expect you to go where you’re needed as you come in the door.” Most of the time “you get to try a bunch of cases and where you fall ends up being quite organic.” We were told that financial restructuring and bankruptcy litigation at the firm has recently been dominated by the fallout from companies going under after being sued due to the opioid crisis. “It’s rewarding work and very fast-paced, though sometimes a little bit of a ‘long-hours situation’ because of the deadlines and turnarounds in bankruptcy work,” said one interviewee. Overall, juniors get involved in document review and research tasks, but can also draft letters, prepare client presentations and join on calls. There’s plenty of chance to get deposition experience early on, with this source telling us how they’d “second-chaired a deposition in my first few months – preparing the deposition outlines myself was huge for me. It was a good chance to prove myself early on.”  

Litigation clients: NFL, Gucci, Peabody Energy Corporation. Successfully represented USANA Health Services as it was investigated by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice for alleged FCPA violations by its subsidiary based in China. 

“It’s rewarding work and very fast-paced.” 

Corporate associates get to “start as generalists – you get the opportunity to work on all kinds of different deals.” The team tackles M&A deals “of many sizes, from small deals that are a few million dollars to huge ones closer to the billions.” The group also handles matters such as corporate governance work, debtor and lender deals, and securities issues, though the latter is “in short supply at the moment.” We heard that the smaller deals lend juniors the opportunity “to do more of the substantive work.” This includes taking a “first shot” at drafting ancillary documents and contributing sections to more substantial documents pertaining to debt instruments and promissory notes. Being in at the deep end on these smaller deals is common, but other team members offer their support: “A mid-level sat and helped me work through each part, what the language means, the goals, and showed me some examples – I learned a lot through that.” The big billion-busting deals show juniors “the less sexy side” of corporate work, including “general run of the mill diligence” and the inputting of comments. “It was monotonous but a good way to learn the overall structure of the deal.” 

Corporate clients: Apache Corporation, AT&T, Diamondback Energy. Advised 7-Eleven on its $21 billion acquisition of around 3,900 Speedway stores across 35 states. 

Career Development 



Juniors at Akin Gump typically receive plenty of formal and informal training  an area we’ve covered at length over the years in Chambers Associate. However, “it’s not been the same since working from home. It’s less organic and hands-on,” noted this source, reflecting the feeling of many an associate in 2020/21. A new, additional feedback system has been put in place to allow associates to “request feedback directly after working on a matter – but not a lot of people seem to be using it.” Fortunately, partners have continued to be “nurturing” over juniors’ careers, with one interviewee enthusiastically recounting their “first all-hands-on-deck situation. The partner was talking me through what was happening and what we were doing in a way I could understand, even though it was an emergency.” 

Though we heard it’s “not often” that juniors leave, at the mid-level it’s not uncommon for attorneys to go in-house or to government-related jobs. We were told that there are certain groups, like bankruptcy, where attaining partnership is more likely. Some we spoke with were open that they’re “definitely staying and committing to that partner track.” In 2021, Akin Gump promoted five lawyers to partners – four in the US covering areas such as antitrust, international trade, private equity, corporate, government investigations and litigation. 

Akin Gump was among the top performers in our career development research this year>

Hours & Compensation 



Billable hours: 1,950 hours target

Akin’s 1,950 hours target (for a bonus) includes time dedicated to “pro bono, business development, D&I and anything you do toward recruiting.” At the same time there’s an expectation that “your client hours will be quite high – it’s an unspoken rule that if it takes all of the extras to get you to the target, then you’re not going to get the bonus you thought you would.” Most people we spoke to had around 2,000 client billables, plus an extra 200–300 non-client hours. Those who go above and beyond with their client billables are eligible for a larger bonus

“They want you to go and enjoy family time, to take that time away from work.” 

Interviewees tended to work until around dinnertime and then log back on to do extra work in the evenings as needed. As is standard, corporate attorneys tended to have the most erratic hours. One interviewee told us: “When it’s busy I’ll work past 11pm two or three times a week.” However, partners on such matters are “aware of how crazy it is, very appreciative and working just as hard.” We heard of one matter where, despite its hectic schedule, partners allowed for “a staggered vacation – no one was bothered.” We also heard that gift boxes have been sent once a busy deal has closed. In general, holiday and vacation plans were encouraged: “They want you to go and enjoy family time, to take that time away from work. For us, it’s really important.” 

Associates thought Akin Gump struck a great balance between billable time, home life and optimal earnings: the firm reached the top 10 for Quality of Life>

Pro Bono 



Attorneys can bill an unlimited amount of pro bono hours, and first-years are given the goal of hitting 20 hours within their first two months. “You’re staffed on it, it kicks off, and you can bill it all. They want us to develop a deep pro bono practice,” reported this source. We heard of associates taking on immigration, landlord-tenant and parole cases, as well as matters through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Corporate attorneys can help nonprofits with things like sponsorship, real estate and social outreach matters. “It’s really interesting to learn all about what the organization does and the issues they face,” concluded a corporate interviewee. 

“They want us to develop a deep pro bono practice.” 

We were told that partners encourage and support pro bono: “If a pro bono matter is in an important phase, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell partners on billable matters you need to put client work aside for now. You’ll just have to work late!” Occasionally, pro bono gets “put on the back burner” if a deal closes, “but people really want you to bring it back to the foreground as soon as possible.” Our interviewees reported billing between 100 and 300 pro bono hours in the past year. Akin also runs a pro bono program that allows 1L summer associates to devote their summer after their first year of law school to pro bono work at the firm and four weeks at a public interest organization, and then take up a place on the firm’s pro bono committee when they return as juniors. 

Pro bono hours 

•For all US attorneys: 70,575

•Average per US attorney: 103

Diversity & Inclusion 



Associates are given up to 100 hours of billable credit to put toward D&I activities (as well as recruiting and innovation activities). D&I activities include attending diversity training, events and affinity group meetings, as well as participating in recruiting efforts to increase diversity. These activities and the time devoted to them are about “making sure everyone is embracing the conversation,” as this junior told us. 2020 saw the firm “step up, especially in light of the protests and the social climate” in the US. A reportedly swift response from the firm produced a speaker series and the creation of specific focus groups“During this time, it has become even clearer that the firm is interested in putting its money where its mouth is,” one interviewee reflected. The firm hosted a ‘hackathon’ where small groups “got together and explored initiatives the firm could take on that would promote inclusion.” Though Akin Gump is “continuing these efforts, we know we have a long way to go. But that’s not something Akin hides.” 

Akin Gump was among the top performers in our DE&I research this year>

Culture 



Juniors’ first impressions of Akin Gump were said to be indicative of the firm’s culture at large: “You could see everyone was passionate and knowledgeable. But we weren’t just talking about work, school and grades.” Yes, juniors were able to have “fluid and easy conversations” from the get-go, something sources appreciated, with this interviewee explaining that the relationships at the firm revolve around “people enjoying being a part of each other’s lives, chatting about their kids and families, their hobbies, and how things are going.” This gave juniors like this one the feeling that “people care about and understand your life, which was super important to me when choosing to work here.” What this means for day-to-day office working is that the atmosphere remains “friendly – people keep their doors open and stop and chat as they walk the hallways.” Some larger practice groups put on monthly lunches, where attorneys can socialize and, “more importantly, get free food,” but beyond firm-organized fun we heard that juniors often meet up outside of the working day too. 

“...office borders have dissolved. It’s quite exciting!” 

Given the reported levels of friendly interaction at Akin, we weren’t surprised that moving to total remote working during the pandemic had been “hard. Really hard.” To keep people in touch, we heard that Akin and its lawyers had organized Zoom happy hours, birthday parties and baby showers. “I feel like I’ve been able to stay close with the people I’m close with and even get to know other people better,” one interviewee reflected.  

We were told that various practices across the firm had been devising ways to stay connected during the pandemic. One such initiative was a new Zoom coffee morning scheme, which allowed juniors to sign up for a 30-minute chat with partners and senior associates nationwide – “it’s more difficult to have those connections online, but they’re still super supportive,” one junior concluded. Interviewees in smaller offices were overjoyed that both personally and professionally “office borders have dissolved. It’s quite exciting!” DC interviewees were very much used to working from home, with the pre-pandemic attitude described as “only having to be in the office when you wanted or needed to.” Despite the positives of remote working, most of our sources were “missing our collegial, fun environment.” 

 

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed (2021): 1,204

Interviewees outside OCI (2020): 86

Akin Gump recruits from a total of 29 schools, including 11 top national law schools – Berkeley, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, NYU, Penn, UVA, the University of Texas, and the University of Virginia. The firm also recruits from schools located in regions in which it has an office. Akin Gump also recruits for its national IP practice through the Patent Law Interview Program, and for its Houston and LA offices via the On Tour Interview Program. Hiring partner David Botter tells us Akin does consider applications made directly to the firm.

Akin Gump typically sends one interviewer to conduct OCIs, usually a partner or senior associate who may be an alum of that school. On occasion there may be two interviewers. “At this point in the process, we are asking questions about the candidates’ experiences, both legal and otherwise, in order to assess their skills and whether they are a cultural fit,” Botter says. Questions are based on the firm’s hiring criteria, “which is comprised of several factors including evidence of our core competencies, which include ownership, service and teamwork, client focus and professional excellence.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Even if someone is ridiculously qualified, it’s taken very seriously if they wouldn’t fit in here.” – a third-year junior associate

“Taking the time to do research and getting to know the firm is important and impresses the interviewers. Students should identify unique facts that distinguish one firm from another and weave those into their conversation with the interviewer. This reflects a genuine interest in the firm and helps you stand out among the other candidates.” – hiring partner David Botter

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview (2020): 531

During callbacks, candidates typically meet four to five attorneys for one-to-one interviews lasting around 30 minutes each. Botter tells us: “We strive to include attorneys from various levels of experience and practice groups on the callback interview schedule in order to provide the candidate with as many perspectives on the firm as possible.” He adds that interviewers “often look for more information regarding the candidate’s interest in a particular practice and for more information regarding their interest in the firm.”

Top tips for this stage:

It’s good to look up your interviewers but I’ve had experiences where people had stalked me to a tee – don’t be creepy!” – a second-year junior associate

“Candidates should be prepared to answer why they are interested in our firm and how their skills and experience tie into our core values.” – hiring partner David Botter

Summer program

Offers (2020): 109

Acceptances (2020): 34

During Akin Gump’s ten-week summer program, summer associates work on an assortment of projects “in order to gain experience in the practice areas represented in the office and that may be of interest to them,” says Botter. Attorneys in the office manage assignments by identifying projects for each summer associate based on available assignments and their practice areas of interest. Summers are assigned a mentor and get formal feedback via a mid-summer and end-of-summer meeting. There are also training and networking events throughout the program.

The firm discusses summer associates’ interests and preferences for practice areas and makes final assignments before the summers return as first-year associates based on that discussion and the needs of the firm. Botter says “the majority of our first-year associate classes are comprised of former summer associates.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Equally important with work is getting to know people so you have relationships in place; they organize a lot of events structured around introducing you to the firm’s attorneys.” – a second-year junior associate

“Summer associates should spend time with our attorneys and ask them about their work and experiences in order to get a true feel for the environment and to help them better assess whether a firm is the right ‘fit’ for their career.” – hiring partner David Botter

And finally…

Associates say that when it comes to hiring at Akin Gump, everyone’s opinion matters: “Obviously partners have more authority but it’s a wholesome process. I’ve been in meetings where people are discussing candidates, and even if all the partners like someone, that person won’t get an offer if very few associates do.”

 

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

2001 K Street N.W.,
Washington, DC,
DC 20006
Website www.akingump.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,200,000,000
  • Partners (US): 251
  • Associates (US): 376
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: David H Botter, Firmwide Hiring Partner. For a complete listing of our recruiting contacts go to: https://www.akingump.com/en/careers/ students/recruitingcontacts.html
  • Diversity officer: Nimesh Patel, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 48
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1 Ls: 31, 2Ls: 55, SEOs: 5
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Dallas 1Ls: 6 and 2Ls: 8 Houston 1Ls: 6 and 2Ls: 4 Los Angeles 1Ls: 2 and 2Ls: 5 New York 1Ls: 9 and 2Ls: 20 Philadelphia 2Ls: 1 Washington, DC 1Ls: 7 and 2Ls: 18
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,650/week 2Ls: $3,650/week
  • 1Ls hired? In some offices and through our Pro Bono Scholars Program, Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Program, and Financial Restructuring Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Program.
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Antitrust, communications and information technology, corporate, cybersecurity, privacy and data protection, energy, entertainment and media, environment and natural resources, financial restructuring, global project finance, government contracts, healthcare, intellectual property, international arbitration, international trade, investment funds, labor and employment, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, public law and policy, real estate, regulatory, 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. The firm is widely recognized for its strength in transactional work, litigation, and regulatory and public policy, which allow the firm to provide a comprehensive suite of service 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
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:

American, Berkeley, Boston University, Cardozo, Catholic, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Houston, Michigan, New York University, Penn, UCLA, USC, SMU, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia, William & Mary

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Lavender Law, Loyola PLIP

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 organizations 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 midsummer and end of summer reviews.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.akingump.com/en/careers
LinkedIn: akin-gump-strauss-hauer-&-feld-llp
Twitter: @akin_gump

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Labor & Employment (Band 5)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Government Relations (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Hedge Funds (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 5)
    • Native American Law (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 5)