Life is already pretty peachy at this Atlanta-born powerhouse. Next step: Strategy 3.0...
AT the height of 2018's long, hot summer, managing partner Robert Hays announced that a new chapter in King & Spalding's lengthy tale had begun. The third in a series of firmwide master plans, Strategy 3.0 lays out various structural changes and goals which include a 50% increase in K&S's income by 2022. An ambitious target, but the firm has sturdy foundations to work from. Chambers USA awards it top rankings nationally for its healthcare and projects practice; K&S fares even better in its native Atlanta, earning top prizes across banking and finance, corporate, environment, real estate and tax. Meanwhile, the international arbitration practice deserves singling out for its top-tier worldwide ranking in Chambers Global.
Around 30% of US associates are based in Atlanta, where sources reckoned “there are no other firms that offer work this sophisticated. It's prominent throughout the States but still has a Southern personality.”DC and New York take on 20% apiece, while the remaining associates are split between the firm's other domestic offices.
Strategy 3.0 also involves the creation of three umbrella groups; each has swallowed up several different practice areas. Thankfully, each group has a to-the-point name: Corporate, Finance and Investments (CFI) was home to around 40% of our associate list; Trial and Global Disputes (TGD) took around 30%; and the rest headed into GOV, which covers government and regulatory matters spanning healthcare, life sciences, environmental law and enigmatically titled 'Special Matters' (related to the DOJ and FCC). The aim of merging previously separate groups is to “become more industry-focused and client-centric,” insiders revealed. “By being able to work across practices, teams will be able to handle the whole portfolio of a pharmaceutical or automotive client, for example.”
At the time of our calls, juniors mentioned the possible introduction of a rotation system that would enable new starters to cycle between different areas within their assigned umbrella group on a biannual basis. A third-year felt that “it would be nice to get a broader base of experience and get to know more people across the firm.” Just as we went to print, the firm told us that it was still considering whether to implement this idea or not. CFI and TGD juniors explained that at the time our calls, work assignment was “a free market in that if you enjoy working for a partner you can ask for more work but there’s also an assigning partner to act as a backstop.” In smaller practices, like the various subsections of the GOV umbrella, the “head of the group monitors hours but we’re largely able to generate work organically.”
CFI encompasses corporate, funds and real estate, finance and restructuring, tax and executive compensation. Associates in corporate had worked on M&A and capital markets projects for both private equity firms and publicly owned companies. “A personal highlight was working on a $60 million private equity acquisition where I was in control of the disclosure documents,” a second-year reflected. One Houston-based junior told us they'd “been able to travel to Mexico” and had a lot of surprising opportunities. “It’s not uncommon to see juniors leading closing calls and fielding client questions.” Over in K&S's fund formations team “70% of the practice is representing private equity sponsors, and the other 30% is representing private equity buyouts or investments.” Interviewees told us: “You’re thrust into substantive work early on. Once you show aptitude you’re able to speak with opposing counsel and draft partnership agreements.”
Corporate clients: Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo. Represented Barclays in a $2.2 billion financing for the merger of Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.
“On the whole it will provide more opportunities.”
The sheer size of TGD prompted juniors to declare: “It could be a top 100 firm in and of itself.” We're not going to bother doing the math on that one, but there's certainly a varied spread of dispute types to sample. In Atlanta “a large slice of the practice is class action defense work, which is split into business class action and product liability work.” Lean staffing on many smaller cases “allows young attorneys to do things like draft discovery responses, motions to dismiss and summary judgment, and take depositions.” Other sources had dabbled in FCC investigations, bankruptcies and derivative cases. “Partners let you take ownership over motions to dismiss. They come up with an outline but let you write it out because it’s hard to improve if you’re just rewriting something.” There's some overlap with the GOV group during governmental investigations.
Litigation clients: Home Depot, Citigroup, Delta Air Lines. Representing Equifax in a number of class actions arising from a cybersecurity incident in 2017.
Associates under the GOV umbrella were more siloed into their subgroups than the other two categories, which according to interviewees meant “it’s very easy to know which matters are hot and which partners I’ll be working with.” One of the most popular subsets within the group is the 'Special Matters' white-collar defense practice. A couple of sources told us they’d worked on a case in İstanbul that allowed juniors “to see the full life cycle of an internal investigation as well as learn about different jurisdictions.” Juniors also dabbled in fintech regulatory matters, “doing everything from compliance advice to large-scale internal investigations.” While trials are uncommon, juniors assured us that the team “is prepared to litigate if it comes to it.”
GOV clients: Chevron, Universal Health Services, General Electric. Acted for the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Water Supply Providers in litigation related to ongoing 'water wars' between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
King & Spalding University (KSU) (take note that the official name for this overarching training program may change after a current rebranding exercise) delivers a range of training programs for junior and midlevel associates. Their education begins as one big class, and “we fly out to one location [each year a different office hosts] for sessions on specific skills like witness interviews or depositions.” Follow-up learning comes through monthly skills seminars and ‘lunch and learns’ which earn CLE credits. As well as a nifty meal ticket, they're “a great way to make connections with people in other locations, which definitely end up paying dividends.” There’s also the ‘Link’ program, a formalized mentoring scheme that pairs newcomers with two mentors – one junior and one senior – with whom they “hang out and get coffee or lunch once a month.”
“It’s a great way to make connections with people in other locations, which definitely end up paying dividends.”
Associates also welcomed informal training from partners and senior associates: “The bulk of people who get promoted to partner have come up through the ranks at K&S so there’s a real desire to develop from within.” Most agreed, however, that “you’re rewarded at K&S for seeking out advice and learning on your own. Things move at a very quick pace so you need to be comfortable not getting regular pats on the head or monthly evaluations.” Delving deeper into this 'self-starter' mentality, sources also discussed the importance of “developing business and growing a network that goes beyond just practicing law.” An “informal” career coach services “gives off the vibe that it’s okay to have aspirations beyond making partner.”
Sources in the firm’s native Atlanta praised the “homegrown culture,” and dismissed the idea of a cut-throat environment as “outdated.” Many were “pleasantly surprised by the collegiality and work/life balance. Working here is a slog sometimes, absolutely, but it’s doable and it’s at a sustainable pace, which is the most important thing.” Another reflected that K&S “stays true to its Southern identity, and I think that’s clear in the service we provide to our clients and the unique culture we have here.” Juniors in healthcare added: “One of the best things about working here is that we have a video meeting every other week with team members across the country. It's an amazing feeling to get to know people across the firm.”
“It’s an amazing feeling to get to know people across the firm.”
New Yorkers told us the culture there also subverted expectations. “We all joke that Atlanta is more intense than New York,” one laughed. “If you wander around at 7pm there’s no one here and I’ve never felt like anyone’s breathing down my neck; there's a lot of respect for junior associates.” The Houston office is somewhat “standalone in that we generate so much business locally,” but Texans praised the firm’s travel program. Associates who take advantage of it get a budget “that covers flights and a hotel so you can visit other offices and network with people across your practice area.”
K&S's Chicago offering set up shop in 2017. Interviewees were impressed with how quickly it had slotted into the firm's network: “They’re trying to build the same culture and standard of work as the other offices before expanding further, which is smart.” Most of our sources also praised the firm’s family-friendly attitude, which means that while “this firm's not ideal if you’re looking for a happy hour culture,” it’s “a great place to work if you have a family.”
Hours & Compensation
Part and parcel of that is “very limited pressure for face time” and, compared to the industry's worst excesses, humane associate working hours. Average finish times landed somewhere between 6 and 7pm, and early birds who got to the office before 8am often hit the road earlier. “Every team is a bit different,” but at King & Spalding generally “it's a bit of a blitz during the normal working day so we don't have to linger until 8 or 9pm every night.” Some juniors also logged a few hours on most weekends to keep on top of things.
While there’s no formal billing requirement, the unofficial word on the street is that you should aim to bill 2,050 hours each year in order to get a bonus (although the firm explained that there have been instances where associates who haven't hit that soft target were still awarded a bonus). The associates we surveyed felt that “if you make an effort to generate work it’s not a problem. Everyone I’ve spoken to about hours has exceeded that amount.” The compensation system differs in Atlanta, where a “common gripe is that we get paid less than the other offices. The justification is that Atlanta as a whole isn’t in line with other markets, but it’s frustrating when you’re working with another office and getting paid less for the same work.”
Associates can count 100 pro bono hours toward their billable target, although it's possible to get an extension for special projects. “Pro bono is something the firm is encouraging more and more,” juniors reported, and a number of interviewees had reached out to organizations that appealed to them. “It’s amazing to do work that impacts someone’s life and see results immediately.” King & Spalding has recently collaborated with Her Justice, Habitat for Humanity and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation, and worked on habeas and prisoner abuse cases which allowed juniors “to try out more nuanced appellate work.”
“It’s amazing to do work that impacts someone’s life and see results immediately.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 33,800
- Average per US attorney: 37.6
Diversity & Inclusion
With a less than 25% female partnership it’s no surprise that K&S “still has work to do” in the eyes of juniors, who singled out Atlanta as an office with obvious room for improvement. Others, however, felt that “K&S has been working ahead of the curve to promote women and other underrepresented groups into leadership roles.” More positive sources pointed out “various programs for law students to encourage diversity and funding for diverse candidates,” including a diversity fellowship for 2Ls (this can potentially consist of $25,000 if the student in question progresses through the firm's summer program and subsequently joins as a permanent associate). Others singled out the women’s affinity group – “it's very active and offers a lot of programming. Just yesterday we had a fantastic career and life coach come in and give a talk.”
Strategy & Future
With Strategy 3.0 underway, juniors were “really excited about the firm's future. We had a town hall meeting last week and it seems like they’re doing a good job of growing while maintaining the K&S culture.” Sources in New York in particular told us: “The office just keeps growing – we’ve had to renovate another floor. I think there’s a particular push on the transactional side but there’s expansion everywhere.” Healthcare interviewees outlined “a major drive for work in California, which I feel very invested in, even as a junior.” Chairman Robert Hays tells us: "This past year we continued to execute against our current strategy – Strategy 3.0 – to build upon our industry expertise, whether it’s energy, healthcare or financial services, with a focus on clients. We pay attention to our market share because we want to grow the scale of the firm while also increasing profitability." To read the full interview with Hays, click the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,070
Interviewees outside OCI: 110
K&S holds OCIs at over 25 colleges across the country, as well as a number of law fairs. Hiring partner John Fontham tells us that the firm sees between 20 and 60 students at each campus, depending on their size. Interviews are held by two attorneys and cover a lot of ground with questions on things like “intellectual horsepower, client service focus, interpersonal skills and relationship building and practice group preference.” Fontham advises interviewees to “show that you are well-rounded and intellectually curious with a demonstrated record of achievement.” He adds that K&S looks for candidates who “convey authenticity in their interviews and who have a genuine interest in our firm tend to succeed. We are not looking for hypercompetitive candidates or big egos — this is not a firm of sharp elbows.” Associate sources in the firm’s home city of Atlanta advised interviewees that “you need to articulate why you want to be here. Sometimes people are so focused on getting the job that they lose their awareness of where they are geographically.”
Top tips for this stage:
"We value diversity. Talk about your unique life and work experiences and how those will help you stand apart from your peers and succeed at King & Spalding."— Hiring partner John Fontham.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 408
Successful interviewees are invited back for a session that consists of “four to six interviews with attorneys and either a lunch or a reception afterwards,” according to Fontham. He describes the questions at this stage as “more behavioral in nature than during OCIs, but candidates can still expect a conversational interview style. We are looking for much of the same things we sought in the OCI phase, but now expect a deeper level of knowledge about our firm and interest in it.” He adds that the “ability to connect with our people and a demonstrated interest in our firm” at this stage is “even more important than during OCIs.” Associates told us: “We’ve turned down several people with stellar credentials who we feel wouldn’t command a room or be as personable as others. If I were speaking to a lateral or new attorney, I would only recommend them here if they want to help manage clients and win new clients and represent the firm.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Candidates who have a strong sense of their goals and how King & Spalding will help them to achieve those goals will do well."— Hiring partner John Fontham.
K&S hosted 58 summer associates across the US in 2018. In the Atlanta office, summers rotate between practices, whereas associates elsewhere can indicate their practice area preferences before the summer before being assigned a variety of work across their chosen areas. Fontham explains that summer associates “work closely with summer and work coordinators who are tasked with making your summer experience a rewarding one. We also supplement our summer program with substantive trainings, seminars, and panels, and client site visits and lunches.” He adds: “In June, our summer associates meet in a single locale for a firm-wide moot court & mock negotiation exercise and networking reception.” Summers also get to visit and work from another office in the firm’s network through ‘Connect K&S,’ which according to Fontham “allows our summer associates to see how we connect the dots inside the firm to deliver solutions to our clients’ complex legal issues.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Be intellectually curious: we hire bright lawyers who want to learn and challenge themselves. We value summer associates who develop innovative ways to solve problems and are responsive to the needs of the supervising attorneys and their clients. Even as a summer associate, we expect that you will perform at a high level when met with challenging work." — Hiring partner John Fontham.
And finally… Fontham tells us: “We have a full-time position available for every summer associate who joins our program, and we expect that each of them will earn an offer to return. In 2018, our summer offer rate was 100%.”
Interview with managing partner Robert Hays
King & Spalding LLP
1180 Peachtree Street,
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of international offices: 10
- Worldwide revenue: $1.26 billion
- Partners (US): 386
- Associates (US): 384
- Main recruitment contact: Michelle L Carter, Chief Recruiting Officer
- Hiring partners: Michael E Paulhus (Atlanta) Adam Gray (Austin) Zachary Fardon (Chicago) Mark V Thigpen (Charlotte) Peter A Strotz (Los Angeles) Brandt Leibe (Houston) Ellen M Snare (New York) Fritz Zimmer, Jr (San Francisco) Timothy T Scott (Silicon Valley) John H Fontham (Washington, DC)
- Diversity officer: Harold Franklin, Partner; Caline Mouawad, Partner
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting 2019: 34
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 15, 2Ls: 73
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Atlanta: 30, Austin: 2, Charlotte: 4, Chicago: 3, Houston: 11, New York: 18, San Francisco: 2, Silicon Valley: 3, Washington, DC: 15
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls /2Ls: $3,653/week (Austin, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington, DC)
- $3,173/week (Atlanta, Charlotte)
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summer spend time in an overseas office? Generally, no
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, tax/ ERISA.
King & Spalding has over 1000 lawyers in 20 offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. King & Spalding combines a sophisticated legal practice with a commitment to excellence, collaborative culture, investment in lawyer development, and dedication to pro bono and community service.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Emory, Florida, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Georgia, Georgia State, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Maryland, Mercer, Michigan, NYU, North Carolina, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Santa Clara, Stanford, Texas, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Cornell New York City Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, On-Tour Interview Program (Chicago & Houston), SEMW – Atlanta Interview Program, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Southern Legal Interview Program.
In addition to participating in OCIs and job fairs, King & Spalding also accepts summer associate applications directly from current law students. Interested applicants may submit their resumes and transcripts at https://www.kslaw.com/pages/law-students.
Summer associate profile:
Successful candidates are well-rounded, intellectually curious, and committed to excellence and continued growth. They have diverse life and work experiences and bring unique perspectives to client-oriented solutions. They are collaborative, they are enthusiastic, and they have a genuine interest in building a future at King & Spalding.
Summer program components:
Summer associates experience what it’s like to be a lawyer at King & Spalding by working on challenging matters for real clients. Our summer program is coordinated by a team in each office who work to ensure each summer associate has the right mix of substantive work, training, and social engagement.
We encourage a culture of mentorship and development. Each summer associate is assigned a summer advisor and can expect to get real-time guidance from attorneys throughout the summer. Weekly professional development opportunities include luncheon seminars, attendance at practice group meetings, and off-site client visits. Summer associates also participate in the K&S Summer Summit—a two-day retreat of educational and social programming culminating in a group moot court and mock negotiation exercise.
Our office visit program, Connect K&S, gives summer associates the chance to visit and work from another US office during their summer. By working with colleagues elsewhere, summer associates see first-hand the benefit of having talented lawyers spread across a global footprint, and they experience our collaborative, cross-office approach to serving our clients.
Recruitment website: www.kslaw.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property Recognised Practitioner
- Venture Capital Recognised Practitioner
District of Columbia
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: Securitisation Recognised Practitioner
- Construction Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) Recognised Practitioner
- Environment (Band 3)
- Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 3)
- Government Relations (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- International Arbitration (Band 1)
- International Trade: Customs Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
- Life Sciences Recognised Practitioner
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 2)
- Projects: LNG (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 3)
- Transportation: Road (Automotive) (Band 3)