Los Angeles-bred giant Latham & Watkins sits just behind Kirkland & Ellis as the world’s second highest billing law firm. A consecutive year of double-digit growth saw revenue surge 11% to $3.768 billion this year (£2.884 billion), while profit per equity partner hit an eye-watering $3.78 million (£2.89 million) after growing almost 10%.
With over 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% (although the firm still counts almost 3,000 lawyers globally). 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. Says another tersely: “You don’t work at a US firm to enjoy your 6pm finishes and weekly evening book clubs.”
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 £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 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), which has benefitted from recent renovation. “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. “The other floors are also generally quite nice, with a few needing refurbishment. The client-facing 24th floor is super modern and has great views of London.” Meanwhile, 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.
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. “The transition happened very smoothly, and the tech team are available 24/7 to assist with any glitches that may occur from time to time.” The firm’s tech team receives particular praise, checking in with staff once a week for a ‘welfare check’ and to suggest new helpful technology that may help with the everyday lawyering.
Around a third of trainees usually do an international secondment (although that has fallen this year due to Covid-19) — 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.