With three decades of successive revenue growth behind it, K&S has well and truly entered the big league.
HAVING secured its crown as the new capital of hip-hop, and following Donald Glover's Emmy-winning series, Atlanta is pretty much the coolest place in America right now. As the city's biggest firm, does that mean King & Spalding is the coolest place to practice law? The recent appointment of now-former partner Christopher Wray as Director of the FBI is undeniably pretty awesome, as is the firm's seemingly unstoppable growth: over the past decade its ranks and revenues have swelled, propelling it past the 1,000-lawyer mark and the $1 billion revenue threshold. All of this has occurred under the savvy leadership of chairman Robert Hays, who has steered K&S since 2006 and has just been re-elected to serve a fifth term in his current role.
Hays has also overseen K&S' geographic expansion: in recent years it opened bases in LA, Tokyo, Moscow and Singapore, with services related to life sciences, energy and international arbitration in mind. Chicago became the 20th addition to K&S' network in 2017, and Hays tells us that it's “fronted by former US Attorney Zach Fardon. It's currently part of our white-collar crime and government investigations practice. Along with Zach, we hired a number of people who were also part of the U.S. Attorney's office.”
Within its three broad arms of transactional, government & regulatory, and litigation practices, K&S picks up many a Chambers USA ranking. At a nationwide level, the firm's energy, healthcare, product liability and projects practices shine. King & Spalding's offices across the US feature well in the rankings, but the rankings for Atlanta are exceptionally strong – these include banking & finance, corporate/M&A, environment and general commercial litigation. Over in Chambers Global, K&S is considered one of the finest firms on the planet for international arbitration work.
Strategy & Future
“Over time, Chicago will become a multi-practice office,” Hays explains, “and we'll grow both transactional and commercial litigation practices there.” While “we're open to the idea of additional office expansion if there's a compelling reason for it,” Hays emphasizes that “our primary focus going forward will be on building out the footprint we already have. We've added about as many offices as any firm in the past decade short of a merger.” He adds that “we've had record levels of demand for our services,” and highlights global disputes, government investigations and corporate finance as particularly booming areas right now.
All of the firm's summers get to sample various areas at K&S before putting forward their preferences to join a particular group. K&S' finance & restructuring, business litigation, special matters, tort & environmental and corporate groups snared most of the second and third-year juniors on our list. Some of the larger teams have staffing partners who gather availability reports: “We guesstimate how many hours we have available and then they assign work. They're good when you start and you're in that ramp up period, but if partners are subsequently happy with your work they do pop in and give you matters more organically.” Those in smaller groups told us that “assignment isn't very organized at all; nobody's there with a spreadsheet monitoring your hours.” Some “would prefer more structure,” but the majority agreed that “K&S is good about allowing us the flexibility to move towards the areas we're interested in and the partners we want to work with.”
Corporate and securities litigation is the largest disputes group, followed by tort & environmental and international arbitration. “We deal with securities litigation, class action defenses, contract disputes and a little bit of IP,” business litigators explained. “The majority of the work has involved drafting motions and basic documents, as well as assisting seniors with the bigger motions for summary judgment,” a source revealed. The firm has a dedicated discovery center which juniors “work closely with to manage e-discovery. It's an increasingly large part of the case process.” Conducting legal research and managing filings are also common tasks for juniors here.
The intriguingly-titled special matters department handles “a lot of cases related to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice – especially the fraud section.” Second-years get to assist with employee interviews and meetings with general counsel. “We often travel to company HQs during cases,” sources explained. “I love our work. We basically do for companies what the FBI does for the government. I've used investigation skills to go through records to figure out who we need to speak to in order to find out what happened – I love interviewing people to find out what went wrong. A matter sometimes ends up at trial, and so we'll represent the company through the litigation.”
“I love interviewing people to find out what went wrong.”
The juniors we spoke to in corporate finance and investments largely stuck to either finance or restructuring, but there might be more overlap for future newcomers. Fledgling finance attorneys “draft ancillary documents and chunkier security agreements but also monitor the checklist on deals. At first you've got partner oversight, but that reduces over time.” Individual offices can have different focuses:New York, for example, is big on securitization work, while Atlanta does more secured lending and Charlotte tends to concentrate on transportation finance. Cross-office staffing is common “so you can lean toward what you're interested in.” Over in restructuring, the focus is on representing debtors, and Chapter 11 bankruptcies are big time-absorbers. “I've been very happy taking the first draft or reviewing a draft from the other side,” an interviewee said, “but I'm also shepherding documents through and making sure everything gets implemented based on the negotiations that have taken place.”
On the transactional side, K&S' corporate juniors are mostly based in Atlanta and New York. The practice represents both public companies and private equity funds. The cross-office real estate team is focused on “financings, acquisitions and fund formations: day to day we're largely dealing with private equity funds. As a junior I'm reviewing partnership agreements, drafting offering documents and doing some research – nothing heavy!”
Training & Development
King & Spalding University (KSU) delivers a range of training programs for junior and mid-level associates. “They do a really nice job with KSU,” our sources thought. “It offers various CLE credits through monthly seminars which either introduce or reinforce skills.” One told us how they “wanted more of a foundation on the corporate side of things, so I was offered a four-part program that would give me a crash-course in that area.” Practice-specific training “depends” on the group in question: finance and restructuring juniors, for example, explained that “we have basic training on protocols and practice, which are quite useful,” while those in small practices said that “we only have informal on the fly training: it's something that could be more solidified.”
Juniors found the formal review process to be “very comprehensive: there's the opportunity to say what you'd like to get out of the experience and what you'd like to do going forward.” Interviewees especially liked the “self plan” part of the process: “We draw up a two-page plan of what we'd like to do in the future. It's really helpful to plan your professional and business development.”
“One thing I've been impressed with is how interconnected everything is,” a source reflected. “Whenever there's a firm meeting or announcement every single office comes together for a conference.” Atlanta remains the center of the web and housed the largest percentage of the second and third-years on our list. “We're the core tenant in our midtown building and we're currently undergoing a huge renovation,” insiders revealed. “We've opted for the more open, glass model. We're not just renovating for the sake of it – it's being done strategically and they took on board our input.”
“One thing I've been impressed with is how interconnected everything is.”
The DC and New York offices also take on a fair wedge of K&S' junior associates. The former is just a stone's throw away from both the White House and a grilled cheese bar (it's hard to say which is more exciting). “We're split between two buildings – one is newer and has more open-floor space, while the other is older, darker and more traditional. Therooftops have beautiful views of the monuments though.” New Yorkers work in a similarly convenient midtown location, as “the Rockefeller subway stop opens up into the building.” Renovations are underway here too, and “once they're finished the problems we've had with lack of space will go away.” Phew.
Culture & Diversity
While there's “definitely an umbrella K&S culture,” associates agreed that it's one that's been stitched together from materials of various shades as “all of the offices are pretty different.” Smaller bases and the DC office are “more familial and laid-back. You don't see many lawyers late at night – everyone works hard then goes home.” In contrast, Houston is “a lot more introverted,” while the Atlanta HQ “has a reputation for being stuffier, and it can feel a little sink or swim. That said, if partners are hard on you it's because they're trying to improve your career.” However, a shift in dress code to business casual has reduced perceptions of formality in Atlanta.While this wasn't such good news for the junior who'd “bought six new suits just before joining,” everyone else welcomed the change and appreciated that “partners don't hold their status over you. It feels like you're working with them rather than for them.”
“...definitely an umbrella K&S culture.”
Though “the firm tries very hard to encourage socializing,” juniors gave conflicting reports on how successful K&S had been in this respect. “A lot of the younger associates are more social, so we'll meet up for drinks;we'll go out for a happy hour two or three times a quarter but it's not super-regular,” one more extroverted source revealed.Smaller offices were described as more tight-knit, while in the larger bases we heard that “it's not uncommon to be in the office elevator with people who don't know who you are.” Most socializing tends to happen within practice groups. Some of the larger groups – like finance & restructuring – come together for “group retreats: last year everyone from the group went to Atlanta and our clients gave talks.”
There's also a “great retreat every year” to celebrate diversity at the firm. “There are fantastic panels with in-house counsel and partners of color, and they spend a lot of money putting us up in great accommodation.” Affinity groups include those for LGBTQ lawyers, women, and attorneys of color. Diversity efforts at the grassroots level include a $10,000 diversity fellowship and a 1L program that's held in conjunction with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. Atlanta-based hiring partner Michael Paulhus tells us that K&S is “focusing on expanding the pipeline of diverse candidates into our interviews to improve output. We're making sure the funnel is as broad as possible.”
Hours & Compensation
Law is never a predictable beast, but K&S juniors reckoned “an average day in the office would last between 8.30am and 6.30/7pm” – a schedule common to the firm as a whole. When things get heavy “it's not at all unheard of to be here until 11pm or midnight,” especially in the Atlanta HQ. However, “most partners allow for flexible schedules and they're very lenient with regards to teleworking.” Weekend stints “aren't frequent” and associates were keen to point out that “people here are very cognizant of the notion that juniors can and should take time off. I've never been told no if I've asked for vacation.”
“Most partners allow for flexible schedules.”
Although there isn't a formal billing target, we heard that it's necessary to rack up 2,050 hours in order to rake in a bonus, although this varies by office; hours billed above the goal net associates more cash. Everybody we spoke to “didn't have an issue meeting that – given how busy we are it's quite easy. A lot of associates bill more than that and it's rare to encounter someone at the super slow end.”
Associates can count over100 pro bono hours toward their billable target. While this allowance was felt to be an incentive, juniors agreed that “the onus is on us to make things happen – and to take on pro bono you have to be invested in it.” For those who are interested, K&S thankfully offers “a lot of opportunities” to take on both litigious and transactional pro bono. Our sources spoke of death penalty, asylum, domestic abuse, veteran and non-profit status matters.Each K&S office has links to local community organizations: Atlanta, for instance, has close ties to Habitat for Humanity.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 36,708.8
- Average per US attorney: 37.8
Sources noted that “King & Spalding has recently been very into pedigree, in terms of your grades and what school you go to. It's become more obvious.” That's not to say the firm doesn't consider “how you fit in personality-wise – along with academics it's important to be a positive person who comes across as genuine.” What other qualities make a good interviewee? “They're looking for compatibility and entrepreneurship – candidates who will take ownership of their own practice and not need a lot of help,” associates told us, adding: “They're trying to identify people who could reach leadership positions at the firm.”
Extracurriculars are the way to “demonstrate your ability to work hard and produce high-quality results. We're looking for somebody who isn't going to bat their eye at working long hours.” Pre-law school jobs can particularly impress, with one source noting that “BigLaw firms get a bad turnover rap because so many first-years are in their first real job.” It can especially help if your work history ties in with the practice group you're interested in – the Special Matters team particularly values Department of Justice experience, and journal involvement can help in various areas. “They're also looking for a concrete connection to the office you're interviewing for,” whether that's a history of studying in the region or a family connection.
Juniors advised that students “need to be aware that law is a service industry, so if someone needs something you can't just tell them you're too busy.” They round off their advice with this pearl of wisdom: “Students tend to do lots of homework on the front end of interviews. It's important to do that, but you can only do so much preparation for your first year with the firm – it will be challenging.”
Interview with chairman Robert Hays
Chambers Associate: How would you sum up the past year at King & Spalding?
Robert Hays: We haven't undergone any major material changes, but we've continued to get better at what we already do. We've had record levels of demand for our services, and we've opened another office in Chicago, which is fronted by former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon.
CA: What role does the firm's new Chicago office play within its operations?
RH: It's currently part of our white-collar crime and government investigations practice. Along with Zach, we hired a number of people who were also part of the U.S. Attorney's office. Over time Chicago will become a multi-practice office, and we'll grow both transactional and commercial litigation practices there.
CA: What are the next steps for the firm – do you have any immediate targets for expansion?
RH: During our internal strategy discussions we've been focused on the market as a whole and intentionally trying not to grow too many areas at once. We're open to the idea of additional office expansion if there's a compelling reason for it, but our primary focus going forward will be on building out the footprint we already have. We've added about as many offices as any firm in the past decade short of a merger.
CA: Last year you highlighted the firm's six key areas (global disputes; healthcare and life sciences; energy; technology and IP; financial institutions; and government investigations/regulatory) – which of these in particular is growing fastest?
RH: Our global disputes practice has been particularly busy, including both litigation in a variety of contexts and international arbitration. Government investigations has also been busy in many respects, especially with regards to Food and Drug Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission and international trade cases. Demand has also risen in our transactional practices, like corporate finance and investments. After the 2008 recession – which lingered for a number of years and impacted many firms – we've witnessed a more robust economic environment over the past year, resulting in greater demand.
CA: Are there any particular areas you think the firm doesn't get enough acclaim or attention for?
RH: One area would be life sciences and healthcare; we have a number of practices within that sphere that do very important work. Another area would be energy, which is also operating on a global level. I'd also put financial services in that category. Our litigation, regulatory, investigations and transactional practices are discussed perhaps more often than those particular industries I've just mentioned.
CA: How do you ensure that there's one consistent culture across each of the firm's offices?
RH: The first way is to state it as a priority and a requirement for that to be the case. Some firms are less insistent on having a consistent culture, but for us it's one of the leading aspects of our growth strategy. We believe it's imperative to be a 'one firm' firm with common values and standards, and that even within a diverse group of attorneys we need to have shared values. It's important not only to our governance and operations, but also to our clients and the quality of the work product we produce. Clients frequently tell us that one of King & Spalding's great strengths is that we can provide a quality product from any office.
Once we've declared that we're pushing for a one-firm culture, the next step is to execute that goal. When you've got a global footprint like ours, you need to hire with that in mind, so when we interview candidates we screen for people who will buy into our 'one firm' culture. The key is to attract people from different backgrounds who are committed to working collaboratively.
CA: What does the firm do to ensure that new lateral arrivals fit into the culture?
RH: Primarily, we conduct a lot of diligence into what they've done so far in their career. The legal hiring market can be a challenge to operate for sure, but one of the advantages of the lateral pool is that candidates have a track record that should demonstrate whether they have the potential to be culturally compatible with our firm. We look at team experience, their history working with clients and who they've worked with in the past. We're also pretty direct during the interview process, and when I interview lateral candidates I tell them that the firm prides itself on its culture. Part of the process sees people self-selecting themselves out if they can't buy into how we do things. We're always candid with prospective K&S attorneys, and ask them to be the same with us.
Interview with hiring partners Michael Paulhus (Atlanta) and John Fontham (DC)
Chambers Associate: How has your interview process evolved in recent years? Have there been any shifts in the questions that you ask or what you're looking for in a good candidate?
John Fontham: I wouldn't say there have been any major shifts. Five or six years ago there were fewer jobs per law student and it was easier to find who you wanted; there's more competition now and we've had to adapt to that. The type of people we're interested in hasn't changed: we're looking for people who are genuinely interested in practicing at the firm and want to work in a collaborative and cooperative atmosphere.
Michael Paulhus: We have a standard interview template that interviewers follow in order to evaluate candidates' intellectual horsepower. To get a candid assessment we tend to ask about a project they've been assigned in the past or their undergraduate thesis. We're also trying to discern if the person is hardworking and can overcome obstacles, and if they have a client service focus. That comes down to softer interpersonal skills and the ability to build strong relationships. In each office we also consider candidates' connection to the city, their commitment to K&S as a whole and any kind of practice group preference.
CA: What criteria do you consider when looking at candidates for particular offices?
MP: We don't focus on anything particularly different, though some practice areas will require broader questioning. We make sure candidates' interests match up with the office they're potentially being recruited into.
JF: In DC we've previously hired into particular practice groups, but that's no longer the case. There's never one particular characteristic that's essential. We want to bring in diverse viewpoints to serve our clients in a broad manner. In DC it's a given that all candidates are smart so we look for what's beyond that. Successful interviewees will have done their homework on the firm and ask questions about it. We also want people who will get on well with everyone in the office – our collaborative atmosphere is very important.
CA: What can students do during their 1L summer to increase their chances of impressing at interview?
MP: We're looking for intellectually curious students with diverse work experience. Don't just declare interest in a topic – explain what you've done as a 1L to gain experience. We like candidates who've been thoughtful about where they've worked, and can explain how that experience has advanced their practical education.
JF: Do something meaningful that builds upon your career interests. If you want to be a trade lawyer, for example, look into the office of a trade representative or a nonprofit doing trade-related work. If you're interested in our special matters group, an internship at the justice department is a good option. When it comes to litigators, we hire a lot of students who've interned for federal judges over the summer.
CA: How important is it that law students have an idea of what practice area they want to go into?
MP: It is more important for some specific groups: finance, tax, healthcare, IP and international arbitration are all pretty specific areas where you'll want to secure the correct work experience. It's not critical for more general applicants to have decided, as you can rotate through different groups. In our business litigation team, for example, you might spend a couple of weeks working on class actions, the next couple in the tort team and then another couple doing white-collar work.
JF: We give our summers a lot of flexibility to try different practice groups, though it's not a good idea to do one project apiece in seven different areas – you should concentrate on a few to properly work out if you like the work and people.
CA: What do you think attracts people to King & Spalding in particular?
JF: What attracted me was the people. Law students come in and get a sense of what the people they're interviewing with are like, and that can make a big difference.
One area where we stand out from other firms is our long history of sending people into top jobs within the government then welcoming those people back – Chris Wray for example, is now Director of the FBI. The idea that you might have aspirations beyond the walls of K&S is a good thing.
MP: We've had fantastic growth over the last decade across several metrics, and that has provided associates with tremendous opportunities. I have a lot of conversations with candidates who talk about their interest in training, and that's something we've invested a lot into. Our year-long 'Strong Start' program for laterals involves videoconference lectures about how to secure feedback and firm economics, so they understand how the firm runs as a business. The last thing I'd mention is that we hire very talented associates – I want everyone who works here to stretch their skill levels and want to be challenged every day.
CA: What does King & Spalding do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
JF: Our Diversity Fellowship awards $10,000 for a paid summer clerkship – a bonus on top of the regular summer pay for specific diverse candidates. Through the Lawyers' Committee for Legal Diversity program we offer positions for 1L students who participate in the summer and attend a two-day seminar (the location varies). They then return for the following summer. There are also 16 different affinity groups for diverse lawyers within the firm, and they provide support and networking opportunities, via means such as workshops and panel discussions on business development.
MP: We also support the Law Preview program for diverse undergraduates, which is a six-day prep course on how to succeed in law school.
CA: What makes your summer program distinctive compared to other firms?
JF: The opportunity to get hands-on and meaningful experience with senior partners and associates. Our summer associates have given oral presentations at clients' offices; attended congressional hearings on Capitol Hill; prepared witnesses for cases; and taken on substantial roles in pro bono matters that have gone to trial. Probably the most well-received aspect of our program is our writing panel: five writers review two written submissions from each summer associate while they're here – they prepare red lines and comments on their grammar and writing style. They then sit down with each summer associate to explain what they did well and how to improve.
CA: What advice would you give to a student looking to become a lawyer?
JF: Practice your writing as much as you possibly can; it's such an important skill to have as a lawyer. Keep in touch with your friends and classmates, as you'll never know where a business opportunity might come from.
MP: It's important here at K&S to fully commit to focusing on client service and being a good citizen of the firm and the community. I want to see candidates who can demonstrate commitment to academic performance in their grades and writing samples, but also involvement in law review, moot court or the community. We're looking for well-rounded potential attorneys.
King & Spalding LLP
1180 Peachtree Street,
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of international offices: 10
- Worldwide revenue: $1.14 billion
- Partners (US): 338
- Associates (US): 317
- Main recruitment contact: Michelle L. Carter, Chief Recruiting Officer
- Hiring partners: Michael E. Paulhus (Atlanta), Adam Gray (Austin), 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: Samuel M Matchett, Partner
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting 2018: 35
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 9, 2Ls: 48, 3Ls: 3
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls /2Ls: $ 3,461/week (Austin, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington, DC)
- $2,980/week (Atlanta, Charlotte)
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summer spend time in an overseas office? Generally, no
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Georgia State, Harvard, Howard, Mercer, NYU, St. Louis, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Hastings, UCLA, UChicago, University of Florida – Levin, University of Georgia, University of Houston, University of Maryland, UNC – Chapel Hill, UPenn, University of Texas – Austin, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Yale
Summer associate profile:
King & Spalding offers an opportunity to work as part of a team on sophisticated legal matters for top clients in a collaborative environment. We seek well-rounded and intellectually curious candidates who have a demonstrated record of achievement and diverse life and work experiences.
Summer program components:
Summer associates experience what it’s like to be a lawyer at King & Spalding and work on challenging matters for real clients in the practice group in which they are interested. Each summer associate is assigned at least one summer advisor who acts as a mentor.
Trainings include weekly luncheon seminars, attendance at practice group meetings, and in-house and external training sessions. Summer associates receive a formal mid-summer and end of summer evaluation, as well as ongoing project feedback.
Summer associates are invited to a variety of events that allow them to build relationships with firm attorneys, clients, and their fellow summer associates.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Venture Capital Recognised Practitioner
District of Columbia
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 3)
- 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)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Latin American Investment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance 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)
- Environment (Band 3)
- FCPA Recognised Practitioner
- Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 3)
- Government: Government Relations (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- 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 4)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 3)