King & Spalding LLP - The Inside View

Becoming a King & Spalding associate has long been a hot gig. But today there are one billion reasons to try and nab it...

A LOT has happened since 2007: presidential elections that made history, financial crises, Beyoncé and Jay Z's wedding... But even the perspective afforded by these major events can't diminish the magnitude of King & Spalding's expansion. Over the last decade the Georgian VIP went from a respectable five offices to a globetrotting 18, across the USA, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The most recent addition, following strong hints from chairman Robert Hays in our 2015 interview with him, is Tokyo. Oh, and the firm hit the $1 billion revenue mark for the first time.

With regard to its practice areas, though, Robert Hays confirms that the K&S approach is to build upward rather than outward: “We'll continue to broaden that handful of things that the firm is world-class at: energy, life sciences and healthcare, financial institutions, technology and IP, financial institutions, global disputes, and government investigations.” Its Chambers USA profile confirms the veracity of this list and presents a staggering catalog of top marks for K&S's outstanding work, particularly in Georgia.

“There's only one firm in Atlanta that does New York-caliber work, and that's King & Spalding,” championed one, adding that “coming here was a simple decision when valuing top-quality work coupled with Atlanta's lifestyle.” Others agreed, nonchalantly informing us: “It's known as being the most prestigious firm in the area.” One coyly confessed: “I shot for the stars,” while another set the record straight: “There's a perception that non-New York firms' practices aren't as vast and sophisticated but that's not the case. Just look at the work K&S does.”

The Work

During summer, Atlanta hopefuls rotate between different practice areas before expressing a preference. If they know they're keen on litigation over corporate, for example, they can hop across different contentious teams and bypass the transactional side. In New York and DC summers don't rotate but are recruited into single groups. Most K&S associates work in business litigation, but a significant number can be found in corporate, as well as 'special matters'. About the latter, one explained: “It's essentially white-collar crime. It's good for merging litigation with political interests.”

“There's not a lot of doc review because we have a 'discovery center'.”

Business litigators in Atlanta worked “on a variety of matters including professional liability, security and derivatives, class actions, malpractice, and data privacy.” They explained that “an eight-person team is considered large here, so you get substantive tasks. There's not a lot of doc review because we have a 'discovery center'.” One's highlight was “being involved in deposition prep just a few weeks into joining, and even doing one deposition by myself. It's exciting for a first-year. I also had a role in drafting a summary judgment brief.” A DC litigator couldn't hide their pride: “They let me appear in court on behalf of a client, I got to attend a four-day trial where I was the only chair. The partner was there but wasn't even sat at the table!”

Another popular destination for litigator types was tort and environmental litigation. “It's divided into tobacco, pharmaceutical, toxic tort, and automotive, among others. With tobacco, teams are of two attorneys. Work includes drafting motions to compel, taking depositions of fact witnesses, and some research when it comes to trial.” One bragged: “I've been to trial four times. It's an awesome experience.” In LA it's “mostly public liability work in the pharmaceuticals sector, with either small cases where one guy gets sick and sues, or mass tort with hundreds of plaintiffs.”

Corporate associates also told of “leanly staffed teams” where you “get thrown into drafting quickly.” And even though “in the first year there's a lot of diligence, it's not uncommon for a second-year to take the first cut at drafting a purchase agreement. Then of course there's things like disclosure schedules.” Insiders had been “working mostly on M&A transactions, recently on the sell side of public matters, as well as some private equity acquisitions.”


“Some of my best friends in my life are on my team.”

Associates happily admitted that, particularly in the firm's Atlanta HQ, “K&S is a bit more traditional than some other firms: everyone is very academic and polite, and people present themselves well, where other offices might be more casual.” They were just as confident, however, in dispelling any suspicion that with being “academic” and “traditional” comes stuffiness or uncomfortable silence. “It's just professional, but that doesn't mean people don't take an interest in you as a person. Some of my best friends in my life are on my team,” one said heart-meltingly, “and I wouldn't think twice about going to talk to a partner, even if the doors are sometimes closed.” Sources across other offices agreed wholeheartedly, describing the atmosphere as “collaborative, where even partners ask my opinion and are receptive to my needs,” and characterized by “camaraderie among associates.”

Beyond the working day, K&S clearly values its social scene. Atlanta antics included “a large Christmas party downtown with a band and a lot of senior partners dancing hilariously, whiskey and wine tastings, and watching a game in our lounge area. It has a big TV, couches, and a fridge with beer in it.” New Yorkers enjoyed “happy hours with hors d'oeuvres, and frequent impromptu drinks.”

Hours & Compensation

“Atlanta is a traditional workhorse,” said a stoic source, “and our hours reflect that.” Logging on after dinner and weekend work (from home) were common. While there's no minimum hours requirement, a “flat bonus” is awarded once associates hit the 2,050 mark. Anything above this number, which all participants in the HQ had vastly exceeded, “is recognized" with more cash. Most reported billing between 2,200 and 2,700, “which is higher than anyone wants it to be, but is a product of the firm performing so well.”

“The firm shows folks that billables aren't everything.”

Sources didn't feel the firm was pushing them beyond the limit, however, and added that “the people who know I'm working a lot try and get me some relief where possible.” They also stated that “the firm shows folks that billables aren't everything: there are other bonuses you can get for pro bono, or for attracting new clients to the firm.” Generally rookies agreed that “it's hard to be anything but grateful” for their kind of compensation but some would have appreciated “a bit more transparency” with regard to bonus amounts.

Pro Bono

“I'm the poster child for pro bono,” one junior joked. “I did 250 hours in my first year when a case went to trial and the firm credited every single hour.” For mere mortals, the billable limit is supposed to be 100 (up from 50 a few years back). Insiders thought this was fair and agreed that “the firm does an excellent job of promoting pro bono through a specially appointed counsel, but the onus is on the individual if they want to give back, and some people don't do any.” Those who had spoke with verve about their do-gooding endeavors so far, citing “going to trial for a neighbor dispute that got out of control, working on a clemency petition, getting restraining orders for domestic violence cases, defending a prisoner who was sexually assaulted by her doctor, and representing seven plaintiffs in a sexual assault case against their karate instructor.”

“Some people don't do any.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 22,365
  • Average per US attorney: 29


With 91% of KSLAW partners and 84% of associates being white, it was no surprise that some ethnically diverse respondents felt tangibly outnumbered. At the same time, insiders unanimously agreed that the firm was “committed to and supportive of diversity” and is “working on it.” Turning to gender, sources felt results were more evident, explaining that “they're promoting maternity leave and other part-time opportunities for women, while trying to look at different ways they can level the playing field.” A female associate in New York did lament that “there aren't as many female partners as I'd like,” but in Atlanta “there are a lot of women, and we're certainly diverse for the region.”

Compare law firm diversity stats>>

Training & Development

“If I was a surgeon I wouldn't practice on my boyfriend.”

“On-the-job learning is part of the training, sure, but if I was a surgeon I wouldn't practice on my boyfriend.” While the stakes are thankfully slightly lower when, say, writing a brief for the first time, this source's analogy cut through what others were feeling: “I think the firm struggles with training,” one ventured. “There's a two-day orientation when you arrive but it's not as helpful as you'd hope. Then there are formal academies every year but they're organized by class and aren't tailored to the individual.” Another agreed that “we don't do a whole lot. There's a NITA program but other than that the firm itself doesn't formally take you through that day-to-day, hands-on stuff you don't learn at law school.”

On the other hand, juniors appreciated their mentoring system, internally called 'Link'. Each new starter is appointed an associate and a partner 'link', and while “everyone has a different experience,” most had felt supported by their mentors. “My partner link taught me to be a realist about things, and she expresses her own troubles to me too.” The style, dynamic and frequency of formal and informal feedback were also popular.


Atlanta housed 27 of 68 juniors on our list at the time of our calls, DC claimed 14, and 12 were in New York. “New York has an excellent litigation department and the antitrust practice is based in DC.” The rest were scattered across Houston, Charlotte, Austin, LA, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Sacramento.

“I'm in the background of most of the tourist photos!”

A Big Apple caterpillar felt similarly about the tech offering, stating that “IT support has been lacking, but the space is nice with great views.” DC deal-doers bragged about their “hilariously idyllic walk to work: I'm in the background of most of the tourist photos! We also have this crazy amazing rooftop where we watch fireworks on the fourth of July. The only downside is when you're trying to do a conference call and the White House motorcades go off.” 

Get Hired

King & Spalding travels to 26 campuses and a dozen or so other events as part of its recruitment effort. “We mainly go to the same schools every year, but add or subtract based on how well we feel K&S connects to those schools,” chief recruiting officer Kate Ferguson shares. At this stage “most candidates express an interest in one particular office, but some do keep it open to more.” There's no set percentage that gets invited for a callback, it's decided on an ad hoc basis. “The second interview is an extended version of the first, we're looking for the same key traits: intellectual capability, but more importantly intellectual curiosity, collegiality, a collaborative spirit, resilience and good judgment. We're looking for people who want to keep learning and developing themselves, who are goal-oriented, and who can translate that into good client service.” The callback is usually with five or six people, and while there are no oral or written assessments, there's sometimes a lunch.

Strategy & Future

“There's no hubris in what we're trying to do,” asserts chairman Robert Hays. “We're mindful of where we're succeeding and where we're not, but we have not decided to make any identifiable changes in our strategy. We're not currently planning to leave any practices behind, or move into new ones. Our growth has been organic, we promoted more partners last year than in the history of the firm, and we've increased our focus on associate development and promotion. Some firms have expanded at the expense of their culture, but we're mindful of that.”


Interview with chairman Robert Hays

Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you like our readers to know about?

Robert Hays: The firm continued to grow and expand. We passed the billion dollar revenue for the first time, which puts us in a fairly small group of firms this size to have done so. We also continued our international growth in several jurisdictions, particularly with our opening in Tokyo last year, which was consistent with our strategy of thoughtful expansion.

We brought in several laterals in a variety of different offices and different practice areas, both in the US and internationally. We've also had several major deals and cases we're very proud of. We advised the Islamic Development Bank on the establishment of a $25billion Sukuk program, and we achieved an appellate victory for Pandora Media in its licensing dispute with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in May last year.

We also had some pro bono highlights: one of our associates argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of a former Baltimore police officer convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion, and along with a Cardozo Law School professor we filed the first civil lawsuit under the Georgia Hidden Predator Act, the new state law that extends the civil statute on sexual abuse crimes.

CA: Are any particular practice areas shrinking at the moment? Last year you also said you weren't looking to break into any new practice area – has this changed at all?

RH: In terms of what's shrinking, I would think that commoditized litigation and some commoditized transactional work is of less focus for our firm, and that's consistent with what we've been doing over the last eight or ten years.

In terms of moving into new areas I would say no, that hasn't changed. There's no hubris in what we're trying to do. We're mindful of where we're succeeding and where we're not, but we have not decided to make any identifiable changes in our strategy. We're not currently planning to leave any practices behind, or move into new ones. We'll continue to broaden that handful of things that the firm is world class at: energy, life sciences and healthcare, financial institutions, technology and IP, global disputes, and government investigations.

CA: Is there anything else we should know about your strategy going forward and your vision for the future of the firm?

RH: Our growth has been organic, we promoted more partners last year than in the history of the firm, and we've increased our focus on associate development and promotion. Some firms have expanded at the expense of their culture, but we're mindful of that. While we do lateral hire, our main focus is organic, and we're committed to keeping it that way.

The other thing I would note is that most of our growth has been in the 13 new offices that the firm has established since 2007. And the greatest percentage of growth has happened outside the US. Despite our growth we remain committed to standards, and to being thoughtful about the way we grow. We also insist on adherence to the firm's philosophy of being one firm, and not a collection of offices and practices, and being a collegial and friendly place to work. It's a challenge to be sure. But we work hard at that.

CA: With regards to bonuses, associates seemed to think that the firm is moving on from just recognizing the number of hours attorneys put in, and is now rewarding commitment to pro bono and marketing efforts with special bonuses. Is this a fairly new initiative?

RH: Yes, it's been going on for a couple of years now, and it has grown each year. We are eager to continue to reward the associates who go beyond the call of duty for their client work, but we also see great value in contributions they make in other areas. As well as in those you mention, special bonuses are also awarded for business development, writing, supporting the firm at industry conferences, recruiting, and mentoring younger associates.

CA: How is the culture of King & Spalding changing and evolving as new generations enter the firm?

RH: The culture adapts. The firm now inevitably has a wider personality because of its growth. But what has struck me throughout this decade has been the consistency of two elements of the culture; the commitment to our clients, and the collegial and friendly atmosphere. Those haven't changed.

I’ve been to four of our offices recently, and I really noticed how similar the feel of the firm is even in those different places. We work hard to communicate and train people. We recently held a retreat for female senior associates from all around the world. We really strive to assimilate and integrate people as we grow. That's the key to preserving the culture.

From the K&S hall of fame: Griffin Bell

King & Spalding has always demonstrated a strong dedication to civic leaderhsip and involvement. In 1918, name partner Alex King left the firm to accept President Wilson’s appointment as US Solicitor General before being appointed as a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals a few years later.

King was just the first in a long line of civic leaders the firm has produced and attracted. Among them are Griffin Bell. Bell joined K&S in 1948 and would end up serving the firm for more than 40 years as a litigation partner. He was to also grace the same bench on the Fifth Circuit as Alex King after being appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Bell had previously worked as co-chairman of JFK's presidential campaign in Georgia. Bell served for more than fourteen years on the Fifth Circuit and played a instrumental role in mediating disputes between the court's factions during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement.

Bell resigned from the Fifth Circuit in March 1976 to resume his practice at King & Spalding. However, later that year President Jimmy Carter was to nominate him to become the 72nd United States Attorney General, a position he was to hold from January 1977 to August 1979. His Watergate-era nomination may have been controversial (he was a Southerner and a personal friend of the President), but by the time he left office, Bell had won the praise of most of his critics in the Senate and the media, especially as he was credited with bringing much needed independence and professionalism to the Department of Justice.

In April 1978, Bell announced the indictment of former acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, Mark Felt and former FBI assistant director Edward Miller for authorizing break-ins of New York City radical political activists. Bell was to introduce requirements that any illegal activities, even if authorized, must be made in writing. While he was in the post Bell also led the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, and was instrumental as the Carter administration greatly increased the number of women and minorities serving on the federal bench. Bell recruited Wade McCree, an African American then serving as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, to serve as United States Solicitor General, and Drew S. Days III, an African American lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to head the Civil Rights Division.

From 1985 to 1987 Bell served as a member of the US Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on South Africa. In 1989, he was appointed vice chairman of President George H. W. Bush's commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform. As a lawyer during this period, he specialized in corporate internal investigations, many that were high-profile, like that for E.F. Hutton following federal indictments for its cash management practices.

King & Spalding LLP

1180 Peachtree Street,
GA 30309

  • Head Office: Atlanta, GA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 8
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,018,000,000
  • Partners (US): 324
  • Associates (US): 318
  • Summer Salary 2016:  
  • 1Ls: $3,100/week (Austin, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington, DC); $2,600/week (Atlanta, Charlotte)
  • 2Ls: Same as 1Ls
  • Post 3Ls: Same as 1Ls
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summer spend time in an overseas office? Generally, no
  • Summers 2016: 51
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 45 offers, 37 acceptances

Main areas of work
Antitrust, appellate, banking and finance, corporate, energy, financial restructuring, government investigations, healthcare, intellectual property, international arbitration, international trade, litigation, pharma/biotech/medical device, real estate, tort and environmental and tax/ERISA.

Firm profile
King & Spalding has over 900 lawyers in 18 offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. King & Spalding combines sophisticated legal practice with a commitment to excellence, collegial culture, investment in lawyer development, and dedication to community service.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 27
• Number of 2nd year associates: 41
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 in most locations 
• 2nd year: $190,000 in most locations  
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Columbia, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, Georgia State, Harvard, Howard, Mercer, NYU, St Louis, Stanford, University of Alabama, University of California – Berkeley, University of California – Hastings, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Houston, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

King & Spalding offers an opportunity to work as part of a team on sophisticated legal matters for top clients in a collegial environment. We seek candidates who are well-rounded and intellectually curious with a demonstrated record of achievement and who also have diverse life and work experiences and outstanding interpersonal skills. Our summer associates experience what it is like to be a lawyer at King & Spalding and work on challenging matters for real clients. Our summer associates also get to know our lawyers in both professional and social settings.

Summer program components:
Summer associates work on matters in the practice group or groups in which they are interested. Assignment processes vary by office. Some offices have a formal rotation program while in other offices, our summer associates are assigned projects primarily in one practice group in which they are interested. Each summer associate is assigned at least one summer advisor who acts as a mentor. Training: weekly luncheon seminars, attendance at practice group meetings, and in-house and external training sessions. Summer associates receive a formal midsummer and end of summer evaluation, as well as ongoing project feedback.