The corporate law experience doesn’t get much purer than Kirkland & Ellis. There’s top quality work, incredible pay, seriously long hours and an office located in one of the UK’s most glamorous buildings. For some, it’s the Suits-esque dream made into reality that they yearned for at university. For others, it’s just not the right life for them. But judging by the firm’s 100% autumn 2018 trainee retention rate, Kirkland is getting better at selecting the right personality types for its London intake.
The quality of work in the private equity-focused London office is hard to beat, with “high levels of responsibility” and “really interesting work from day one”. One trainee goes further, describing it as “staggering” and says you’re “genuinely treated like a junior associate as soon as possible”.
The “hands-on” nature of the training is highly-rated by the sort of self-starter that Kirkland attracts, although don’t expect too much in the way of formal instructional sessions. Opines one rookie: “Personally I think that’s the best way to motivate learning but there’s understandably not much by way of ‘lecture-based’ learning as you may find at MC firms.”
Happily, the partners are not as scary as they can at first seem. One trainee reports: “At first the partners seem intimidating but once you’ve worked with them they become amazingly approachable. I’ve never had a partner tell me they were too busy to take a question or explain something. They’re also great at letting you sit in on calls with senior people at the client.” The key to fostering good relations, we’re told, is being proactive: “it’s on trainees to reach out and take initiative”.
As has been well-documented, Kirkland & Ellis pays the highest wages of any law firm in London. Trainees start on £50,000, rising to £55,000 in their second year, while newly qualified solicitors earn an incredible dollar-tied $190,000, which usually works out around the £140,000 mark, although has risen as high as £150k.
You’ll work hard for it, though. According to our figures, Kirkland 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 at 9:45am and leave at 9:49pm. Expect large variations on this, insiders tells us, noting “very up and down” hours with “swings between being fantastic and horrific”. There is, however, “absolutely no face time culture”. Another rookie tells us: “On the whole my weekends have been largely uninterrupted. During the week there is room for improvement but I knew exactly what I was signing up for and so I can’t complain.”
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.
The late working culture of the place is partly to fit in with the US time difference, hence why Kirkland’s lawyers can get to work relatively late. But partly it’s just because there’s a lot to do – and partners expect their pound of flesh for the MoneyLaw salaries. Having said that, some of the trainees we heard from emphasised the onus was on them to manage their work effectively, telling us: “If you’re drowning in work, it’s because you took on too much, a lesson you will learn very quickly during the TC”.
The large volume of time spent in the office is mitigated by how delightful said office is – with Kirkland 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 Searcy’s, the bar at the top of the Gherkin. Other top freebies include 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”.
With the Kirkland’s global revenue rising again this year, this time by a chunky 19% to $3.165bn (£2.45 billion), these are good times for the firm. Profit per equity partner now stands at an eye-watering $4.7 million (£3.64 million), more than double that of most magic circle firms. And the London office is becoming increasingly central to the firm, growing 61% since 2013. 189 lawyers now work there, including ex-Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity guru David Higgins, who Kirkland hired in a statement-to-the-market move a year ago.