Undoubtedly the industry’s most defining story of recent years has been the disruptive rise of Kirkland & Ellis. The American juggernaut has captured the business world’s attention, posting a series of blistering financial results while luring some of the City’s best talent to its ranks. Add to the mix top-quality work, incredible pay, seriously long hours, and an office located in one of the UK’s most glamourous buildings, and you’re left with perhaps the country’s most compelling law firm.
Earlier this year, the Chicago-bred firm boasted a turnover of $4.15 billion (£3.18 billion), once again securing itself as the world’s highest-grossing law firm and the first to break the $4 billion barrier. Profit per equity partner is similarly eye-catching, standing at $5.2 million (£3.98 million). Of course, critics suggest the firm’s financials come off the back of an ‘eat what you kill’ culture, but the firm has posted impressive trainee retention rates in recent years. No doubt, a newly-qualified salary of £145,000 gives rookies an incentive to stay, while trainees start on £50,000, rising to £55,000 in their second year.
The lucrative pay is accompanied by high-quality work in the private equity-focused office and you can expect to be given “a lot of responsibility from the outset.” The hands-on training is highly-rated by the sort of self-starters that Kirkland attracts, though of course this means you can’t expect too much in the way of formal instructional sessions. One rookie warns: “The formal training is not as good as what I imagine it might be at the Magic Circle. However, in terms of ‘on the job’ training, I am very satisfied.”
Meanwhile, you will be working under some of the top lawyers in their fields, and contrary to popular belief, the partners are reportedly very friendly. “Associates and partners are very approachable and always take the time to explain the wider context behind a deal,” explains one insider. “Trainees are offered as much responsibility and exposure as they would like and can handle.”
Of course, Kirkland did not get where it is with everyone leaving the office at 6pm. According to our figures, the firm has some of the longest working hours in the country, with trainees and junior lawyers averaging over 12 hours in the office each day. They arrive on average around 9:30am and leave close to 10pm. “I give it a 9 because the work/life balance does what it says on the tin at the world’s highest turnover firm,” says one insider unapologetically. “You work hard, and you are expected to be available always. But that’s what you sign up for.”
Legal Cheek understands that the firm is encouraging more flexible working, with junior lawyers recently being given new laptops. The downside to this is a 24/7 email culture that can get pretty wearing. Meanwhile, in light of the Covid-19 crisis, the firm has adapted well to working from home. One trainee says: “We have had a seamless transition to working from home. With the firm providing regular updates and support.”
However, when working life returns to something like normal, expect plenty of time spent in the office, although this is mitigated by how delightful said office is; Kirkland is famously located on the 19th-25th floors of Sir Norman Foster’s Gherkin building in the City. What’s more, the interior is as impressive as the exterior. “I defy you to find anywhere better to be sat at midnight working on a Tuesday,” quips one trainee. The highly-rated canteen is supplemented by the firm’s policy of covering £25 expenditure on Deliveroo orders for those who are working late.
And when Kirkland’s lawyers are not billing, they get to enjoy one of City law’s best perks: access to Searcys, the bar at the top of the Gherkin. Other top freebies include a 24-hour concierge service to help busy junior lawyers with their personal ‘to-do lists’, corporate hospitality seats at the Yankees, Henley Royal Regatta Stewards’ Enclosure tickets, and the swanky annual UK ‘attorney retreat’ at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire. There are also fairly regular firm bashes where “literally no expense is spared as a reward for how hard everyone works”. Also note that lunches after closing a big deal “can be huge”.
Kirkland’s remarkable rise to the top of the Big Law pile has, so far, proven unstoppable, and life at the firm is pretty much what you’d expect. Some observers look to American rival Latham & Watkins as the more inherently sustainable model, having been stress-tested in the past. Kirkland’s tip of the spear remains its transactional team – an area which looks to be temporarily frozen in light of the economic damage caused by Covid-19. But the firm also boasts a slick restructuring practice, making it well hedged for the challenges ahead. For those thinking of entering its ranks, don’t expect Kirkland’s impeachable position to change soon.