After being dumped rather unceremoniously at the altar by Pinsents, Nicholson Graham & Jones (NGJ) made no secret of the fact it was looking for a saviour. One appeared in the form of US suitor Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, and the two firms cemented their merger at the start of 2005. NGJ was a very old City firm – it’s been knocking around since 1858 - which had seemed to be falling prey to predictions that the market for mid-sized, generalist firms would wither away. Whereas some firms such as BLP managed to poach major deals from the Magic Circle, NGJ was a little too generalised and frankly a lot too inconspicuous. With PEP down to an embarrassing £210k in 2003, something needed to be done.
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart certainly had enough corporate clout to halt the decline - with ten offices across the US a fair amount of work crossed the pond to supplement the consistent diet of mid-market corporate deals and AIM placings the firm had built its reputation on. And more US muscle was added after the 2007 merger with (Bill Gate's dad's) firm, Preston, Gates & Ellis, and K&L Gates was born.
It has since been expanding and now has over 2,000 lawyers spread over 48 offices worldwide. In 2009 the firm merged with Bell, Boyd & Lloyd, a Chicago based firm adding its 215 attorneys into the mix. In 2013 the firm decided it too wanted a fat slice of Australian pie and joined forces with Aussie firm Middletons. For Middletons, combining forces with K&L Gates, the 20th largest law firm in the world for revenue, was certainly attractive and propelled them into the international arena.
Global revenue hit $1bn for the first time in 2009. In a rather rare but completely transparent move, the firm published detailed financials on its website, exposing much more financial info than any of its competitors.
As with most firms, the recession took its toll, and there were redundancies and trainee deferrals in 2009 in the London office. But 2011 heralded better times for London with brand new St Paul's offices at One New Change boosting morale and trainee recruitment back on.
The firm has solid corporate, litigation and real estate groups, with an especially strong property finance team. It also boasts particularly strong niche practices, such as its electoral law team and sports group, which has advised the Ryder Cup. Less spectacularly, the former has acted for the Liberal Democrat party. Other clients include RBS, Investec, Formula One Management, London Underground and AOL.
Insiders across the board at the firm’s London office praised its new shiny offices at St Pauls One New Change, particularly the “stunning toilets”. Other positive comments included the firm’s “respectful culture” and “interesting clients, quality work [and] respect for work-life balance”.
A common negative raised by respondents to the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey is the limited foreign options. “For a supposedly international firm there aren't many international opportunities", said one lawyer. A trainee taking the 2016 survey agreed, noting, "With 48 offices, it would be nice to have more opportunities to go abroad".
One partner filling out ROF's survey cited "bad management" as an issue, and grumbles from Stateside ex-partners about the bloated management committee leaked into the press.
Salaries are generally reasonable, although there are complaints that “trainee and NQ pay edges on the lower end of the scale”. But then, "you work when you have to work and you leave at five when you don't", apparently. Training is highly rated - a trainee vouched in the ROF survey, "Partners invest in your training and take the time to sit down and talk through work with you" - and hours are reported to be extremely civilized.
And despite the firm evolving from a series of national and international mergers, K&L Gates is praised for remaining "a friendly place to work, culture has not been overly Americanised, partners tend to be approachable and there's a decent social scene".