Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘The financial restructuring department stood out to me because the practice leader is a woman, there are three female partners and almost all counsels and associates are females’, ‘commitment to pro bono’, ‘I was looking for as small an intake as possible’, ‘good pay, varied selection of seats, international work’, ‘hands-on approach to training’
Best thing about the firm? ‘Attorney wellbeing is a priority for the partners and flexible working arrangements (eg for parents) are common’, ‘people are unpretentious and not strung up, despite the high level at which they work’, ‘the combination of taking part in important, complex work whilst also having a working environment that is friendly, with colleagues who always make it clear they are willing to help trainees out’
Worst thing about the firm? ‘Too many Zoom socials!’, ‘work/life balance’, ‘some lateral hires, especially from Magic Circle firms, impact the atmosphere by introducing a hierarchical style which does not fit with the firm’s ethos’, ‘occasional anti-social hours, but this does vary between departments and depending on the matter being worked on’, ‘late nights’
Best moment? ‘Being given the opportunity to draft a memorandum from scratch on how certain legislative provisions could impact the proposed structuring of the transaction’, ‘receiving very positive feedback and minimal comments on a substantial piece of literature that I wrote for a partner’, ‘some of the pro bono work I have done on parole in the US has been brilliant’
Worst moment? ‘Having to deal with an unpleasant and patronising junior lawyer’, ‘making the same mistake several times in relation to one particular task’, ‘not being able to attend the first closing I’ve worked on in person because of Covid’, ‘working consecutive weekends’, ‘working through the night to meet tight deadlines’
The Lex 100 verdict on Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s stellar reputation in funds, private equity and restructuring impressed recruits. A small trainee intake and lean teams equal ‘exposure to deals and clients early on’ and working with senior colleagues, including partners, is the norm. An appealing financial package has earned the US firm a Lex 100 Winner award. There is a ‘hands-on approach to training’ with ‘trainees treated as members of the team’ but the ‘right balance is struck between the expectation that we learn by doing and an acknowledgement that we will not know how to do everything first time’. This commitment to professional development has stood firm during lockdown, with recruits reporting that ‘training sessions seem even more frequent since we moved to working remotely’. The ‘responsive’ graduate development team was also praised: ‘it is very easy to reach out to them and get something set up’. Less impressive is the IT infrastructure which ‘feels old and often fails’, including the ‘VPN which never works’ – far from ideal when working from home! Having to work anti-social hours and weekends was begrudged, although it was acknowledged that ‘the work/life balance does fluctuate’. ‘Being part of a very small team working on a one-billion-dollar deal’ and ‘a client taking the time to thank me personally after my first closing’ were highlights. ‘Trying to meet 9am deadlines given late at night’ and ‘not taking notes on a call and then being asked for them by a partner’ were moments trainees would rather forget. For a firm with a dynamic culture, where the work is of an ‘outstanding quality’ and the pro bono opportunities abundant, consider Akin Gump.
The firm: Akin Gump is a global law firm with more than 900 lawyers and advisors who pride themselves on dedication to their clients and their communities. With 20 offices worldwide, the firm is renowned for numerous market-leading practices, its strengths in complex transactions and restructurings, high-stakes litigation, public policy and regulatory matters, and its unyielding pro bono commitment.
The firm is intentional about fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees are supported and given the tools to succeed. Akin Gump is focused on recruiting and nurturing the next generation of exceptional legal talent and is proud that its recruitment and professional development efforts are recognised as among the best in the industry.
The deals: Acted as English, Hong Kong, German and UAE counsel, and international antitrust counsel, to the ad hoc group of noteholders in relation to the financial restructuring of UK offshore drilling contractor Valaris plc and its outstanding debt liabilities of approximately $7.1bn; advised an ad hoc group of creditors of Premier Oil in connection with the merger of Premier Oil with Chrysaor Holdings Limited and the restructuring of Premier Oil’s $2.7bn of debt; advised CIIG Merger Corp. SPAC through the completion of its merger with Arrival as NASDAQ-Listed Shares Debut; advised Coller Capital, one of the leading European secondaries houses, on the restructuring of Permira’s fourth fund and various related co-investment interests, one of the most important GP-led restructurings of 2020, with a value of $800m+; advised Royalty Pharma plc, the largest buyer of biopharma royalties and a leading funder of innovation across the biopharmaceutical industry, on its $2.5bn initial public offering and listing on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.
A day in the life of… Charlotte Ezaz, trainee solicitor, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
Departments to date: Litigation (first seat), Financial regulation (current seat)
University: Oxford University BPP University
Degree: History and English, GDL, LPC
9.30am: I’m logged on and checking my emails, updating my to-do lists for different work streams and replying to queries that have come in overnight regarding a pro bono parole case that I am working on. I begin my day by drafting an email to the client with updates to their case. We have been conducting interviews for the purposes of putting together letters of support on their case and I have been working on a draft letter to the Parole Commission. I use this window in my morning to make edits to the letter. Once I have done so, I send the letter and client email to my supervisor for their review.
11.00am: I grab a coffee and return to my desk for our team video call, where we discuss updates to different work streams. I enjoy these check-ins, as it affords me an opportunity to see the bigger picture on work coming into the department and how work streams are developing.
11.20am: I have a request come in from a partner in the department. I review the Financial Promotion Order (SI 2005/1529), pull together the information that is relevant to the client query, and draft a memo setting the rules out. I send this to my supervisor and the partner for their review.
1.00pm: I’ve eaten my lunch over some reading and return to my desk for a firm lunchtime litigation department talk. Today, a barristers’ chambers is giving a talk on developments in civil fraud litigation. The webinar focuses on recent developments, both substantive and procedural, in this area, including recent case law on bribery and unlawful means conspiracy, the procedural requirements of full and frank disclosure in ‘without-notice’ applications, and some of the practicalities in tracing claims.
2.00pm: I log into the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Council meeting. I am currently the trainee D&I representative. The meeting is attended by representatives of all the firm’s resource groups (FRG): LGBTQ+ FRG, BAME FRG, Women’s FRG, Abilities FRG, Social Mobility FRG and Parents & Caregivers FRG. The representatives provide updates on various initiatives that are being spearheaded by the groups, including speakers’ events that are being organised by the Women’s group and upcoming anti-racism events that are scheduled, as well as policies that the firm is putting in place – such as the trans equality policy that HR has just launched. We discuss the firm’s participation in the Social Mobility Foundation’s APP Residential Programme, which offers students an opportunity to participate in a summer internship at the firm.
3.00pm: I am given a research task by my supervisor, which relates to a Senior Management Certification Regime (SMCR) query. I locate the relevant rules in the FCA Handbook, examine these in detail and consider how they relate to our fact pattern. I set out my findings in an email to my supervisor.
5.30pm: My supervisor gives me a call. We discuss a piece of research on notification obligations that I completed for him yesterday, and updates on a change of control application that we are working on. I jot a few notes down, and refresh my memory of yesterday’s call with foreign counsel by reviewing the attendance note that I took of the call. We discuss some amendments to be made to my work, and I make a note of these.
6.00pm: I spend the last window of my day reviewing a pro bono immigration application that I am working on. I email the client with some queries and amend a letter to their proposed referee that I have drafted. I send this to my supervisor for their review. The client gives me a quick call with some questions and we discuss the application requirements in further detail.
7.00pm: After checking my emails and updating my to-do list, I log out for the day.
About the firm
Senior partner: James Roome
Managing partner: Sebastian Rice
Other offices: Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dallas, Dubai, Fort Worth, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hartford, Hong Kong, Houston, Irvine, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonia, San Francisco, Singapore, Washington D.C.
Who we are: Akin Gump’s London office is the hub of the firm’s international offices, partnering with clients from established industries and cutting-edge markets to deliver creative solutions to business-critical issues, helping them seize opportunities and anticipate challenges. Driven by the firm’s forward-thinking leadership, Akin Gump has built a strong culture of innovation and collaboration as well as a talented and diverse workforce committed to the success of its clients and each other.
What we do: Market-leading practices include financial restructuring, corporate transactions (including mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures), private equity, finance (including debt finance and project finance), energy including renewables, debt and equity capital markets, financial services regulatory, disputes, international arbitration, investment funds (including hedge and private equity funds), international trade – including in relation to the new National Security & Investment law – as well as EU competition and tax.
What we’re looking for: We look for deep-thinking, motivated individuals keen to take on early responsibility for fast-paced, sophisticated client matters. You’ll need to demonstrate intellectual curiosity and be a team player who enjoys seeking commercial solutions in an immersive learning environment.
What you’ll do: You’ll experience on-the-job experiential learning which will allow you to develop a keen commercial awareness and to take on responsibility and ownership of tasks for each practice area you work in. Examples of tasks you may be involved in during your training include, but are not restricted to, legal research, preparing client communications, attending client meetings, organising deal closing checklists and preparing trial bundles. You’ll receive supportive supervision from England and Wales qualified practitioners with valuable ongoing feedback and two substantive evaluations during each seat.
You will also be provided with formal training which includes in-house seminars on relevant areas of law and practical competency skills. You will also join webinars and training sessions run by external training providers.
Akin Gump prides itself on a friendly, approachable culture and a strong support network. Our graduate recruitment team and dedicated development partners will coach and guide you throughout the two years. We also have a buddy system, providing you with a peer mentor who can tell you things that formal training can’t and junior associate mentors to support you within each practice area. We have an in-house ‘Be Well’ counselling service which offers unlimited one-on-one support, as well as regular group training sessions.
Perks: Season ticket loan, health insurance, income protection insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, dental insurance, pension, annual eye exam, employee assistance programme, on-site wellbeing adviser, discounted ClassPass and gym rates, fitness reimbursement programme, cycle scheme.
Sponsorship: Akin Gump works with The University of Law, which is the firm’s legal education provider, to finalise arrangements for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam. Successful applicants will be required to complete a programme of further study as directed by the firm to equip them with essential skills prior to starting our training programme. These studies will be funded by the firm and we will continue to provide a maintenance grant of £10,000 per year of study to our future trainees.
Diversity and inclusion
Akin Gump was formed in 1945, after other law firms excluded our founders on the basis of religion. Founder Bob Strauss never forgot how that felt, and he made diversity and inclusion (D&I) a bedrock of the new firm. From that date to this, our commitment has evolved and strengthened. Today, led by Kim Koopersmith, one of the few women to chair a major global law firm, we continue expanding our efforts to provide diverse perspectives for our clients and vibrant career opportunities for all our lawyers and professionals.
To guide our efforts, the firm has a D&I strategic plan with the following four goal areas:
- Leadership commitment and engagement
- Recruiting and diversity pipeline
- Professional development and inclusion
- Strategic partnerships
Some examples of our efforts in executing our D&I strategy over the past year include:
- Restructuring our long-standing firm-wide D&I council which is now chaired by Kim Koopersmith and includes some of the most senior partners of the firm to ensure leadership engagement and accountability.
- Requesting that all practice groups prepare and submit a diversity & inclusion action plan to the Chief of Diversity & Inclusion.
- Implicit bias training for lawyers and business services professionals. This also included follow-up sessions with key groups of firm leadership such as the management committee and practice group leaders, to identify and minimise the impact of bias in key firm processes.
- The firm has local D&I Councils and Resource Groups that provide an opportunity for both lawyers and business services team members to proactively communicate questions, concerns and ideas to firm management and are also responsible for the development and implementation of diversity and inclusion related initiatives in their offices. In 2021 we launched our London Social Mobility Resource Group, which joins established groups covering Women, BAME, LGBTQ+, Abilities, Parents and Caregivers.
- In 2020, we launched the London Lawyers’ Mentoring Programme, which aims to help counterbalance more informal mentoring relationships that are often less accessible to those from minority and low socio-economic backgrounds.
- The launch of three new inclusive workplace policies: a fertility policy, a menopause policy and a transgender equality policy.
- In London, recruitment for our trainee solicitor programme is supported by partnerships with external organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors and Bright Network. We also participate in an annual internship/mentoring scheme with The Social Mobility Foundation and City Year’s Bridge Builder programme.
- Partnering with clients to further D&I in sectors and industries through initiatives such as the Women in Secondaries network.
- Through our sponsorship of AS Foundation we provide financial support for those pursuing a career in law.
Akin Gump lawyers devote, on average, more than 100 hours to pro bono clients per year. Our trainees are actively encouraged to participate in firm pro bono matters. Pro bono work offers trainees the opportunity to:
- gain exposure to different teams/offices
- broaden their legal skills
- work on different areas of law
- take on significant responsibility
- get real exposure to clients
As a first-year trainee, you may apply to become a Pro Bono Scholar. Successful applicants join the US Pro Bono Scholars Boot Camp for training, networking and social justice programming.
The London-based Pro Bono Scholars work with the London Office Pro Bono Committee to help deepen relationships with not-for-profit organisations. As an incoming future trainee, there may be opportunities to work with our pro bono practice before your official start date. Read more about our internationally recognised pro bono practice at www.akingump.com/en/experience/practices/pro-bono/index.html.
Trainee welfare programmes
Every trainee has regular check-ins with a senior member of the graduate recruitment team to discuss their development objectives, managing workflows and a comfortable forum to discuss any concerns.
In addition, the firm has a global, holistic wellbeing programme called Be Well, designed to help employees achieve personal wellbeing goals and achieve or maintain a healthy, productive and balanced life. The programme includes access to an online portal providing employees with tools, resources and activities to support a healthy, productive and balanced life. Through the completion of challenges and activities designed to address different aspects of human performance, employees collect points to move through three levels of achievement, resulting in a variety of rewards. Employees can select challenges that range from physical and emotional, to work, financial and general health. Employees are also offered access to guided meditation and yoga classes.
In London, we offer regular wellbeing workshops and confidential 1-1 sessions with our onsite Be Well adviser who is a chartered psychologist. These sessions have continued virtually while we have been working remotely. Recent workshops have covered managing stress, making your voice heard, re-balancing your life and working smarter, not harder.
In 2020, the firm signed up to the Mindful Business Charter which is a movement of organisations collaborating together to change the way they work internally and with each other as well as to foster better working practices for mental health and wellbeing. The goal of the charter is to remove unnecessary sources of stress and to promote best practice while also improving effective working and productivity. As part of this, the London office promotes a weekly ‘Well-being Hour’ to encourage employees to take time to properly step away from work and do something for themselves, in an effort to support the development of a wellbeing culture across the office. Tasks could include taking a walk, reading a book or making a healthy meal/snack.