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US heavyweight Akin (it ditched the ‘Gump’ as part of a rebrand in spring 2023) promises trainees the killer combination of big bucks and top-notch work. The firm’s London NQ rate sits at a staggering $215,000 – roughly £179,000 based on the firm’s conversion rate — and its trainees praise the quality of the work and the level of responsibility they are given. “Most, if not all, of our deals have something new and interesting, which makes them unique or which requires a bit more thought – so definitely not cookie cutter”. Even as a trainee, “if you express an interest” and “are a safe pair of hands you can get involved in anything,” one tells us. We “are expected to run with work streams often and keep seniors updated” which “can be very rewarding and means trainees have the chance to thrive”.
Global revenues increased a little under 1% to $1.2 billion (£920 million), during a 2022 that saw the firm invest significantly through its largest cohort of lateral hires since 2014 (27 in total). In London, meanwhile, revenue dropped 6% to $140 million (£107 million). With more equity partners in 2022, average profit per equity partner (PEP) slipped nearly 17% from $3.09 million (£2.36 million) to $2.57 million (£1.96 million). However, this has to be put into context: partner profits remain roughly in line with the Magic Circle, revenue climbed a whopping 19% in 2020, and its latest results mark an impressive 13 years of continued growth.
The firm’s London office primarily focuses on finance and restructuring work, with UK senior partner James Roome one of the top names in the business for the latter. Other big names to join the Akin ranks in the past year or so include banking heavyweights Paul Yin, Fergus Wheeler from White & Case and Norton Rose Fulbright energy duo Daniel Giemajner and Matt Hardwick. Corporate partners Dasha Sobornova and Sam Brodie, from Mayer Brown and Shearman & Sterling, respectively, also joined the ranks.
Akin doesn’t just attract big names – it’s big deals too. North East shoppers will note the firm advised committee holders on £485 million notes issued by Metrocentre Finance plc., which are secured against the Metrocentre shopping centre and adjacent retail park in Gateshead. In terms of litigation, Akin worked on a landmark judicial review claim brought against the London Metal Exchange by three firms — Elliott Associates, Elliott International and Jane Street Global Trading — relating to the suspension of the nickel market and the unprecedented cancellation of billions of dollars in trades in March 2022, purportedly in response to market conditions.
Stateside, Akin is well-known for its political lobbying practice, including partner Melissa Laurenza who previously represented and later was compelled to testify against former Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort, in the Special Counsel investigation, into alleged Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The experience of training here is typical of a US firm with a smaller London office: lots of “hands on and interesting” experience, supported by “formal training sessions run by the different groups to cover specific areas of work, key documents and market developments”. Rookies report also having access to “regular third party training, including from barristers’ chambers, on current events, case law updates and client care”. And partners are always on-hand for support: “Everyone, from NQ to partner level, is great at taking the time to explain things, is keen to answer questions, and is very happy to give you as much responsibility as you feel comfortable with (always with their support),” one trainee reports. “Of course, there are some people who I wouldn’t want to bother”, another source adds, “but I think this is the case at any office”.
This positivity is shared by many of the trainees. As one rookie summarised: “The staff at Akin are excellent. It is the best working environment I have been a part of and the trainees have become good friends. It is easy to ask fellow juniors for work when something gets very busy, and seniors are very accommodating and realistic with deadlines during the busier periods too.” Another source shares that trainees usually take lunch and coffee breaks together and “there is always someone to go to if you have a problem”.
The optimism of trainees continues when asked about the level of responsibility they are given by the firm. “I lateralled from a Magic Circle firm,” says one junior lawyer. “The level of responsibility given to junior associates is far higher than that of Magic Circle or the mid-Atlantic firms.” But with Akin only recruiting a handful of UK trainees each year, there’s plenty of individual attention to be had alongside this additional responsibility. “The best thing about working at a firm like Akin is that, due to the relatively small size of the firm and the teams, each person’s role is important. As a junior lawyer, this is particularly attractive as it means that you aren’t pigeon-holed into only managing administrative tasks, you are allocated substantive pieces of work. Whilst this level of responsibility necessarily comes with a steep learning curve it also means that your skill-set develops much more quickly (and you get much more enjoyment out of matters)!”, one spy told Legal Cheek.
When it comes to legal tech, trainees seem, on the whole, fairly happy with the firm’s efforts. Problems are apparently “incredibly rare” and “any issues are dealt with at lightning speed” by the IT team. Another tells us this: “There is an account/app for everything you would need. The IT assistance at the firm seems to be very well-funded as you never have to wait more than a couple of minutes before someone responds to an issue or query. The research facilities are very good and some of the proof-reading software and document services afforded are very useful and well-utilised.” A further rookie says “great flexibility in working from home and have been provided with all the equipment we need to do so”.
Akin is housed in London’s bustling Spitalfields Market, in a swish office block also occupied by Allen & Overy. The Akin section apparently boasts a “really nice” eight floor where the corporate team is based but the third floor, home to restructuring and finance, is said to be “not very nice”. There is a “lovely canteen” and “enormous roof terrace” as well as plenty of social areas and breakout spaces.
Work/life balance veers on the side of work, but is not unbearable. The workload comes in peaks and troughs, varying from team to team, but most seemed able to get away from the office at a reasonable hour. “I would say it’s a pretty sweet deal for a US firm,” writes one respondent. “Weekends and holidays are honoured (unless there are emergencies) and your time is mostly respected. However, when work calls you are expected to answer.”
And of course, other than the sky-high pay and eye-watering bonuses on offer, there are always the perks to help offset the longer hours. Mental health services on-site, gym reimbursement schemes, mortgage advice and corporate retreats. Some trainees have been invited on “amazing away days at lovely hotels” and “Happy Hour drinks on the terrace” is always a big hit. In 2023 the firm also hosted “afternoon tea for the Coronation” and “strawberries and cream for Wimbledon”. It’s all a long way from the firm’s origins specialising in criminal law, having been founded by two FBI agents.