Meet Latham & Watkins at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 5 October 2021
It’s been another consecutive year of double-digit growth for Los Angeles-bred giant Latham & Watkins, with revenue surging 15% to $4.33 billion (£3.12 billion) and profit per equity partner (PEP) hitting an eye-watering $4.52 million (£3.26 million) — an impressive year on year uptick of 20%.
With over a decade of consecutive growth under its belt, in which time the firm 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: net profit has increased by over 80% since 2009, the firm’s total lawyer headcount has risen by not much more than 20% (although the firm still counts around 3,000 lawyers globally). So, if you are considering joining Latham, be prepared to work hard.
Unsurprisingly, life at Latham is not for the faint-hearted. “When a deal or matter is on, the long hours are constant,” reveals an insider at the firm. “You don’t work at a US firm to enjoy your 6pm finishes and weekly evening book clubs,” another warns.
Training is a question of sink or swim. “There is no formal training” at Latham & Watkins, one insider claims, “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.” But what did you expect at an organisation where the NQ salary is northwards of £145,000?
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 generally 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, however, vary between departments. One trainee told us: “Everyone has time for you, even partners! Was quite shocked as I thought I would be brushed off as a trainee but it’s the complete opposite”. That said, one rookie warns “there’s the odd Ramsay kicking around as with any firm.”
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. At Latham, 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”. High quality of work is always up for grabs, but it is up to trainees to take on the challenge. “You’re given so much exposure as a trainee, and the work is very interesting/complex is nature,” one source tells us. “You can get a real sense of the transaction you’re working on and [the work] tends to be less admin/trainee work and more Associate level work,” adding “but you’re always given a choice if you want to step up to that level or not!”.
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 up for grabs, 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. But remote working has provoked some grumbles, with one junior commenting that they think “there could be more in terms of perks”.
Perhaps a return to the office will assuage such concerns. Recently renovated and fitted out with iPad coffee makers that in the past have elicited rave reviews as the spiritual centre piece of a decent office, Latham’s City digs have historically been a source of trainee pride. “We have some new open plan floors where everyone gets free organic snacks and drinks, standing desks, noise-cancelling headphones and access to fancy showers with hotel-style shower products and amenities,” boasts one rookie. Meanwhile, the in-house canteen, ‘Red and White’, offers “a waffle machine, frozen yogurt machine and a daily rotisserie chicken” as well as an extensive menu.
The firm has adapted well to flexible working in light of the pandemic. “I can barely tell the difference between my home set-up and the set-up I had in the office,” one trainee enthuses. “You get all the equipment you need and specialist equipment if required,” another adds. “The IT team is always available, and we even get a monitor budget!”. The firm’s more caring side has increasingly shone through during the pandemic, as one insider explains: “Everyone has been amazing — my fellow trainees, associates and partners. Everyone recognises the struggles of training and working remotely and there’s always someone to chat to if you’re struggling”. Rookies tell us that regular chats and catch-ups, mentoring programmes and well-being initiatives offered by the firm have all helped to facilitate this.
As restrictions ease, Latham’s secondments to popular destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore and New York are expected to return. Around a third of trainees usually do an international secondment. 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.” And at the end of the day, it appears that juniors feel a strong attachment to the firm: “I really admire my law firm and can’t think of a law firm that’s comparable to it”.