K&L Gates - The Inside View

Some people have left, many have joined global K&L Gates, which overall has been bolstering its US presence.

JUST over a decade ago K&L Gates opened up the merger gates and ushered a cascade of attorneys into the firm, quintupling its headcount in the process. 2005 first kicked off the drive for growth with a union between predecessor firms Kirkpatrick & Lockhart (headquartered in Pittsburgh) and London's Nicholas Graham Johnson. Just two years later the firm got its shortened name when Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham merged with Seattle's Preston Gates. Throw another four mergers into the mix and K&L Gates now stands at 2,000 lawyers with offices in 16 countries.

Expansion may have been the mode du jour for a while but right now the firm is “figuring out what it means to be as large and international as we are,” sources told us. “We expanded very quickly so now we're looking to better establish ourselves.” US managing partner Chuck Miller tells us: “We will look at a couple of new markets but we really want to try to bolster and strengthen some of the places where we already are.” Throughout 2015, he continues, “we particularly enhanced our offering in New York.” Going forward, the Big Apple's going to remain a focus for growth, alongside Chicago and the firm's California bases.

You've probably seen reports that K&L has recently been hit by a number of partner defections. Despite the headlines, the firm maintains most of these moves were planned departures following productivity evaluations. Chuck Miller confirms: "We lose and gain partners every year. Some of those are planned departures that we haven't discouraged. Of course we do lose some people we would like to keep but that's the nature of the profession. We're very active in the lateral market and see new laterals coming in every year." Almost 70 partners have arrived at the firm since January 2015, over half of whom have joined the firm's US offices.

The Work

Juniors join one of nine umbrella practice groups upon arrival: corporate & transactional; energy, infrastructure & resources; finance; financial services; IP; labor, employment & workplace safety; litigation & dispute resolution; policy & regulatory; and real estate. Commercial disputes and corporate/M&A take on the most newbies with investment management, energy, IP litigation, and financial services also absorbing ample cohorts.

“You're the keeper of the facts.” 

Litigators can dabble in areas like consumer finance, contract disputes, insurance coverage, white-collar crime and labor & employment, to name a few. Starting out in commercial disputes, newbies undertake their fair share of “reviewing discovery documents and conducting research. As I'm still fairly junior I handle more discrete research assignments rather than sticking with one case.” Sources who'd established themselves were more likely to end up “running an internal doc review team and doing the first draft of all discovery motions; you're the keeper of the facts.” Others had prepared witnesses and partners for, respectively, depositions and arguing motions.

One typical corporate associate told us: “I've done due diligence and now I'm managing both the process and the reports. I work on schedules, creating new entities, work directly with clients or third parties for third party consent documents, and draft a lot of ancillary documents. I've also worked on the primary agreements but haven't drafted one by myself yet.” Among other areas, venture capitalist financing, securities and “pure M&A deal work that gets everybody paid” are all sampled by corporate/M&A rookies.

Once out the starting gate it's generally up to juniors to seek out their own work. “You're responsible for selling yourself and seeking out your own niche, which really appeals to me,” one source found. Another lauded the ability to “go after the partners you like to work with.” Ad hoc safeguards are in place to stop associates from falling at any hurdles; mentors “typically have an assignment lined up to get you started” on your first project. Some departments send out monthly emails “just to check in and see if anyone is low on work” while the Seattle office recently “placed an emphasis on trying to protect associates and ensure work allocation is smooth.” Workflow coordinators are now in place here but associates can still seek out matters by themselves.


Matching décor may be one way to link all of K&L's bases but less superficial initiatives include “a definite drive to cross-sell and collaborate between offices.” Most interaction appears to take place within the USA. One Pittsburgher reckoned “almost every team I've been on has been split across two locations.” K&L's largest US office is in Washington, DC although Pittsburgh's base is considered the firm's epicenter. Other larger bases are Seattle, Boston and Chicago.

“A definite drive to cross-sell.”

But what about the lure of the global platform that had enticed so many of our sources to the firm? Transactional matters were most likely to contain an international aspect, with one junior estimating that “a third of the deals I've handled have some international element.” Despite this juniors see “not nearly as much as expected. We work with international companies but usually we're just responsible for the US portion of it. The international platform brings in large, interesting, multinational clients but we often reach out to our own international offices who work on the foreign aspects in their own country.”


The “patchwork of mergers and acquisitions” that make up K&L has resulted in various opinions about the firm's culture. Seattle – which came aboard with Preston Gates in 2007 – appears to have remained staunchly committed to its pre-merger culture, leading associates here to describe the firm as “a bunch of legacy firms staying true to the culture of the office that started there.” Another agreed, elaborating: “We still have a significant number of people from Preston Gates so the Seattle culture has remained largely intact. I think that's probably true for a lot of our large offices; the creep of Pittsburgh hasn't affected them yet.”

“Patchwork of mergers and acquisitions.”

Other offices had noticed more of a change. Chicago is “six years on from the merger [between K&L and Chicago's Bell, Boyd & Lloyd] and with lateral hires from larger law firms coming in we're losing the midsize feel we once had. It has a Midwest vibe at the moment but I think that's also changing as we're becoming more integrated into a global platform.” Regardless of location we found a few commonalities: “People are receptive to office visitors because of the free market system; they know people will be coming in and talking to them,” one Pittsburgh source told us. A Boston associate agreed, adding: “Because of the way we solicit work I rarely feel uncomfortable having to knock on someone's door.” The same source noted that Beantown attorneys are “very work-focused. There is not a ton of water cooler chat, not because people don't want to but because the occasions don't always arise.”

Across offices juniors also noted a lack of competitiveness among the lower ranks. “We like and help each other,” one Chicagoan offered, while a DC source expressed relief at “not having to worry someone is going to stab me in the back. People are relaxed and friendly.” Pittsburgh juniors also touched upon that latter point, saying: “Everyone is kind of pushing you to pay attention to personal matters. It's incredibly flexible,” while others pointed to the slacks and button-down shirt dress code.

Get Hired

Associates deemed local connections were important to all of K&L's offices so expect to find bases dominated by juniors from local schools. Those who'd applied to offices outside of a region they had a connection to recalled “having to do a fair bit of convincing” about their reasons for the move.

“Confidence to knock on doors.” 

Sources said that the free market system requires “very personable people; you need to be friendly and have confidence to knock on doors.” Introverts are not excluded from this. “We're not all necessarily outgoing but we're all team players.” Otherwise, juniors concluded, there doesn't appear to be a common trait among attorneys. Seattle proves the exception to this: juniors perceived “an outdoorsy bent to people; we're usually proud of an activity or hobby outside of work.” Hikers, skiers and mountain climbers, get your applications in here.

Hours & Compensation

Maybe it's all that fresh air that makes Seattle attorneys a flock of early birds – "people come in at 7am or 8am” – but wherever they were in the States, juniors appeared to be pulling ten-hour days in the office. “People work pretty hard but it's sure not a sweatshop,” one source thought of their hours. “On occasion I have to put in time at home. There is an expectation you're available but that doesn't necessarily translate into having to work.”

“More of an incentive than a target.”

Associates become bonus-eligible once they hit 1,950 hours; reaching this figure really depends on your practice, we were told, but it's “not an issue” if you fail to achieve it and plenty of our sources were yet to do so. “The bonus is more of an incentive than a target,” one interviewee felt. “It is really not a huge driver at the firm; we are never featured in the press throwing money to associates.” And that point is where we started to hear conflicting opinions. “The only gripe from associates is that the bonus structure is lower than at other large law firms,” one acknowledged. Another source stressed: “I worked a lot of weekends. I met my hours and the bonuses weren't even close to market. It's frustrating.” Others accepted that bonuses were “just not that exciting” with people “happy to make less money and have more of a life.”

Pro Bono

All pro bono hours count as billable and every hour counts toward the bonus threshold. Alongside the usual milieu of asylum claims, landlord/tenant disputes and assisting nonprofits with corporate governance, associates can also work with the firm's Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project on revenge porn cases. “A lot of young associates work on these matters; I think we have a better understanding of the things you can do on a smartphone.” 

“A nice version of Shark Tank.” 

Pittsburgh juniors handled Protection from Abuse Orders (Pennslyvania's version of a restraining order) where they “shepherd a packet of cases through the process.” Attorneys in Washington, DC collaborated with a pro bono client to sponsor and coordinate a 'Dolphin Tank' event. “It was a nice version of Shark Tank where a panel of business experts came in and gave feedback to entrepreneurs.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 55,243 
  • Average per US attorney: 45 

Training & Development

Most interviewees were happy that people would take the time to offer feedback if asked, but a few juniors noted that it can be difficult to get constructive feedback. “People don't like to criticize. They tend to forget what it's like to be a first or second-year so a lot of times you have to seek out that critique.”

“Seek out that critique.”

Larger offices like Pittsburgh and DC host training sessions which are broadcast firmwide. Transactional associates can sit in on merger workshops, negotiation training or sessions on compiling documents like audit response letters. The firm doesn't skimp on litigation training either. “Oh my gosh, in the first year we have a ton of sessions,” one source proclaimed. Skills coaching such as “brief writing, how to give a compelling oral presentation, the fundamentals of research” taper off after six or seven months.


Pittsburgh juniors reckoned K&L was making an attempt to increase diversity “but it's still a lot of white people” in the Pennsylvania base. The firm's just launched a diversity fellowship with the University of Pittsburgh, and a women in the profession (WIP) group hosts a number of happy hours and networking events, including welcome dinners for new associates.

“Dominated by female participation.” 

In Boston “there really isn't that much racial diversity” but the WIP group is “very active. We hosted a panel event for first-year female law students to talk about OCIs. I think that resulted in us having more female applicants when recruiting season came around.” It's a similar picture in Seattle where diversity initiatives are “dominated by female participation. LGBT initiatives aren't lacking either,” but aside from “a lot of Asian Americans, we're struggling with underrepresented minorities.” DC associates, however, thought their office was “pretty diverse.”

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Strategy & Future

K&L's global platform seems to be having an increasing impact on the work passing across the desks of K&L's lawyers. US managing partner Chuck Miller explains: “We're continuing to see an increase in regulation in various sectors of the world and it's having an interesting effect; for one thing we're seeing a lot more combined regulatory and transactional work.” The firm's also continuing to increase interaction between its offices. “Around 30% of our work is interoffice,” Miller tells us. “The percentage of interoffice work has been increasing internationally, especially as our most recent combination in Australia [K&L Gates merged with Australian firm Middletons in 2013] gets fully online.” Go online to read more from Miller on the firm's global network.

We check in with US managing partner Chuck Miller.

Chambers Associate: There have recently been reports in the press about a number of partners leaving the firm in 2015 and early 2016. What's your take on the matter?

Chuck Miller: We lose and gain partners every year. This year we've lost probably 25-30 partners, which is less than 5% of our total partnership, but it's important to keep in mind that we have already added a comparable number of laterals since January. So our total partner headcount is about the same as it was at the end of 2015. We work in a very mobile profession; every year we're going to lose some partners. Some of those are planned departures that we haven't discouraged. Of course we do lose some people we would like to keep but that's the nature of the profession. We're very active in the lateral market and see new laterals coming in every year.

CA: Are the incoming laterals building up any specific practices or offices?

CM: Looking back at 2015 we did a really good job in several of the key markets. We particularly enhanced our offering in New York where, frankly, we had previously been a little undersized. In addition to New York, Chicago and the West Coast, particularly California, are a focus for growth in the US.

CA: When we spoke last year, interoffice work was at an all time high, are you still seeing a lot of cross-office matters at the firm?

CM: Absolutely. If anything it's been slightly higher this year; around thirty percent of our work is interoffice which counts for $300 million to $350 mullion a year and generates a huge percentage of our revenue. The percentage of interoffice work has been increasing internationally, especially as our most recent combination in Australia gets fully online [K&L Gates merged with Australian firm Middletons in 2013].

CA: Are there any other ways you're trying to encourage interaction between your offices?

CM: It's great to connect offices but what we're really trying to do is connect lawyers within different practice groups. We're currently handling a large investigation which involves sixteen of our different offices around the world. That worldwide, seamless service is the reason clients come to us and is something we'll continue to emphasize.

CA: What kind of challenges are global firms facing at the moment?

CM: There are external factors we can't do much about except try to prepare for them. For example, it's anyone's guess whether or not Britain or Greece will leave the European Union but we have to be prepared for the possibility either or both of them will. Another factor has been the huge fluctuation in foreign exchange rates; this can create some distortion in revenue streams. We have ways of dealing with this but it's something you always need to keep an eye on. The final factor is the slowdown of the Chinese economy which affects not only our Asian offices but Australia and the US too. Like many global firms we're keeping a close eye on that.

CA: What kind of benefits are there?  

CM: We can move resources around different offices; if one is tremendously busy we can pool our resources from other offices to help out. It also adds a cushioning effect if one sector of the global economy is lagging. If China is slowing dramatically some of our other offices will pick up the slack and at some point the shoe will be on the other foot. They key to this is managing our offices very carefully and being aware of the pressure points.

CA: What have been the hottest practice areas this year?

CM: In terms of fee generation and utilization our financial services, litigation and intellectual property have been the hottest. All three of those practice areas are well represented across our global platform and that has enabled us to keep a lot of people busy in a lot of different offices.

CA: What do you consider the highlights of the last year?

CM: We were happy with our 7% increase in profits per partner on a currency neutral basis. We also brought in 60 new partners last year which was an all time high, adding some key partners in the energy, labor and employment and financial services sectors.

Every year I'm impressed how the proportion of lawyers outside of the US continues to grow. We now have 63% of our lawyers in the US and 37% are outside the States. It's an incremental increase every year which is an important part of our growth strategy.

CA: What else is on the cards for the future?  

CM: We will look at a couple of new markets but we really want to try to bolster and strengthen some of the places where we already are.

We're continuing to see an increase in regulation in various sectors of the world and it's having an interesting effect; for one thing we're seeing a lot more combined regulatory and transactional work. We're being increasingly called into deals where there is a big regulatory component. The more regulatory overlay on deal work the better for lawyers, particularly in the US. There is often a regulatory component in the litigation work we handle too and because of our global government solutions capabilities we keep a close watch on the regulatory area.

K&L Gates takes on revenge porn

You really don't have to search very hard on the internet to find porn that purports to have been uploaded without a participant's permission. Whether it's fake casting calls, secretly recorded rendezvous or videos subtitled with comments along the lines of 'I told this dumb bitch I'd keep this secret', there is a whole market out there for viewing explicit material implied to have been published without consent.

Sure, there are directors out there creating and consensually publishing porn which caters to audiences who want to think they're watching someone's most private videos being exposed. But, more often than not, these images are exactly what they purport to be and often find their way online under the guise of revenge porn.

You know the story: girl meets boy. Girl and boy fall in lust and/or love. Girl and boy exchange nudes and or/make a steamy film. Girl and boy fall out of lust and/or love. Split up. Boy posts explicit and intimate video and images of girl online without her permission to humiliate and get back at her. But wait, we hear you cry. What about girl posts porn? Vengefulness definitely isn't limited to one gender or sexual orientation but in the context of revenge porn, the overwhelming majority of reported incidents involve female victims and accompanying comments are often misogynists and sexually threatening.

Victims of revenge porn may find their images sent to family, friends or employers – sometimes from fake accounts which pretend to be the victim – or uploaded to websites dedicated to allowing people to publish illicit images for the purpose of humiliating their ex. Once images are up, they're hard to take down; how'd you go about removing hundreds of photos or videos of yourself that have been splashed across various websites. It's doubling hard when many of these sites aren't exactly fussed that they're displaying something published without consent or are designed solely for that such a purpose. And how do you go about bringing perpetrators to justice when so often the response of society has been, and still is in many cases, to censure victims for capturing the images in the first place? Only twenty-six states have laws which can be utilised to prosecute revenge porn but even these, confusingly, come in different guises: Florida, for example has a specific sexual cyberharrassment law, in Georgia and Hawaii, perpetrators can be brought to justice using the law around privacy violation while in states like Vermont and Texas prosecutions can be pursued under unlawful dissemination.

In September 2014 two K&L Gates attorneys, IP litigator David A. Bateman and cyber law and cyber security litigator Elisa J. Amico got together to launch the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project. Working in tandem with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and non-profit organization Without My Consent, attorneys at K&l Gates assist victims on a pro bono basis by using federal copyright law to take down images and pursue damages against perpetrators. The initiative is believed to be the first large scale pro bono project of its kind, though, with the heightening awareness of the issue, we may soon see more lawyers tackling matters in this field.

“We handle a lot of intake calls,” one junior who'd worked on this project told us. “Those often end up with us issuing a take down notice to websites, assigning copyright to images and drafting letters to perpetrators to respect copyright. It's a hot issue at the moment; law enforcement often don't understand what a tech nightmare it can be. It's definitely a time heavy exercise to cobble together enough resources to help solve the problem.” It may be a hot issue in the law but what about among K&L associates? “A lot of young associates work on these matters; I think we have a better understanding of the things you can do on a smart phone.”

K&L Gates

K&L Gates Center,
210 Sixth Avenue,
Website www.klgates.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 24
  • Number of international offices: 21
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,064,953,000
  • Partners (US): 631
  • Of Counsel (US): 89
  • Associates (US): 550
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: Varies by market
  • 2Ls: Varies by market
  • Post 3Ls: Varies by market
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 81
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 78 offers, 60 acceptances (2Ls only)

Firm profile K&L Gates is a fully integrated global law firm with approximately 2,000 lawyers across five continents. We have experienced dramatic growth in the past decade and now rank among the largest US-based law firms in the world. In 2016, for the second year in a row, we were recognized as being one of the 10 strongest US law firm brands by legal market research company Acritas. Our commitment to client service and dedication to delivering value to clients has resulted in four consecutive years on BTI’s Client Service 30, placing in the top 10 the last two years. We were one of just two firms to have earned 45 national first-tier rankings—the highest number of national first-tier rankings among more than 12,700 firms—in the 2016 US News- Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” survey. In 2015, The Financial Times ranked us as a Highly Commended firm in the Compliance & Technology category of its Innovative Lawyers - North America report in recognition of the ground-breaking digital content platform K&L Gates HUB, in addition to giving the firm a Commended ranking for our Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project.

The industry recognition K&L Gates has garnered over the past five years emanates from the foundation of a global community aligned on behalf of our clients. The people at K&L Gates are committed to working together to create a legacy for each other, the firm, our clients, and the communities we serve. We thrive in an inclusive and socially conscious environment that embraces diversity and takes a holistic approach to the career evolution of all our professionals.

We take pride in constantly striving for innovation, imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit. We come up with big ideas and then roll up our sleeves to get the job done, guiding our clients through their most complex issues in a variety of industry sectors and across multiple regions of the world.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 77
• Number of 2nd year associates: 74
• Associate salaries: 1st year: varies by market
• 2nd Year: varies by market
• Clerking policy: Yes

Summer details
Summer program components:
As a summer associate, you will learn about our clients, our practices, our lawyers, and our culture. You’ll sample projects from different practice areas, working as part of a team and participating in pro bono work that enriches the communities we serve. Through on-the-job experience and a formal training curriculum that includes an intensive writing workshop and practice-specific programs, our summer associates begin to develop the professional skills and competencies that will serve them well throughout their careers.

We pair our summer associates with mentors consisting of one partner and at least one associate, who provide guidance on seeking out and completing substantive work assignments, balancing workload demands, dealing with competing projects, integration into the firm’s culture, and setting and achieving career goals. You will receive regular formal and informal feedback on your ongoing performance and developmental progress.