US heavyweight Akin Gump promises trainees the killer combination of big bucks and top-notch work. The firm’s London NQ salaries have recently gone up to a titanic $215,000 (around £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, you’re given the opportunity to take on lots of responsibility, have a first go at drafting key documents, and manage and run workstreams (which involves liaising directly with clients and other firms). Every day is different, and you get a good mix of work”, one insider tells Legal Cheek. The positive feelings are echoed on the money front: “10 [out of 10] for the salary.”
The pandemic proved to be a fruitful time for the firm, with the London office alone achieving revenue growth of 19% in 2020. Understandably, growth has slowed since then, with revenue across the firm increasing by only 0.9% in 2021 and profit per equity partner increasing by 2.3% (due in part to a decrease of 5.2% in the number of equity partners at the firm). Profit even fell by 3% relative to 2020. However, this has to be put into context given the firm’s astronomical growth in 2020 — with revenue of $1.22 billion (£997.24 million), the 2021 figures aren’t overly worrying for the firm.
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. Despite the lower growth across the firm in 2021, the London office had a strong year posting growth figures across all areas except in financial restructuring, an area which — as pandemic support ends — is set to become busier in 2022. In the past few years, Akin’s London practice has been steadily luring partners from the likes of Allen & Overy, White & Case and Vinson & Elkins. While the firm may have lost partners overall across 2021, they have made some strong hires recently including Susan Kovarovics, who is arriving from BCLP’s International Trade division. This area is of increasing importance to Akin Gump, not only in the US but also in London, the Middle East and Asia.
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 former Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort in the Special Counsel investigation into alleged Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. As Biden’s administration continues in its attempt to change the political course of the US following the Trump-era, this area will continue to remain important to Akin Gump.
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”. 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.
This positivity is shared by many of the trainees. As one rookie summarised: “The staff at Akin Gump 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.”
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 Gump 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 Gump 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 are equally impressed. “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 proofreading software and document services afforded are very useful and well-utilised”, one rookie enthused. Another mentions they have “great flexibility in working from home and have been provided with all the equipment we need to do so”.
Akin Gump is housed in London’s bustling Spitalfields Market, in a swish office block also occupied by Allen & Overy. The Akin Gump section has recently received a “great” refurbishment and now boasts a “very nice” new canteen, social areas and several new workspaces beyond your typical trainee office. “There’s also a great roof terrace when the weather is cooperative,” a source confirms.
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 enjoy the majority of their weekends and even a few evenings during the week. Keen to dispel the myth that US firms fare worse hours than the Magic Circle lot, one trainee reports, “The work/life balance is definitely much better than would be expected from an American firm, or any Magic Circle firm or similar. While we work a lot with colleagues in the US, they are able to take over on matters (rather than us necessarily having to stay up late to deal with them). Everyone is also very conscious of making sure that holidays are respected, as are other social plans on weekends or evenings — you just have to let them know!”
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, corporate retreats… the list goes on. Certainly, it’s all a long way from the firm’s origins specialising in criminal law, having been founded by two FBI agents.