The biggest law firm in the world by revenue has had a very good year, with turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP) up by 6.5% and 8% respectively. The numbers are huge: revenue now stands at $2.823 billion (£2.19 billion), the most ever generated by a law firm in one financial year, and PEP at $3.06 billion (£2.38 million).
With seven 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 80% since 2009, the firm’s total lawyer headcount has only risen by 21%. 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 2017-18 for work/life balance. Another describes the hours like this: “7 on a good day, you don’t on a bad day”. At least there’s no face-time culture here: “When they have nothing on, trainees are encouraged to leave.”
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”. And what did you expect at an organisation where the NQ salary is £124,000? Another rookie elaborates: “High levels of responsibility also means getting thrown into the deep end of work at the start. Training differs between the larger and small departments. Associates are always happy to explain, but there is definitely a high expectation on trainees to be organised and have the initiative to ask questions or attempt new things from the get-go.”
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”.
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.” 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.
Still, 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”.
If you are lucky you may get to do an international secondment – Hong Kong and Singapore are the most 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.”