The corporate law experience doesn’t get much purer than Kirkland & Ellis. There’s top quality work, incredible pay, seriously long hours and an office located in one of the UK’s most glamorous buildings. For some, it’s the Suits-esque dream made into reality that they yearned for at university. For others, it’s just not the right life for them. That contrast was laid bare in the firm’s disappointing autumn 2017 trainee retention result, which saw a host of rookies head out the exit door.
But even those who don’t fancy making a long term career at Kirkland recognise its quality, with the firm scoring a whopping six A*s in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. The quality of work in the private equity-focused London office is hard to beat, with “high levels of responsibility” and “really interesting work from day one”. The “hands-on” nature of the training is highly-rated by the sort of self-starter that Kirkland attracts, although don’t expect too much in the way of formal instructional sessions. Happily, the partners are not as scary as they can at first seem. One trainee reports: “At first the partners seem intimidating but once you’ve worked with them they become amazingly approachable. I’ve never had a partner tell me they were too busy to take a question or explain something. They’re also great at letting you sit in on calls with senior people at the client.”
As has been well-documented, Kirkland & Ellis pays the highest wages of any law firm in London. Trainees start on £50,000, rising to £55,000 in their second year, while newly qualified solicitors earn an incredible dollar-tied $180,000, which usually works out around the £140,000 mark, although has risen as high as £150k. Take that, magic circle.
You’ll work hard for it, though. According to our figures, Kirkland has the longest working hours in the country, with trainees and junior lawyers averaging nearly 12 and a half hours in the office each day. They arrive on average at 9:34am and leave at 10:02pm. Expect large variations on this, insiders tells us, noting “very up and down” hours with “swings between being fantastic and horrific”. There is, however, “absolutely no face time culture”. Another rookie tells us: “On the whole my weekends have been largely uninterrupted. During the week there is room for improvement but I knew exactly what I was signing up for and so I can’t complain.”
The large volume of time spent in the office is mitigated by how delightful said office is – with Kirkland famously located on the 19th-25th floors of Sir Norman Foster’s Gherkin building in the City. What’s more, the interior is as impressive as the exterior. “I defy you to find anywhere better to be sat at midnight working on a Tuesday,” quips one trainee. The highly-rated canteen is supplemented by the firm’s policy of covering £25 expenditure on Deliveroo orders for those who are working late. And when Kirkland’s lawyers are not billing, they get to enjoy one of City law’s best perks: access to Searcy’s, the bar at the top of the Gherkin.
Legal Cheek understands that the firm is encouraging more flexible working, with junior lawyers recently being given new laptops. The downside to this is a 24/7 email culture that can get pretty wearing.
With the Kirkland’s global revenue rising this year by a chunky 15% to $2.65 billion (£2.12 billion), and profit per equity partner passing the $4m mark, these are good times for the firm. This has been reflected in some memorable recent bashes where “literally no expense is spared as a reward for how hard everyone works”. Recent highlights include the Christmas party (held at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel), the summer celebrations (held at Yaucha) and the UK ‘attorney retreat’ (held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire). Also note that lunches after closing a big deal “can be huge”.