Kirkland & Ellis has been on something of a roll for the past few years. Global financial results for the 2018 year means it retains its position as the largest law firm in the world, with its total turnover of $3.76bn above Latham & Watkins’ ($3.38bn) for the second year running. Kirkland & Ellis’s London office revenue also boomed in 2018, up by 27 per cent to another new record of $380m, making it the largest firm the US Top
Kirkland & Ellis has been on something of a roll for the past few years. Global financial results for the 2018 year means it retains its position as the largest law firm in the world, with its total turnover of $3.76bn above Latham & Watkins’ ($3.38bn) for the second year running.
Kirkland & Ellis’s London office revenue also boomed in 2018, up by 27 per cent to another new record of $380m, making it the largest firm the US Top 50 for the first time. Around 10 per cent of the law firm’s lawyers are now based in London, making it the firm’s third-largest office.
The fact that Kirkland & Ellis is not a US-headquartered firm is worth underlining. From day one (the firm can trace its origins back to 1909) its roots positioned it as an outsider to the world’s biggest legal market, a potential disadvantage that the firm has overwhelmingly successfully converted to its benefit. Ask any New York corporate partner at a top-tier firm and they will tell you that the only non-Manhattan firms that have managed to crack the city are Kirkland & Ellis and arch-rival (and West Coast heritage) Latham & Watkins.
Kirkland & Ellis overtaking Latham for the first time is hugely symbolic, but a fair reflection of some of the top-tier talent the firm has brought in over the past few years, adding considerable weight to it four core areas of corporate (in particular big-ticket private equity), litigation, intellectual property and restructuring.
The firm’s success in the lateral hiring market, coupled with its undoubted proficiency in securing some of the most significant mandates globally, have powered the Chicago-headquartered firm to its new lofty levels.
Notable hires include Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity heavyweight David Higgins, who quit the magic circle firm at the end of 2017 to join Kirkland & Ellis as London co-managing partner. Kirkland had earlier also brought in finance partners Sean Lacey and Jonathan Birks from Freshfields and private equity partners Stuart Boyd and David Holdsworth, real estate M&A specialist Matthew Elliott and antitrust partner Paula Riedel, all from Linklaters.
In a particularly resonant hire in New York early in 2018, Kirkland & Ellis hired Latham’s global co-chair of private equity, Jennifer Perkins and also scored a coup a month earlier by hiring one of elite firm Cravath Swaine & Moore’s biggest M&A rainmakers, Eric Schiele.
On the other hand, Kirkland & Ellis’s partnership is characterised partly by a similarly high level of departures, with the firm notably losing two big groups in London and Munich to rival Sidley Austin in 2016.
Part of this is down to the firm’s way of promoting people: it typically makes associates up to salaried partner level at 6PQE – much earlier than the majority of its peers – but those new partners only have a few more years to make the equity or ship out. Many end up leaving.
The firm’s culture has contributed to its immense success but it is not for everyone: a poll run by The Lawyer in 2017 saw Kirkland & Ellis overwhelmingly emerge as the firm that London law students and associates would least like to join.
Kirkland & Ellis operates out of 13 offices worldwide, a relatively light platform for such a weighty firm. Internationally, along with London and Munich, it also has outposts in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
What is the trainee salary at Kirkland & Ellis?
1st year trainee: £46,000
2nd year trainee: £50,000
Number of trainees: 20
KIRKLAND & ELLIS FACTS
Location: London Aldgate