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, particularly for an American firm. “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),” one trainee tells us. It is worth noting, though, that figures from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19 give K&L Gates an average leave the office time of 8pm. And 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,” reports an insider.
With 46 offices in 18 countries, K&L Gates must be international secondment heaven, you would assume. But oddly until recently the firm had a policy of offering zero opportunities to its trainees and junior solicitors to spend time abroad. Happily, this has changed this year and we understand that around a third of trainees got to go on international business trips to, among other locations, Switzerland, Kiev and Vietnam.
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. However, there’s a sense that it could be doing a bit better, with K&L Gates’ financial performance not great during the last couple of years as revenue fell in both 2017 and 2016. No results have yet been disclosed for 2018.
Nevertheless the mood in London, where the firm has been outperforming US offices we understand, seems pretty good, with K&L Gates scoring quite well in this year’s Legal Cheek Survey. 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 of just ten each year “means that you are often given higher-level work”. As you would expect those trainees are pretty tight, and “often have ad hoc drinks after work”. Indeed, this year the K&L Gates social scene has been one of the best in legal London. “We generally go for Thursday/Friday night drinks and as trainees and NQs frequently organise ad hoc socials,” one rookie reports.
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 that “you can always ask questions about a task — provided you’ve thought it through first.”
Where the firm comes in for most criticism is over money. While its newly qualified solicitor salary of £71,000 isn’t exactly a breadline wage, K&L Gates rookies are conscious that other US firms in London pay much, much more. But then they also require significantly longer hours.
Another weakness is tech – or lack of it. A new document management system is “pretty shocking” and “don’t expect to download files quickly once the US get online!” Gradually, the situation is getting better, we understand, however “some partners refuse to acknowledge the new tech and therefore still reliant on ‘old ways’”.
But what the firm lacks in megabucks and slick IT, it makes up for with a delightful 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.” The firm canteen is also highly rated, apparently serving “a wide variety of great food” that is “great value”. If we are going to be picky, though, we’re told that it “could benefit from more choice, such as a salad bar”. The bacon sandwiches on a Friday get a particularly big thumbs up.