K&L Gates - The Inside View

Open the gates of your lawyerly aspirations to K&L and you’ll find a world of connections and continent-crossing work. 

THE message coming from K&L Gates is loud and clear: “We are a globally integrated law firm – philosophically, we are a firm that encourages collaborative solutions and alignment across practices, industries and geography," says global strategic growth partner Craig Budner. With 44 offices across more or less everywhere on Earth, seamless collaboration is certainly a wise thing to promote and shoot for. Budner assures us that K&L’s attorneys are keeping pace with the hurtling force of globalization: “Legal work used to be very localized, global solutions to client problems were not considered; now lawyers are having to add more tools to their toolbox than ever before to help clients anticipate solutions to global problems." Adding to this toolbox was certainly on our sources’ minds, who liked the idea of having “a platform across the world and the opportunity to do the most sophisticated work and possibly move to another office." Another was quick to flag that they do “a lot of international work, which I really like – the opportunity to do that really does exist.”

K&L pulls in 15 rankings in Chambers Global across several jurisdictions: in particular, recognition for dispute resolution and corporate/M&A work regularly features. On domestic soil, K&L’s nationwide strengths include shipping regulatory and government relations work, but a state-by-state view shows a much broader array of legal talents. In its Pittsburgh HQ, K&L rules the roost for corporate, general commercial litigation, and insurance matters; in Boston its hedge & mutual funds expertise stands out; in Newark its environment work is stellar; the Raleigh/Research Triangle area is the boss of bankruptcy and healthcare; and in Seattle bankruptcy, corporate/commercial, and labor & employment knowledge shines bright. The juniors on our list were spread between most of the firm’s 23 domestic offices, but those with a larger concentration of associates included Pittsburgh, Seattle, DC, Boston and Charlotte.

Strategy & Future 

“We will continue to add lawyers who will further connect our cross-practice solutions for clients and continue to invest globally into the firm,” says Budner. With regard to practices that have been performing particularly well of late: “Aviation finance and investment management have continued to be real market leaders for us; private equity, healthcare, IP, public policy, energy and commercial litigation/arbitration have also been strong across a variety of our regions.”

NB: Interviews were carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The Work

Most of the juniors on our list were housed in K&L’s corporate and litigation practices, but a fair number had joined groups such as energy, IP, real estate, and policy and regulatory. In some groups like energy, a more “entrepreneurial method” of work assignment is in place: “You have to go out and find work yourself. I have to go and knock on doors and talk to partners and request work. I’ve also reached out to other offices and different groups on anything that would touch upon or concern energy.” Another said that “for the most part [assignment] is relationship based; I don’t receive new work from people I don’t know.” We did hear comments from the larger Seattle and Pittsburgh offices that this more informal assignment approach can be challenging. One felt that “it’s still an old boys’ club when it comes to distributing the work. I feel like I’ve had trouble getting work.” This female junior added that “it felt formal and a bit challenging in the beginning, especially connecting with male partners. After being here for a few years that has started to wear down.” In some groups like corporate, a more formal assignment tracker has been implemented: “We put all the matters we are working on for the next two weeks and how many hours we predict it will take us into our workload reports. The staffing partner then checks our reports for availability when a new deal comes in.”

TOP READ: Spotlight on Seattle: Office managing partner Pallavi Mehta Wahi tells us about the city's tech-savvy business community and entrepreneurial culture.

Corporate juniors enjoyed their “really diverse” practice, which covered mid-market M&A (“we represent both buyers and sellers”), corporate governance, capital markets and startup and emerging capital work. On the corporate governance side, juniors had worked with “large organizations,” with this source explaining that they assist “a company that has subsidiaries in 70 countries.” Other advisory work covers investments, which, for example, can involve helping “a renewable energy-focused investor to create a strategy and find some good companies to invest in. I drafted all the transaction documents for the investment and coordinated with counsel.” Working with other K&L offices is common: “On a big international deal a client was acquiring a smaller company that had subsidiaries in Asia, South America and Europe, so it was good to coordinate with those offices and use the global platform.” Overall, juniors appreciated the “wider range of tasks” on offer: “It goes from standard due diligence to working on due diligence reports, drafting transaction documents, speaking with clients about issues and drafting SEC disclosures. It’s a broad spectrum and it ramps up very quickly.”

Corporate clients: Sealed Air Corporation, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs. Represented Microsoft during its equity investment in OpenAI, which develops ethical artificial general intelligence products.

Those in the energy, infrastructure and resources practice had set up camp in Houston, Fort Worth, DC and Pittsburgh. The practice has subgroups in areas such as power; climate change and sustainability; and oil, gas and resources – most of the associates we spoke to were placed in the last of these. The day-to-day had covered “litigation but also advisory matters for energy clients.” On the disputes side, there had been “a lot of oil and gas litigation surrounding royalties, where a landowner has a dispute with the oil and gas company.” These usually take the form of “lease and general contract disputes.” On one such case, a junior had been “helping to create witness kits for depositions, going through all the discovery that is produced, particularly emails, and putting them in a binder for the attorney who’ll be doing the depositions.” Research is also a key junior task: “Part of my role is to explain how things work in the oil and gas company and the basics of oil and gas products so we can strategize.” Another source added that “a lot of it is the due diligence aspect of it: I’ll do that on the landowner, so I’ll review surveys, assess the Texas property code and make sure we have sent the appropriate appraisals.”

Energy clients: Texas LNG Brownsville, NextDecade Corp, ENGIE Gas & LNG. Represented NextDecade during the regulatory processes required to construct an LNG export facility and pipeline in Brownsville, Texas.

TOP READ: Spotlight on Pittsburgh: office managing partner Thomas Smith gives us a bite-size introduction to the city's legal market.


The word from Pittsburgh HQ was largely positive, with a junior stating that “everyone is respectful of people’s opinions and it’s a very team-oriented environment. I guess that with Pittsburgh in particular the people are friendlier; they’re willing to help and mentor fellow associates.” In K&L’s other big base, Seattle, “it’s very hard-working but collegial – people genuinely like who they work with and the day-to-day is quite pleasant.”In New York, the Big Apple was felt to paradoxically be the office to head to for a more intimate vibe: “I liked the combination of that small-office feel with a large platform.” Despite some nuances between locations, the core K&L ethos was believed to ring true across offices: “I have worked across many of the US offices and the culture is very fluid.” 

“Everyone is respectful of people’s opinions and it’s a very team-oriented environment."

One point that did arise, however, was the suggestion that “the firm at a higher level could be more transparent with decision-making to some extent.” In particular, a unified approach to policies was desired, with this interviewee explaining that “the policy will state that there is a certain way and other people will say the policy is not really that way. You hear a rule is one way – that you cannot get a bonus unless you hit 1,950 hours, but then you may hear that someone has performed a certain way and was able to get a bonus.”

Diversity & Inclusion 

“Some groups tend to be more diverse than others,” an associate summarized, flagging, as an example, the corporate practice, which “tends to be more male-dominated. I think the firm hires a lot of women into the corporate group, but there’s a high turnover of those women. Some take desirable in-house positions.” When discussing how work/life balance can affect turnover, this interviewee raised that while “we have a good balance for BigLaw, it’s still BigLaw.” One female junior added that “being a woman and having to work so hard to get here, I do feel more compelled to say yes [to assignments],and my male counterparts don’t feel as though they need to do that.” We heard that “the firm is trying to address this” by monitoring workflow, “but it’s hard to get people to not just go to their favorite associate.”

“They recognize the need for and value of diversity, and there’s an acceptance of the problem from top to bottom."

Racial and ethnic diversity was felt to be impacted by location. Seattle was described as “a very white city” while Pittsburgh generally was deemed to have “a lack of representation.” Sources did recognize the firm’s efforts though, with one junior highlighting a recent initiative to promote Black History Month: “There will be an email series and each week there will be communication surrounding the topic of Black history.” On the whole, this interviewee felt that “they recognize the need for and value of diversity, and there’s an acceptance of the problem from top to bottom. They realize that it will hit the firm in an economic sense.”

Pro Bono

“At K&L Gates, pro bono work is viewed as a supplement to what we do,” an associate pointed out. The firm treats all hours recorded on pro bono matters as the equivalent of billable hours for bonus eligibility, which was a big hit for associates. For big projects, K&L blasts out emails to advertise spaces with a sign-up list attached. For smaller and more local matters, it can be a case of following “word of mouth.”Down in Texas, we heard of juniors getting involved in a “cyber civil rights initiative, where we represent victims of revenge porn. It’s very collaborative and we work with a bunch of associates so we can discuss how the facts lay out.”This had involved juniors taking part in depositions, mediations and the issuing of subpoenas. Some had been able to second-chair trials. We also heard of juniors elsewhere getting involved in immigration, asylum, criminal record expungement and veterans matters.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 33,881
  • Average per US attorney: 32

Career Development 

Interviewees gave a big thumbs-up to the quality of feedback and support from above. “Partners care about building others up around them to maintain a high standard of work,” said one, while another commented: “Every assignment I’ve turned in has had detailed feedback – my work will be marked up to highlight what I’m doing well and what needs improving.”Associates in the smaller offices felt the size of their base contributed to the accessibility of hands-on experience, with a junior in New York noting: “I’m in the mix with clients and have been given tons of responsibility early on.” 

“Partners care about building others up around them to maintain a high standard of work.”

A recent addition on the formal training side is the ‘mini-MBA’ program for first and second-year associates: “It’s a two-day intensive course, which teaches us a lot about finance and gives us more insight into the terms of the deals we work on.” Associates past second year can also participate if they'd like. In the interest of building up associates’ networks, the firm also has a program that funds trips between offices for work on different assignments: “It’s given me the opportunity to meet people in person and continue to grow my network. It illustrates that I’m not just expected to sit in my office and bill hours.” 

Hours & Compensation 

Billable hours: 1,950 target

There's an expectation to bill 1,850 hours a year, but associates who hit the 1,950 target qualify for a discretionary bonus. Amounts are based on the firm’s performance between “September and September” each year, and are typically paid out in January. One source was “pleasantly surprised”to receive a market bonus, but other interviewees weren’t overly enthusiastic about base salaries. “We’re underpaid in the sense of hours and we’re not market rate,” one New Yorker bemoaned, whereas in Charlotte a source commented: “They pick and choose when they want to use the global platform. For compensation they look at regional firms.” Compensation is seemingly murkier beyond third year: “The more senior we get, the less indication there is of what our compensation is going to be.” The firm told us that compensation and salary increases are merit-based and market-driven.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 1,210

Interviewees outside OCI: 126

K&L Gates attends over 50 law fairs and around ten job fairs every year. The firm also collects resumes and is willing to organize virtual OCI interviews for candidates at numerous schools. The number of candidates interviewed at each school varies, but at schools where the firm is recruiting for positions in multiple offices interviewers may meet over 100 students at each location.

The interviews are typically conducted by two lawyers, and K&L Gates tries to pick pairs that have a diverse set of interests and practice area backgrounds, as well as alumni connections to the school in question. Our hiring source at the firm tells us: "Interviewers will assume that students have done some research on the firm and can articulate what pieces of information they’ve gathered so far that match their interests. Interviewers won’t expect yet that students will know much about the actual practice of law or specific areas of practice. In a short screening interview, it’s challenging to dig too deep into any one subject, but students should be prepared to highlight skill sets they bring to the table that aren’t obvious from their resume."

Top tips for this stage:

"Sharing personal experiences that exhibit a student’s abilities in key areas will leave the interviewer with a clear sense of the student’s abilities and also help the student stand out when callback decisions are made later." K&L Gates hiring source

We recommend students prepare in advance the skill sets they want to highlight, as OCI interviews are short and, if not approached diligently, can be a missed opportunity."K&L Gates hiring source


Applicants invited to second stage interview: 384

The setup come callback time does vary among K&L's offices. Those who make it to this stage can expect the callback to last for around two hours and to meet a mix of partners and associates. Interview teams of two or three lawyers are common across the offices, and at some locations candidates may be invited to attend a coffee or lunch with associates. At this point, interviewers will be looking to see if the candidate has thought more deeply about how they will fit into firm, and will also be trying to glean how well the candidate will work in a team. Showing that you are good at working collaboratively is therefore a must here. Going into the callback with a clear idea about how past experiences demonstrate solution-finding, personal growth and leadership skills will stand candidates in good stead. Being able to connect these experiences and skills to K&L's environment is very much a plus.

Top tips for this stage:

"As law student candidates, we understand that exposure to the practice of law may be minimal; however, we want to know about a student’s successes in all parts of their life and how that might translate into them being an excellent lawyer. For example, has the student had an opportunity to be a leader and will they inspire confidence in our clients and work to develop lasting relationships? Students who have achieved success in school, in other parts of their lives, and in roles within their broader communities indicate potential in this area." K&L Gates hiring source

"Ask thoughtful and substantive questions – remember that this is a mutual assessment process. Be genuine, share your experiences, and exhibit professionalism."K&L Gates hiring source

Summer program

Offers: 100

Acceptances: 49

All summer associates are paired up with mentors: usually one partner and at least one associate. A work assignment manager is also on hand to help steer summers toward the assignments they would like to sample and to help them manage their workload. It's common to take on assignments from a range of practices, and there's also the chance for summers to participate in pro bono matters as well.

Alongside the work, K&L Gates puts on a variety of social events and a formal training program to bolster the summer experience: "We offer a robust formal training curriculum to supplement the client, public interest and other work offered to our summer classes. The curriculum includes an intensive writing workshop, practice-specific programming, diversity and inclusion awareness, and sessions to build students’ understanding of the legal industry, such as 'Economics of a Law Firm' and 'Building Your Brand.' Beyond classroom programs, we also offer multi-session experiential and practice training programs like negotiation skills, advocacy skills, and mergers and acquisitions."

Top tips for this stage:

"Treat everyone with respect. Be pleasant, even when things are stressful." K&L Gates hiring source

"Network and build your professional brand within the firm. Get to know your colleagues." K&L Gates hiring source

"Keep confidential client information confidential." K&L Gates hiring source

"Ask questions, follow up and show interest." K&L Gates hiring source

And finally...

K&L Gates hiring sources also recommend students "stay abreast of the business world and the world in general – read the Wall Street Journal and Economist. Many of the issues you will read about are those that affect our clients and their businesses." Other top tips include taking a variety of classes and improving writing skills by joining a journal.

Interview with global strategic growth partner, Craig Budner

Chambers Associate: How has K&L Gates been dealing with the ramifications of coronavirus?

Craig Budner: We have dealt with the current situation by following the instructions from the government and now have most of our lawyers working from home depending on the relevant local laws and best practices for our stakeholders. K&L Gates maintains a strong infrastructure that has allowed us to work seamlessly at home and keep communication fluid.

CA: How is the pandemic currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in any of the firm’s practices?

CB: We have noticed a very strong uptick in our policy and regulatory practices; the solution to the pandemic has been highly regulated and we have a number of practices that are focused in regulated industries. Our labor and employment group has also experienced a great upsurge in work as companies navigate the best practices to ensure employees remain productive and safe – particularly while certain locations begin to open up and other essential businesses remain open. Furthermore, our healthcare group has continued to remain very active throughout this pandemic. On the downside, a number of our deals have been stalled, and while litigation is still active behind the scenes, with a number of courts being closed we have seen a downturn in some of our active litigation matters, but some of these matters are now starting to return back to normal.

CA: What kinds of problems are your clients facing because of the pandemic?

CB: Our clients are facing a whole host of challenges, one being how to make sure employees are staying safe and complying with regulatory guidelines. We have helped our clients benefit from programs, such as the CARES Act in the US as well as other government programs around the world.  We have been active helping clients deal with contractual issues in light of the current situation. We also help them preserve their IP rights and aid them in working with regulators to make sure they are in compliance with the most up-to-date laws.

CA: What do you think the future for K&L Gates lawyers will look like in terms of work life?

CB: Our management committee and leadership teams are constantly refining our strategic approach going forward based on the best available information; senior staff are constantly discussing these topics. For one, our use of Zoom meetings with clients will definitely continue post-pandemic as we get even more accustomed to the use of video technology. Until we see a vaccine, you are going to see lawyers who can afford to work remotely continue to do just that to minimize any unnecessary health risk. We aim to keep our offices less dense and only ask our lawyers to come into the office when necessary. All these factors and guidelines will be scrutinized a little more closely in time.

The transition has been very seamless for us at K&L Gates, as we have invested a lot into our technology infrastructure.  As of the date of this interview, we have conducted over 20 general counsel round table discussions by WebEx where we welcome general counsel from all over the globe to share their insights on various challenges and hear from our subject matter experts on a variety of topics. Additionally, we utilize our platform K&L Gates HUB to publish hundreds of thought leadership releases on COVID-19 to which our clients have reacted very positively. As of today, we have 500 independent authors at our firm whom have participated in publishing thought leadership. We have also employed video formats to hold webinars and invite outside speakers, such as regulators, to help our clients understand how government officials are evolving in their thinking on a variety of issues.

CA: Going forward, how do you think the legal profession will change because of coronavirus?

CB:The legal profession has survived many issues throughout the course of history, such as the global financial crisis, and I personally think the profession will evolve as it has through previous globally disruptive events. That said, firms will really need to bolster their regulatory and policy practices if they aren’t strong already because the government has been critically involved in the financial and health-related solutions to these current challenges. I also think firms need to get ready for an uptick in litigation six months to a year after the pandemic ends. Inevitably, people and companies will look for ways to pin responsibility on other companies for a variety of business risk and damage. We created a task force several months ago that has been responsible for making sure we are very targeted on what is disseminated to our clients and ensuring that we have curated the materials for our clients to support them as they tackle current challenges and anticipate future challenges and opportunities.

Hours at K&L Gates

“It’s BigLaw, so every day seems like a busy day!” one junior joked. A typical day varied by practice area, with those in energy stating that 8:30am until 7:45pm was average, while those in corporate found that 8:30am until between 10pm and 11pm better described their experience: “It can be high at times – sometimes you’re very busy and can’t even pick your head up!” While the firm has a policy of unlimited vacation, sources had mixed views on how it’s used. One said that “if you want to take vacation it’s not a big deal as long as you hit your billables,” while others felt that “things aren’t so transparent” and that there was a difference between global policy and local implementation: “You don’t deal with the whole firm on a day-to-day basis.” Others felt that clarity on expectations around vacation, working from home and caregiver leave would be ideal.

K&L Gates

K&L Gates Center,
210 Sixth Avenue,
Website www.klgates.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 23
  • Number of international offices: 21
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,026,626,000
  • Partners (US): 564
  • Associates (US): 435
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Dyana Barninger, Director, Legal Recruiting (dyana.barninger@klgates.com)
  • Hiring partner: Craig Budner, Global Strategic Growth Partner 
  • Diversity officer: Ramla Farzad, Director of Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 39
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 13, 2Ls: 49
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Austin: 1, Boston: 6, Charleston: 1, Charlotte: 4, Chicago: 5, Houston: 3, Los Angeles: 2, Miami: 1, New York: 3, Newark: 3, Orange County: 2, Pittsburgh: 14, Portland: 1, Raleigh: 4, Seattle: 7, Washington, DC: 5
  •  Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: Varies by market
  • 2Ls: Varies by market
  • Split summers offered? Case by case

Main areas of work

  Asset management and investment funds, corporate; energy, infrastructure and resources; finance; intellectual property; labor, employment and workplace safety; litigation and dispute resolution; policy and regulatory; real estate

Firm profile K&L Gates is a fully integrated global law firm with lawyers located across five continents. Our broad global platform allows us to guide clients through the legal challenges inherent in the ever-changing international landscape. The deep latticework of relationships across our offices and practices enables our clients to respond to diverse legal issues and risks through the services of one law firm with a single communication. The industry recognition K&L Gates has garnered over the past five years emanates from the foundation of a global community aligned on behalf of our clients. The people at K&L Gates are committed to working together to create a legacy for each other, the firm, our clients, and the communities we serve. We thrive in an inclusive and socially conscious environment that embraces diversity and takes a holistic approach to the career evolution of all our professionals. We take pride in constantly striving for innovation, imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit. We come up with big ideas and then roll up our sleeves to get the job done, guiding our clients through their most complex issues in a variety of industry sectors and across multiple regions of the world.

Law Schools attending for OCI in 2020:
With 23 domestic offices and summer programs in more than 15 different geographic locations, we visit a wide variety of law schools across the country to recruit for our programs. A list of the schools we visit and the events we host for law students both on campus and off campus can be found at https://klgates.recsolu.com/external/events_central.

Recruitment outside OCIs: We welcome the opportunity to meet with applicants who attend law school at campuses other than those we visit for OCI. Please visit www.klgates.com/careers to apply.

Summer associate profile: Our summer associate program is designed to give law students a full picture of the firm and our culture, all the while giving us the opportunity to get to know and evaluate current law students as potential associates following graduation. We look for smart, imaginative and hardworking people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas.

Summer program components: Summer associates sample projects from different practice areas, working as part of a team and participating in pro bono work. We pair our summer associates with mentors, who provide guidance on seeking out and completing substantive work assignments, balancing workload demands, dealing with competing projects, integrating into the firm’s culture, and setting and achieving career goals. Through on-the-job experience, a formal training curriculum, regular formal and informal feedback, and opportunities to network and integrate into the firm, our summer associates begin to develop the professional skills and competencies to be successful. 

Social media

Recruitment website:www.klgates.com/careers/
Facebook: klgateslegalrecruitingus

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A & Alternative Entities (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Hedge & Mutual Funds (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Insurance (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Technology: Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Government Contracts (Band 4)
    • Government Relations (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 3)
    • Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)

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