Kirkland & Ellis LLP - The Inside View

Beneath their 'Type-A' reputation, Kirkland associates are just “normal people who like to work hard.”

KIRKLAND'S prestige is well-known throughout the legal industry. Its reputation precedes it: attorneys are driven self-starters who, in the words of one here, are “committed to the work, but also enjoy it.” The conclusion? “Kirkland is an unbelievable firm no matter who you talk to.” The firm's confident associates also pointed out that if there's a high profile lawsuit in the headlines, Kirkland's name may well crop up. But there's also a huge transactional practice that sources said is growing, and a glance at the firm's Chambers USA rankings shows the breadth of work on offer.

Kirkland rakes in numerous top national rankings in the Chambers directory for practices including bankruptcy/restructuring, IP, corporate/M&A, private equity, and general commercial litigation. It also garners ace rankings in its home state of Illinois for areas such as antitrust, insurance litigation, white collar litigation, banking & finance, real estate, and tax. Other regions with various ranked practices are California, DC, and New York. In 2016, Kirkland's revenue soared 15% to $2.65 billion, lifting the firm to second place in the Am Law 100 for the first time.

The Work

Kirkland's growing transactional group had the majority of this year's junior cohort, with almost two-thirds of associates on our almost 330-strong interviewee list getting their teeth into various transactional practices. Lots of individuals were in litigation teams, with the remainder split between IP and restructuring. Across all groups, the firm implements an “open assignment system,” a rename of the free market system because “incoming law students were afraid of it.” In spite of this system, many found they'd “never had to ask for something – the phone is always ringing.” Juniors felt “a formal system is more necessary when there isn't much work – we don't have that problem here; there's more than enough to go around.” The learning curve was more a matter of “knowing when to say no.” The “seamless” cross-staffing element of the firm was also praised, with one DC source admitting “I probably speak to other offices more than my own mother!”

“The firm looks to associates to do the first draft of most documents.”

The transactional group covers both general corporate work as well as specialist groups such as investment funds, debt financing, international trade, and employee benefits. Investment funds folks focus on “private funds and investment vehicles meant for sophisticated investors – usually private equity firms.” Deals tend to range from around $200 million to over $1 billion in size. Debt financing specialists described “facilitating loan processes by working with the client to secure the syndicated loan they get.” All groups involved some level of due diligence, but many also noted that the firm “looks to associates to do the first draft of most documents. At first I was surprised as it's so much responsibility so early on, but it's the best way to learn.” Responsibility varies depending on the deal – on 'mega-funds' the “junior's role is a bit more limited.” Smaller deals involves “more responsibility, maybe negotiating terms a bit more with lawyers and investors.” On deals with a shorter lifespan, “you really learn a lot in a short amount of time.” In terms of clients, “we work with the best of the best.” These include portfolio companies for private equity firms, and larger companies on compliance issues. Juniors had been “exposed to several different types of companies,” and considered that to be “a really valuable experience.” They also experienced being “the point person for a client on smaller deals.”

“A great thing about this firm is getting real experiences.”

Litigators, by contrast, were more likely to work on a more general basis. Cases “run the whole gamut” and include securities litigation, mass torts, antitrust, white collar crime, as well as commercial disputes. “When I started, like any young litigator, I did a lot of doc review, but lately it's been more meeting witnesses and deposition preparation. A great thing about this firm is getting real experiences.” Juniors also assisted at hearings and with matters behind the scene. A DC source highlighted working on SEC investigations. Due to Kirkland's high-flying status, “we're obviously not a cheap firm, so clients are usually big. Most of our work is done for institutional clients that we've had for years.” With that in mind, juniors admitted that “in litigation, there's not as much direct client contact on the junior level. It's just the nature of litigation in BigLaw.”

IP litigators deal mostly with patent work, with occasional bits of trademark and trade secrets work thrown in. As well as tech clients, the group also works for consumer appliance clients, among others. Juniors reported doing much legal research, writing memos, and “doc review – though not as much as I expected. It can't be avoided as a junior altogether.” Initial drafting of documents and consulting experts is also part of a junior's work in this group. “I'm generally not the point person for clients, but I do interact with them, especially for depositions and when we've gone to trial.”

Restructuring sources described their group as “a hybrid of corporate and litigation. Restructuring is almost never 100% consensual from top to bottom, so we do a lot of motion practice, a lot of writing – which corporate attorneys don't always get to do, especially on the persuasive writing side.” Juniors also “work closely with the litigation team to support the goals we're trying to achieve in a case.” A New Yorker believed that “if you show aptitude, people are more than happy to give you responsibility,” and backed that up by noting that “within months of starting, I was the point person on a work stream, helping run it.” Interviewees felt it was “nice to have ownership of something and develop your expertise.”

Hours & Compensation

The lack of an official billing target meant that most sources billed anywhere between 2,000 and 2,500 hours. “We're so busy that I don't even have to focus on an actual number – it always hits or exceeds expectations.” Others believed that the lack of target meant “more focus on quality of work than hours.” Despite the naturally high-billing culture, “it's not a face-time firm – if you're given responsibility, they just trust you to get it done.” As a result, many reported going home for dinner, then logging back on for a bit afterward. This flexibility was popular: “It's infinitely better than firms where the partner is walking in around at 9am, seeing who's in. The quality of my work isn't necessarily great at 9am, but it's fine to come in later here.”

“You feel like you're really being compensated for the work you've done, and you feel recognized.”

Experiences differed when it came to striking a work-life balance. One junior laughed: “I'm a junior associate at a big law firm. There's no such thing.” Others said “it's a matter of setting boundaries – you've got to plan ahead if you want to maintain your personal life.” But one thing people agreed on was that the compensation is “definitely the best part.” Bonuses are famous for usually being above market. “If you're talented and doing good work, you'll walk away with a very nice bonus. You feel like you're really being compensated for the work you've done, and you feel recognized.”

Culture & Offices

“We have pride of work here. We want to do the most interesting work and want to do it better than anyone else.” Juniors have an entrepreneurial flair, with “people who are looking to take on responsibility early in their career.” Fellow attorneys are “normal people who work hard and like to win cases.” Many felt the people were also very “warm and welcoming,” and although “partners will be demanding in terms of quality of work and getting stuff done, everyone is nice even when setting the bar high.” Despite the firm's 'Type A' reputation, it's not as internally competitive as one might think: “I thought people here would throw me under the bus, but everyone's got each other's backs.”

Kirkland's seven domestic offices stretch from coast to coast, and there are five international offices. A Cali source felt: “The East and West Coasts operate differently – we're more chilled on the West Coast.” LA is generally considered a “litigator's town,” though sources reckoned the office was split 50/50 between litigation and corporate. On the other hand, San Fran hosts mostly transactional attorneys, and the Big Apple is reportedly becoming more corporate-focused. DC, based near the Supreme Court, has a large number of litigators. They will be moving to new digs in 2019, but for now, a popular aspect of the “70s-style office” is the free breakfast: “It gives a pep to your step in the morning.” New York is currently mid-way through renovations, and one visible change is the “360-degree view of midtown.” The firm's HQ is in Chicago, and every junior that has seen it agreed: “The Chicago office is beautiful.” It also has a gym that's free to use for attorneys.

Training & Development

“One reason I really like it here is because they're very serious about training.” New starters jet off to one office for general training, followed by practice-specific training. Ongoing practice area training sessions are delivered through the firm's Kirkland Institute program – the Kirkland Institute for Trial Advocacy (KITA) for litigators, and the Kirkland Institute of Corporate Practice (KICP) for transactional associates. Trial advocacy is made up of “on-your-feet training and experience,” “deposition training,” and “mock trials.” Corporate juniors reported video conferences about “general corporate matters” as well as lunch trainings. “I wish I could do more, but it can be hard to make time for it, especially when you have 50 other billable things to do.” Either way, at Kirkland there's “lots of training, for good or bad.”

Pro Bono

Pro bono is “such a part of the culture here,” according to juniors. There's no cap on hours: “I billed 300 hours of pro bono last year and it all counted toward my bonus.” The aim is for all associates to hit at least 20 pro bono hours. Matters have included immigration cases (on the rise right now), veterans' work, identity theft, and cases being considered for clemency. “It can be difficult when our client matters are so busy – it can be harder to find the extra hours to do pro bono.” That said, “everyone is happy to do it.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 109,481
  • Average per US attorney: 66.6


Kirkland associates have seen a “huge push” on the diversity front. However, many noted that “while there's commitment, there's still progress to be made.” Many thought the firm “very strong for women,” with the Women's Leadership Initiative being particularly active, getting together “almost weekly.” One female source explained that “the partners leading the program are really inspiring, and it's good to know they're here.” As for ethnic diversity, “we need more minorities – there's no other way to say it. But my understanding is that it's a priority.” The firm was also described as “extremely LGBT-friendly,” putting on various discussions and seminars.

Strategy & Future

Interviewees reckoned that when it came to making partner, “if it's something you want and make clear that you want it, people will be honest with you about your chances.” Many juniors noticed the growth specifically in the corporate department. “Some in litigation feel that's not a good thing,” but “corporate seems to be more of a revenue driver.” Others highlighted “expanding the firm's international presence, with a lot of global work in Asia especially.”

Recruiting committee vice chairs Beth Deeley and Jason Kanner confirm the firm's continued growth. “With such a huge restructuring practice, we're a little less sensitive to economic downturn. There will probably be a recession, but we're a little less concerned because our practice is so diversified. Litigation will be steady regardless, and corporate is currently booming, but if there's a downturn, restructuring will be booming.”


Get Hired

Several sources felt that “spark and initiative go a long way” at Kirkland. Associates involved in hiring looked for “people who know how to solve problems.” One explained “the issues we deal with have real world implications, so we're looking for people who can narrow things down and triage the issues. That takes judgment and skill.” Juniors advised hopefuls to network: “Go to events and get a sense of the personality of the firm. Be proactive.” Others advised candidates to “learn the lingo” and “read the news on the practice you're going into – that way you can have an intelligent conversation about it.”

Recruiting vice chairs Beth Deeley and Jason Kanner point out the “wide variety of styles” that attorneys at the firm have, emphasizing that there's not one single mold for a Kirkland attorney. At interview, they explain, “if candidates can talk about the experiences they've had and how that ties into what we do, it shows they really know and understand what we do here, and shows the level of interest and level of research they've put in.” As for what students can do now to increase chances of impressing at interview, Kanner says students should consider “getting involved in skill-oriented offerings such as moot court or law reviews.” Other than that, a big focus is “doing well academically” as Kirkland, like many BigLaw firms, looks for “strong performance in school.”

Interview with co-hiring partners Beth Deeley and Jason Kanner

How do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm?

With the OCI process, students can submit their resumes through their schools. The types of things we're looking for include strong academic performance, an indication that the candidate is a strong self-starter, and that he or she has interest in one or more of our four primary practice areas. We get to know a lot of students though our recruiting and diversity initiatives which allow us to maintain ties and develop relationships early in the process. We also liaise with different affinity groups at key schools.

About how many students so you see at each campus or does it vary?

Last fall, when recruiting for summer 2017, we interviewed more than 2,500 candidates. During the official OCI process, we saw students from 35 law schools, and 18 fairs. That resulted in 229 summer associate our US offices, which was larger than the amount we had in 2016, reflecting our growth.

What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

The conversation tends to be organic, but we try to get a sense of the level of interest the candidate has in a particular office or practice area. We also try to get an understanding of someone's initiative, and whether they're energized and excited about the practice of law. We appreciate when candidates show enthusiasm and knowledge of our practice and when they can articulate why they want to come to the firm.  What we do is exciting and challenging, but also hard work; we're looking for people who have drive and energy.

What makes someone stand out during an interview?

It varies by candidate, but there are a number of things that can make someone stand out. If a candidate can talk about how their experiences tie into what we do, that shows that they've done their research and understand our practice. Candidates come from diverse backgrounds and have all done different things before law school. It's great when they can show how their experiences translate into skills that make a good lawyer.

What type of person thrives at the firm?

Generally speaking, those who take initiative and are self-starters thrive at Kirkland. Our open assignment system gives people early experience and allows them to drive their own career. Having said that, we are a firm of nearly 2,000 diverse attorneys who have a wide variety of work styles and who come from different backgrounds. Two senior partners may have completely different personalities, but are equally successful.

What can students do now to increase their chances of impressing you in their applications and at interview?

First years will have the most control over doing well academically. We do look for strong performance in school. Students can also get involved in skills-oriented offerings like moot court or the law review.

How's your summer program looking next year compared to previous years? We've hired more summer associates for 2017 than we did in 2016 – we're about 57% larger than last year which is a significant increase. Overall we have a really talented pool of attorneys from over who will be busy with a lot of exciting projects.

Can you briefly outline your summer program – is there anything distinctive about it, or anything different to other firms that students should know about?

Summers benefit from our Kirkland Institute training programs – all students, whether they have an interest in corporate or litigation are encouraged to participate in the program. The Kirkland Institute of Trial Advocacy involves mini trials, which even students on the corporate side tend to love. It's fun and one of the things that really stands out. We also make sure summers get a taste of associate life at Kirkland. We offer opportunities to participate in and observe live activities, such as negotiations, deal closings, depositions, and hearings. We're giving people are real taste of life at the firm, rather than sticking them in an office writing memos.

Roughly how many offers do you make and what is the take-up rate?

The expectation is that all summer associates will get offers to come back and work for us.

How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?

Typically summers can stand out in the same way a junior associate would stand out – by doing exceptional work, working hard, and having a great attitude.

What's does the future hold for the firm? What is the strategy going forward?

Kirkland is vibrant, dynamic, and growing – we have an exciting future ahead. The firm has done well across the market.  We've been busy, and you can see that from the amount of summers we've hired. We're a less sensitive to any future economic downturns because we're so diversified.


Kirkland & Ellis LLP

300 North LaSalle ,
IL 60654

  • Head Office: None
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Partners (US): 744
  • Associates (US): 860
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls hired? Some offices 
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes. The London office has a summer program.
  • Summers 2017: 230
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 145 offers, 119 acceptances

Main areas of work
Kirkland’s main practice areas are corporate, intellectual property, litigation and restructuring.

Firm profile
Kirkland & Ellis LLP is a 1,900-attorney law firm representing global clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/ arbitration, intellectual property, and restructuring matters. The firm has offices in Beijing, Chicago, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, DC. The firm’s principal goals are to provide the highest-quality legal services available anywhere; to be an instrumental part of each client’s success; and to recruit, retain and advance the brightest legal talent.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 179
• Number of 2nd year associates: 198
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Baylor; UC Berkeley; UC Hastings; UCLA; Cardozo; University of Chicago; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; University of Houston; Howard University; University of Illinois; University of Michigan; New York University; Northwestern University; University of Notre Dame; University of Pennsylvania; USC; Southern Methodist University; Stanford; University of Texas; Tulane; Vanderbilt University; University of Virginia; Washington University; Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Kirkland looks for candidates who show a record of outstanding academic achievement, evidence of initiative 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, moot court and other indicators of intellectual curiosity and drive.

Summer program components:
Kirkland offers summer associates a realistic view of their future as lawyers at the firm. Summer associates are allowed to choose challenging assignments that are of interest to them through Kirkland’s open assignment system, including pro bono matters. Each office offers summer associates substantive, practice-specific training, including a mock trial, negotiation workshops and presentations on a variety of topics. Kirkland also hosts ample social events for summer associates to help them get to know our attorneys and their fellow summer associates. By the end of the summer program, summer associates have an understanding of Kirkland’s culture and practices, which gives them a strong foundation on which to begin their career at Kirkland.