It’s all about the big money and quality of work 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 £145,000, depending on exchange rate fluctuations), these are good times to be training at the firm, which scores an A* in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey for its stimulating and challenging work.
In terms of wider firm financials, Akin Gump’s London office was broadly flat over the last year, with revenues up only 1% to $123.5 million (roughly £95.4 million). However, that performance is something of a consolidation after a remarkable 2018 where the firm’s turnover grew 28% in the City. All the while, the firm has sustained a steady global push – firmwide revenue increased 6% over the last year to $1.135 billion (£877.1 million), while profit per equity partner hiked 8% to $2.6 million (£2 million).
In particular the firm has benefited from unrest elsewhere, adding partners from O’Melveny & Myers’ London bench after the firm’s merger talks with Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy collapsed. Akin Gump has also lured partners from White & Case, Vinson & Elkins, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in recent months.
The experience of training here is typical of a US firm with a smaller London office: lots of hands-on experience, supported by bi-weekly formal trainee training sessions and other practice led training. “This is a firm with a lot of ‘learn as you go’ and self-learning,” says one rookie. “There is not a huge amount of training, but that is expected.”
Another reports: “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)!”
Less structured learning means more responsibility, and by extension more pressure. “I lateralled from a Magic Circle firm,” says another insider. “The level of responsibility given to junior associates is far higher than that of Magic Circle or the Mid-Atlantic Firms.”
The firm’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. 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.
Akin Gimp is housed in London’s bustling Spitalfields Market, in a swish office block also occupied by Allen & Overy. The Akin Gump section has recently been renovated and expanded. “We now have really nice communal areas,” an insider reports. WFH was apparently common at the firm pre-Covid, so Akin Gump has mostly taken the disruption of 2020 in its stride. “The transition was extremely smooth,” we are told. International secondments were hit though, although 40% of the trainees we surveyed still managed to do one at some point during their TC. Popular destinations include Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Work/life balance veers on the side of work, with an average clock off time of 8:10pm. It’s not the place if you’re looking for a wild time after hours. But this is in line with expectations as 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.