Latham & Watkins is a legal kingpin that will appeal to high-fliers keen to discover their own path to practice.
NABBING the top spot in the Am Law 100 for a second consecutive year, Latham & Watkins bags “some of the finest and most ground-breaking cases to hit the market,” according to associates here. Latham is actually one of only four firms to have achieved the distinction of topping Am Law over the years, along with Skadden, Baker McKenzie and DLA Piper.
Latham employs over 2,000 attorneys in offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and has built its name as a world leader in corporate transactions, environmental law, finance matters, litigation and tax services. Almost a third of the California-founded firm's 32 global offices are found in the States, where it earns a wealth of top-tier Chambers USA rankings in areas ranging from corporate, life sciences, and real estate matters to white-collar crime.
“If you're up to the task, you're up to the task."
Over the firm's 80 year history, New York has overtaken SoCal as Latham's most populous US hub. Still, associates were keen to reinforce that “we haven't got an official headquarters, and we don't have satellite offices. There's no pecking order here where there's one money maker and a bunch of assistants.” It's a model that is reflected in the firm's approach to associate development: “If you're up to the task, you're up to the task. There's no sense that juniors are here to push paper for three years.”
But for associates, the most celebrated aspect of Latham's training program was undoubtedly the flexibility they'd had to fine-tune their legal interests. Thanks to the firm's 'unassigned' program, juniors “can take as long as you need to grasp what you want to do.”
Associates begin life at the firm as 'unassigned' so they can experience different areas, whether that's a variety of corporate assignments or figuring out whether you want to be a deal-doer or litigator. Rookies needn't worry about being forced to sample the whole menu if you arrive with more definite ideas of what you want to do. One source stressed: “It has to be one of the hallmarks of our training program. Over your first two years here you're welcome to try out work from whichever areas take your interest. If you want to focus on one particular practice, that's fine too. It's a great opportunity to help you realize what you're getting yourself into.” After two years, associates are encouraged to formally align with one of the firm's five core practices: corporate; finance; litigation & trial; tax; and environment, land & resources.
"By your second year you'll have built up a pretty strong bank of contacts at the firm."
Newbies can make use of Latham's formal assigning system, 'The Book', to pick up work. Juniors are staffed on projects based on their availability, but “by your second year you'll have built up a pretty strong bank of contacts at the firm. They'll reach out to you personally with opportunities they think you'll dig.” Subgroups within the wider practice areas vary in their allocation process; some employ a staffing partner while others require associates to find matters themselves.
Deal-doers told us that “departments have different approaches to staffing on matters, so the rate of progression can vary between practice groups.” In M&A, for example, “we work on a lot of incredibly complex deals, so it takes at least a year to get your head round it all. When you start you're more likely to take administrative roles on larger cases, which helps you to understand how different deal structures work.” Once the nuts and bolts are suitably digested, new opportunities arise. “Your level of responsibility is dictated by your ability,” added another transactional rookie. Lull periods also offer a window of opportunity. “When people have a bit of spare time on their hands you'll tend to get more drafting opportunities, as well as follow-up sessions to give you feedback on the work you've produced.”
Litigators were similarly pleased with their ascent. “From the very start my experience here has been fantastic,” purred one second year. “Even at an early stage I was doing far more discovery than I was doc review. It wasn't long before I was attending depositions, client meetings in advance of depositions, and witness interviews, and most of my second year classmates have taken a deposition themselves.” Where drafting is concerned, “clearly there are more opportunities to draft on pro bono cases,” but another sophomore added: “I've had plenty of opportunities to draft subpoenas, or assist on drafting motions. We're a big firm that gets great work all round, locally, nationally and internationally. The varying levels of opportunity that scope presents means you can really check all the boxes.”
Pro bono hours all count toward the billable target, and everyone's expected to do at least 20 hours. “It's great for when you've got gaps in your schedule,” one junior asserted. “Though after a few years that's a relative rarity!” Rookies were grateful that there's no limit to billing pro bono hours. “It never feels like pro bono is a waste of time or detrimental,” said one. Quite the opposite in fact: “It's a really good way to run your own files,” with rookies spearheading anything from asylum applications to veterans' benefits appeals.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 144,334
- Average per US attorney: 94
“You couldn't really describe the firm as diverse, particularly at partner level,” admitted several of our sources. When it comes to gender diversity, “there are lots of women in the junior ranks, but there's a problem when it comes to promotion of female lawyers to partner," like there is in all of BigLaw. Still, most agreed that “the firm is sincerely working to improve the issue,” and the stats at associate level are decent, with around 20% non-white associates, for example. There's a “comprehensive” range of affinity groups on offer – six in total, covering women, different ethnicities, LGBT and parents – which “help bring diverse attorneys' struggles into focus.” Latham has also created an impressive number of initiatives to help buck the trend, including a three-day Diversity Leadership Academy for law students and mid-level associates, the Women's Leadership Academy and the associate-led Multicultural Promotion & Attainment Coalition (MPAC).
“The firm isn't where it needs to be, but the arrow is pointing in the right direction.”
As such, “the firm isn't where it needs to be, but the arrow is pointing in the right direction.” In 2016 the firm was shortlisted for the Chambers USA diversity awards and in terms of recruiting, there are various diversity scholarships and internships available to students like the 1L Fellowship Program and 2L Diversity Scholars program.
Offices & Training
Interaction between the firm's 11 domestic and 20 international offices is fairly well oiled, and “though New York is the biggest office, there's no sense that it's the control center bossing everyone else around.” A New Yorker added: “I regularly work with associates and partners in DC and California. Nothing they say ever betrays a power imbalance between offices, and they're always proud to talk about the work they're taking on and the clients they've won.”
Latham's associate development program “plays a big part in facilitating cross-office interactions.” A formal academy program sees first, third and fifth-year associates flown out to one location for a series of condensed training sessions and conferences. Summers and partners also attend. First-year academies “tend to be out in Reston,” with the third-year top-up typically out in San Francisco.
The academies help bring associates up to speed with what's expected of them over the next couple of years, and introduce new skills to help them develop into the role. First-year attendees “are introduced to the basics of practice, but it's just as much an opportunity to meet people from other offices that you're likely to work with down the line.” Third-years focus more on leadership skills, and are invited to attend the Diversity Leadership Academy with first-year law students and future summer associates. “The focus of the Diversity Leadership Academy is to build our community and empower future leaders at the firm,” says immediate past recruiting committee chair Manu Gayatrinath. “Whether they're already associates here, or first-year law students committed to diversity and inclusion that we hope will bring value to the legal profession.”
"It's very easy to grab a coffee with a partner in your department and talk it over.”
Associates overwhelmingly approved the academy program. “Latham is willing to mobilize large sections of its associate force, and a number of significant partners, to ensure that we receive the best guidance possible,” raved one. “For every second of those few days we're not billing a thing, so it must be a big hit. It's a huge commitment to our training, networking and professional development.”
Back in their home offices, first-years' legal education continues through 'core curriculum' sessions. Held every few weeks by partners and associates, these sessions feature presentations on different practice areas and key skills such as drafting and negotiation. Lunchtime seminars are also staged by individual practice groups, covering anything from recent court cases to legal updates in specific areas like leveraged finance. On a more one-to-one basis, associates benefit from a 'buddy mentor' – usually a second or third year associate – who “serves as a great port of call for any 'teething problem' style questions.” Juniors are also assigned a partner mentor, but our sources were keen to point out that “Latham has a strong culture of informal mentorship” too, so “if you're looking to try out a certain type of work it's very easy to grab a coffee with a partner in your department and talk it over.” More formally scheduled catch-ups arise during mid and end of year reviews.
Culture & Hours
Bar a few 'work in progress' comments concerning diversity, associates across the board admitted to being “surprised at joining such a progressive working environment. White shoe firms carry a reputation as being overly fratty, but that's rarely true of Latham.” Associates are under little pressure to socialize outside of office hours. “Latham is pretty big, so you're always able to find people who share similar ideas about socializing. Some people love to go out for a drink after a long day, but others will want to spend time with their families. You're under no pressure here.”
With long hours “unavoidable,” this discretionary approach is probably for the best. Nationwide, associates were averaging around twelve hours a day, and we heard plenty of stories of 4am finishes during busy spells. New Yorkers had found that “Latham is doing its best to improve retention of associates, so instead of beating us to the ground with work, management prioritizes balance. Senior colleagues check in to see how your workload is going, or whether you need any help, and when you're out of the office people respect your privacy.” The office also boasts “a strong team dynamic,” so “even if you're slaving away at 2am to help push through a deal, you won't be left to do it alone.”
"People are feeling more optimistic about retention in the years ahead."
This impression was fairly consistent among associates in Latham's larger offices, but in lesser populated outlets sources offered a few words of caution. “As work allocation tends to be more informal here, it's important that you keep a keen eye on your workload,” revealed one Orange County insider. “Learn to say no when necessary, because there have definitely been cases of superstar juniors overloading themselves and burning out.”
To be bonus eligible associates must reach a target of 1,900 hours, but most of our sources had hit at least the 2,000 mark, with some billing several hundred hours above that. Not meeting the 1,900 means you won't get a bonus, but “as long as you've worked hard to keep busy when there have been shortfalls, you're at no risk of losing your job.” All in all, “Latham's efforts to let us balance our work with our personal lives means people are feeling more optimistic about retention in the years ahead. The workload here is heavy, but associates rarely leave to join another firm.”
Strategy & Future
Over the next few years Latham's entry-level hiring should remain fairly stable. Manu Gayatrinath tells us: “Our summer program usually takes on about 200 new hires. With the firm continuing to top the tables and perform well financially I don't anticipate there being any vast changes to that number in the near future.”
This stability is a product of the firm's multi-disciplinary performance strategy. “Latham has a broad base of practice groups, and is well-positioned in various markets across the globe,” Gayatrinath continues. “A lot of our practice groups perform counter-cyclically, which helps us to weather market ups and downs pretty fluidly. We haven't seen any change in what we are doing from a junior hiring perspective; we offer so many practices that the demand always seems to float at around the same level. There's no intention to shake things up when it comes to hiring.”
For the past few years Latham has taken on around 200 juniors each September. “I don't anticipate there being any vast changes to that number in the near future,” notes Manu Gayatrinath. “We're pleased with the recruitment process as it stands, and our broad-based approach ensures we consistently take on some of the best young lawyers in the country.” Every August the firm interviews on almost 40 different campuses, and it also participates in a selection of local and regional job fairs.
“It's important for applicants to buy into Latham's team-oriented and collaborative culture,” Gayatrinath adds. If you manage to bag an interview, draw attention to any work experience that exhibits these qualities. “There's no one field we're looking for,” Gayatrinath continues. “Whether you've spent time doing Teach for America, or been in the military, or worked in consultancy, we want to hear how your experiences have shaped your development, why what you've learned has brought you to us, and how those experiences will make you an important addition to our team. Working here requires drive and self-motivation, but you can never let that come at the expense of mutual respect.”
Interview with Manu Gayatrinath, hiring partner at Latham & Watkins
Chambers Associate: How's entry level hiring looking at the moment?
Manu Gayatrinath: Well we've stayed on track for the last few years. Our summer program usually takes on about 200 new hires. With the firm continuing to top the tables and perform well financially I don't anticipate there being any vast changes to that number in the near future.
CA: Are opportunities opening up in any particular areas?
MG: Latham has a broad base of practice groups, and is well-positioned in various markets across the globe. A lot of our practice groups perform counter-cyclically, which helps us to weather market ups and downs pretty fluidly. We haven't seen any change in what we are doing from a junior hiring perspective; we offer so many practices that the demand always seems to float at around the same level.
CA: What do you think is unique to being a junior associate at Latham?
MG: Our unassigned program is definitely worth a mention here. It's really one of our hallmark traits. It gives juniors the opportunity to try out as many practice groups as they'd like, without the pressure of an imposed time limit or rotational program. Our view is that this helps attorneys properly understand what they're getting into if or when they do decide to specialize.
CA: Are there any opportunities for associates to move between offices?
MG: It definitely happens. If a summer associate wants to work in another office for some of their summer program we consider requests on a case-by-case basis. For associates in good standing that wish to move offices we do our best to accommodate their requests. Often people relocate for family reasons, and we want to make sure the Latham family is helpful whenever needed.
CA: When you're interviewing prospective summer associates, what qualities are you looking for?
MG: One of the first things we look for is strong academics. But we also need well-rounded candidates who have more to them than just top grades. Professional work experience and evidence of extracurricular activities are definitely a plus. We also put a lot of weight on oral and written communication skills, and it's important for applicants to buy into Latham's team-oriented and collaborative culture. We want candidates who can show us they'll fit in with that.
We're also on a major drive to find like-minded people when it comes of diversity and inclusion. Any examples of efforts made to promote those values are very well received.
CA: What about judicial clerking?
MG: That's absolutely a welcome addition to a resumé. Lots of our recruits have done that at some point in their career, either before of after their time at the firm. The skills that sort of experience fine-tunes are unbelievably helpful.
CA: Are there any other sorts of work experience you commonly notice on successful candidates' resumes?
MG: There's no one field we're looking for. Whether you've spent time doing Teach for America, or been in the military, or worked in consultancy, we want to hear how your experiences have shaped your development, why what you've learned has brought you to us, and how those experiences will make you an important addition to our team. Working here requires drive and self-motivation, but you can never let that come at the expense of mutual respect.
CA: What about particular law schools?
MG: In the past we looked to hire the best and brightest from the best law schools, but now our approach is a little broader. You still have to be the best and brightest, but we now interview on almost 40 different campuses every August. We also participate in local and regional job fairs across country, and 25 additional law schools that don't have large OCI programs in August. We're pleased with the recruitment process as it stands, and our broad-based approach ensures we consistently take on some of the best young lawyers in the country.
Latham & Watkins LLP
885 Third Avenue,
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 20
- Worldwide revenue: $2.822 billion (FY2016)
- Partners (US): 468
- Associates (US): 1,062
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,470/week
- 2Ls: $3,470/week
- Post-3L Salary: $3,470/week
- 1Ls hired? 1L Fellowship Program; others case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
- Summers 2017: 197
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 199 offers, 181 acceptances, 10 pending
Main areas of work
Corporate; environment, land and resources; finance; litigation and trial; tax.
Latham & Watkins’ extensive practices, one-firm culture, and global footprint provide associates with virtually limitless career opportunities. The team includes more than 2,400 lawyers who speak 55 languages and work across 14 countries, more than 60 practice and industry groups, and five departments. Associates harness the resources of a fully integrated firm that values integrity and diverse perspectives. Every associate receives exceptional training and support to ensure seamless collaboration on projects that span time zones, teams, and offices in the world’s major financial, business, and regulatory centers. As a result, associates play an essential role in addressing clients’ most important and complex challenges — with the best possible results.
• Number of 1st year associates: 160
• Number of 2nd year associates: 160
• Associate Salaries, 1st Year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes (with progression credit and a competitive bonus)
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, UC Hastings, Houston, Howard, Illinois, UC Irvine, Loyola (LA), Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Pennsylvania, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, USD, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wash U. (St. Louis), Yale and others.
Summer associate profile:
Contributing to the firm’s success takes more than an incredible legal mind and set of skills. Latham seeks lawyers who are a certain type of professional and, more importantly, a certain type of person. The firm’s core values are: transparency; respect; innovation; and collaboration.
Summer program components:
Latham’s Summer Program gives you a sense of life as a junior associate at Latham—for example, by participating in our Unassigned Program, having an assigned mentor, networking and building relationships, and attending Summer Academy—a highlight of the firm’s summer program.