Latham & Watkins LLP - The Inside View

Am Law topping and practice area hopping make this a prime destination for high-reaching associates.

WHAT'S better than hitting number one on the Am Law 100? How about achieving number one on Am Law's global 100 in the same year? Latham beat repeat winners Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper to the global top spot in 2015 after its 2014 revenue increased by 14% on the previous year. In doing so it became the first US firm to record revenue of $2.6 billion, but has this success come at the price of sacrificing some of its reputation for laid-back California cool? “We're ambitious but not aggressively ambitious. You never feel like anyone's trying to climb over you.” associates claimed.

Almost a third of the California-founded firm's 32 global offices are found in the States, where the full-service firm earns a wealth of top-tier Chambers USA rankings in areas ranging from corporate, life sciences, and real estate matters to white-collar crime. Visit chambersandpartners.com to see the rest of Latham's rankings both at home and around the world.

The Work



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: “Although I've tried a handful of other areas, the firm was terrific at understanding I wanted to concentrate on one specific field.” 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.

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 “as you move through the firm and build up relationships with people you'll rely on it less and less.” Subgroups within the wider practice areas vary in their allocation process; some employ a staffing partner while others require associates to find matters themselves.

“I appreciate the mix as practically running deals is stressful!”

Deal-doers told us that by the third year, “you'll be the most senior associate on half your deals and then at the bottom of the pile on the rest. On larger matters I'll be doing the grunt work and checking nothing's slipped through the cracks but I'll do almost everything on the smaller transactions. I appreciate the mix as practically running deals is stressful!” Another associate explained: “The firm is pretty good at letting you take a shot at what you'd like to work on. My responsibility is driven by how far I want to stick my neck out.” Another felt their rising capability was motivated by their supervisors who “are very deliberate in giving out tasks to push people.”

Litigators were similarly pleased with their ascent. “I did doc review for two months and then moved onto helping with deposition preparation. We're not overstaffed so you can find responsibility early on. The partners I've worked with know it benefits them if I develop my skills on harder tasks” like drafting, taking or defending depositions. One source even told us: “I know third-years who are conducting direct and cross-examinations and it's not considered atypical.”

Training & Development



“If you never wanted to buy lunch you could go to a session everyday – although they may not all be relevant to you.” Practice groups hosts talks on anything from recent court cases to legal updates in specific areas like leveraged finance. In their first year juniors attend 'core curriculum' sessions every few weeks featuring presentations from partners and associates on different practice areas and key skills such as drafting and negotiation.

“If you never wanted to buy lunch you could go to a session everyday.” 

Latham's formal academy program sees associates flown out to one location for “very condensed training and conferences” in their first, third and fifth year (summers and partners also attend academies). These bring associates up to speed with “what's expected of us in that year and give you the skills you need to develop into that role." For example: "Our third year academy talked us through how to supervize more junior associates and give feedback.” Attorneys also make the most of all being in one place to meet people from the firm's other offices. Some of the dinners have seating plans “so you'll be thrown together with lawyers from all over the world. The social aspect is the best part; everyone goes out and has fun.”

Culture & Hours



“I've met very few people who are tightly wound. There is pressure to work hard but not to kill yourself,” one associate claimed. Another added: “People take pride in their work but it doesn't come along with an ego or stuffiness and senior associates won't take credit for your contribution. We're ambitious but not aggressive. This is not an intimidating environment.”

Juniors are treated by partners as “colleagues not resources who only handle basic tasks,” with one source even revealing, “I'll play tennis with the partners on weekends.” But partners aren't just good for a game of doubles. “There is no avoiding hard work and tight client deadlines but people try to make it humane; the partners will push back on clients if they're being unreasonable. I've had people check to make sure I'm not overwhelmed or relieve me from their deal when something else I was working on blew up. Everyone will pitch in and if I'm here til 4am I'll be thanked.”

“It's up to you to say no.” 

One interviewee told us: “A lot of people here have families and the partners and senior associates set the tone by not remaining chained to their desks late into the night. It's okay to go and see your kids and then bill from home later. No-one's ever asked 'where the hell were you?!'” The firm recently rolled out the option for everyone to have an office phone installed in their home and “makes it easy to get your hands on whatever you need to work remotely.” All that connectivity means it can be difficult to step away from work. “My work/life balance isn't the greatest but I don’t blame Latham, I blame the world! Everyone expects you to be accessible.” That being said, another junior reckoned: “It's up to you to say no and put down your parameters. People do try to respect them.”

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. If you just slip past the 1,900 “that's fine. I don't want to bill 2,500 because my family commitments are my priority and no-one's called me out for under billing.” Not meeting the 1,900 means “you just won't get a bonus. If you only hit 1,700 and everyone else in your group was in the 2,000s, then they'd be asking questions.”

Pro Bono



Pro bono hours all count toward the billable target with some juniors racking up three figures. Everyone's expected to do at least 20 hours and if you're looking a little low “the pro bono coordinators will personally call you to try and bring those up.” Sounds like the firm takes it seriously. “I've never had a supervisor tell me, 'drop your pro bono, my work comes first'. The firm understands it counts just as much as client billables,” one junior confirmed. 

“I can't emphasize enough how many emails I receive.” 

Transactional associates can get stuck in helping low-income entrepreneurs or assisting with a business clinic. For a more litigious slant there are “projects representing veterans, assisting the homeless or domestic violence victims, or working with the children's court. There are loads of opportunities. I can't emphasize enough how many emails I receive.”

Pro bono hours  

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 127,200  
  • Average per US attorney: 85 

Diversity



Houston's association with the oil and gas industry means the office here is “a very male driven environment but the firm is making huge strides,” one source claimed. “As a relatively new office we've only recently seen female attorneys returning from maternity leave but Latham's been very accommodating toward their transition.” One LA associate told us: “We're looking at retention rather than just recruitment. There are a lot of discussions right now about the importance of diverse mentors,” while DC juniors proudly proclaimed: “We've got a number of strong female partners, like former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler” [read our "Big Interview" with her elsewhere on this site]. Despite the high profile figures, several sources across the firm pointed out that “the number of female partners is still low and we could definitely improve the racial mix. Sometimes it feels like a bunch of old white men talking about diversity but their intent is in the right place.”

“We're looking at retention rather than just recruitment.” 

Firmwide, juniors were quick to highlight that new global chair Bill Voge had highlighted the topic of diversity as “one of his top priorities” while in office, so we'll have to see whether initiatives soon start kicking into overdrive. Current resources include 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).

Compare law firm diversity stats>>

Strategy & Future



Korea on the cards?

Improving diversity may be on the chairman's list, but what else is the firm going to be focusing on in coming years? Plans are in the pipeline to open an office in Seoul, South Korea; this will become the firm's sixth office in Asia.

The firm's also bolstering its established footholds in Asia, including Hong Kong, whose private equity practice saw the addition of three new partners in 2016. Latham also has strong practices in China more broadly, Singapore and Indonesia – check out Chambers Global for more info. New York's litigation offering is also getting a boost with the addition of former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman, among others. 

Offices



Interaction between the firm's 12 domestic and 20 international offices is fairly well oiled. “I can't remember a deal when I didn't liaise with another office,” one interviewee mused. The phone may be their best friend on cross-office deals but popping between bases and working out of the firm's 'guest offices' is “seamless. You can even make use of them if you're going to be in the area for personal reasons.”

“Our patio terrace is being turned into the showpiece.” 

Juniors reckoned the New York office was “the least impressive.” Renovations are under way so those stuck with “stained carpets” will soon be sitting in swanky digs “done out in a dark espresso and light gray color scheme.” Remodeling in DC is being undertaken on a grander scale: “Our patio terrace is being turned into the showpiece.” Work-wise, corporate and finance are the show-stopping practices here, although DC also does a considerable amount of regulatory work. Full service LA often works with emerging companies and has just opened a “Latham lounge; it's got a pool table, games console and dartboard. They understand we need to take a break,” while energy-focused Houston was praised for “free snacks and gorgeous views.”

Get Hired



“Anyone extremely difficult or too intense won't get far,” one source posited. “Everybody here has lots of accomplishments and impressive backgrounds but they don't wear it on their sleeve; we're easy to get on with.” So if you stick to this associate's preferred interview routine you may be in with a good shot: “I want to spend five minutes on your resume and then fill the rest of the interview with a chat about something, anything, else.” Others involved in the recruiting game mark you down for "awkward silences and only chatting about law” or “sharp elbows." Global recruiting chair Manu Gayatrinath elaborates: "People who can demonstrate they have past teamwork experience" can catch the eye of interviewers.

“We need colleagues we're happy putting in front of a client."

Confident and engaged associates are in demand as “we need colleagues we're happy putting in front of a client. Someone who's trustworthy, laid back and can roll with the punches” also ticks this box.


We check in with Latham's Global Chair of Recruiting Manu Gayatrinath



Chambers Associate: Who conducts Latham's OCI and callback interviews?

Manu Gayatrinath: Both partners and associates. We've noticed having both sets of folks on campus is very helpful; our partners have long term experience and can speak about the firm's growth but it's also super helpful to have an associate who can provide students with an idea about what their day to day experiences will be like.

CA: What kind of questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

MG: It really depends on who is conducting the interview. Personally I look at extracurricular activities; it allows me to learn something about a person and can be a good way to connect. It doesn't have to be anything to do with work itself but it conveys the bigger picture about who someone is or how they manage their time in law school. I might look at whether someone is undertaking any pro bono in their spare time or whether they've done research projects.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?

MG: There are a few ways. Having some sort of knowledge about the firm is super helpful; that knowledge doesn't have to be about the interviewer but it could be that the candidate understands the firm's structure or knows about our overseas offices, committee structure or the unassigned program. If they ask questions about that program it shows me they've done their research and have a true interest in the firm.  

The second way is to be open about what prior experience they have either in terms of work experience, extracurricular activities or former school experience. It's important to have a real deep knowledge of your resume and be able to speak about everything on it with an explanation. If you can tell me a story about your experiences which sets you apart from other folks during the course of the day, that's very helpful.  

Finally the most important thing is confidence; I love to talk to someone who is absolutely confident and excited about what they're doing. That resonates so much during the course of an interview and carries more weight than words.

CA: Are you looking for a particular type of person?

MG: We pride ourselves on our one firm culture and we have a great need to be sure we are doing everything with a client centric focus. We believe in consensus management and we look for people who are like minded in that respect, people who can demonstrate they have past teamwork experience, or who really understand we work across offices and don't believe in having a profit center. We're not looking for people who may have a hierarchical outlook but those who are compatible with our vision.  

CA: How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?

MG: Summer associates need to make sure they're really getting to know us; the key is to network during the course of the summer. Every firm has big events during the summer, but alongside the social aspect there’s a chance for summers to get to know people at the firm and vice versa.  

We provide a ton of training programs during the summer. Attending them and showing an interest and enthusiasm is super important. We operate an unassigned system for all our summer associates so taking the opportunity to sample a variety of different projects – such as pro bono and knowledge management – is important. 

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity through recruiting?

MG: It has been one of our major focuses over the last couple of years. We have a number of different, innovative, pipeline programs which focus on making sure we're increasing diversity both at the firm and in the legal profession. Our 1L Fellowship Program allows first years to work in a Latham office for five weeks and then in a client office for five weeks. This gives 1Ls an opportunity to see legal and commercial aspects of our work and gain a different perspective by working in-house at a client. When they come back during the course of second year they have a great perspective and can help us enhance the overall experience at the firm.  

The Fellowship is open to anyone who has shown a commitment to diversity and we define that broadly; we don't want to pigeon hole anyone into any specific categories. We believe diversity means anything from different experiences, to different cultures, gender or sexual orientation.  

We just received an Innovation in Diversity award for our Diversity Leadership Academy, in which we bring together 1Ls in San Francisco and really focus on training and interview skills. In the run up to OCIs we provide guidance and advice about networking and resume building and offer mock interviews.

CA: Is there anything else it's important for students to know about the firm?

MG: One of the major things about Latham is our culture of collaboration; beyond that our financial stability and transparency should appeal to anyone looking to be a part of big law. We're very transparent about our finances and the firm strategy.

Latham in Asia



Latham's Initiatives Committee is currently taking a long hard look at the firm's offering in Asia. Offices in Indonesia and Korea have been reportedly floated, thanks to the firm handling an abundance of deals concerning these two countries. If Latham were to purchase a slice of real estate in either of the two jurisdictions, they would join five already established Asia bases in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Singapore.

The firm's been working on Indonesian-based transactions for both native and international clients for the past two decades, while the Korean endeavor has been active for around fifteen years and both practices are currently hosted out of its Singapore office. Latham's Indonesian offering largely centres around transactional matters while its Korea practice also handles areas like antitrust, litigation and arbitration. In particular the two practices are best known for their corporate/M&A, and banking and finance work.

Korea's corporate practice undertakes a considerable number of cross-border mergers and acquisitions: the firm recently advised US multinational private equity firm The Carlyle Group in its $1.93 billion acquisition of Tyco Fire & Security Services Korea. At the time of closing the deal was the largest private equity acquisition by US dollar. The team don't just handle in-bound deals though; they assisted Korean biotherapeutics and research company SillaJen in its acquisition of US biopharmaceutical company Jennerex for $150 million.

The Indonesian practice also sees a number of cross-border deals; Latham acted for Indonesian coal-mining company Dian Swastatika Sentosa (DSS) in the sale of DSS's stake in Singapore-based Golden Energy Mines to Singaporean construction and property company United Fiber Systems as part of a reverse takeover. Financing, particularly for energy projects, repeatedly pops up for the Indonesian banking group who recently assisted the country's state-owned energy company Pertamina in financing its acquisition of a 30% stake in Murphy Oil corporations Malaysian assets.

Latham & Watkins LLP

885 Third Avenue,
New York,
NY 10022-4834
Website www.lw.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 21
  • Worldwide revenue: $2.650 billion
  • Partners (US): 456
  • Associates (US): 1014
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,080/week
  • 2Ls: $3,080/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,080/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 2016: 203
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 176 offers, 166 acceptances, 7 pending

Main areas of work
Corporate; environment, land and resources; finance; litigation; tax.

Firm profile
Latham & Watkins is a fully integrated, global law firm that takes pride in its culture of teamwork, diversity and inclusion, collegiality and a strong commitment to quality and professionalism that have helped the firm succeed for more than 75 years. Because we do not operate regions or offices as separate profit centers, and no single office serves as a headquarters for the firm, firm leadership is spread across the globe and the firm maintains a team-oriented focus. Clients rely on Latham’s vast team of approximately 2,200 lawyers, located in the world’s major business and financial centers, for their wide range of experience across practices, industries and global regions. Latham has received praise for its innovative approach to law firm management, which is grounded in the firm’s devotion to the collaborative process and reaches across the firm’s global platform. As a signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge, Latham has a longstanding commitment to providing pro bono legal services and uncapped billable hour credit is given to pro bono work.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 150
• Number of 2nd year associates: 147
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, UC Hastings, Houston, Howard, Illinois, UC Irvine, Loyola (LA), Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Ohio State, Pennsylvania, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, UCLA, USC, USD, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wash U. (St. Louis), Yale and others.

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
We consider a number of factors in evaluating our applications for summer associate positions including academic and leadership achievements, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, initiative and willingness to assume early responsibility, maturity, judgment, non-academic experience, and extra-curricular activities.

Summer program components:
Latham’s summer program is designed to give you a sense of life at the firm as a junior associate. As a summer associate, you will receive work assignments through the unassigned program, allowing you to explore our 50+ practice groups. Summer associates are also invited to participate in any training and CLE courses that are offered to our associates. Like a newly hired associate, you will be assigned a firm mentor who will help guide you through your summer. The summer associate review process is similar to the associate review process. Work reviews are read to you verbatim and a clear message regarding progress and standing is given. Summer associates also have the opportunity to participate in Summer Academy, a three-day professional development program.