It’s all about the big money, money, money at US heavyweight Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. One junior insider pithily sums it up: “10 for the salary. No material fringe benefits, but who cares?!” With London newly qualified solicitor salaries standing at $190,000 (which works out at around £150,000, depending on exchange rate fluctuations), these are good times to be training at the firm.
The story this year has been sharp growth in the firm’s London office, which has seen a revenue rise of a 28% to $123.5m (£100.5 million) on the back of a host of high profile restructuring mandates (a firm specialism, particularly in the UK). This has come amid relatively flat revenue growth across the firm as a whole.
The UK growth has translated into a rise in training contract numbers — from four to six this year. Amid fairly flat revenue growth across the wider firm as a whole, London now makes up 12% of Akin Gump’s business, illustrating its growing importance at the 21 office firm.
The experience of training here is typical of a US firm with a smaller London office: lots of hands-on experience, but not much training infrastructure. “You learn more billing 2k a year than you would with regular lectures,” one of the firm’s trainees tells us. We’re told Akin Gump is making efforts to put in a more formalised training programme but with just 39 partners and 73 associates in the London office it remains small enough to do things on a more ad hoc basis.
Another reports: “As a junior you find yourself doing the full spectrum of trainee to senior associate work — often in the same day.” Happily there’s plenty of support from partners, who are an intense yet down to earth bunch. Even the “senior partners get stuck in and own their deals”. Fellow trainees are “good for a sympathetic ear”.
Housed in London’s bustling Spitalfields Market, Akin Gump’s presence in London owes a lot to the firm’s takeover fellow US outfit Bingham McCutchen in 2014. The focus here is on finance and restructuring work, with UK senior partner James Roome one of the most respected in the business for the latter. The firm continues to hunt London’s top legal talent having recently decamped several partners from US rival, O’Melveny & Myers, magic circle Allen & Overy’s prospective merger partner. Stateside Akin Gump is well known for its political lobbying practice, including partner Melissa Laurenza who previously represented and later was compelled to testify against Paul Manafort in the Special Counsel investigation into Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Work/life balance veers on the side of work, with an average leave time of well after 8pm. It’s not the place if you’re looking for a wild time after hours. But this is in line with expectations one trainee suggests: “You don’t come here for the work/life balance.” Another says: “We all get on but people are here to work not play.” Keen to dispel the myth that US firms fair worse hours than the magic circle lot, one trainee reports: “You don’t always have to be in the office, but you do always have to be responsive.”
Certainly, it’s all a long way from the firm’s origins specialising in criminal law having been founded by two FBI agents.