Ten years ago, Georgia's most gorgeous law firm ranked about half way down Am Law's rankings – these days it's top 20.
MANY law firms took a nose dive following the Great Recession, but this one did the opposite: “We have grown our revenue every year for the last 30 years,” Atlanta-based chairman Robert Hays proudly points out. This Southern-tinged international firm hit the $1 billion landmark for the first time in 2015, and boosted revenue by another 3.9% in 2016. Profit also hiked (+8.2%), “which is hard to do.” Troops-wise, King & Spalding has now surpassed the psychologically significant 1,000-lawyer mark – this is officially a Big Firm, as its turbo-charged ascent of Am Law's annual size rankings in recent years testifies. All these accolades are the culmination of an unusually busy decade that has seen K&S almost quadruple its office count to 19. The most recent are Tokyo and Los Angeles. “We opened more offices than our peers,” Robert Hays reflects. “However, we didn't grow for growth's sake. There is a strategic rationale for every geography we are in. We would likely not open as many in future because we have opened a lot in cities that are either financial centers or have other strategic importance.”
Examining strategic opportunities in Asia, for example, led to Tokyo's opening in 2016, while the new LA office – built by a mix of lateral hires and existing Spaldingites switching offices – largely focuses on two of King & Spalding's six cash cow practice areas: global disputes and healthcare/life sciences. The other core practices are: energy; technology/IP; financial institutions; and government investigations/regulatory. These six expert areas help define the firm's unique identity: “We are not trying to be all things to all people,” the chairman adds, “and we are also not hyperspecialized in terms of practices like some firms. We seek a balance.”
Chambers USA showers top or high rankings upon numerous practices in these six categories, both nationally and at state level: Georgia, California, DC, New York, North Carolina, and Texas. Atlanta summer associates can rotate between different practices before expressing a preference. In New York and DC, summers generally don't rotate but are recruited into single groups, although the level of flexibility varies between practice groups and offices. Most K&S associates work in business litigation, but a significant number can be found in corporate, as well as 'special matters', which covers white collar crime. Other options include finance, healthcare, tort & environmental litigation, and international arbitration.
“The really neat thing about our group is that people do lots of different things.”
A business litigator told us that “the really neat thing about our group is that people do lots of different things.” Examples we heard about include antitrust, work for “the big four accountancy firms,” liability cases, trademark disputes, class actions, government regulation... the list is almost endless. One had worked on behalf of “a large healthcare provider” and another the American Automobile Association. In fact, clients can be small, huge, or “some companies in the middle I'd never heard of. It's important to the assigning partner to make sure new associates get a variety of work.” This assigner is on hand for “the first couple of years, to make sure I have work when I want it but am not overwhelmed. But once I've worked with a partner they come straight to me." Assignment becomes more organic. Responsibility-wise, a healthcare source told us: “I do anything from drafting motions and discovery requests, requests for production, writing memos and angry attorney letters, and on the regulatory side keeping up with regulations and advising clients. As a junior in this practice, you do get substantive experience pretty early. There's not so much doc review because we have a discovery center in Atlanta.”
In the corporate department, a junior's fare depends on the heftiness of the transaction: “A deal for GE or Coca Cola will tend to have a lot of people staffed on it so there's a bit more hierarchy and I'd typically be assigned diligence. I'll be on calls with clients, help to draft disclosure schedules and ancillary agreements. I have less to do with drafting the actual purchase agreements, but with a smaller client there'll be me and one other partner or associate, so I get to do a lot. They put a lot of trust in you.” The capital transactions & real estate department is quite a broad group that includes private equity-related work like “capital raising and fund formation. There's a lot of drafting: private placement memos, limited partnership agreements, operating agreements, negotiations and side letters between sponsors, managers and investors.”
Training & Development
An initial orientation called 'Starting Strong' incorporates various events and video trainings which cover, among other things, “the ins and outs of the firm's systems, like billing, the availability of resources and who to contact if there's an issue," according to one interviewee. More broadly at the firm thereafter, "we do have a lot of support staff who're always available for questions and issues, and that's hugely helpful.” 'King & Spalding University' (KSU) is the name given to a range of training programs for junior and midlevel associates, plus a diversity retreat and senior women's forum. There are KSU Skills Academies for transactional associates and litigators, which for the latter include “programs on trial advocacy and how to improve your writing.” Another “really great program is a two-day hands-on NITA training. People really prioritize going to it.” Each summer, transactional juniors congregate in Atlanta for their own skills academy. KSU programs also provide networking opportunities, for example at welcome dinners in partners' homes.
“Every new starter or lateral is assigned a partner 'link'.”
There are also business development classes, and a mentoring scheme called 'LINK.' “Every new starter is assigned a partner and an associate 'link' to help them with questions that they maybe don't want to go to their assigning partner with, like vacation and what's appropriate.” Interviewees felt well-supported on the whole. Unsurprisingly, the level of feedback “depends on the person. Some people volunteer feedback, but I haven't been in a situation where I've felt I couldn't ask for any comments. Generally people keep their door open, so even if they didn't offer it you can ask for clarification.” Separately, partner Sam Matchett offers individual career counseling to first, second and third-year associates and all diverse associates.
Hours & Compensation
“I mean, it's BigLaw…”
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. Associates agreed that “it's pretty realistic. I haven't had trouble hitting it.” Hours billed above this goal gives associates more cash, and given how busy this growing firm has been in recent years, many interviewees found themselves in this category. Asked about work/life balance, they were phlegmatic: “I mean, it's BigLaw, and like any other BigLaw firm there are demands placed on you beyond the normal 8am to 5pm. Having said that, the firm really makes an effort to encourage balance. I've gone on a number of vacations.” Another told us that “everyone here encourages personal time when you have the opportunity, because they acknowledge that there will be times when it's so busy that won't be able to. The week between Christmas and New Year, I had one brief due on the Tuesday but the rest of week I enjoyed the time off – although I did a bit of work from home.”
Associates can count up to 100 hours of pro bono toward their billable total and sources concurred that King & Spalding “definitely encourages us to get involved – and a lot of folks do.” There's a pro bono partner, Josh Toll in DC, who “devotes a very large percentage of time to managing the program and sending out emails with opportunities which makes it easy to get into.” Sources had taken on a range of work, including clemency projects, special educational needs issues relating to DC public schools, and election protection work. We also heard about domestic violence restraining orders and residency cases in conjunction with non-profit abused women charity HerJustice.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 26,094
- Average per US attorney: 33
“There's definitely a Southern feel,” chuckled an Atlanta associate when asked about the office's culture, “but it's not nearly as stuffy as I imagined it would be. It actually used to be all formal suits and ties but now it's business casual, modernized. People are very friendly.” Another emphasized that “the Atlanta culture is defined differently between practice groups. If I'm in the elevator with people who aren't on my floor, often I don't know who they are, but within the smaller groups it's very comfortable. Everyone I work with is professional but they do want to get to know you on personal level as well.”
“It actually used to be all formal suits and ties but now it's business casual.”
Big Apple juniors described their enclave as “relatively laid back for a New York BigLaw firm, although we don't have a business casual dress code – it's not that laid back! I never hear yelling, and people generally like to work with one another. It's very collegial, not competitive or mean.” A source who'd lateraled in from another, larger firm confirmed that “it's more formal here. People are very cordial and very professional, but at the end of the day they want to go home and be with their families, so it's less social than my previous firm. It doesn't feel stuffy, just a little bit distant in a certain way. People are here definitely to work.” The social calendar includes “a couple of parties for summers, a holiday party and occasional happy hours,” while departments get together for retreats and “dinner or drinks every few months or so.”
With 91% of K&S partners and 82% of associates being white, it's no surprise that respondents reckoned that the firm “probably isn't one of the most diverse out there.” Nevertheless, K&S “definitely does make an effort to ensure it is diverse, and does a good job, although there is always room for improvement.” Meanwhile, “my biggest gripe with the New York office is that it's not nearly as diverse as it should be for New York.” Looking across all departments and offices, however, “there is no glass ceiling: there are significant partners of color, and women. There are also the respective affinity groups and mentoring for associates.” Diversity partner Sam Matchett (see Training above) and associate director of HR & diversity Caroline Abney also visit offices to offer support.
“Tons of panels and talks by partners and clients. Diversity isn't a strength of the firm but it's valued.”
Affinity groups include those for LGBTQ lawyers, women, and attorneys of color. In Atlanta the women's group “has a lunch every couple of months, happy hours, and we try to do events every now and then.” Every other year there's a two-day diversity retreat in Atlanta, featuring “tons of panels and talks by partners and clients. Diversity isn't a strength of the firm but it's valued.” Chairman Robert Hays points out that large clients are nowadays “extremely interested” in diversity, and in fact monitor and grade law firms' success in providing diverse attorneys on their caseloads. This had led to collaboration with clients, including affinity programs, social events, and also “seconding minority or other diverse associates to clients.”
“They're in the middle of renovating.”
Most junior associates are based in the Atlanta HQ, followed by DC and New York. The rest are spread around Houston, Austin, Charlotte, San Francisco, Sacramento, Silicon Valley, and the firm's newest domestic office, Los Angeles. “We are in a high rise in midtown,” an Atlanta source described, “and they're in the middle of renovating the offices. We've been shuffled around and changed floors. They're trying to make it more modern, with glass.” New York recently underwent its own renovation, and associates were in two minds about the “nice glass” of internal offices used by staff and first-years, which can create a “fishbowl” effect – some “people put up posters for privacy” on the glass doors of their shared offices. Most attorneys still have solid wooden doors though, we should point out. Juniors elsewhere usually get their own offices, and DC-ers enjoyed having more office space generally (compared to New York). “It's great we are next door to the White House: the perfect location.” One part of the building is “a bit older, one part is brand new.”
Strategy & Future
“There are six core practice areas identified, and we're focused on growing those,” one clued-up associate believed. “There's no imperative to grow out – it's more developing our reputation for what we are good at. Auditor liability will certainly continue to be a focus; also media, antitrust, regulatory, and others.” Perhaps chairman Robert Hays has associates like this one in mind when he comments that nowadays “we are seeing associates with sophisticated knowledge of law firms as businesses. Associates are very attuned now to the footprint of law firms: where the resources are, their national and international reach.”
King & Spalding's remarkable growth over the last decade means there's never been a better time to impress recruiters here with your business-savvy legal world view. Lawyers need to have one eye on the future, as this associate demonstrates: “Every other week our practice group has a meeting where we talk about client development, marketing, and what the plan is for our group moving forward. I can see that the firm's expanding in a strategic and smart way. It's on an upward trajectory.”
“We are seeing associates with sophisticated knowledge of law firms as businesses.”
“They definitely want people willing to work hard who are pretty smart and nice,” associates advised. Although we heard that “most Atlanta firms are very Southern” and “they really do question you if you don't have any ties to the South,” we also heard that this is not a prerequisite at K&S and people are “from schools all over, which was surprising.” Also, while several pointed to shared traits like lack of arrogance, friendliness, and overall being “measured and normal (not trying to prove yourself),” they stressed that “different groups have different types of people and they do a good job of fitting personalities. I can't think of any common thread – everyone's very different.”
So we asked the chairman, Robert Hays: what common qualities do lawyers here share? Answer: “People who are very much committed to the work product and client service at the highest level, who are almost obsessive about the quality of work they provide to clients. We do the hardest work, which is why we are hired. You need to be committed to that mission – it's not for everyone.” Resilience and teamwork are critical, he says: “You have got to have resilience, and a sense of perspective and humor, to work as hard as you do for clients in very stressful situations, but in collaboration with others. You have to be able to get along with people.”
“Our people have a firm commitment to doing the best work. People are work-centric. We have a unified and impressive culture – it is devoted to quality work for an elite set of world-class clients. There's also a camaraderie, esprit de corps, collegiality, within the law firm that inspires people who are “all in” types. We hear that from people in different offices and countries. When you have new people in your offices in many different jurisdictions, there's a consistency around this dual commitment to client work product on the one hand and esprit de corps, collaboration, on the other.”
King & Spalding LLP
1180 Peachtree Street,
- Head Office: Atlanta, GA
- Number of domestic offices: 9
- Number of international offices: 10
- Worldwide revenue: $1.058 billion
- Partners (US): 326
- Associates (US): 311
- Summer Salary 2017:
- 1Ls: $3,461/ wk (Austin, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington, DC); $2,980/wk (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 2017: 51
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 47 Offers; 33 Acceptances (many acceptances pending due to clerkships)
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.
King & Spalding has over 1000 lawyers in 19 offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. King & Spalding combines sophisticated legal practice with a commitment to excellence, collaborative culture, investment in lawyer development, and dedication to community service.
• Number of 1st year associates: 30
• Number of 2nd year associates: 25
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $155,000 -$180,000 (depending on location
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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 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 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 inhouse and external training sessions. Summer associates receive a formal mid-summer and end of summer evaluation, as well as ongoing project feedback.