Latham & Watkins may have lost its ‘biggest law firm in the world by revenue’ crown to Kirkland & Ellis, but it’s still doing pretty well. Turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP) are up by 11% and 6% respectively. The numbers are huge: revenue now stands at $3.39 billion (£2.73 billion) and PEP at $3.45 million (£2.78 million).
With a decade of consecutive growth under its belt, in which time it has managed to become not only huge but unlike some of its rivals also spectacularly profitable, Latham & Watkins is clearly doing something very right. A clue to what this is lies in these numbers: while net profit has increased by over 80% since 2009, the firm’s total lawyer headcount has risen by not much more than 20%. If you are considering joining Latham, be prepared to work hard.
“When a deal or matter is on, the long hours are constant,” reveals an insider at the firm. Another describes the hours like this: “[Leave at] 7 on a good day, you don’t on a bad day.” Not that this comes as a surprise to most new recruits: “You don’t work at a US firm to enjoy your 6pm finishes and weekly evening book clubs,” another tells us. “The work/life balance is not great — but there are always ups and downs. It is important to make the most of your quiet time!”
Training is of the sink or swim variety. “There is no formal training” at Latham & Watkins, an insider at the firm tells us, “Just doing”. Another adds: “You are very much left out on your own at times, this is a good learning curve for the most part and forces you to think on your feet and use your initiative. Other times it can be the most scary experience of your life.” And what did you expect at an organisation where the NQ salary is £130,000?
Fortunately, fellow trainees are on hand to help: “I could not fault my cohort for being supportive, friendly and an inevitable shoulder to cry on at 2am after a long and gruelling day. It is more like a friendship circle than anything else,” one reports. But don’t expect to do that much together out of the office. While there is a social scene, it’s fairly muted. “If I am not working and get a rare free night, I would rather get outta there/home to spend time with friends outside of work,” a trainee confides.
Partners, meanwhile, are of the matey and direct, rather than touchy-feely, variety. “My current supervisor is an absolute legend and most people I have worked with are cool too,” one Latham rookie reports. This does vary between departments, however, with one trainee telling us: “There’s the odd Ramsay kicking around as with any firm.” Signing and completion drinks are “always fun”. But “it is always wise to be mindful about taking up people’s time when they are particularly busy or stressed.”
In keeping with Latham’s ultra-lean model, the work — much of which is high-end corporate finance-related — spans everything from the mindless to the mind-bending. “It really depends on the department you are in,” another trainee tells Legal Cheek. “I love the work I am getting now (I’m in litigation). It couldn’t be more different to my previous seat (banking) where I spent most of my time PDF-ing.” There is an expectation that trainees will be proactive, with what you do “dependent on how forward you are in asking to try new types of work”.
Offering some relief to the firm’s lawyers is its relative tech-savvy, with the firm chucking a load of cash at new artificial intelligence data review software of late. A signal of Latham’s interest in innovation is the iPhone app it has created for training away trips. “Wouldn’t be surprised if there is a tracker device bugged to them though so they always know your whereabouts…” quips one trainee of the device. Plus we hear the partners now use iPads for mark-ups which is “so much better than manuscript ones”.
This is not quite the Wild West environment of some of the small US firm London offices, where UK trainees can be something of an afterthought. With 24 training contracts a year on offer, Latham offers more London graduate opportunities than many sizeable British firms and as such has a fairly well-developed (if minimalist) training infrastructure.
The perks are, basically, money, but the firm is also said to be “not stingy with evening and weekend meals and taxis, and good about reimbursing cancelled social plans”. There’s also free breakfast, lunch and a “cake day” once a month. One L&W spy shares details about a “fantastic mentoring scheme where you can expense fun activities (lunch, coffee, cinema, beauty treatments, cocktails, whatever you want really) to take another associate (two years below you) out to mentor them”. It’s a “top scheme” that serves several purposes, namely: “[It] helps you to get to know others and give them another person to come to with a problem,” and “bonus points that it’s fun and saves money on getting your monthly facial…”
An iPad coffee maker once elicited rave reviews as the spiritual centre piece of a decent office (it’s apparently “dead” now), albeit with the renovated new floors much nicer than the older floors. We hear the firm’s Bishopsgate office is moving towards an open plan layout “floor by floor” much to the annoyance of some — “long live our private offices!” While the in-house canteen, ‘Red and White’, has “upped their game recently with a waffle machine, frozen yogurt machine and a daily rotisserie chicken”. Vegetarians rejoice as we hear a veggie option has finally been added to what appears to be an already extensive menu.
Around a third of trainees do an international secondment — Hong Kong, Singapore and New York are popular destinations – but then again, the firm may cast its spell on you and leave you hankering to stay billing in London. One junior lawyer tells us: “It had always been the only thing I wanted to do during my training contract until I realised having another qualification option is probably a better idea than going abroad.” Annual international training academies for all the firm’s rookie lawyers across the globe are another way to get some travel, and are eagerly anticipated.