Kirkland & Ellis LLP - The Inside View

If you’ve got a nose for money, this record-breaking market leader will smell delicious – but it’s not just dollar that draws associates here.

2017: BOSTON. 2018: Dallas. 2019: Paris. With each passing year, Chicago-born titan Kirkland has expanded its global empire with new office openings. These have helped secure Kirkland’s place at the top of the AmLaw 100  list of the highest-grossing US firms – it's held the #1 spot since 2017 and broke the $4 billion mark in 2019, the first time a global law firm has ever done so. Chambers USA recognizes K&E as a top-tier outfit for banking, commercial litigation, restructuring, IP and private equity in Illinois and nationwide; the rest of its many rankings span real estate, tax, M&A, antitrust and more. Kirkland’s excellent rep in its home state was no doubt instrumental to the recruitment of former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who joined in 2019.

“We know how to be happy and play as a team.”

So why did associates want to work at Kirkland? Looking beyond the big money deals and cases, most just liked the people they met at the firm: “I wanted to go somewhere with clear mentor figures, where it would be cool if I became like them,” one reasoned. Be under no illusions, the team at Kirkland is “known for working hard, which is why we’re number one, but people are humane. We know how to be happy and play as a team.”

The Work



A third of junior associates can be found in New York; the second-biggest recruiter is Chicago. Houston, San Francisco and Boston also regularly welcome newbies. Upon arrival, rookies join one of Kirkland’s four core practice groups: transactional, litigation, restructuring, or IP. Associate tasks come through a famed ‘open assignment’ system, the biggest advantage of which is “the ability to drive your own practice.” Sources warned that “you have to really get to grips with the system on your own and be proactive,” and there’s no reallocation process “so every associate will end up taking on too much work at some point.” As in much of life, practice makes perfect: “You learn your capabilities over the years and become more confident at saying no to people.”

“M&A powerhouse” Kirkland is fueled primarily by private equity clients. “Even in real estate they're a major part of the firm’s portfolio,” interviewees revealed. “We’re always inundated with exciting deals.”  Boston alone is home to 70 private equity-focused lawyers. Most deals in New York involve just one associate, so juniors “get to do things a senior associate world normally handle" at a firm this size, like running closings. The story is similar in Chicago, where “there’s a lot of fluidity between the type of work second-to-fifth years do.” Responsibility reaches its peak on smaller IPOs; juniors can draft press releases and "talk directly with the client company’s management.”  While Kirkland expects that “you make sure nothing slips through the cracks,” there is support available. “I get specific guidance, and even if it would be faster for a partner to do a task, my team are happy for me take my best shot.” By year three, juniors get to move beyond deal admin to more of a management role, “though there isn’t a specific point when someone tells you to do so. You just have to throw yourself in, otherwise you get straddled with diligence and preparing nondisclosure agreements.”

Corporate clients: Sun Capital Partners, Thoma Bravo, Bain Capital Private Equity. Advised Madison Dearborn during fund-owned infusion therapy services provider Option Care on its $2.7 billion merger with industry leader BioScrip.

“There’s a lot of fluidity between the type of work second-to-fifth years do.”

The New York litigation team handles “a little bit of everything, so thankfully I’ve been able to generalize,” a source said. Options on the table include white-collar investigations, securities and M&A litigation. New York  focuses on financial litigation whereas  Chicago does more traditional class actions.”  Houston is the energy disputes hub, but there’s a decent amount of cross-office staffing firm-wide so associates can vary their practice. Most juniors end up “listening to the more senior associates about what needs to be done,” though “as you move up the ranks you get to lead certain streams – including discovery – and push the case along.” Research is another common task for newbies. Litigators in Chicago told us the restructuring group “is growing very fast so about a quarter of my work comes from them, even though I’m not a restructuring attorney.” The restructuring folks deal with the initial filing, then litigators move in to handle any subsequent disputes like claims against shareholders. If necessary, they conduct internal investigations “similar to what we do in white-collar disputes.” In any case (of any type), juniors’ roles are “usually the same, though restructurings tend to move faster so you have a better chance at being second chair on those.” Rather than taking depositions, they’ll be tasked with fact development and investigation.

Litigation clients: BP America, General Motors, U.S. Soccer Federation. Successfully defended Facebook against allegations it violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by providing material support to Hamas’s terrorist activities.

Pro Bono



“...is something you can tell the firm cares a lot about given the sheer number of emails we receive about it.” There’s no limit to creditable hours “which is a great incentive,” though one interviewee did say: “There are mixed messages here in  Chicago about whether it’s really treated equally with billables. If you’re doing a lot of pro bono you might get a call telling you to rejig your schedule to make sure you do 2,000 billable too.”  Ominous. Due to its proximity to the border, Houston handles a “a whole lotta immigration,” but it’s also common for associates to assist people with mental health issues or recently released prison inmates who are navigating the legal landscape. New Yorkers help on immigration cases by representing people remotely: “I’ll be on the phone while they’re at the border.” Clemency, special education and canine rescue are some of the other flavors on offer but “the firm will accommodate you if you want to bring in your own pro bono matter, even if it’s something that’s not in the spotlight.” Sources were eager to take this opportunity: “We work on pro bono across practice groups and with external counsel so it’s a really good way to explore interests outside your usual practice.”

Pro bono hours:

  • For all US attorneys: 153,165
  • Average per US attorney: 66.8

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: no requirement

The lack of a formal goal left “a degree of uncertainty – I don’t know what’s acceptable or below average,” though most associates aim to hit 2,000 hours. Litigators revealed that the top brass told them “not to worry about hours in your first year; no one will knock on your door saying you’re not working hard enough” – in stark contrast, a source on the transactional side of the firm declared that “everyone bills about 2,000 and if you’re doing less you should probably find a new job.”  Ouch. Kirklanders were nonetheless conscious that “if you do more than 2,400 hours you won’t sleep properly, will burn out and ultimately quit.”  Face-time requirements were minimal for our sources, but some in Chicago had received mixed messages: “In our last town hall they made a point of saying that though we’re ‘not a face-time firm,’ everyone should be in the office Monday to Friday. Which sounds like face time to me.”

“They made a point that though we’re ‘not a face-time firm’, everyone should be in the office Monday to Friday.”

Both in the HQ and New York (the two busiest offices), litigators were able to have most evenings to themselves – until filings rolled around. Transactional interviewees had it harder and were in the office until 2am during busy periods before “spending most of the weekend in front of work laptops.” Even during less frantic periods, midnight finishes are fairly common. Kirkland compensates associates well for their hard work and pays market salaries and discretionary bonuses – "the average is typically above the Cravath scale.” Each attorney receives a 1-5 score according to seniority, hours worked and performance – “your number determines your dollar payout.” One associate got a bonus 80% higher than the market average in 2018, the lucky (hard-working) SOB.

Diversity & Inclusion



Launching a new 'Kirkland Wellbeing Program' last summer, the firm appointed a Director of Wellbeing to spearhead support for attorneys and staff who’ve struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. Initiatives include biweekly mediation and “bringing in speakers to do powwow sessions." Juniors were pleased with the firm’s approach: “Partners don’t only check in on us, many actually take action when we’re struggling by restaffing our matters. That isn’t easy to do so it shows they really care.”

Despite ongoing “issues” with female representation at senior levels, “Kirkland is trying really hard to be more women-friendly” and taking concrete steps to do so. The firm now subsidizes egg freezing: “They are mindful that we spend our entire lives at the firm so it’s more difficult to meet someone and have a kid.”  Zeroing in on different offices, the WLI (Women’s Leadership Initiative) in New York moved its annual retreat from a yacht club to the city so “it’s easier for people to get there”; complaints came from Chicago as some felt the WI “feels like a support group rather than anything substantive.”  Sources there felt the “LGBT group has made the most progress,”  hosting speaking events to address issues and educate attorneys from outside the community. Houston has a “connection with the local university’s diversity group. We do panels there so you can see diversity is a safe topic to address.” Kirkland hosts an annual summer networking program for all diverse attorneys, including summer associates.

Culture & Career Development



Each junior gets a senior associate and practice-specific partner mentor for their first six months, after which “it’s up to you and your mentor to decide whether you want to carry on because sometimes other relationships form naturally. I view other partners as my informal mentors now.” Transactional associates enroll in Kirkland University’s level-specific training: “I’m a third year but I still go to the new starter sessions if I feel rusty on a certain topic,” one told us. Overseas offices also run sessions: London recently gave everyone the lowdown on Brexit. Litigators aren’t left out – each year they attend the “very intensive” Kirkland Institute for Trial Advocacy. First years do a mock deposition; second to sixth participate in mock trials with a mix of actors and real-life lawyers and judges. “It’s taken really seriously. For that week partners don’t bother you.” 

“People are friendlier than expected, but [...] we’re all trying to show everyone else that we’re working a ton.”

Many in New York told us they “never have an issue asking someone senior for help if I’m struggling,” though others alluded to a Mean Girls-esque atmosphere. “It depends a lot on where you sit, so if you leave at 5pm everyday people will talk..." New arrivals in Chicago found that “people are friendlier than expected, but I sometimes get the sense we’re all trying to show everyone else that we’re working a ton.” It seems that Houston is more laid back: “This office has grown out of local firms, so we have a very chill feel. There’s no hustle and bustle, people are very polite and you never hear yelling.”

It’s not all about work at Kirkland: firm-sponsored events ramp up during the summer program but there’s still “more going on than you could attend”  throughout the year. Many offices keep things low key – New York, which has hosted events in the Rockefeller Plaza Rainbow Room and New York Public Library, is a notable exception. Attorneys past and present gather for the annual ‘Colleagues for Life’ event; sources agreed that “no matter what I decide to do in the future, folks have helped me learn and grow, and that’s the biggest blessing I’ve had here.”

Strategy & Future



While associates weren’t sure if Kirkland would keep expanding its empire of offices (“they update us every quarter or so, but any predictions would be purely speculation”), growth on a smaller scale is self-evident. In DC and Dallas,  the firm boosted its antitrust practice with three lateral partner hires before 2019 was over. Dallas has grown steadily since its opening the year prior. Global management committee member Asheesh Goel explains: "As a rule, we never try to grow just for growth’s sake. We’re strategic and opportunistic, which in part means we think about three buckets: practices, offices and lateral integration." For the full interview with Goel, check out the Bonus Features tab.

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 2,764

Interviewees outside OCI: 345

Kirkland conducts OCIs at around 36 top law schools across the country, as well as at 19 regional/diversity job fairs. To give you an idea of the firm’s recruiting scope, in 2019 the firm interviewed over 2,700 OCI applicants and 340 non-OCI applicants across the US. Generally, the number of students interviewed across campuses varies.

The interviews themselves are usually conducted by one or two attorneys. Hiring partner Lauren Casazza tells us: “We seek 2L students with a record of outstanding academic achievement, strong communications skills 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:

“Candidates should be prepared to showcase their substantive legal knowledge, explain their interest in the firm, and confidently communicate with their interviewer.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 1,244 

Around 40% of the initial applicants are invited for callback interviews at the firm. Each student will interview with between four and seven Kirkland attorneys. According to Casazza, at this point, interviewers are trying to “get a sense for whether candidates will be able to multitask, dig in to their work and juggle competing demands in a professional, collegial manner.” Casazza also highlights: “We are looking for candidates who will be good team members in our collaborative environment, who will hit the ground running with us for our clients, and who will add value to our organization as a whole.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Be yourself, be prepared and be ready to explain why Kirkland is the place for you.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Summer program

Offers: 583

Acceptances: 206

In the same manner as full-time associates, summer associates get to work on substantive assignments through the firm’s famed open assignment system that empowers associates to choose the types of matters on which they work (see the Inside View feature on Kirkland for more details on that) with support and facilitation from each practice group’s attorneys and staff. The goal is to provide summer associates with information and experiences to help them see what it is like to be a Kirkland attorney and to help decide which practice group they prefer. In addition to specific assignments, summer associates are able to participate in the firm’s numerous interactive training programs that happen throughout the summer. There are also opportunities to shadow attorneys in negotiations, team meetings and client calls, and participate in trials, depositions, hearings, negotiations and deal closings. There is also the opportunity to network with attorneys and fellow summer associates though various social events. Typically, the expectation is that all summer associates will receive offers to join a particular core practice group and will return to the firm upon graduating. 

Top tips for this stage:

“We see the summer associate program as a terrific opportunity to teach and provide on-the-job training for students who will be the future of the firm. Summer associates should view their time in the program as a chance to make early great impressions by doing exceptional work, demonstrating commitment and having a great attitude.” – hiring partner Lauren Casazza

Interview with global management committee member Asheesh Goel



Chambers Associate: Are there any market trends that are currently shaping the work the firm is doing?

Asheesh Goel: The word of the year is ‘nimble’: our ability to coordinate partners in multiple practice groups across the planet has created amazing opportunities recently; for example, last year we represented AbbVie in its $63 billion acquisition of Allergan. Although disruptions in Hong Kong and China means our clients are trying to figure out their strategy for the the region, Asia in general, and India and South-East Asia, remain robust.

CA: What do you think the firm will look in a year’s time?

AG: Our focus remains on recruiting and retaining talent of all types worldwide, and finding creative ways to have people work together. Diversity of ideology and thought is the difference between firms that are successful and those that aren’t. Our superstar lawyers are the ones who understand that and look for the opportunity to practice law at the highest level. Our ability to offer that is a key part of our success. As a rule, we never try to grow just for growth’s sake. We’re strategic and opportunistic, which in part means we think about three buckets: practices, offices and lateral integration. Recently, we have experienced a substantial uptick in the demand for our disputes and government investigations practice, so there could be additional investment there. It’s hard to know if we’re done with big-picture hiring for the next couple of years. I will say this: we are always focused on adding strength upon strength and doubling down on the areas in which we’re strong.

CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started practicing?

AG: I’ve been practicing for 25 years which have spanned a good swath of change. The notion 25 years ago was that firms had institutional clients and the partners were stewards of those relationships. One of the changes I’ve seen in the legal industry is that clients today are very sophisticated in how they choose counsel. They no longer use the same firms just because they have always done so, which means our focus on delivering talent and value has never been more important. One thing we talk about with all our lawyers is that every day, regardless of their level, they have to think whether they’re adding value to clients. There’s a much more fluid dialogue with clients; it’s no longer about just answering legal questions but about being partners with them. That’s been a key change in mentality.

Clients want associates and young partners to be front and center, especially in the private equity industry. Our clients want to get to know our talented young lawyers and our young lawyers really want to know the client, so that match is really important.

CA: Looking at your career so far, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?

AG: Firstly, I didn’t take a traditional path. I started my career at what was then called Sidley & Austin. Shortly after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, I joined the Enforcement Division of the Securities & Exchange Commission, where I spent approximately four years. In 2006, I joined Kirkland & Ellis, expecting to spend the remainder of my career there. Much to my surprise, after less than three years, I had the opportunity of a lifetime – to help launch the Chicago office of Ropes & Gray. That was a really special experience and allowed me to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. After spending nine years there building a successful office and international investigations practice, I returned to Kirkland & Ellis with many of my closest friends from around the world. Having taken that unusual path, I would suggest three messages:

1) Skill-based learning is critical, because at the end of the day, the skills you learn are yours to keep forever. Going to an amazing law school but not learning anything won’t carry you forward. The fact you went to one will help you for a short period of time, then people will realize you don’t actually know anything.

2) Cultivate close, informal mentoring relationships. They don’t have to be with the partner in the corner office, because oftentimes those individuals either don’t have time or can’t really relate. Find people a few years senior to you. People who mentored me 20 years ago were often peers of mine, and many of them are now friends and clients. So developing relationships with people who steered you away from mistakes and helped you navigate the difficult times makes the job more sustainable. It all comes to down to the fact you have to do this job for a while to enjoy and succeed and it.

3) Don’t be afraid of opportunity. I have twin teenage boys and I tell them all the time, your ability to grab opportunity directly relates to your ability to work hard. If someone says: “Hey, I have a great opportunity for you,” but you’re nervous or busy, you should still say yes because those special opportunities only come once in a while.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

300 North LaSalle,
Chicago,
IL 60654
Website www.kirkland.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Austin, 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: Lauren Casazza, Jonathan Davis, Christopher Greco, Julian Seiguer
  • Diversity officer: Joi Bourgeois
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 310
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 27, 2Ls: 212; SEO Interns: 4
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Boston: 7, Chicago: 52, Dallas: 7, Houston: 33, London: 1, Los Angeles: 13, New York: 77, Palo Alto: 5, San Francisco: 26, Washington, DC: 18
  • Summer salary 2020: 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 2,700 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.

Recruitment



Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Baylor; Boston College; Boston University; BYU; UC Berkeley; UC Davis; UC Hastings; UCLA; Cardozo; University of Chicago; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; Georgetown; George Washington; University of Georgia; 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; Washington University-St. Louis; University of Wisconsin; 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 in 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 them along the way. Kirkland gives its attorneys — including summer associates — autonomy and flexibility. The firm’s open assignment system lets attorneys take ownership of their careers by choosing the matters on which they work. In addition to substantive work, summer associates participate in legal education and development programs, engage in pro bono and volunteer opportunities, and attend fun social events and networking opportunities.

Social media



Recruitment website:www.kirkland.com/careers
Linkedin:Kirkland & Ellis
Twitter:@Kirkland_Ellis

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • 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 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • 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)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (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 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 5)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (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: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 1)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)