Think global, act local: K&L Gates offers BigLaw work with small-firm feel.
“We’re a local to global firm,” K&L Gates’ global strategic growth partner, Craig Budner, tells us. “That means that many of our client relationships start in one region, but quickly expand to other practices and regions based on the client needs.” He adds that “our young lawyers actually get to work on matters with lawyers around the globe. Our 47 offices on five continents are not just dots on a map.” 25 of those offices are in the US alone, with bases in the core legal hubs of New York, Chicago, and DC (the firm announced the opening of its latest office, in Kansas City, in May 2022). However, Pittsburgh and Seattle are the firm’s largest two offices and take on the highest number of junior associates. After that, only Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Nashville, New York, Newark, Orange County, Raleigh and DC had more than a couple of juniors each.
“Our 47 offices on 5 continents are not just dots on a map.”
Cementing its BigLaw credentials, K&L has 41 rankings in Chambers USA, including nine top rankings. Top billing goes to: environment (New Jersey and North Carolina); healthcare, and bankruptcy and restructuring (North Carolina); corporate M&A and private equity, insurance, general commercial litigation, and energy and natural resources (Pennsylvania & Pittsburgh & Surrounds); tax (Washington), and shipping and maritime transportation regulation (nationwide).
For many of our interviewees, K&L’s reputation in a range of different markets was a big part of the appeal. Pittsburgh-based attorneys, for example, noted that unlike many firms, which are often “smaller firms in bigger cities, K&L is one of or the biggest firm in a smaller city.” For them, the combination of “a good firm, with good resources,” alongside the fact that “Pittsburgh is cheaper than New York,” was a key draw, with the potential “to have a higher quality of life.”
Hours & Compensation
Another reason associates mentioned for joining, and staying, was the firm’s commitment to a “solid work-life balance – and the money’s not bad either,” one added laconically. Sources are required to bill 1,850 hours and must reach 1,950 total, topped up with pro bono hours and the like, to be bonus eligible. K&L’s survey respondents indicated average hours closer to 45 hours/week, compared to the market average of nearly 55 hours/week. Additionally, nearly 80% of our survey respondents felt they had a good work-life balance, compared to the 56% across the market.
“If that’s the expectation, then it’s hard to argue with that. But I’m happy not to bill those hours.”
We received mixed feedback on compensation. Some felt that there wasn’t enough transparency on salaries, which were deemed “a black box” by one and caused another to wonder: “Is it just me getting paid under market rate?” Others, meanwhile, felt that they “have a hard job, but I still get paid a lot of money.” This level-headed source noted: “From what I’ve observed, the associates that are most frustrated are the ones who want to exceed bonus expectations.” In that case, “they can feel like they’re doing all this work and not being paid at the top of the market. If that’s the expectation,” our source continued, “then it’s hard to argue with that. But I’m happy not to bill those hours.” In the larger markets such as New York and Chicago the firm pays only marginally lower than the market rate and we were told that K&L has also recently introduced a new revamped merit-based bonus system.
K&L’s corporate and litigation and dispute resolution departments accounted for just over half of the juniors on our list. The rest – from most to fewest – could be found in policy and regulatory; IP; asset management and investment funds; finance; energy, infrastructure and resources; real estate; and labor, employment & workplace safety. For those who summered at the firm – the majority on our list – “before you start you get a 40-to-50-page document that tells you everything the firm does,” sources explained. Sounds thorough to us! “After reading that, you rank your preference.” At the end of the summer “you’re asked for your top three preferences.”
Once you’re back as a full-time attorney, sources generally found the free market system to be “a huge selling point.” Some did acknowledge that the system could be “a double-edged sword,” as on the one hand there’s “the flexibility you get to work with people across multiple offices and practice groups,” but on the other “it can be really hard to solicit for work if you’re not in the office” (which has been the case for many during the pandemic). Others flagged the potential for implicit bias to arise in such a system, though the firm uses both workflow and self-reporting tools to manage schedules. Moreover, despite these concerns, our survey respondents unanimously indicated they were happy overall.
K&L’s corporate department splits further into corporate M&A (overwhelmingly the largest), with just a single junior in each of benefits and executive compensation, capital markets, merging growth and venture capital, estate planning and trust & estates, and tax. Over in corporate M&A, the firm advises clients on, erm, mergers and acquisitions, though the group also advises on equity investments and private equity transactions. Given its geographic footprint, it’s hardly a surprise that the firm represents a wide range of clients across the spectrum of industries, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. However, the firm has a particular strength in technology; healthcare and life sciences; financial services; advanced manufacturing and industrials; energy, infrastructure, natural resources; and transportation. Despite the high-value nature of deals (which can run into the billions) corporate sources weren’t overwhelmed. “The practice area has been busy everywhere,” asource commented, “but I have felt supported.”
“I’m already communicating with clients and leading projects.”
While those in the M&A group registered lower levels of responsibility, their peers in smaller groups reported “a good mix of responsibility. I’m already communicating with clients and leading projects,” boasted one. Another said: “The senior partner will be in contact with the client and delegates, but I have a portfolio that I’m dealing with almost completely by myself.” Sources said along with “project management” there was “digging into research, drafting memos, and coming up with solutions based on case law.”
Corporate M&A clients: Microsoft; Exact Sciences Corporation; unmanned aircraft systems provider, AeroVironment; Inivata Pharmaceuticals and Inivata Limited Pharmaceuticals; and Spartacus Acquisition Corporation, a SPAC, which K&L advised on its merger with GPS provider NextNav.
The firm’s litigation department, meanwhile, does complex commercial litigation. Steel City sources said that with “us being in Pittsburgh, there is definitely a manufacturing base.” While steel manufacturing, after which Pittsburgh is named, has largely died out in the city, sources said “some of the vestiges of that come to us, along with chemical, paints manufacturers, and energy.” Talking Pittsburgh, the firm’s complex commercial litigation, toxic tort, white-collar crime, and construction litigation practices are centered in the firm’s head office and, we heard, “insurance recovery is huge in Pittsburgh!” The firm also does securities, business torts, bankruptcy, banking, antitrust, product liability, environmental, professional liability, class actions, employment litigation, and intellectual property litigation.
K&L’s litigators unanimously felt they had good client and partner contact. Sources told us “initially you’re given pretty junior tasks,” but as you progressed responsibility “could be anything from legal research, to drafting memoranda, to discovery matters, to fact investigations… that kind of thing.”
General commercial litigation clients: United States Steel Corporation (US Steel); WWE; and XFL/Vince McMahon. The firm represented leading global supplier of paints, coating and materials, PPG Industries, in relation to the company’s nationwide asbestos liabilities.
Strategy & Future
Craig Budner – K&L Gates’ global strategic growth partner – tells us that the firm will carry on looking for synergies in its leading practices and will “continue to listen to our clients; where they’re headed and positioning themselves, and adapt accordingly.” Budner adds that the firm coped with the pandemic (and continues to do so) “quite well, in my opinion. We’ve benefited from the fact that we’re very involved in helping clients understand regulations.” Budner notes that “as Covid emerged, the solutions were always going to come from governments, whether that was government regulations for how to conduct day-to-day living, to government financial packages to bail out or support struggling industries." He adds that "because we have a long track record of working with regulated industries, we could help them understand the ever-changing regulations and adapt to those."
“It’s a large firm that thinks it’s a small firm.”
While the matters are large, sources said, the firm has a different feel. As one junior put it, “it’s a large firm that thinks it’s a small firm.” It’s a sentiment that was reflected by Budner, who describes K&L as being “a local to global firm.” The pros of this approach, sources thought, are that “people are nice and that we’re a family. People want to introduce themselves and want to build connections.” On the cons side, sources felt that “thinking you’re a small firm means you run into issues like the salary’s black box, and other things that might work better at a smaller firm.” Despite this grumble, the feedback on culture was largely consistent and largely positive, across the firm’s plethora of offices.
“There’s a desire to do right by associates."
As with almost every place of employ, we heard that at K&L “there are people who are good to work for, and they’ll have a reputation, and people who aren’t, and they have a reputation, too.” But, said another, what stood out at K&L was that “if I was working for someone with a bit of a bad reputation, people would come to check on you to see how it was going. I really appreciated that.” We heard that “there’s a desire to do right by associates” and “partners are extremely supportive, without question. If you need to take time off, or deal with something, they’re very open to that. It feels really nice to have that.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
As with every firm, sources felt things could improve in terms of diversity at the firm. The message from the top, says Budner, is the firm has “specific diversity targets as have been developed by industry-leading organizations who create targets for law firms. We are consistently focused on improving the numbers of diverse lawyers in leadership positions with clients and within the firm."
Our interviewees liked that while “a lot of firms say ‘We’re making an effort,’ K&L Gates is actually trying.” One such effort, we heard, was the use of panel interviews when hiring: “A partner explained to me that we do panel interviews because studies show you can mitigate bias by having more than one person in an interview.’”
From the internal to the external, sources said: “The firm has a very robust pro bono program, which asks that all attorneys aim to participate in at least 50 hours of pro bono per year.” Associates are able “to earn bonus-eligibility credit for any amount of pro bono hours. In other words, there’s no cap on pro bono hours” once you’ve hit your billable target.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 35,178
- Average per (US) attorney: 31
K&L Gates came up trumps on two metrics related to retention. The first is that over 60% of those surveyed felt partnership was achievable, well above the market average of just over half. Secondly, nearly 40% intended to make partner. Again, well above the market average of just over a quarter. One reason for these numbers is because there’s “a lot of effort in terms of wanting to help me identify what I want to do and supporting me,” we heard. Juniors added that “there’s an emphasis on entrepreneurial spirit; creating the practice that works for you.”
“One of the partners had a really big interest in sports law and created that out of nothing. It’s cool to see that people are given that opportunity."
This second point is part of the firm’s ethos. Budner explains: “We’ve set up our firm to reward collaboration in helping clients pursue their strategic objectives. That’s how we reward our lawyers.” The implication is that it’s up to lawyers to take initiative and build their practices how they want to be, and that this is something supported by the firm. This was backed up by one junior telling us: “One of the partners had a really big interest in sports law and created that out of nothing. It’s cool to see that people are given that opportunity,” they mused. “That’s really appealing to me.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 928
Interviewees outside OCI: 26
K&L Gates attends over 50 campus interview programs and around ten job fairs every year. The firm also collects resumes and will organize additional screening interviews for candidates at numerous schools. The number of candidates interviewed at each law 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 who 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 unique perspective and also help the student stand out when callback decisions are made later. 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.
Logistically, OCI can be challenging. By preparing properly, students should find the process educational, eye-opening, and possibly even fun." – K&L Gates hiring source
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 33
The set-up 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 the 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.
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
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:
"A successful summer associate program is the goal for all parties involved. The following is a condensed list of tips to make the most of a student’s time at the firm, ease the transition from student to practicing lawyer and, ultimately, help the students become successful lawyers in the future.
- Do your best work with enthusiasm.
- Treat everyone with respect.
- Be pleasant, even when things are stressful.
- Utilize firm resources.
- Network and build your professional brand within the firm.
- Get to know your colleagues.
- Keep confidential client information confidential.
- Ask questions, follow up and show interest.
- Be responsive and dependable.
- Relax and be yourself." – K&L Gates hiring source
"Students who want to join K&L Gates and achieve success here are those with creative ideas, are collaborative, identify and seize opportunities when presented, and work hard to help our clients solve their issues. In addition to the advice we’ve shared above, we suggest students consider the following –
- Stay abreast of the business world and the world in general – read The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Many of the issues you will read about are those that affect our clients and their businesses.
- Take time to network and meet a variety of professionals in the legal industry.
- Be well-rounded in your education, by taking a variety of classes, even if you can’t foresee how a particular class may benefit you.
- Become a better writer by starting a journal or otherwise improving your writing skills.
- Be diligent in your research rather than assuming what you hear is true." – K&L Gates hiring source
Interview with Craig Budner, Global Strategic Growth Partner at K&L Gates
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We are a fully integrated global law firm. We’ve set up our firm to reward collaboration in helping clients pursue their strategic objectives. That’s how we reward our lawyers – to be fully aligned with the best interests of the client. Our niche is to be fully global, to help clients go where they want to go. We’re a local to global firm, which means that many of our client relationships start in one region, but quickly expand to other practices and regions based on the client needs. That means young lawyers actually get to work on matters with lawyers around the globe. Our 47 offices on five continents are not just dots on a map.
CA: What about the plans for the future?
We look for ways to synergize our leading practices and to continue to listen to our clients; where they’re headed and positioning themselves, and to adapt accordingly.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic, and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
We’ve done quite well, in my opinion. We’ve benefited from the fact that we’re very involved in helping clients understand regulations. As Covid emerged, the solutions were always going to come from governments, whether that was government regulations for how to conduct day-to-day living, to government financial packages to bail out or support struggling industries. Because we have a long track record of working with regulated industries, we could help them understand the ever-changing regulations and adapt to those.
CA: How is the firm changing to accommodate the needs/expectations of the next generation of lawyers?
For me, it’s about inclusion; especially during the time we live in where many of us are working, at least partially, remotely. For the next generation, you have to adapt to the changing times and allow people the flexibility to work where they are most effective, as well as allowing our diverse group of attorneys to feel empowered. You can’t do that if they don’t feel included as a critical part of the team. That requires a deliberate approach to communication and listening.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
The challenge is probably the same as with most firms. Recognizing who we are and being true to that. Consistently reinforcing our values as a firm, which includes collaboration and inclusion.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology affected the firm?
Legal technology is a positive. We use technology to benefit our clients; whether that’s to make things more transparent for clients, or using analytics to create predictive pricing. We’re able to effectively deploy fixed fees with clients because of that. We also use it to track DE&I. With those tools we’re able to show that our diverse lawyers are actually playing an active role in our cases and leading teams. We also use tech to perform due diligence and other repeatable tasks, which helps lawyers efficiently review massive amounts of information. It’s important for clients to feel that we’re on top of the tech and especially the data analytics.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
We have specific diversity targets as have been developed by industry-leading organizations who create targets for law firms. We are consistently focused on improving the numbers of diverse lawyers in leadership positions with clients and within the firm.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
I have a son who’s attending law school in the fall, so I think about it a lot. First, be curious. The only way to be a very good lawyer, or any kind of top-performing professional really, is to want to learn and always be growing. Clients don’t want to be “sold.” They want to work with a lawyer who is interested in working with the challenges they face and has an interest in their business. Only then are you matching your work authentically with what clients need. Second, don’t be afraid to fail. Lawyers are careful by nature, but clients don’t necessarily want you to give the easy, risk-averse answer. It’s always good to try things. You may not always succeed, but you’ll learn from those mistakes. Michael Jordan, the great US basketball player famously said “I missed 100 percent of the shots I didn’t take.” Third is principle of what’s your why? What is your goal? When you look back at your career, what would you like to have accomplished? What would you have liked people to say about you and your career? Think about that why frequently. Think about how you are going to be your best self for that why. Finally, you will hear that law is an unhappy profession. But, that level of anxiety is not unique. It’s true for a lot of professions. But, what we do need to do is take care of ourselves. You need to ask yourself, how do I adapt when people are putting their stress on me? It’s not always about you. You don’t need to take all that on. It actually helps if you’re able to remove that stress as a personal reflection. It allows you to be a good listener and grow from the feedback.
K&L Gates Center,
210 Sixth Avenue,
- Number of domestic offices: 25
- Number of international offices: 22
- Worldwide revenue: $1,179,282,000
- Partners (US): 597
- Associates (US): 542
- Main recruitment contact: Catherine Clement, Director, Legal Recruiting (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Craig Budner, Global Strategic Growth Partner
- Diversity officer: Ramla Farzad, Director, Diversity & Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in in 2022: 52
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 24, 2Ls: 67
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Austin:2; Boston: 13; Charleston: 4; Charlotte: 7; Chicago: 7; Houston: 1; Los Angeles: 2; Miami: 2; Nashville: 6; New York: 7; Newark: 2; Orange County: 2; Pittsburgh: 9; Portland: 2; Raleigh: 5; Research Triangle Park: 2; San Francisco: 1; Seattle: 9; Washington, DC: 8
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: Varies by market 2Ls: Varies by market
- Split summers offered? Case by case
Main areas of work
Firm profile K&L Gates is a fully integrated global law firm with lawyers located across five continents in more than 45 offices. We foster an inclusive and collaborative environment to operate as one firm, united and without borders. Our clients include leading multinational corporations, growth and middle-market companies, capital market participants, and entrepreneurs in every major industry, as well as public sector entities, educational institutions, philanthropic organizations and individuals. Our robust set of multidisciplinary practice areas and services, combined with our collaborative culture, means our clients can confidently turn to K&L Gates to guide them through nearly any legal issue with reliable service and a consistent experience.
The industry recognition K&L Gates has garnered 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 bring forward 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 2022: With 25 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 hard- working 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Corporate/M&A & Alternative Entities (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Corporate & Regulatory (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Hedge & Mutual Funds (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
North Carolina: Charlotte & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 5)
- Immigration (Band 3)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
USA - Nationwide
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
- Government Relations (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
- Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
- Registered Funds (Band 3)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)