US work ethic

Elisha Flax says that being part of a US law firm which is based in London brings both rewards and risks. Elisha Flax is a solicitor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

When I first thought about joining a US firm in London, the questions that crossed my mind were standard concerns: will they work me into the ground? are they here to stay? will I ever be able to go back to a UK firm? have I taken my last holiday? and so on.

While it is true that a lawyer in a US firm works long hours, the same is true for banking or corporate lawyers in top City firms. I would only have to walk around the banking department at my old firm to see lawyers burning the midnight oil as well. Whether you are working for a US or a UK law firm, you have to meet your clients' needs, even when that means working all night and on weekends. It is the nature of the business.

However, while the hours may be the same, that is where the similarity ends. You have much more client exposure and responsibility for each transaction. Not because of lack of supervision (the amount of partner involvement in a US firm is much higher), but because you get more involved in the transaction. The teams of lawyers are much smaller and there is more emphasis on each member of the team pulling their weight.

Is Akin Gump still going to be here in 10 years time? Who knows? Many a City firm may not be, particularly given the rumours of so many mergers that seem to spring up daily. However, neither Akin Gump nor any of the other US firms would have gone through the time and expense of setting up offices in London, if they did not believe in their chances of success. Akin Gump would not have grown to a 200-partner firm in 45 years had it not been committed to growth.

What about future prospects? If I wanted to go back to a City practice, I would expect to be assessed on my merits. A partner at my old firm gave me some very sound advice: “Ensure that there are enough English qualified lawyers for you to work with in the firm you join to guarantee the development of your legal skills.”

Firms often say that their people are their assets. Akin Gump does not pay lip service, it actually believes and practices it. Akin Gump is here in London to stay and so am I.