"Our strength in congressional investigations is going to be particularly timely." Akin Gump's leader spills the beans on the firm's plans, and her own rise to the top.
Chambers Associate: Which practices have been performing well recently?
Kim Koopersmith: Our firm historically has had strengths in areas such as financial restructuring, energy, funds and tax, corporate, trade and regulation, policy, and white-collar and class action litigation, and those continue to perform well. When you look at the issues facing clients and the complexity of the geopolitical environment, I think we are uniquely positioned to be able to offer solutions to clients. Through forethought and deliberate strategy we’re covering issues that are where the markets and our clients are going. For instance, I’d like to think we had a crystal ball and predicted tariffs and sanctions and trade wars were going to be front and center today. We’ve also built a strong cybersecurity and privacy practice, and we have good regulatory capabilities in emerging technologies like drones and autonomous vehicles. We’re well-positioned to assist clients in emerging areas like those.
CA: Are there any broader trends affecting the type of work being conducted in any of the firm’s practices?
KK: The shifting geopolitical environment around the globe is a source of concern for many of our clients, and we’re focused on helping them anticipate and respond to this uncertainty. For example, the change in the composition of the U.S. House of Representatives means our strength in congressional investigations is going to be particularly timely. We see ourselves as very well-situated for providing clients with solutions in a complicated world.
"We’re also very fortunate to have such a strong energy practice in Houston, which will continue to create opportunities."
CA: Which practices have you earmarked for growth over the next years and why?
KK: All of the areas I mentioned above are priorities. Our trade and energy practices remain very robust, as does our funds practice, where our work with sovereign wealth funds has been increasing. We’re also very active in financial restructuring – we represent the unsecured creditors committee of Sears, and we’ve worked on several restructurings which cover both the U.K. and U.S. I think that’s an area that we'll be highly engaged in going forward.
In terms of our geographical presence, D.C. is our largest office, New York is a close second, and London is now our third largest office. We’re also very fortunate to have such a strong energy practice in Houston, which will continue to create opportunities and link to international locations like Moscow, London and Asia.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
KK: In five years’ time we will have built on our strengths. We’ve really stuck to the strategy of doing what we do very well and growing in our core areas. In the next five years I expect us to stick with that strategy and not try to be all things to all people in all places. Rather, we intend to be present in those markets doing high-value work where we are market-leading and distinct. That is going to continue to guide us for the next five years.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
KK: Certainly technology has driven change almost more than anything else. I think in the past ten plus years there’s been a strong need for law firms to understand clients better and understand how to partner with them more successfully. The practice of law is now more team-oriented in creating solutions for clients, and is also far more global. I think that’s a been a change for the good.
"I feel I have been able, in some respects, to stay true to what sent me to law school."
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
KK: I think it is a really good blend of an intellectual pursuit combined with being able to effect change, whether that is change for businesses, or in terms of policy, or the ability to effect change in the public sector. Lawyers have a unique opportunity to use their skills creatively to improve the lives of those around them and throughout their communities.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
KK: As long as I can remember, I planned to be a lawyer. I went to law school fully expecting to be a public interest lawyer, so my path to becoming chair of Akin Gump is consistent with the advice I’ve given many students, which is that life is a journey. The journey may take you to unexpected places – I found myself in a law firm and I have really enjoyed that. I have made a point during my entire career while working in the private sector of committing myself to doing pro bono work and making sure we’re involved in our communities. I feel I have been able, in some respects, to stay true to what sent me to law school.
"I was asked by the chair of the firm to write a new reduced workload policy and think about what had worked for me. I look back now and realize my ‘value add’ there."
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal profession?
KK: I think it’s important to be brave; don’t be bashful; seize opportunities; and think about the ways you can add value. That may be through the brilliance of your legal work, but it may be in other respects. For example, when I was working on a reduced workload basis for several years I was asked by the chair of the firm to write a new reduced workload policy and think about what had worked for me. I look back now and realize my ‘value add’ there – we’ve now had more than 130 women take advantage of our reduced workload policy. In retrospect, I had an effect on a lot of people. So think about the idea of adding value as widely as possible. Finally, think about using your legal skills for how you can help people in need. There are endless opportunities, whether you are a transactional lawyer or a litigator, to use your legal skills for the betterment of our society.
Interview conducted by Leah Henderson. First published Feb 2019.