Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP - The Inside View

Akin to work at a big global firm? If you’ve got the Gump-tion for it, consider BigLaw big shot Akin Gump.

AKIN is a bit unique in that our largest office is in DC, our chairperson sits in New York, and we have a large Texas presence,” one junior reflected. Alongside this geographical mix, there's also interesting variety in the work the firm does. Chairperson Kim Koopersmith explains: “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.”Chambers Global and Chambers USA has long recognized the firm's supremacy in government and bankruptcy work. The firm also wins high nationwide rankings for its energy, international trade, investment funds and projects work, and picks up rankings in its core US locations of New York, DC and Texas for (among other areas) litigation, corporate and bankruptcy/restructuring.

It's useful that Akin’s a pro at restructuring given some recent internal reorganizations, like the appointment of a career counselor and efforts to boost diversity. Keep reading to find out more.

Juniors are recruited into six of Akin’s 12 US offices. As the two largest offices, New York and DC take in the majority of rookies, followed by LA. Houston and Dallas come next while Philadelphia may also take one or two each year. Different offices have different strengths: the regulatory teams sits in DC, oil and gas transactions are handled mostly out of Houston, while the bulk of the tax practice is in New York.

The Work



At the time of our research just under half of juniors were in litigation or corporate, while financial restructuring is the third biggest group. An assignment coordinator is responsible for doling out work in all three groups. This is usually a partner, though litigation has a full-time coordinator. “Inevitably some juniors tend to be busier than others,” a litigator said, “but generally work is evenly spread.”

“… figuring out what went wrong and how to explain it to the government!”

Litigation juniors get exposure to three main strands of work: commercial litigation, white-collar, and bankruptcy litigation arising from the financial restructuring practice (the latter is particularly a focus in New York). We heard about juniors working on cases related to everything from the bankruptcy of a print company to market manipulation. “We sued for fraud in a Delaware court,” one associate told us. “I got to draft a motion for pleadings.” White-collar cases often pit Akin Gump's lawyers against government agencies like the DOJ, the SEC, and the CFTC – it recently represented employees of a financial institution caught up in the DOJ's investigation of the 1MDB scandal. “We had a presentation in front of the DOJ to try to get the government not to charge our client,” one source recalled. We heard Akin's lawyers had to “go through the technical aspects of the email archiving system figuring out what went wrong and how to explain it to the government!” Juniors start out drafting letters and memos, rather than the main case documents. “I rarely draft parts of briefs,” a third-year shared. “I didn’t expect to be writing 100-page briefs at this point, but I maybe expected a little less doc review!” Nevertheless, some associates had second-chaired depositions.

Litigation clients: Pegasus Capital Advisors, The Cheesecake Factory, Rand Construction, and FirstEnergy Solutions. Represented the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in a case against the Archdiocese of Washington over a Christmas advert which was banned for violating guidelines prohibiting ads that promote religion.

Juniors in corporate either keep a broad practice or pursue more specialized work. In New York you'll find M&A, securities, capital markets, and refinancing, plus “work that’s ancillary to bankruptcy.” In LA juniors get exposure to the entertainment finance practice which “represents entertainment companies, as opposed to talent, on financing, production, and distribution.” The deals are often smallish, so juniors can get “more substantive experience drafting.” One told us: “I’ve worked on credit and inter-party agreements plus had a ton of client contact – I run the checklist calls with them.” Juniors might also “update transaction documents, collect signatures, and coordinate and compile closing binders.” LA associates also do private equity, investment finance, and energy work – the latter is also a focus in the Houston office.

Corporate clients: Apollo Global Management, Diamondback Energy, American Zinc Recycling, and 7-Eleven. Advised Kingston Technology on its $18 billion acquisition of Toshiba Memory Corporation.

Juniors in financial restructuring (known as 'FR') can mostly be found in New York and DC. The “workhorse group” does both debtor and creditor work for major corporations “that are going through financial distress whether in or out of court.” Associates work on both the litigation and corporate side of restructuring. Juniors might find themselves drafting memos, retention applications and Rule 2019 statements, or heading to federal court to present a motion. One junior reported: “As a first-year I was in client meetings, as a second-year I was in court, and now I’m third-year I’m writing briefs that are filed directly with the court.” And the cherry on top – “I’ve never done doc review!” FR juniors all attend bankruptcy bootcamp to get to grips with the fundamentals. “You learn a lot in two days!” one reported.

Financial restructuring clients: Committees of unsecured creditors at Sears and Nine West, a lender to Toys R Us, and a purchaser of The Weinstein Company. Represented bondholders at offshore contractor Seadrill during its global restructuring with $2.3 billion bond debt.

Career Development



All associates are assigned mentors but one told us somewhat resignedly that “they do cancel plans with you. No one is monitoring how much time you spend together.” Don’t despair: changes are afoot. The firm is rolling out a new review system, “where you can ping a partner after an assignment if you want to discuss it, so you can get more informal feedback throughout the year.”

“It’s cool the firm has someone whose number one priority is us associates.”

The appointment of new career development counselor Carrie Marker to “advise associates on their career trajectory” was another good sign for our interviewees. “It’s cool the firm has someone whose number one priority is us associates.” The counselor also has “no problem advising on how to leave the firm,” which surprised some who hadn’t expected exit opportunities to be “such a welcome conversation.” Several juniors we spoke to felt making partner was “unlikely,” but noted it wasn’t the only end goal Akin offered. “There are a number of senior counsel who’ve been with the firm for a long time,” one junior said.

Hours & Compensation



It’s manageable to work an eight-hour day,” one litigator felt, “but then I’m not trying to make partner!” Another litigation junior told us: “If I’m super busy I could be here until 11pm.” Juniors reported that 9:30am to 7:30pm is a typical day, with 2am finishes “the exception.” Those in financial restructuring were “energized” by unpredictable timetables, with home times falling anywhere between 6pm and 11pm. In Houston days of 9am to 6:30pm are the norm, “but that depends who you’re working for.” On a private equity deal one corporate junior was “in the office until midnight for two weeks.” An agile workplace policy makes things a bit easier. One source reported: “Within my first week I put in a request and they shot me a monitor and wireless keyboard to set up at home.”

“Everybody puts pressure on themselves.”

The firm operates a merit-based bonus system, and has no hard billable target. But associates told us “everybody puts pressure on themselves to exceed” a soft target of 1,950 hours. “I don’t feel the firm breathes down your neck though.” Houston juniors said closer to “2,000 is the hallmark." Hours are “up there” as the most important bonus criterion, but reviews count too. Overachievers get additional bonuses, though sources weren’t clear on the specifics. Our interviewees had no problem hitting the end-of-year target.

Pro Bono



A dedicated partner coordinates pro bono, and beyond that, “you can do whatever you want if you bring it to the firm.” Associates' pro bono hours can all contribute to their billables total and there’s a prize for anyone who reaches the “unofficial minimum” of 60 hours. “As long as you’re getting your billable work done, no one gets on your case. I know someone who went to Belize for a whole week with Lawyers Without Borders!”

“I had to run to court at the 11th hour because my client was about to be evicted – it was like a movie!”

Immigration work is common, “I went to a detention center in Texas and I’ve worked on requests for reconsideration of credible fear decisions,” one junior told us. In DC, landlord/tenant work is also an option. “I had to run to court at the 11th hour because my client was about to be evicted – it was like a movie!” one junior told us. “I argued before the court and she was able to keep her house.” Externships are available to second to fifth years at Her Justice. “You work at their offices in Lower Manhattan and represent women in cases related to divorce and childcare.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 96,565
  • Average per (US) attorney: 116

Diversity & Inclusion



Associates were “pleased” with the gender balance among associates (it's close to 50/50), but not so much at partner level. One junior said: “I’ve worked with white men 90% of the time. As a person of color, it’s weird that the people I connect with culturally are mostly support staff.” Interviewees figured the problem lay in retention rather than recruitment.

“It stands out to me that our chairperson is a woman – it’s pretty rare for a top firm.”

The firm “searched far and wide” to hire chief diversity and inclusion officer Nimesh Patel, leaving associates with the impression leadership wants to “revamp things on a fundamental level.” Mandatory unconscious bias training has been rolled out, which associates thought was “wonderful – it's the starting point.” Other “active steps” include a firmwide hackathon competition inviting diverse associates to put forward proposals for increasing diversity in recruitment. One winner was “impressed with the fact I was in a room with leadership and they were having a substantive conversation about presentation.” Another plus for associates was the woman at the top, Kim Koopersmith. One said: “It stands out to me that our chairperson is a woman – that’s pretty rare for a top firm.” The heads of the New York and DC offices are also both African American.

Culture



Speaking of diversity, walking in the DC Capital Pride parade was a point of pride for associates here. We heard that in this “friendly” office, “juniors have each other's backs. If you have vacation, others step up so you don’t have to check your email as often.” We heard a similar story in New York. One junior relayed: “It was 12:30am and I hadn’t sent out an email that I was supposed to. My colleague sent me it with everything labeled and ready to send. I was like, are you an angel?” The office certainly has some Christmas angels among its ranks. “We had a Christmas luncheon where we made cards for kids in hospitals,” one junior reported. Another festive delight was the corporate team's band, which “played at the holiday party – that was cute.” Even after the tinsel comes down, “one of the partners sometimes gets a studio and we all go jam – there are about 15 of us. We do The Beach Boys and The Beatles and Africa by Toto!”

“One of the partners sometimes gets a studio and we all go jam.”

Don't let this anecdote give the wrong impression though. Akin's office environment is still “high pressure, so everyone has their moments,” but a “fresh, laidback partnership” certainly keeps corporate associates happy. In financial restructuring “personalities can be a bit more intense,” and as for litigation, one junior said: “I wish were there more opportunities to socialize.” LA juniors wanted more socials too, but for now there are “friendly” monthly attorney lunches for everyone to enjoy. In Houston“the mood tends to be pretty light and fun,” with some groups enjoying “dinner at a partner’s house every two weeks.”

Strategy & Future



Chairperson Kim Koopersmith tells us about the firm's plans for the future: "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." Koopersmith also points out that the firm's international trade practice has served it well recently, given international trade, tariffs and sanctions are now “front and center” of the political debate. She goes on to say cybersecurity and privacy are potential areas for future practice growth along with regulatory work related to emerging technologies like drones and autonomous vehicles. “We’re well placed to assist clients in areas like those,” Koopersmith concludes.

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Akin Gump recruits from a total of 29 schools, including nine top national law schools – Duke, Michigan, UVA, NYU, Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Georgetown and the University of Texas. The firm also recruits from schools located in regions in which it has an office. Akin also recruits for its national IP practice through the Patent Law Interview Program, and for its Houston and LA offices via the On Tour Interview Program. Hiring partner David Botter tells us Akin does consider applications made directly to the firm. At each school, the firm sees approximately 20 students, so may see just under 600 students on campus every year.

Akin typically sends one interviewer to conduct OCIs, usually a partner or senior associate who may be an alum of that school. On occasion there may be two interviewers. “At this point in the process, we are asking questions about the candidates’ experiences, both legal and otherwise, in order to assess their skills and whether they are a cultural fit,” Botter says. Questions are based on the firm’s hiring criteria, “which is comprised of several factors including evidence of our core competencies, which include ownership, service and teamwork, client focus and professional excellence.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Even if someone is ridiculously qualified, it’s taken very seriously if they wouldn’t fit in here.” a third-year junior associate

“Taking the time to do research and getting to know the firm is important and impresses the interviewers. Students should identify unique facts that distinguish one firm from another and weave those into their conversation with the interviewer. This reflects a genuine interest in the firm and help you stand out amongst the other candidates.” – hiring partner David Botter

 

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

During callbacks, candidates typically meet four to five attorneys for one-to-one interviews lasting around 30 minutes each. Botter tells us “we strive to include attorneys from various levels of experience and practice groups on the callback interview schedule in order to provide the candidate with as many perspectives on the firm as possible.” He adds that interviewers “often look for more information regarding the candidate’s interest in a particular practice and for more information regarding their interest in the firm.”

Top tips for this stage:

It’s good to look up your interviewers but I’ve had experiences where people had stalked me to a tee – don’t be creepy!” a second-year junior associate

“Candidates should be prepared to answer why they are interested in our firm and how their skills and experience tie into our core values.” hiring partner David Botter

 

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

During Akin’s ten-week summer program, summer associates work on an assortment of projects “in order to gain experience in the practice areas represented in the office and that may be of interest to them,” says Botter. Attorneys in the office manage assignments by identifying projects for each summer associate based on available assignments and their practice areas of interest. Summers are assigned a mentor and get formal feedback via a mid-summer and end-of-summer meeting. There are also training and networking events throughout the program.

The firm discusses summer associates’ interests and preferences for practice areas at the end of the summer program and makes final assignments before the summers return as first-year associates based on that discussion and the needs of the firm. Botter says “the majority of our first-year associate classes are comprised of former summer associates.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Equally important with work is getting to know people so you have relationships in place; they organize a lot of events structured around introducing you to the firm’s attorneys.” a second-year junior associate

“Summer associates should spend time with our attorneys and ask them about their work and experiences in order to get a true feel for the environment and to help them better assess whether a firm is the right ‘fit’ for their career..” hiring partner David Botter

 

And finally…

Associates say that when it comes to hiring at Akin, everyone’s opinion matters: “Obviously partners have more authority but it’s a wholesome process. I’ve been in meetings where people are discussing candidates, and even if all the partners like someone, that person won’t get an offer if very few associates do.”

 

Interview with chairperson Kim Koopersmith



Read the full interview here.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

2001 K Street N.W.,
Washington, DC,
DC 20006
Website www.akingump.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 12
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,071,000,000
  • Partners (US): 272
  • Associates (US): 402
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: David H Botter, Firmwide Hiring Partner.
  • For a complete listing of our recruiting contacts go to: www.akingump.com/en/careers/lawyers/ recruiting-process/contact-us.html
  • Diversity officer: Nimesh Patel, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 51
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019:  
  • 1Ls: 26, 2Ls: 46, SEOs: 5
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Dallas 1Ls: 6 and 2Ls: 5 Houston 1Ls: 7 and 2Ls: 7 Los Angeles 1Ls: 2 and 2Ls: 5 New York 1Ls: 5 and 2Ls: 17 Washington, DC 1Ls: 6 and 2Ls: 12
  • Summer salary 2019:  
  • 1Ls: $3,650/week 2Ls: $3,650/week
  • 1Ls hired? In some offices and through our Pro Bono Scholars Program and Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Program
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Antitrust, communications and information technology, corporate, cybersecurity, privacy and data protection, energy, entertainment and media, environment and natural resources, financial restructuring, global project finance, government contracts, healthcare, intellectual property, international arbitration, international trade, investment funds, labor and employment, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, pro bono, public law and policy, real estate, regulatory, Supreme Court and appellate and tax.

Firm profile
Akin Gump is a leading global law firm with more than 900 lawyers and advisors in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The firm is widely recognized for its strength in transactional work, litigation, and regulatory and public policy, which allow the firm to provide a comprehensive suite of service for governments, companies and individuals worldwide. Collegiality, commitment, excellence, integrity and intensity form the bedrock of Akin Gump’s core values. Akin Gump’s dedication to the advancement of these values guides relationships within the firm and, most importantly, with its clients.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:

American, Berkeley, Boston University, Cardozo, Catholic, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Houston, Michigan, New York University, Penn, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, SMU, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington University, William & Mary

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Lavender Law, Loyola PLIP, On Tour Interview Program (CA), South West Region Black Law Student Association Job Fair

Summer associate profile:
Akin Gump seeks motivated candidates with outstanding academic credentials, overall achievement, leadership and interpersonal skills, and work experience. In addition, the firm looks for candidates who demonstrate the firm’s core competencies: ownership, professional excellence, service and teamwork and client focus.

Summer program components:
Akin Gump summer associates work on real matters for real clients. Summer associates gain in-depth exposure to the firm’s practice and hands-on experience with clients and work that interests them. With training, mentorship, teamwork and social activities, summer associates get a realistic and meaningful picture of firm life. Summer associates participate in pro bono projects through organisations with which Akin Gump has a pro bono partnership. These projects are geared to a summer associates’ interests and maximize front-line responsibility while ensuring appropriate supervision from experienced attorneys. Summer associates receive feedback on a project-by-project basis and at midsummer and end of summer reviews.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.akingump.com/en/careers
LinkedIn: akin-gump-strauss-hauer-&-feld-llp
Twitter: @akin_gump

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Antitrust Recognised Practitioner
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Government Contracts (Band 4)
    • Government Relations (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
    • Native American Law (Band 1)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)