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 $202,500 (£147,000) and its trainees praise the quality of the work as “almost always stimulating and interesting”. Rookies report that you can really get stuck into deals and are more often than not “working on cases with novel points of law and researching creative solutions for clients”. The positive feelings are echoed on the money front: “10 [out of 10] for the salary”.
In terms of wider firm financials, Akin Gump’s London office has defied pandemic fears over the last year with revenues up a stellar 19% to $149.2 million (£107.5 million). This continues a strong uptrend with revenue now having grown 55% since 2017. Profit per equity partner (PEP) has increased 16%, in line with Akin’s booming London practice, to $3 million (£2.16 million), whilst the firm’s global revenue has steadily grown 6.5% since 2019 to $1.2 billion (£865 million).
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. Over the past few years, Akin’s London practice has been steadily luring partners from the likes of Allen & Overy, White & Case and Vinson & Elkins. 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.
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 newbie. “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.” Working from home during lockdown changed that a bit, but not, seemingly, to the detriment of their trainees, who were “really impressed to see how the firm has updated their training to account for being remote since it has traditionally be a learn-as-you-go vs formal training approach”. In fact, trainees have enjoyed the opportunity to do more training tasks and receive feedback which enables them to really “add value to the deals/projects or go towards vital know-how for the relevant team”.
Juniors have also been spurred on by Akin’s caring environment. All members of the firm – from trainee to partner – are “very supportive” and “highly approachable”. One insider explained “the firm works really hard to make you feel connected with your team”.
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 been renovated and now boasts a new canteen and several new workspaces beyond your typical trainee office. “There’s also a great roof terrace when the weather is cooperative,” one source confirms.
International secondments were hit hard by the pandemic though, although one of the juniors we surveyed still managed to get away for a six month placement in Dubai. Singapore and Hong Kong are also popular secondment destinations for trainees. And don’t worry about the long flights! Amongst the perks mentioned to Legal Cheek were business class travel for long-haul flights as well as home workout equipment and gym discounts.
Work/life balance veers on the side of work, but it is not unbearable. The workload comes in peaks and troughs, varying from team to team, but most seemed to be able enjoy the majority of their weekends and even a few evenings during the week. That said we are told the hours can be long, 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 do always have to be responsive”, even if you are not in the office or officially meant to be at your desk at home.
Certainly, it’s all a long way from the firm’s origins specialising in criminal law, having been founded by two FBI agents.