Latham & Watkins may have lost its ‘biggest law firm in the world by revenue’ crown to Kirkland & Ellis, but it’s still had a good year, with turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP) up by 9% and 6% respectively. The numbers are huge: revenue now stands at $3.06 billion (£2.38 billion) and PEP at $3.24m (£2.52 million).
With eight years 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,” confides an insider at the firm which scored a D in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19 for work/life balance. 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 £144,000?
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 trainee reports. 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 it its relative tech-savvy, with the firm chucking a load of cash at new artificial intelligence data review software of late. A signal of the 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…” jokes one trainee of the device.
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 after thought. 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. And an iPad coffee maker elicits rave reviews as the spiritual centre piece of a decent office, albeit with the renovated new floors much nicer than the older floors. Pleasingly, in-house canteen ‘Red and White’ “has upped their game recently with a waffle machine, frozen yogurt machine and a daily rotisserie chicken”.
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.