Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP - The Inside View

Strong, stable and “personable”: attorneys were just Akin for a place at this BigLaw outfit.

“Having gone through 2008 as an older teen, I was mindful about firms that could manage during down times,” one associate explained. “I was definitely aware that Akin is a recession-proof firm in that respect.” In addition to its own stable financials, Akin Gump is well known for guiding clients through hard times, with top-tier Chambers USAbankruptcy rankings in New York and nationwide, as well as high state rankings in Texas and the District of Columbia. Yet with 11 offices in the US alone, and work in over 90 countries, the firm has its fingers in a few other pies. Akin has particular strength in government and international trade, with impressive Chambers USA nationwide rankings in customs, export controls & economic sanctions, trade remedies & trade policy, and government relations.

"It is the ultimate test of a firm’s culture.”

Junior associates at the firm are split between the firm’s offices in Dallas,Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles,New York,Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Despite its Texas roots, the firm’s main offices are New York and DC, which between them play host to the bulk of junior associates, with Dallas taking the third largest cohort. The highest number of associates join Akin’s general corporate pool, with litigation close behind, but the firm’s strength in regulated sectors has meant that international trade and intellectual property are also common destinations.

Strategy & Future



“There is no question that leading a firm through a pandemic has its challenges,” Kim Koopersmith, chairperson at Akin Gump says, “but it is the ultimate test of a firm’s culture.” The firm sought to weather the pandemic by playing to its strengths. According to Koopersmith, this included the firm’s work in the energy sector and in international trade, but it also involved embracing new avenues. “One we find increasingly at the core of the firm is technology,” Koopersmith explains, “not only the tech companies themselves, but also non-tech sector clients who are using technology, perhaps investment clients who are thinking about the future and their own investment strategy.” In fact, for Koopersmith, technology is a big part of the future for the legal sector too: “This is going to define the next decades of what law firms are able to do to meet our client’s needs.”

The Work



As a general rule, sources found “there’s no centralized coordination of work at all, it’s all about who you reach out to and who reaches out to you.” Quite how this works depends a little on which offices associates were based at. “Our office in Hartford is one of if not the smallest office in the whole firm, so we are a little bit of an anomaly,” one associate explained. “We have a niche group that all work together on whatever deal might come across.” The associates we spoke to found that social factors such as being seen, and a partner’s awareness of your availability, were harder to navigate during the pandemic. That being said, “once you start working with certain people, you are integrated into the team, and that leads to a lot of repeat work.”

“…I was put straight into a hundred-million-dollar financing transaction.”

Associates under the corporate umbrella start out as generalists, with the opportunity to veer into a specialism later on: one such specialist group at Akin is institutional finance, a “start-to-finish lending-based finance team” working with insurance companies, equity funds, and hedge funds – “companies that want to operate as a lender to other companies, whether it’s part of an acquisition or a restructuring.” As one source put it: “The initial start involves an onboarding process and getting familiar with the soft pieces of the company,” but the hand-holding doesn’t last long: “After that I was put straight into a hundred-million-dollar financing transaction.” In such a varied group, typical tasks are hard to come by, “but generally, we make sure that the deal we agree to is properly papered. After all, a sheet that is a couple of pages can quickly turn into a hundred-page credit agreement, and that can result in missed terms.”

Finance clients: New Mountain Capital, Kennedy Lewis Investment Management, and CEC Entertainment. Represented Blackstone Tactical Opportunities Advisors in its capacity as a lender to clothing company Centric Brands after it was forced into bankruptcy as a result of the pandemic. The deal was worth approximately $1.7 billion in funded debt.

Given the firm’s strength in international trade, it should come as no surprise that the group is a popular destination for junior associates. The firm has over 70 lawyers working in international trade alone, operating from offices in Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Moscow, Singapore, and the US. “It seems like the group is split into the export controls and the sanctions side,” one associate explained, “and we do a lot of work for defense companies and tech companies in highly regulated sectors.” As one associate in DC told us: “My area tends to be more quasi-litigation before the International Trade Commission, working on investigations into antidumping, and working with foreign companies that have been selected by the Department of Commerce.” For the associates we spoke to, the day-to-day of junior associates in international trade revolves around research and drafting, as well as writing emails or memos to put to the internal team relating to a particular area of research. “There’s also plenty of going back and forth with a client about how to complete the questionnaires that are supplied by the Department of Commerce as a part of these quasi-litigation proceedings.”

International trade clients: Maersk, Johnson & Johnson, and UPS. Represented Mediterranean Shipping Company in a multimillion matter regarding a C-TPAT certification suspension after a seizure of illegal drugs on one of its container ships.

Culture



“Akin has really shirked that white-shoe facade around business formality," one associate remarked. "I don’t feel like I have to put on an air. People speak to each other in a really open and honest way.” Indeed, the culture at Akin Gump was something associates were quick to highlight: “When I met with the folks here at the Hartford office, it gave me the small-firm environment in a big multinational firm setting.” Associates also praised the opportunity to collaborate with the firm’s offices overseas, and those working out of the firm’s DC and New York offices told us that they frequently collaborate with the firm’s lawyers across the pond. As one attorney explained: “I thought a smaller state-based firm would have a more personable structure and culture than a big multinational firm, but that just hasn’t been the case.”

"People in the upper tiers are invested in those in the lower tiers."

The pandemic has of course been a bit of an obstacle for those who are more junior at the firm: “I get the sense that I’m in this microcosm where I’m not in the office, and haven’t been back in a while, so it’s hard to get a feel for the firm as a whole,” one associate told us. “That being said, I think we’ve shown that it works, and it’s nice not to have to suit up and go in every day.” Associates pointed out that comfort levels about attending social events have varied, but that doesn’t mean the firm has stopped them altogether: “In LA, we can still be outside even in December, so we’ve had a few more events, even if it’s just associates getting together for a happy hour.”

Career Development



“I’ve sometimes had more than one training session a week to get me up to speed. And if that doesn’t show us that they are interested in our careers I don’t know what would.” The quantity of more formal training varies according to what department associates are in, but there was always feedback available when associates needed guidance: “We have a mentor program where you are assigned someone who’s a mid-level associate, or at least more senior than you, for you to run questions by.” This personal investment in associates is something that gave those we spoke to the feeling that they would stay for the long haul. “The fact that they do this shows that they are willing to invest from the ground up,” one New York source explained. “I definitely feel that partnership is achievable, and a lot of that just comes from the fact that the people in the upper tiers are invested in those in the lower tiers in this way.”

However, as one associate said: “Industry-wide, there has been a lot of people getting burned out and leaving before they can reach that next stage of their career.” This undoubtedly creates a sense of disconnect between associate development and their long-term careers. “Right now, the only solution is to hire new people,” one source remarked, “but it’s such a competitive market.” That being said, associates at Akin were positive about the firm’s attempts to ease this problem: “At least in the trade group, we haven’t seen much turnover.”

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 1,950 target

For attorneys at Akin Gump, there is what associates described as a ‘soft’ requirement of 1,950 billable hours, but the firm takes a more holistic view when awarding bonuses: “While there is a stated, published threshold, it’s still evaluated on an individual basis. The firm has taken into account how severely the pandemic affected all of us.” While plenty of associates told us that they “sailed past” their billable hour requirement, the average hours at Akin were reasonable – 51.5 hours a week – compared with the market.

“They obviously don’t want you doing 100% pro bono, but they want you to do as much as possible.”

Like many firms, the hours associates work have been complicated by the transition to and from remote working, “but it helped that the firm was always punctual with its communications on COVID as far as flexibility is concerned.” In fact, as of now, the “firm’s policy with remote working is extremely organic – they recommend that we come into the office one day a week, but they are very conscious of not pushing people to do something they are uncomfortable with. Even the word ‘recommendation’ seems a bit strong.” Associates were pleased with the firm’s reaction to pay hikes too: “Akin has always matched pretty quickly, and has always been transparent about where pay increases are coming from and whether they are being considered.”

Pro Bono



“They obviously don’t want you doing 100% pro bono, but they want you to do as much as possible,” one associate remarked. Pro bono is an important part of the work at Akin, with the firm dedicating more hours to pro bono per attorney than almost 75% of the firms we survey. According to the firm, over 70% of attorneys at Akin dedicate more than 80 hours a year to pro bono activities, from death penalty trial defense, to human rights, animal rights, and education reform. There is no cap on what associates can count toward their billable hours target either, “and there is a soft 20 hours that the firm encourages all personnel, including support staff, to do.” As such, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that 100% of the associates at Akin who took our survey felt that the firm was committed to pro bono.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 75,000
  • Average per US attorney: 94

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



While it might be a bit of a cliche, it’s as true as ever that diverse representation in the legal industry decreases the more senior you go. Yet for associates at Akin, there was a general sense that the firm recognizes the problem, and wants to do something about it: “I’ve had really candid conversations with partners where we’ve been able to communicate with them about how important it is that we take tangible steps.” Akin has a higher percentage of ethnically diverse partners than almost two thirds of the firms we survey. “I’m Hispanic American, and I’m a part of the firm’s Hispanic heritage group, and there are ally groups for just about every population of people you can imagine,” one associate highlighted. “There seems to be a lot more diversity looking to the incoming classes. The firm does seem to be taking active steps to focus on that in the hiring process.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed (2022): 1243

Akin Gump recruits from a total of 29 schools, including 11 top national law schools – Berkeley, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, NYU, Penn, UVA, the University of Texas, and the University of Virginia. The firm also recruits from schools located in regions in which it has an office. Akin Gump 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.

Akin Gump 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 helps you stand out among the other candidates.” – hiring partner David Botter

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview (2022):

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 (2022): 64 2Ls; 37 - 40 1Ls

During Akin Gump’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 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 Gump, 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.”

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

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

  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,200,000,000
  • Partners (US): 318
  • Associates (US): 282
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Lauren H. Leyden, Firmwide Hiring Partner. For a complete listing of our recruiting contacts go to: https://www.akingump.com/en/careers/students/recruiting-contacts.html
  • Diversity officer: Nimesh Patel, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 59
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1 Ls: 42, 2Ls: 65, SEOs: 5
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Dallas 1Ls:11 and 2Ls:11 Houston 1Ls: 8 and 2Ls: 8 Los Angeles 1Ls: 3 and 2Ls: 5 New York 1Ls: 11 and 2Ls: 24 Philadelphia 2Ls: 2 Washington, DC 1Ls: 9 and 2Ls: 15
  • Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $4,135/week 2Ls: $4,135/week
  • 1Ls hired? In some offices and through our Pro Bono Scholars Program, Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Program, Financial Restructuring Strauss Diversity & Inclusion Scholars Program, and Intellectual Property 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, 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 2022:

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

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Lavender Law, Loyola PLIP

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 organizations 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, 2022

Ranked Departments

    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Government Relations (Band 1)
    • Government Relations: Congressional Investigations (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Hedge Funds (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Native American Law (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 5)