Kirkland & Ellis LLP - The Inside View

Record-smashing Kirkland is in a financial league of its own, disrupting the industry with private equity mastery and international expansion.

It’s becoming almost impossible to keep track of the growth at Chicago’s most successful law firm. Since snatching the top spot of the Am Law 100 in 2017, Kirkland & Ellis has obliterated the record for US law firm revenues multiple times over. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was the most impressive of the bunch, with (so far unconfirmed) indications that the firm may be the first ever to pass the $5 billion threshold. That’s partly thanks to a continued boom in private equity deals, one of the firm’s biggest money-spinners: “They will continue to invest in strategies that have got them where they are today, and private equity is top of the list,” insiders suggested. Private equity is one of the few transactional areas to have thrived under pandemic conditions. Kirkland has also grown geographically: following recent office openings in Salt Lake City, Boston, Dallas and Paris, plans are now afoot to fly the firm’s banner over another Texas city: Austin.

“It's the perfect place to build a career and learn from the best.”

At the time of our research, a large percentage of this titanic firm’s juniors were based in birthplace Chicago and BigLaw capital New York; the remainder were scattered between Boston, Dallas, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palo Alto. It was no surprise that those we surveyed were attracted to Kirkland’s “prestige” and “reputation” in particular. “Kirkland sets the industry standard,” one said. “It’s the perfect place to build a career and learn from the best.” The firm has a broad practice area spread that’s recognized by Chambers USA, meriting top nationwide rankings for appellate law, banking & finance, bankruptcy & restructuring, corporate/M&A, energy, IP, private equity and product liability.

Strategy & Future



“We’ve been insanely busy this year,” associates told us in the final weeks of 2020. “Our practice areas are strong and growing.” Some feared that “partners have way too much work to handle and too few associates to assist them,” though others considered it a positive that “the firm is in constant growth mode. The leadership believes in evolution.” That’s borne out across the US network: Kirkland’s tripled its number of Texas offices in the last few years, and the Los Angeles base has now expanded to two locations. Within a few years, Kirkland’s headcount in the City of Angels has doubled. “There have been considerable lateral partner and associate hires recently,” juniors noted.

The Work



Upon arrival, newbies choose one of Kirkland’s four core practices: transactional, litigation, restructuring or IP. Across all four, the general rule of thumb for picking up work is a free-market system, but there are structures in place for direct staffing when needed. “I get a mix of both,” one junior said, assuring us that “senior staff will accept it if you don’t have any availability.” This seems to be a common situation at Kirkland… “The volume of work has been high, which is great for my development and experience, but I could use more downtime,” another confided. Continue reading for more on work volume – when it comes to quality, interviewees agreed that “the work is challenging and that’s what makes the job exciting.”

“The work is challenging and that’s what makes the job exciting.”

Private equity is the hottest-burning fuel to the fire of Kirkland’s top-ticket corporate practice. Juniors typically worked on the buy-side of deals for sponsors (i.e. investment firms): “As a young associate, you get involved with clients very early on.” Boston alone is home to 70 private equity-focused lawyers. It’s not PE all day every day: the firm’s transactional offering covers asset finance, securitization, capital markets, energy, healthcare deals and classic M&A. Our sources in the asset finance practice worked on various loan and trade deals with a cross-border element: “There was a lot of foreign law involved. My role was to coordinate with local counsel, draft the initial documents and run the closing checklist.” Many first and second-years found their roles to be largely administrative; by year three, juniors get to sink their teeth into juicier tasks. On private equity deals this meant “drafting registration statements and private offerings, plus handling disclosure documents.” Even in the larger offices like Chicago and New York, the firm often opts to staff deals leanly and slot juniors into more advanced roles if needs be.

Corporate clients: Fox Corporation, Grubhub, Sun Capital Partners. Advised biopharmaceutical firm AbbVie on its $83 billion acquisition of fellow pharma giant Allergan.

Within the litigation practice you’ll find antitrust, environment, labor and employment, product liability and white-collar work alongside traditional commercial litigation. Here too, Fortune 500 companies and private equity firms are some of the biggest clients. Juniors in DCwere keen to tout their office as a disputes stronghold: “Litigators are the strongest presence in the office. There are endless opportunities to work on interesting and challenging cases.” Houston insiders similarly suggested “the team is made up of super interesting lawyers; lots of partners have lateraled over, bringing diverse perspectives to the group.” Juniors are typically trusted with initial stages of research, “drafting responses, requests, motions, briefing court filings, preparing depositions and negotiating with the other side.” White-collar investigations provided opportunities for more face-to-face tasks: “I’ve attended interviews and discussions with agents.”

Litigation clients: BP America, Juul Labs, General Motors. Acted for professional services network PwC in class action litigation alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by favoring millennials over older applicants.

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: no requirement 

There may be no formal target, but some of the associates we spoke to were aiming for 2,000 hours. Kirkland is known as a market leader for compensation, so associates were surprised to not receive a fall ‘COVID-19 bonus’ comparable to those offered by some other leading firms. “It felt demoralizing, especially when we worked above market hours,” one said. Don't fret: the firm went on to offer market-beating year-end bonuses to associates. In the typical system,attorneys receive a 1–5 score according to seniority, performance and hours worked which helps determine their bonus – interviewees confirmed “the structure is very individualized.”

“A service that helps with everyday tasks you might not have time for.”

Soaring firm revenues can only be made possible by hard-working associates, and Kirkland is no exception. Some felt that the shift to remote working in 2020 had made for more challenging demands: “I’d like to be able to leave my computer for more than ten minutes and not feel guilty,” one particularly aggrieved source said. “Weekends aren’t as respected as they used to be, every day is Blursday.” Others countered that “the idea that Kirkland is a meatgrinder is largely overexaggerated. Some people do work harder than others.” On average, the associates we surveyed were working 60-hour weeks (with breaks for dinner or exercise). If the grind gets to be too much, attorneys can turn to the Kirkland Concierge. “It’s a service that helps with everyday tasks you might not have time for, like picking up your groceries or planning a child's birthday,” juniors said.

Pro Bono



There’s no cap on pro bono work at Kirkland; juniors found this handy when exploring the panoply of projects on offer, including death penalty cases and criminal appeals, health and patient rights, legal assistance for nonprofits, immigration law and discrimination cases. These are filtered down to juniors via the pro bono coordinator, who sends out email updates explaining what's on offer: “We often collaborate with other offices if they need extra help on projects, but you can always say no if you aren’t interested. There’s no pressure!”

Because of its proximity to the border, Houston is the right place to be if you’re interested in immigration cases. “I handle tasks like immigration status updates and all the relevant documents,” a source there said. An interviewee in Chicago opted to spend time on criminal appeals: “We’ve been representing a prisoner placed in solitary confinement by a federal court. I had the chance to take depositions.”Another junior celebrated the advanced experience made possible by pro bono work: “We worked on a class action against a public school and I was involved in the rule-making process.” Associates also have scope to bring cases close to their heart into the firm for pro bono consideration.

Pro bono hours:

  • For all US attorneys: 139,098
  • Average per US attorney: 53

Culture



They may be “hard-working,” but attorneys at Kirkland are primarily “team-oriented” according to those we surveyed. Some suggested there’s a healthy “competitive” spirit to go with that, but associates were more likely to describe collaboration than competition. One Boston insider told us they “wouldn’t want to work in any other office, we have a friendly and caring environment”; not to be outdone, Los Angeles juniors enjoyed a “laid-back” atmosphere (by BigLaw standards). “If I need to stay home for someone to fix my refrigerator, I can,” one explained. “It’s super handy, especially if you live far out.” Similarly keen to throw their hat in the ‘friendliest office’ ring, a Houston source weighed in: “I couldn't be happier with the people I work with, they are kind and always care about my schedule.” We also heard that “everyone is very receptive and warm” in Kirkland’s Chicago birthplace, while New York (perhaps by virtue of the city’s character) is “more buttoned-up.”

“They've gone above and beyond to keep people in touch.”

A career at Kirkland isn’t for everyone, and a minority of respondents weren’t so overjoyed. One had this fear: “My practice group preaches collegiality and support, but I feel as though I’m mentored for work’s sake and not because they care about me.” Others countered that “the firm has done a great job at setting up events to get everyone networking” during the troubled times brought about by COVID-19. “They've gone above and beyond to keep people in touch during the pandemic.” In the good old days of face-to-face socializing, Kirkland ran a regular calendar of dinners, happy hours, lunches, holiday parties at the zoo (the most recent spot for team Houston) and partying in the legendary New York Rainbow Room.

Career Development



Kirkland made the US top 25 for career development in 2021>

Each junior gets a senior associate and practice-specific partner mentor for their first six months; after this, juniors can either stick with their mentors or seek advice from other organic relationships at the firm. Throughout the year, Kirkland puts on seminars on a delicious buffet of topics covering all levels of seniority. “One of the reasons I was attracted to Kirkland was for its great training programs,” one junior explained. When January rolls around, the firm hosts a week-long bootcamp-style program in Chicago (or virtually as a result of COVID-19), covering practice area-specific skills as well as general topics like “what an associate's role on matters is and how to be responsive.” Attendees get partner feedback and can even bill the time they spent at the training. “The program is very extensive, and partners really invest their time into it,” we heard.

“Partners are open to helping you take control over your own career path.”

Casting their gaze to a horizon of exciting future opportunities (having the Kirkland name on your CV can open plenty of doors), juniors noted that “partners are open to helping you take control over your own career path” and working out what your priorities are. Associates get an understanding of whether they are on track to make partner during the annual review process each September: “The path to making partner is very transparent and feels achievable.” It takes until sixth year at minimum for associates to be considered for partnership.

Diversity & Inclusion



“I work for a lot of female partners – the women’s group is really active,” one junior in Los Angeles told us. Looking beyond anecdotes to cold hard stats, Kirkland does fare better than many BigLaw firms at promoting women to partner, with a total 28% female partnership. “They’re doing a great job on gender diversity, but there is still work to be done for ethnic minorities.” Kirkland has a 1L Diversity Scholars Program to encourage diverse law students to join the firm. Among the various diversity initiatives, we heard that the LGBTQ+ group has been making strides in recent years and hosted a global retreat to encourage attorneys to share their experiences. “We all traveled to Boston for the weekend; even associates from places like Hong Kong and London came,” a junior who’d enjoyed the retreat shared. “The partners speak about their own difficulties and solutions as an LGBTQ+ attorney.”

“I feel connected to and included in the Kirkland community.”

The firm launched a new ‘Kirkland Wellbeing Program’ in summer 2019, created to spearhead support for attorneys and staff who’ve had to deal with physical or mental health issues. Attorneys and staff can use the program to source assistance, including connections to therapists. Interviewees generally agreed that the firm does its part to create an inclusive atmosphere: “I feel connected to and included within the Kirkland community.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 2,539

Interviewees outside OCI: 351

Kirkland conducts OCIs at around 36 top law schools across the country, as well as at 14 regional/diversity job fairs. To give you an idea of the firm’s recruiting scope, in 2020 the firm interviewed over 2,500 OCI applicants and 350 non-OCI applicants across the US. Generally, the number of students interviewed across campuses varies.

The interviews themselves are usually conducted by one or two attorneys. Hiring partner Lauren Casazza tells us: “We seek 2L students with a record of outstanding academic achievement, strong communications skills and a desire to assume early responsibility. We look favorably upon law review and moot court experience, and other indicators of intellectual curiosity and drive.” 

Top tips for this stage:

“Candidates should be prepared to showcase their substantive legal knowledge, explain their interest in the firm, and confidently communicate with their interviewer.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 1,185 

Around 40% of the initial applicants are invited for callback interviews at the firm. Each student will interview with between four and seven Kirkland attorneys. According to Casazza, at this point, interviewers are trying to “get a sense for whether candidates will be able to multitask, dig in to their work and juggle competing demands in a professional, collegial manner.” Casazza also highlights: “We are looking for candidates who will be good team members in our collaborative environment, who will hit the ground running with us for our clients, and who will add value to our organization as a whole.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Be yourself, be prepared and be ready to explain why Kirkland is the place for you.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Summer program

Offers:  406

Acceptances: 234

In the same manner as full-time associates, summer associates get to work on substantive assignments through the firm’s famed open assignment system that empowers associates to choose the types of matters on which they work (see the Inside View feature on Kirkland for more details on that) with support and facilitation from each practice group’s attorneys and staff. The goal is to provide summer associates with information and experiences to help them see what it is like to be a Kirkland attorney and to help decide which practice group they prefer. In addition to specific assignments, summer associates are able to participate in the firm’s numerous interactive training programs that happen throughout the summer. There are also opportunities to shadow attorneys in negotiations, team meetings and client calls, and participate in trials, depositions, hearings, negotiations and deal closings. There is also the opportunity to network with attorneys and fellow summer associates though various social events. Typically, the expectation is that all summer associates will receive offers to join a particular core practice group and will return to the firm upon graduating. 

Top tips for this stage:

“We see the summer associate program as a terrific opportunity to teach and provide on-the-job training for students who will be the future of the firm. Summer associates should view their time in the program as a chance to make early great impressions by doing exceptional work, demonstrating commitment and having a great attitude.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

300 North LaSalle,
Chicago,
IL 60654
Website www.kirkland.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington DC
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, London, Munich, Paris, Shanghai
  • Contacts 
  • Hiring partner: Lauren Casazza, Jonathan Davis, Christopher Greco, Julian Seiguer
  • Diversity officer: Joi Bourgeois
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 221
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls & 2Ls: 307
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: 307
  • Bay Area: 36, Boston: 11, Chicago: 69, Dallas: 17, Houston: 35, Los Angeles: 20, New York: 89, Washington, D.C.: 30
  • Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $3,654 weekly 2Ls: $3,654 weekly
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, the London office has a summer program.

Main areas of work



  Kirkland’s main practice areas are transactional, intellectual property, litigation and restructuring.

Firm profile



  Kirkland & Ellis, one of the world’s most elite law firms, is recognized for exceptional service to clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. Kirkland is a global leader with over 2,900 attorneys across 17 offices. The firm invests in the brightest legal talent and builds dynamic teams that operate at the pinnacle of their practice. Kirkland believes in empowering their lawyers, encouraging entrepreneurialism, operating ethically and with integrity, and collaborating to bring distinctive results to every engagement.

Recruitment



Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Boston College Law School; Boston University School of Law; Columbia Law School; Duke University School of Law; Fordham University School of Law; George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; Harvard Law School; Howard University School of Law; New York University School of La; Northeastern University School of Law; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Santa Clara University School of Law; Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law; Stanford Law School Suffolk University Law; School Tulane University Law School; University of California, Berkeley School of Law; University of California, Davis School of Law; University of California, Hastings College of Law; University of California-Los Angeles School of Law; University of Chicago Law School; University of Georgia School of Law; University of Houston Law Center; University of Illinois College of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of Notre Dame Law School; University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; University of Southern California, Gould School of Law; University of Texas School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; Vanderbilt University Law School; Villanova University School of Law; Wake Forest University School of Law; Yale Law School. 

Recruitment outside OCIs: Kirkland participates in the following job fairs and law school local/regional interview programs: Arizona LA Interview Program; Bay Area Diversity Career Fair; Boston Lawyers Group (BLG) Diversity Job Fair; BYU; Cook County Bar Association (CCBA) Minority Job Fair; Cornell University; Emory University; George Washington University; Lavender Law Career Fair; The Law Consortium Recruitment Program; Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium (MCGC) Interview Program; NEBLSA Job Fair; New England Interview Program; On Tour Interview Program (OTIP); Patent Law Interview Program; University of Pennsylvania; Sunbelt Minority Program; Tulane University; Vanderbilt University; Washington University in St. Louis.

Summer associate profile:
Kirkland looks for candidates who show a record of outstanding academic achievement and a desire to assume early responsibility. Kirkland values individuals from diverse social, economic, cultural, and personal backgrounds. The firm looks favorably upon law review and business- or industry-focused societies/journals, moot court, and other indicators of intellectual curiosity, collaboration, and drive.

Summer program components: Kirkland’s tradition of giving junior associates early responsibility begins with the summer program. Our summer associates work on sophisticated matters and gain exposure to their practice alongside the firm’s associates and partners, who are eager to support and guide them along the way. Kirkland gives its attorneys — including summer associates — autonomy and flexibility. The firm’s open assignment system lets attorneys take ownership of their careers by choosing the matters on which they work. In addition to substantive work, summer associates participate in legal education and development programs, engage in pro bono and volunteer opportunities, and attend fun social and networking events.

Social media



Recruitment website:www.kirkland.com/careers
Linkedin:Kirkland & Ellis
Twitter:@Kirkland_Ellis
Instagram:@lifeatkirkland

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 5)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 3)
    • Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 1)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Projects: Power (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • REITs (Band 5)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
    • SPACs (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)

More from Kirkland & Ellis:

Careers at Kirkland

The firm's offices

'Who we are'

Pro bono achievements

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