K&L Gates - The Inside View

It's the end of an era and the start of a promising new one at one of the fastest-expanding firms in recent history.

AFTER two decades at the top, K&L's chairman and global managing partner Peter Kalis stood down in 2017, and the keys to the Gates (sorry) passed to new management. Interviewed just as Mike Caccese and Jim Segerdahl took the reins, associates told us “it seems like there will be a lot of positive changes” going forward. Executive committee member Craig Budner says the firm is “very excited about the transition. We've been investing in our platform and we're poised to take real advantage of it.”

That platform merits a plethora of Chambers USA rankings spanning dozens of practices, from commercial litigation and corporate/M&A to more specialist areas like maritime regulation and technology outsourcing. Interviewees described K&L as “the best of both worlds” in that it boasts “the resources of a larger firm” as well as “the local connections and culture” of the smaller firms that came together in a series of mergers ever since the K&L (for Kilpatrick & Lockhart) combined with the Gates (Seattle's Preston Gates) to form K&L Gates in 2007. Today's firm can trace its history back to the 1850s.

The Work

Juniors join an umbrella practice group upon arrival: most head into corporate and transactional, IP, litigation and dispute resolution, or policy and regulatory. Each operates a free market system that encourages newbies to approach partners for tasks and gives them “more control” over their workload – it's “a little challenging in the first six months, but I grew to like that you can pick and choose who to work with.” Some reported frustration that “you might be busy working long weeks and see people who are doing less,” but Seattle has a workflow coordinator to help the overburdened.

Corporate & transactional at K&L Gates covers “a very wide range” of sub-practices including M&A, securities, debt and equity financing, venture capital and healthcare. “The whole menu is available” to hungry juniors, whose plates were full with “anything from drafting documents to preparing all the required ancillaries.” As they got more senior our sources noticed “I don't do as much due diligence as I used to; I appreciate the opportunities I get to grow and progress,” and one suggested “all the partners are aware that the only way an associate can grow is to give them greater responsibility.” The workload can be “very up and down, that's the nature of it, particularly in M&A.” Long days become the norm toward the ends of deals but “overall the work/life balance seems better than at some peer firms,” interviewees indicated.

“I wasn't expecting such a great opportunity that quickly.”

Junior litigators filled their days with “research, writing portions of motions and a little bit of document review, though that's slowed down as I've got more senior.” The “all stripes group” handles “bread and butter commercial contract disputes” as well as securities, insurance and tort litigation. Client contact can be limited by deal size, but interviewees looked “to build toward it, I see it coming in the future and it doesn't bother me now.” They brushed off hefty workloads and reasoned “that's the nature of the beast, sometimes it will be overwhelming and stressful.” Some patent litigation filters through into their team, but the dedicated IP group handles the majority as well as patent prosecution and post-grant review. A general daythere consists of “working on a draft application or response to office action. Things were slow to begin with but it's pretty consistent now.”

In policy and regulatory, work focuses on representing financial institutions in cases of “government enforcement, white collar crime, a lot of internal investigations... any matter where the government could be the adverse party.” For newcomers that means “a lot of document review, internal preparation and research,” but there's also the chance to “travel across the US and internationally with a partner.” One interviewee recalled “quite soon after I started we had to travel to prep the client for testimony. I wasn't expecting such a great opportunity that quickly.” Policy and regulatory work is also a fixture in financial services, where juniors get “a lot of drafting, but also frequent phone calls with clients, answering regulatory concerns.” Days in that group tended to be “more consistent than in most practices, and it's always been manageable.”


K&L's Pittsburgh epicenter has outgrown DC, which was until recently the largest office. “The building and location are great,” according to interviewees. “The offices have giant windows looking out over the city that provide loads of natural light.” Other larger bases include Seattle (“we've got a pretty big presence here”), Boston (“the combo of having your own office but maintaining an open door policy is nice, you can ask for help when you need it”) and Chicago, in which “the décor is a little outdated, but we're trying to update within the next year.” They're lagging behind most other places, as “a few years ago the firm decided to brand every office the same,” the identikit surroundings designed to help “associates feel at home no matter where they go.”

“It feels the same calling someone across the country as it does coworkers on a lower floor.”

Internationally-minded associates felt “very encouraged to reach out to other offices and visit if we're nearby; they really promote the global platform. I definitely get international exposure.” Those prone to travel sickness can stick to K&L's sister office program: every year, each office pairs with another of comparable size and keeps in touch via quarterly video-conferences. Sister locations mix business and pleasure – last year Pittsburghers enjoyed “a tour of London in pictures!” The network's connectivity prompted one source to declare “it feels the same calling someone across the country as it does co-workers on a lower floor.”

Culture & Diversity

Juniors in various offices suggested “there's a lingering culture from the firm that was here before we became K&L Gates,” so local character tends to bleed into the personality of each office. Pittsburgh has “a blue collar work ethic that fits the city, it's a very close-knit community,” while in Seattle there's “a lower expectation to be billing New York-style hours” and Raleigh's “pretty family-friendly: everyone knows we're not a major city and acts accordingly.” Others, however, argued “there is a culture that permeates all the offices, and associates tend to have a more global outlook than partners.” Quizzed about relationships with their superiors, insiders agreed “it's pretty collegial overall, but different partners are different people. Some prefer a more traditional hierarchical set up but I've never met anyone I'm afraid to talk to.”

“Associates tend to have a more global outlook than partners.”

Chicago is “very social – we have monthly cocktail hours where staff and attorneys get together.” Not to be outdone, Pittsburghers hosted “a pot luck dinner program run by the associate committee – it's a good way to meet associates across the firm.” Contrastingly, in Boston there's “not as robust a social life as in other places, due to both the firm and people's attitudes.” Perhaps they could take notes from DC, who host “a nice holiday get-together every year, it's a good opportunity to boost morale and get people excited.” Juniors were similarly pleased with the situation in Seattle: “The social aspect is one my favorite things about the firm. I'm grabbing lunch or coffee with the people I'm working with multiple times a week.” Annual retreats bring lawyers from different offices together to help them put names to faces.

Gender diversity has come a long way in the law, and K&L juniors applauded the firm for “moving in the right direction with younger associates, there's a strong emphasis on female leadership.” The Women In the Profession (WIP) group hosts networking events as well as happy hours. On the flip side, several sources felt “we're not great on ethnic diversity, but they're actively trying to remedy that at recruitment level.” Since 2013, K&L Gates has granted 140 diverse students summer associate positions in California, Chicago and North Carolina through its Kickstarter Program, while the Pittsburgh and Seattle bases have distinct diversity fellowships. Some interviewees worried that “it's hard to see positive results” from these initiatives, but others thought they “will do wonders” in due time.

“The first year has an incredible amount of training packed in,” which helped “to make the free market system more comfortable.” If anything, the deluge of information was too much – “sometimes I feel we get too much training, it seems like we have CLEs available everyday!”  Transactional associates can sit in on merger workshops, negotiation training or sessions on compiling documents like audit response letters. Larger offices like Pittsburgh and DC host training sessions which are broadcast firm-wide: “Because of that capability we're exposed to more things than a smaller firm would have resources for,” something juniors “really appreciated.” Annual reviews evaluate associates' progress each year spanning September 1st to August 31st, though many felt “there's only so much the formal process can do.” Thankfully, partners are “generally good about giving direct feedback; some you need to ask but others give it unprompted.”

“It makes the free market system more comfortable.”

Hours & Compensation

Associate salaries at K&L Gates vary depending on where you're working, but start at $180,000 in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Other offices work to different scales, and the firm got mixed feedback on its response to the 2016 market salary rise; some aggrieved sources grumbled that “they handled it quite poorly. I wish there'd been more communication.” However, others gave more positive impressions “they did a good job explaining what they did and why. It was important to keeping us competitive, and it was done fairly.”

“Remote working is definitely encouraged.”

Most juniors tended to work ten-hour days with “some weekend work depending on how busy the practice is.” They were pleased to find “remote working is definitely encouraged” if they needed to leave the office a bit earlier: “I've never had any issues.” Associates become bonus-eligible once they hit 1,950 hours. How achievable is that it? “It depends a lot on your practice area and the partners you work with,” one junior summarized. “I think it's achievable most years for most people, but there don't seem to be repercussions for not hitting 1,950.” All those we spoke to “definitely had time for a life outside the firm, that's a necessity,” and had no problems taking vacation in quieter periods.

Pro Bono

Every hour of pro bono counts toward the bonus threshold. “I've never felt a push back, it's always encouraged,” according to juniors, with the caveat “they probably wouldn't like it to be 50% of our hours! But they definitely respect and think highly of pro bono, we have a strong initiative.” Matters up for grabs included asylum cases, prisoner rights litigation and various contract disputes, delivered via “weekly emails listing contacts who can help you engage with cases. At the same time, the partners in charge of pro bono are receptive to juniors' ideas if it's something K&L isn't already engaged with.” In one example "a group of associates conceptualized an idea where the firm would harness its network in a global volunteer effort to help those affected by hunger," the firm explains "they pitched the idea to management, who immediately approved it." Several interviewees got involved with the firm's 'revenge porn' cyber civil rights program.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 53,620
  • Average per US attorney: 44

Strategy & Future

We've covered reports of partner defections and other behind the scenes happenings in previous years, and interviewees voiced concerns about being “often kept in the dark. There were a lot of staff layoffs recently; it could have been managed a little differently.” Optimism pervaded that “it seems like they're moving in the right direction to keep us informed.” Executive committee partner Craig Budner confirms K&L Gates is “free of debt despite our investments in building a globally integrated platform. Young lawyers coming in know that when they make it to partnership it's been paid for, and there's no ongoing obligation to pay off the debts of past generations.” Looking back at the firm's rapid rise, he reveals “we've done the expansion, the next phase is to take advantage of the resources that we now have.”

“We've done the expansion, the next phase is to take advantage of the resources that we now have.”

Interview with global integration and strategic growth partner Craig Budner

Chambers Associate: What's been the most exciting thing that the firm has done over the past year?

Craig Budner: The launch of our Path to Equity Partnership Program, PEPP. It's currently designed to work with newly minted partners in the development and execution of business development strategies. It's been a really exciting project so far. We've taken cues from businesses and professional services firms and worked with outside speakers. We see it as a program to help us develop business not only for younger partners, but in the future, senior associates as well.

CA: What impact do you think the imminent change in the firm's management will have on strategy going forward?

CB: I don't think there will be an immediate discernible impact. [Outgoing chairman and global managing partner] Pete Kalis did a tremendous job leading the team to build the firm to where it is today, establishing the architecture of a collaborative, global firm. We've done the expansion, the next phase is to take advantage of the resources that we now have. I don't think the shift is as much about leadership personalities – though Pete is one of a kind! – as it is about a slow shift from a number of years of building the firm to where it is today.

CA: Beyond the leadership change, then, how do you see K&L Gates evolving in the near future?

CB: We'll stay committed to the principle of a collaborative culture that invests in our attorneys and helps them meet clients where they want to be met. What I mean by that is instead of clients approaching our lawyers, we hope to give K&L Gates attorneys the tools to approach clients and find out their strategic objectives, then authentically match our skills in a particular area to the clients' needs. In connection with that, we're working on evolving our products – in some cases that means fixed or alternative fees which can add real strategic value and unlock other aspects of lawyer-client relationships.

CA: Given the firm's global nature, how do you think Brexit and the new presidency in in the US will affect the legal market?

CB: I think change is usually good for the legal industry generally. Brexit could admittedly dampen certain transactional activity in the UK because clients are still working out what it will mean for their business. The changes brought about by President Trump could be seen as a good thing for law firms, but involves adapting global strategies and understanding what his seemingly 'America First' policy really represents. There's a lot of talk, but it's not year clear how those policies will be implemented, though his actions could well affect how public policy is conducted in Washington. A firm that's truly global and integrated like ours is well-positioned to help clients through a series of rapid changes.

CA: Last year we heard from Chuck Miller that the firm is striving to connect lawyers from different practice groups – what steps have been taken to progress that?

CB: We bring lawyers together for an annual partner retreat, during which we have preparatory meetings of partners from all across the firm to create business plans and work on the development of strategy. Similarly, we invest in a senior associate symposium – 60 or 70 senior associates come together and meet leaders of the firm to discuss the nuts and bolts of our business as well as client service strategies. The PEPP program is another part of this, as it's a commitment to encouraging business development for lawyers who are starting to build their own practices and business base.

There are other ways in which we commit to a collaborative model, one of which is our compensation system, whereby attorneys are rewarded for sharing work across offices and practices. Close to 30% of our matters are sourced in one office and carried out in another. Our metrics show tangible results from our investments in collaboration.

CA: What do you think makes K&L Gates unique among international firms?

CB: One big factor is that we're a firm free of debt despite our investments in building a globally integrated platform. Young lawyers coming in know that when they make it to partnership it's been paid for, and there's no ongoing obligation to pay off the debts of past generations. Another aspect is our emphasis on entrepreneurship. Aside from some extraordinary cases in particular years, no one client represents more than 3% of our revenues. A lawyer who comes here finds that the chance to create their own economic sustainability is aligned with the broader firm strategy, unlike at other firms who want their lawyers to predominantly serve an institutional client base. If you're looking long-term, I think it's exciting that the firm is willing to invest in you and your entrepreneurial growth.

CA: If you could give any advice to a student looking to go into the law or to join K&L Gates, what would it be?

CB: I would look not only at how you think you'd fit into a firm immediately, but also three, five, or ten years down the road. The stereotype of the generation of current law students is that they're more short-term focused. But I haven't found that to be the case at all. New lawyers are still interested in committing to a career and focusing on the long-term. I love to see younger associates asking senior associates and young partners about business development and client service strategies. It's really important to not look too myopically, and consider if a firm is where you want to be long-term.

CA: Finally then, is there anything we haven't discussed that you think our readers should know about the firm?

CB: Pete Kalis' legacy has been really profound, but I should talk a bit about the new leadership, Mike Caccese [chairman] and Jim Segerdahl [global managing partner]. Mike came from an in-house counsel position and developed one of the leading investment management practices in the world.  He’ll bring savvy business-minded strategies to the table, among other talents. Jim brings a tremendous poise and wisdom: he has as good a judgment as any lawyer I've ever met. We're very excited about the transition. We've been investing in our platform and we're poised to take real advantage of it.

Get Hired

What's the key to getting inside the K&L Gates? Our interviewees said the firm was looking for “the kind of people we'd not mind working on a project with until early hours, we could leave alone with a client and not worry about anything going wrong, and who can act correctly in front of a judge.” Those who'd helped interview hopefuls told us the firm “likes to know why the candidate is looking at K&L Gates rather than another big firm,” and often “looks for a connection to the city – we don't want somebody who wants to be at a BigLaw firm but couldn't cut it elsewhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that the interviewee wants to use the firm as a stepping stone, and I don't want to get that feeling.”

The firm tells us it "wants to know about a student’s successes in all parts of their life, and how that translates into them being an excellent lawyer." Several juniors suggested that interviews “focus more on experiences than grades,” favoring candidates with “interesting summer jobs or work experience before law school. You realize when you get here that you don't learn a lot in class!” One insider had “a personal belief that moot court and mock trial experience is vital if you're interested in litigation, as it gives you some idea of what the job is actually like, more so than sitting in class.” Another pointed to team sports as a good resume booster “it tells me you know how to work as part of a group, which is important particularly in corporate.” The firm's global nature means it's no surprise that ittends to find those with international ties appealing. It's not universal to everyone here but having that helps.”  While "fluency in non-native languages is always beneficial for global businesses with multicultural clients," the firm confirms "secondary language skills are not required."

As with many things in life, good things come to those who don't wait, as “K&L really cares about people who seem interested, so it looks very highly upon those who reach out before OCIs.” Once you've reached the interview stage, it's important “to make it clear why you're interested, beyond the prestige of the firm.” Juniors said in hindsight they'd “liked to have known a little bit more about how offices and practice groups were integrated,” perhaps a good topic of discussion at interview; they also advised that law students “try not to stress too hard about it all. The process is as much about finding a good fit for you as it is for the firm.”

K&L confirms that "because the majority of entry-level associates come to the firm having little practical experience in any particular area of the law, having a practice area preference is not essential. Generally, entry-level associates are assigned to practice areas upon joining the firm." Beyond what we've included here and in our Inside View of K&L Gates, the firm advises candidates "stay abreast of the business world and the world in general; take time to network and meet a variety of professionals in the legal industry; be well-rounded in your education and take a variety of classes, even if you can’t foresee how a class may benefit you; become a better writer by joining a journal or continuing to improve upon your writing skills; and be diligent in your research rather than assuming what you hear is true."

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 or secretly recorded rendezvous, 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. Vengefulness 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 do 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? Thirty-four states (and DC) 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: 22
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,179,139,000
  • Partners (US): 629
  • Of Counsel (US): 77
  • Associates (US): 489
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 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 2017: 65
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 69 offers extended, 62 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.