K&L Gates can best be summed up as defying expectations. Being headquartered in the US, where lawyers work notoriously long hours, you might expect it to be a round the clock kind of place. But actually the firm offers decent levels of work/life balance. “Provided you are good at communicating your work capacity, and have excellent time management, you will make nine out of ten early evening appointments (i.e. from 7-7:30pm onwards, where there isn’t a global pandemic on),” one trainee tells us. It is worth noting, though, that there are some reports of periods of long hours. “There are late nights, but there are also early finishes. Hard work is paid off and if you’ve been in till 3am all week, you can expect to leave by five when you’re quiet,” says an insider.
With 45 offices in 16 countries, K&L Gates must be an international secondment haven, you would assume. But oddly the firm offers few to zero opportunities to its trainees and junior solicitors to spend time abroad. Sticking with secondments, one lucky rookie, however, tells us they’ve been seconded to Amazon for six months.
It’s safe to say that the firm is a bit of an enigma. With its roots in London stemming from legacy City outfit Nicholson Graham & Jones, which was brought into the K&L Gates fold in 2005, the firm is now one of the top 20 biggest in the world, yet the City office retains a certain Englishness.
Strengths include those BigLaw staples of corporate, high-end litigation and real estate, while the firm also has well-regarded niches in sports law and electoral law. Interestingly, K&L Gates lawyers were recently brought on to review viral video app TikTok’s content moderation policy.
Despite some rather average financial performances in recent years, the mood in the firm’s London office seems pretty good. The training has apparently “improved drastically over the last few years”, and there are now “great supervisors who encourage you to take responsibility while ensuring you’re not left to panic alone”. The small trainee intake each year “means that you are often given higher-level work”. As you would expect those trainees are pretty tight. “I didn’t think I’d be friends with other lawyers until I came here,” reflects one rookie.
The partners, meanwhile, are “generally very approachable, particularly once you’ve worked for them and built up that relationship”. But be warned: “don’t go to a meeting unprepared!” We are assured, however, that “you can always ask questions about a task — provided you’ve thought it through first.” In the wake of COVID-19, we’re told that partners have reassured juniors that they’re only a phone call away.
Where the firm receives most criticism is over money. While its newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor salary of £85,000 isn’t exactly a breadline wage, K&L Gates’ lot are conscious that other US firms in London pay much, much more (and sometimes double!) But then they also require significantly longer hours.
Another weakness is tech — or lack of it. “So many repetitive tasks being done manually”, sighs one rookie, while another describes a new document management system as “pretty shocking” and “don’t expect to download files quickly once the US get online!” The situation is gradually improving, we understand, but “some partners refuse to acknowledge the new tech and are therefore still reliant on ‘old ways’”.
But what the firm lacks in megabucks and slick IT, it makes up for with a delightful central London office, which has a private terrace overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. One tells us: “The office is beautiful, modern, and has access to a roof top bar. The private terrace is fantastic for summer lunches.” There has been a lot of noise about the firm canteen, however. A recent decision to sub-let the 1 New Change office’s fourth floor meant K&L Gates lost its “massively impressive” canteen. Apparently there’s now a makeshift one in the kitchen. Praise goes to the chef, though, who “does amazing work with limited resources”, we’re told.