Latham & Watkins
The Legal Cheek View
It’s been another consecutive year of double-digit growth for Los Angeles-bred giant Latham & Watkins, with revenue surging 17% to $5.49 billion (£4.47 billion), making it the first law firm ever to pass the $5 billion revenue threshold (though the achievement was somewhat spoilt by Kirkland’s announcement that it had reached $6 billion a few weeks later). Profit per equity partner (PEP) also hit an eye-watering $5.71 million (£4.65 million) — an impressive rise of 26%. The London office is understood to have had a particularly stellar year too with revenue jumping 30%.
With over a decade of consecutive growth under its belt, in which time the firm has not only managed to become 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: “There are quite a few late nights and [it] sometimes feels like it doesn’t stop.” That said, finishing times are said to “vary wildly”. One insider explains, “sometimes you finish at 5pm; other times 5am”, but notes that “there is no real ‘face time’ culture – if you are not needed you are told to go home. Equally, if you’ve had a rough period, people will encourage you to keep your head down so that your next week/two weeks are easier”.
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.” That said, comprehensive formal training sessions from partners and senior associates are said to be helpful. And even some busy Latham associates have time to take some rookies under their wing. This newbie describes how “informally, some of the associates who have supervised me have been extraordinary mentors and will go out of their way to explain tasks, the relevant background to a deal/case, their journey into law/etc”.
In addition, 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. “Stimulating both in the diversity of the work, and status of the clients, the work at Latham is unique for a US firm based in London. Deals and cases range from working on the Chelsea acquisition to defending the Ukrainian state in arbitrations – it simply cannot be beaten”, summarises one rookie. As well as “very complex legal work” that is known to leave you “at the edge of your seat most of the time”, others enjoy the fact that trainees have more control over their workstreams.
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 – or lack thereof – are now a greater source of grumbles than in past years as rookies feel the firm is being caught up by some of its US peers’ rapid pay rises. Still tied with its great rival Kirkland & Ellis’s NQ rate of $205,000 (roughly £170,000 based on its own conversion rate), the firm’s formerly market-leading remuneration rates seem to have lost their sparkle, offering NQ pay similar to the likes of Akin Gump, Gibson Dunn and Goodwin Procter who all offer over £160,000, while its first and second year trainee rates are in line with Magic Circle pay. While the firm is said to be “not stingy with evening and weekend meals and taxis, and good about reimbursing cancelled social plans”, its 20-day holiday offering left some less content than in the past in light of the relatively less jaw-dropping pay levels. A few trainees we spoke to also recommended the firm acquire gym facilities or offer better gym discounts.
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 yoghurt machine and a daily rotisserie chicken” as well as an extensive menu. As for working from home, “you get all the equipment you need and specialist equipment if required” and the IT team “is always available”.
But far from home, Latham offers secondments to popular destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. Around a third of trainees usually do an international secondment, though the fact that many admitted choosing not to go on secondment is a true vote of confidence in the London office. An alternative explanation might be found in fears surrounding qualification: “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.” At the end of the day, however, Latham regularly puts in high retention rates and 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”.