When Josh Kushner’s Thrive Capital Management LLC sold a 3.3% stake in itself to a group of investors last week, it turned to Kirkland & Ellis to help close the deal.
The transaction further cemented the law firm’s ties to the venture capital firm. Thrive disclosed last month it hired Kirkland partner Marian Fowler to be its new chief compliance officer and general counsel.
Kirkland, the world’s highest-grossing law firm, uses a network of more than 6,000 former employees it calls alumni to strengthen connections with existing clients and recruit new ones—and to nail down lucrative financial transactions.
Fowler is one of roughly 40 lawyers to leave Kirkland within the past year for in-house jobs in the venture capital, private equity, and investment funds sector, according to data gathered by Bloomberg Law.
“The win for Kirkland is to make these people who are leaving continued assets for the firm rather than assets of competitors,” said law firm management consultant Kent Zimmermann. “Kirkland spends a lot of time and money on that effort and the firm is very good at it.”
Kirkland has about 715 alumni who are clients and the firm is often their first call when an opportunity arises, said Chiara Wrocinski, its chief administrative officer.
“One reason so many of our people go to work in-house is that many of the decision-makers at clients are Kirkland alumni,” Wrocinski said. “Our alumni and career placement programs are attractive selling points for recruits.”
Kushner, the younger brother of former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, saw his net worth skyrocket after Thrive announced the $175 million investment from billionaire business moguls led by India’s Mukesh Ambani, France’s Xavier Niel, and Brazil’s Jorge Paulo Lemann.
Kirkland confirmed that partners Daniel Lavon-Krein, Christopher Gandia and April Larkin advised on the Thrive deal. Fowler, who spent the five years at Kirkland in Washington before moving over to Thrive, formerly worked at the US Securities and Exchange Commission in the investment management division.
Kirkland touts its network of former lawyers on its website. “Whether you retire from the firm or leave as an associate, Kirkland appreciates your contribution and will continue to invest in your career,” it states. “A network is your strongest asset.”
The firm said its alumni work at nearly 3,000 companies.
Many depart to join Kirkland clients. Last year, for instance, the firm lost partner Sumana Setty, who became a managing director and head of legal at Kuwaiti-backed alternative asset management firm Wafra Inc.
Another client, Bain Capital Credit LP, brought on Kirkland partner Jenelle Devits as head of legal for its North America special situations group.
Wrocinski said if Kirkland lawyers express an interest in exploring new opportunities, the firm will first look to its “Kirkland connections and clients” to see if they have a need or position that could be a good fit.
Since many Kirkland lawyers already work closely with certain clients and develop “strong relationships and knowledge” through that work, many times it’s a “natural fit” for both parties, she said.
Kirkland is known for its legions of junior lawyers—from associates to a large tier of non-share partners—many of whom find themselves leaving the firm amid the ever-tightening funnel to equity partnership.
While the firm has made changes to its partner track and sought to soften its reputation as a tough place to work, Zimmermann said Kirkland has also been savvy in finding ways to monetize its attorney exodus.
Adithya Sharma, a former mergers and acquisitions and private equity associate at Kirkland, left the firm last year to start his own New York-based investment operation called CrestLake Partners.
The training and experience he received at the firm working on lower middle-market to larger-scale transactions helped prepare him for life after Big Law, he said.
“The partners and associates at Kirkland, many of whom I still consider close friends, were incredibly supportive of both my development while at the firm and since I’ve transitioned,” Sharma said. “The alumni network continues to be supportive.”
Wrocinski said Kirkland’s alumni engagement program involves continuing legal education and pro bono work, as well as monthly newsletters and personalized outreach, including class-year events and alumni dining opportunities.
A firm program called CareerLink helps current Kirkland lawyers and alumni receive confidential career coaching and assist with resume review, exclusive job postings, and networking assistance, she said.
In-House Insider Experience is an extension of that initiative, which Wrocinski said provides a “perspective that deepens current client relationships and prepares participants for a future career should they transition in-house.”
Private equity and investment funds work has been a major driver of Kirkland’s record revenues. Blackstone Inc. alone paid $70 million to Kirkland in 2021. Kirkland advised on $254 billion in merger deals in 2022, according to Bloomberg data.
Alumni connections in the financial services world can be particularly valuable.
Shore Capital Partners LLC, a Chicago-based private equity firm led by former Kirkland associate Justin Ishbia, who is poised to acquire the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, recruited Kirkland partner Sarah Gabriel last year to be its chief people officer.
A trio of Kirkland partners in London—Michael Steele, Thomas McCarthy, and David Holdsworth—have either left or are preparing to depart for corporate legal roles.
Triton Investments Advisers LLP, a London-based private equity firm, has reportedly hired McCarthy for its transactions team. Holdsworth is set to leave during the first quarter of 2023 to become a partner and general counsel at TDR Capital LLP, a private equity client of his at Kirkland, according to the Financial News.
GLP Pte, a Singapore-based logistics and real estate giant set to take public its investment arm in the US, has reportedly tapped Steele to be its chief legal officer later this year. Steele is a rainmaker who Kirkland hired in 2015 after he served as a relationship partner to Blackstone for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Still, connections are just one piece of a larger private equity puzzle that helps make Kirkland a dominant player.
The firm boasts a deep bench of investment funds expertise thanks to its focused strategy of catering to those clients under retired partner and chairman emeritus Jeffrey Hammes, Zimmermann said.
Kirkland’s Jack Levin, a former litigator, created his firm’s own investment fund and is considered a key architect for the legal foundation of the US private equity industry.
Still, Kirkland’s alumni network in 49 countries is an important part of the firm’s success, which is why Kirkland emphasizes its role in helping employees chart a future path, Wrocinski said.
“The firm is really interested in their long-term career development,” she said, “even if that means leaving Kirkland.”
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