Kirkland & Ellis LLP - The Inside View

No firm has ever earned more in one year that Kirkland: associates reveal all the cultural strands that make this the great success story.

AS any Game of Thrones fan will know, it takes a hell of a lot to take the Iron Throne, but the hard work doesn't end there if the plan is to keep it. No one is more familiar with this situation than legal hotshot Kirkland & Ellis, which in 2017 dethroned long-reigning Latham & Watkins to take the coveted spot atop the Am Law 100 – but with a little more decorum than your average episode of GoT. That year revenue rose 19.4% and then in 2018 it climbed again, by 18.8%, to a cool $3.76 billion. But there's been no time for self-congratulatory pats on the back – the firm has been busy maintaining its prime position (partly) by embarking on a heavy spate of lateral hiring, nabbing partners from big names such as Simpson Thacher, Weil Gotshal, DLA Piper, Freshfields, Davis Polk, Clifford Chance, Skadden, and Debevoise & Plimpton (just to list a few...). The firm also opened an office in Dallas to bolster its Texas presence, and currently has plans to set up shop in Paris.

“ felt like the culture was particularly entrepreneurial.”

But joining the highest-grossing firm in the US was not a decision our sources made lightly. Careful consideration and research made interviewees aware of Kirkland’s status as “a leader in the field,” which was underscored by the firm’s plethora of rankings in Chambers USA; its highest nationwide accolades go to its banking & finance, private equity buyouts, investment funds, and bankruptcy/restructuring expertise. But with prestige can come strained atmospheres, as this source touched upon when voicing their initial reservations about joining Kirkland: “I wasn’t sure what to expect because law firms, particularly big ones, sometimes have reputations for being pointy-elbowed and generally unpleasant places.” Thankfully, that wasn’t the impression many of our interviewees received at Kirkland, with this junior reflecting that “it felt like the culture was particularly entrepreneurial.” Sources subsequently flagged the firm's 'open assignment system' as evidence of this approach, and explained that they “liked the idea of being treated as an adult earlier on in your career.”

The Work

Upon joining the firm, juniors are allocated to one of the following broad practice groups: general transactional, general litigation, restructuring or IP (which is predominantly litigation-focused). Over half of the juniors on our list were based in a transactional group, while the remaining half were split between the restructuring, litigation and IP practices. The firm’s Chicago HQ and New York offices were home to the most juniors in our sample – a few dozen could be found in the Houston, San Francisco, DC, LA, and Boston bases, while a handful had settled in Dallas and Palo Alto.

As we touched upon above, Kirkland’s famed ‘open assignment’ system was a large part of our interviewees' initial attraction to the firm: “If you have initiative you can seek out the type of work you connect with and that interests you most. On a personal level you can also choose who you work with.” Many of our sources went as far as to say the system was their “favorite part of the job.” Others, meanwhile, did note that when you first start “it can be confusing – you have to figure out how much work you should take on to bill enough hours, but also not to be overwhelmed.”

“On a personal level you can also choose who you work with.”

Kirkland’s transactional capabilities cover areas like capital markets, debt finance and investment funds, although according to our interviewees the “bread and butter at Kirkland is private equity M&A.” Some had also dabbled in public company M&A, but private deals made up the majority of our sources’ work. They had experienced both the buy and the sell side, as well as a range of matter values from “$30 million up to very large deals in the several-billion range.” Interviewees admitted: “As a junior you can expect to do some typical tasks like due diligence and diligence memos, but also things like drafting the main ancillary documents.” Those moving into their third year found they were able to “do the first drafts of the principal transaction documents” and start “reviewing and managing the diligence work.” From day one, sources agreed that “it was surprising how often I was contacting clients, and how often they were contacting me.” Unlike with litigation, all the offices have a corporate presence. Some offices, such as Houston, Dallas and Boston (the newer bases) are entirely transactional.

Corporate clients: Bain Capital Private Equity, auto parts supplier Tenneco and aerospace company Boeing. Recently represented the latter during its $4.25 billion acquisition of aircraft parts provider KLX Inc.

The litigation practice is equally broad in scope; juniors had gained experience on matters including commercial contract disputes, government contract cases, class actions, antitrust issues and appellate work. The DC office was said to be “predominantly litigation-based” (though is apparently branching out at the moment), which is unique within the firm structure as most offices are heavier on the transactional side. For junior litigators across the offices, day-to-day tasks often involved “managing the discovery process, negotiating discovery issues with opposing counsel, and drafting a lot of material.” These materials could be briefs (or portions of them), as well as motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. Litigation sources admitted: “There is a lot of doc review, but I had the chance to be really involved in the coordination of it and the figuring out of the priorities.” Juniors felt their expectations were certainly met: “We're doing major cases for major companies – it's exactly what I was sold when interviewing with Kirkland.”

Litigation clients: Abbott Laboratories, baseball team the Chicago Cubs and IBM. Recently represented BP America during a long-standing pollution litigation case brought against it in part by the City of Neodesha in Kansas.

Career Development

“Kirkland is well respected in a lot of circles. Whether you decide to go elsewhere or not, Kirkland is never going to be a bad thing on your resume,” one DC-based source asserted. Juniors were in agreement when it came to the value working at Kirkland could provide for their futures: “For me, I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I know Kirkland will help me get a legal job anywhere.” On top of that, many noted: “The Kirkland Alumni Network is very strong – people have gone in and out of government, or in-house as we have a lot of strong relationships with clients. Even if you decide you don't want to do BigLaw forever, they want you to be happy wherever you are and want to keep that Kirkland relationship going.”

“...the Kirkland Alumni Network is very strong.”

But for those that do stick around, sources reckoned the firm is “definitely” invested in developing its associates for internal promotion. Sources cited numerous formal training programs, including departmental workshops and lunchtime training sessions, as well as a trial training program [called KITA] for litigators. Corporate juniors also mentioned being flown out to New York for a week-long training program.

Pro Bono

Attorneys are required to bill 20 hours of pro bono each year, and “almost everyone does that.” However, most sources reported “far exceeding” that figure. Juniors also felt well incentivized to do pro bono as “our pro bono hours are counted one-to-one – we get full credit for them.” Sources had got stuck into a range of matters, from work with veterans to domestic violence cases, from immigration and asylum issues to name-change requests from transgender individuals. There were also more topical opportunities available, such as voter protection work.

“The firm is definitely willing to assist you if you care about something in particular,” one interviewee noted. Sources also praised the pro bono coordinators, especially in New York, where juniors explained that “she is constantly working with different organizations, both in New York and worldwide, and is very focused on bringing in pro bono clients. She makes sure everyone has the opportunity to not just work on any old matter, but to work on something that aligns with their interests and passions.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 127,623
  • Average per US attorney: 60.4


“There's a really broad mix of personalities – it's hard to say there is one Kirkland culture,” pondered one source, before arriving at a conclusion: “But what we have in common is that we're all committed to producing the best work we can and advancing the client’s interests.” While considering the topic of culture, another interviewee recalled that they were “concerned I would be sacrificing collegiality to obtain experience, but that couldn't be further from the truth.”

Indeed, initial concerns of a competitive culture turned out to be unwarranted for our interviewees, who explained: “We are all competitive people, but that is channeled toward our opponents, not each other. We're collaborative with each other, but competitive with other firms.” With all of this competitive energy buzzing around, it helps that the firm “has been insanely busy; it's all hands on deck, and there's more than enough work to go around.” However, with the firm's recent growth spurt in mind, some felt that “it may become hard to protect that culture, so the firm should do what it can to preserve it as we continue to expand.”

“It's a place that appreciates both intellectual skills and interpersonal skills.”

For now, newcomers have nothing to fear, as across the offices we were regaled with tales of friendliness and respect. “It's a place that appreciates both intellectual skills and interpersonal skills. People are kind and friendly to one another.” One even expressed that “some of my closest friends in the entire world are at Kirkland!” Some speculated that there was perhaps “a little more intensity” in the Big Apple, but New Yorkers responded: “From the people I know, even at share partner level, people are able to carve out some time for balance.”

Hours & Compensation

Kirkland has no formal billing target, but juniors revealed that they tend to aim for around the 2,000-hour mark. This usually translates to getting into work for 9am, and leaving anywhere between 6pm and 8pm. Some mentioned busy streaks of 2am finishes, but added (with noticeable relief): “When you're not busy, no one expects to see you. You can leave between 5pm and 6pm.” When it came to maintaining a life outside the firm, some felt they'd benefit from “more hours in the day,” but generally sources agreed that “on average, I feel like I have time to do what I want to do.” Because of the open assignment system, juniors admitted that “it is your own responsibility to find a balance.”

Everyone was unsurprisingly pleased when Kirkland matched the market salary increase in 2018. “People were a bit surprised because we just got an increase a couple of years ago, but it was definitely a good day for people at the firm,” one particularly cheery New Yorker commented. Bonuses, meanwhile, have historically been above market for many at Kirkland. With no formal hours requirement, juniors explained that “almost everyone gets a bonus – it doesn't matter what your hours are. Bonuses start at market, then for anything beyond that, they take into account a combination of your hours and the quality of your work.”

Diversity & Inclusion

Generally, sources felt the firm has implemented “lots of different tactics that maybe haven't borne fruit yet, but it's moving in the right direction.” Such tactics include a diversity fellowship to “try to attract diverse law students early on, and provide access to mentoring,” as well as the more standard affinity groups and diversity committees. Others recalled various speakers coming in – one in particular hosted a session on unconscious bias and the state of research on it. On a more informal level, a female source added that they’d “never had anyone mansplain something to me,” while elsewhere it was felt that the firm’s caregiver leave policies had helped to shape a supportive culture, as this interviewee revealed: “I took full parental leave and that experience more than any other really told me everything I needed to know about Kirkland. There was no resentment, and no feeling that I had to make up for the time I was off.”

“Moving in the right direction.”

Strategy & Future

“Everyone has the sense we are growing,” juniors reflected positively. They were also comforted by the knowledge that “Kirkland makes strategic choices about which markets it opens offices in and which firms it may acquire in the future.” Sources felt this “smart expansion” was evident in the firm's choice to open in Boston in 2017 (“which bolstered our private equity work”) and to acquire the boutique litigation firm Bancroft in 2016 (“which gave us a prestigious appellate practice”).

“The reality is that our clients and matters are becoming increasingly global.”

Sources went on to tell us that the Texas offices are “growing very quickly” and that over in DC“we're bringing in more corporate people, in areas like debt finance, investment funds and restructuring.” Those in IP litigation did note that there hadn't been as much lateral hiring in their practice and that at the moment “we feel a little bit like a boutique within a larger firm – we still rely on the development of attorneys through the pipeline.” On a broad scale, interviewees agreed that “there's a push to make sure we're leveraging our resources and talent across all of our offices, rather than staying geographically siloed. The reality is that our clients and matters are becoming increasingly global, so they're trying to figure out how to fully collaborate across the offices.”

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 2,636

Interviewees outside OCI: 362

Kirkland conducts OCIs at around 34 top law schools across the country, as well as at 19 regional job fairs. These include the New England Interview Program and the Pennsylvania Regional Interview Program. To give you an idea of the firm’s recruiting scope, in 2018 the firm interviewed over 2,600 OCI applicants and 350 non-OCI applicants across the US. Generally, the number of students interviewed across campuses varies.

The interviews themselves are usually conducted by two attorneys, who can be a mix of partners and associates (often from different departments). Hiring partner Jason Kanner tells us: “We seek 2L students with a record of outstanding academic achievement, evidence of initiative and a desire to assume early responsibility. We look favorably upon law review and moot court experience, and other indicators of intellectual curiosity and drive.” 

Top tips for this stage:

“It’s great when candidates can demonstrate knowledge and curiosity about the firm and show how their experiences translate into skills that make a good lawyer.”hiring partner, Jason Kanner.



Applicants invited to second stage interview: 1,454

Around half of the initial applicants are invited back for follow-up interviews at the firm. Each student will interview with between four and seven Kirkland attorneys. According to Kanner, the conversations tend to be pretty organic. At this point, interviewers are trying to “get a sense of candidates’ people skills – whether they’re able to multitask and juggle competing demands in a professional, collegial manner.” Kanner also highlights that “we appreciate when candidates show enthusiasm and knowledge of our practice and when they can articulate why they want to come to the firm.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Given our short partnership track and commitment to early responsibility, students who demonstrate that they are self-starters and have high emotional intelligence, in addition to their obvious intellectual intelligence will stand out.”hiring partner Jason Kanner.


Summer program

Offers: 746

Acceptances: 287

In the same manner as full-time associates, summer associates get work through the firm’s famed open assignment system (see the Inside View feature on Kirkland for more details on that). At the same time, summers are offered support through the firm’s “hands-on, practice-specific learning and development program.” There are also opportunities to watch and even participate in live activities including trials, depositions, hearings, negotiations and deal closings. Typically, the expectation is that all summer associates will receive offers to join a certain practice group and will return to the firm upon graduating. There’s also the opportunity to build relationships with fellow summers though various social events.

Top tips for this stage:

“You have to be someone who has a voice because of the open assignment system. You have to be able to advocate for yourself.” – asecond-year associate.

“Summers can stand out in the same way a junior associate would stand out – by doing exceptional work, working hard and having a great attitude.”hiring partner, Jason Kanner.


The Work: Intellectual Property

IP litigators deal with everything from “large blue-chip companies to determined young start-ups.” Juniors here enjoyed being able to “stay up to speed with both the law and technology.” Many had sampled patent litigation and copyright cases, but a few had dabbled in trade secret matters too. New Yorkers noted that their office (which has a high concentration of the firm’s US IP litigators) had “a strong pharma practice, with really brilliant people in the copyright and trademark areas.” Sources felt they'd had “a lot of great opportunities as a junior,” with one highlighting that they recently got to “argue in court for the first time.” Others described undertaking similar tasks to those in the wider litigation practice, but also mentioned “preparing witnesses and defending depositions.”

IP clients: Dyson, Samsung Electronics and biopharmaceutical company AbbVie. Successfully represented IT and networking company Cisco Systems against competitor Arista Networks during patent infringement matters involving the International Trade Commission.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

300 North LaSalle ,
IL 60654

  • Number of domestic offices: 9
  • Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington DC
  • Number of international offices: 6
  • Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Munich, Paris, Shanghai
  • Partners (US): 896
  • Associates (US): 1,185
  • Contacts 
  • Hiring partner: Jason Kanner
  • Diversity officer: Rina Alvarez
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 298
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 23, 2Ls: 292, 3Ls: 1; SEO Interns: 3
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Boston: 15, Chicago: 61, Hong Kong: 1, Houston: 52, London: 2, Los Angeles: 23, New York: 93, Palo Alto: 8, San Francisco: 23, Washington, DC: 25
  • Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,654 weekly 2Ls: $3,654 weekly
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, the London office has a summer program.

Main areas of work

  Kirkland’s main practice areas are corporate, intellectual property, litigation and restructuring.

Firm profile

  Kirkland & Ellis, one of the world’s most elite law firms, is recognized for exceptional service to clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. Kirkland is a global leader with over 2,500 attorneys across 15 offices. The firm invests in the brightest legal talent and builds dynamic teams that operate at the pinnacle of their practice. Kirkland believes in empowering their lawyers, encouraging entrepreneurialism, operating ethically and with integrity, and collaborating to bring distinctive results to every engagement.


Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Baylor; Boston College; Boston University; BYU; UC Berkeley; UC Davis; UC Hastings; UCLA; Cardozo; University of Chicago; University of Cincinnati; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; Georgetown; George Washington; Harvard; University of Houston; Howard University; University of Illinois; University of Michigan; NYU; Northwestern Pritzker; University of Notre Dame; University of Pennsylvania; Santa Clara University; USC; Southern Methodist University; Stanford; Suffolk University; University of Texas; Vanderbilt University; University of Virginia; Yale

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Kirkland participates in the following job fairs and law school local/regional interview programs: Arizona LA Interview Program; Bay Area Diversity Career Fair; Boston Lawyers Group (BLG) Diversity Job Fair; BYU; Cook County Bar Association (CCBA) Minority Job Fair; Cornell University; Emory University; George Washington University; Lavender Law Career Fair; The Law Consortium Recruitment Program; Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium (MCGC) Interview Program; NEBLSA Job Fair; New England Interview Program; On Tour Interview Program (OTIP); Patent Law Interview Program; University of Pennsylvania; Sunbelt Minority Program; Tulane University; Vanderbilt University; Washington University – St. Louis.

Summer associate profile:
Kirkland looks for candidates who show a record of outstanding academic achievement and a desire to assume early responsibility. Kirkland values individuals from diverse social, economic, cultural, and personal backgrounds. The firm looks favorably upon law review and business or industry focused societies/journals, moot court, and other indicators of intellectual curiosity, collaboration, and drive.

Summer program components:
Kirkland’s tradition of giving junior associates early responsibility begins with the summer program. Our summer associates work on sophisticated matters and gain exposure to their practice alongside the firm’s associates and partners, who are eager to support and guide along the way. Kirkland gives its attorneys — including summer associates — autonomy and flexibility. The firm’s open assignment system lets attorneys direct their career path and choose matters that interest them most. In addition to substantive work, summer associates participate in training and development programs, engage in pro bono and volunteer opportunities, and attend fun social events and networking opportunities.

Social media

Linkedin:Kirkland & Ellis

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity Recognised Practitioner
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment: Employee Benefits & Compensation Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Environment Recognised Practitioner
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences (Band 3)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 1)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)