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Kirkland’s Hunt for Roughly 245 Summer Associates in U.S.

Aug. 4, 2017, 5:03 PM

It’s that time of year: law firm partners around the country are descending upon the nation’s top law schools in an attempt to lure the best students.

Kirkland & Ellis — a 1,900-lawyer firm known for its commitment to recruiting — is sending as many as 14 attorneys per day to interview more than 900 law students in New York alone, from schools including Fordham, Columbia and Cardozo.

“The commitment is extremely significant,” said Jason Kanner, co-chair of Kirkland’s firm wide recruiting committee.

When all is said and done, the firm will call back 1,300 law students firm-wide for follow up interviews, each of whom will be interviewed by between four to five lawyers, Kanner estimated.

If accepted, the students will gain entry into Kirkland’s 2018 summer associate program and earn a chance to become a junior attorney at one of the world’s most prestigious law firms.

Across all U.S. offices, Kirkland expects it will accept roughly the same number of applicants as it took this summer: 245.

That’s a fairly large class for Kirkland, which one year ago had 165 U.S. summer associates but jacked up the class size to accommodate an expanding attorney roster and an uptick in business.

Kanner said Kirkland isn’t fixed on hiring a specific number of summer associates.

Although he said that he expects recruiting to be roughly in line with last year’s hiring levels, he stressed “that [245] is a general target,” noting that “we could go over.”

“Wherever we wind up, that will be fine,” he said.

Kanner recently spoke with Big Law Business alongside his West Coast counterpart, Elizabeth Deeley, who oversees the firm wide recruiting committee with him.

Together, they shared some tips for law students interviewing at firms like Kirkland, as well as pet peeves they’ve developed during their time navigating the on campus interview.

“For me, the interviews I find most interesting and impactful tend to be those where the student discusses a specific anecdote from his or her personal experience in a complex problem they faced,” said Deeley.

On the pet peeves side, Kanner said, “It’s people who come in and they don’t know anything about the firm.”

Deeley is representing Facebook in class-action litigation resulting from the social media company’s initial public offering, while Kanner is a corporate partner in New York whose clients have included Warburg Pincus, The Carlyle Group and Charter Communications.

Last year, Kirkland saw revenue increase by 15 percent, to $2.6 billion, and profits per partner rise 14 percent, to $4.1 million, according to The American Lawyer.

The firm focuses on corporate, private equity, restructuring and high stakes litigation. Its New York, London and Houston offices have expanded rapidly over the past five years, riding on a wave of corporate and restructuring work, although its roots are in Chicago where the firm was founded in 1909.

On the corporate side, Kirkland’s clients include Blackstone, Lazard, KKR and Bain Capital, while in litigation, the firm is representing GM in its ignition switch defect litigation.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Big Law Business: Can you give us any sense of your hiring levels this year?

Deeley: Just to give you some perspective, in 2016, we had just over 165 summers in the U.S. For our summer class this past year, that was 245. So, we have a nearly 50 percent increase in summer class size, which we needed to fill our needs. This year, we expect to be roughly in line with what we did last year.

Kanner: That is a general target. We could go over. We are not trying to nail that number. Wherever we wind up, that will be fine.

[caption id="attachment_54787" align="alignleft” width="247"][Image “Elizabeth Deeley.” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/elizabeth-deeley.jpg)]Elizabeth Deeley.[/caption]

Big Law Business: Why the recent uptick in associate hiring?

Kanner: The whole firm has grown 16 percent in the number of lawyers over the past year. All of our practices are booming. As the firm grows, you need more people at the base.

Big Law Business: Why is business good?

Kanner: There is a combination of things. One thing is that we have gotten really good at growing our business in all sorts of ways. It just starts with the firm’s reputation for excellence, which has become more and more evident over the past couple years. I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like I’m bragging. Look at the league tables. We’re at the top of everything we do: restructuring, IP litigation, or M&A. We have more workflow and we just try to keep the staffing appropriate to match the demands for our services.

Big Law Business: Can you talk specifically about areas of growth?

Kanner: [Three] years ago, we opened a Houston office with four attorneys. We are over 100 now. We didn’t have an energy practice before and now we have a booming energy practice. There was a huge downturn in the past couple years in the energy market. Kirkland has the number one restructuring practice in the world, so when we went through the downturn in the energy market, the restructuring expertise helped grow the practice in Houston. And now that cycle is coming back and those people in that office have rapidly returned to giving advice on M&A deals. Kirkland is incredibly well-hedged. We have a huge corporate practice and restructuring practice. It doesn’t matter where you are in the cycle. We do well.

Big Law Business: How about New York?

Kanner: Over the last three or four years, our summer classes in New York have grown from 30 something odd summer associates to, I think we had 84 summers this past summer. They have slightly less in Chicago, so we expect there to be more growth in the near term. I think we are targeting for 85 to 90 summer associates.

Big Law Business: What works well to impress you in the OCI process?

Deeley: For me, the interviews I find most interesting and impactful tend to be those where the student discusses a specific anecdote from his or her personal experience in a complex problem they faced in a school environment and how they solved it. Something to explain how they go through their work process and are skilled at solving problems or why it is they might be interested in the practice of law. That personal experience and touch... those are the things that are most memorable.

Things that didn’t work as well is just a disinterest or lack of preparation or cookie cutter responses that seem to be plugged from general interview guidelines you might find from the Internet.

Big Law Business: Jason?

Kanner: On the pet peeves side, it’s people who come in and they don’t know anything about the firm. They aren’t really interested in the firm. You can tell when people are just going through a pro forma process and interviewing with these 20 law firms. Or, they’ll say, ‘I heard that Kirkland is a top 20 law firm and would be interested in going there,’ but have not done anything at all to show me they know anything about Kirkland.

[caption id="attachment_54792" align="alignright” width="245"][Image “jason kanner” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/jason-kanner.jpg)]Jason Kanner.[/caption]

Big Law Business: Have you ever been wowed?

Kanner: I get wowed all the time. I think in general, today’s crop of law students is just getting more and more impressive. Part of that is if you look at it historically, they are taking more and more time off between college and law school. When I graduated, the average time off between college and law school was like a year. That’s grown. People have more and more job experience and people do a lot of interesting things at a young age between college and law school.

I went through all our resumes before our summer associates started this summer and what struck me was how many of them spoke foreign languages and most of them seemed to speak foreign languages. And I don’t think you would see that when I was graduating law school. Not just that they spoke Spanish, but Mandarin, Russian and many have worked all over the world.

Big Law Business: Why do you think that is?

Kanner: I think people just realize that they are better off having more work experience before going to law school. People tend to take a harder look at the value prop of going to law school. It’s very expensive and the cost of going to law school has gone up dramatically.

Big Law Business: Elizabeth, what do you expect to see in San Francisco this year?

Deeley: I think we expect to grow this year. Many times we see quality candidates and think we have a growth spot for this person. We will probably bring in 35 people for a class, which is a large class for an office with just over 100 people. We have a Palo Alto and San Francisco office. So that’s across both offices.

Big Law Business: How do you address diversity hiring in this process?

Deeley: It’s an important point and one of the things that we try to do is have touch points with the students. We have an “ALLSA” program [a formal outreach to diverse law students, launched in 2008]. We have liaisons where we work with Hispanic or Latino law student associations, [women groups], and we are looking at expanding to law school organizations that have military and veterans working.

Big Law Business: Quinn Emanuel a couple years ago announced that they would largely do away with summer associate programs, at least in part because of the costly process. Can you give us a sense for the cost of this process at Kirkland?

Kanner: The commitment is extremely significant. In New York, for example, we are going to interview over 900 law students, so it takes a tremendous amount of time. If you look at Harvard, for example. New York is going to send 12 to 14 attorneys for the day to be interviewing. All the offices are going to be sending some number of attorneys. They are going to have a reception. And we will call back collectively 100 law students who get interviewed each by four or five attorneys. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of time and resources and we spend a fair amount of money to fly these students all over the place. But it’s also an investment in the future of the firm. It’s hard to tell how you invest in the human capital of the firm without doing this. I guess you could do it through lateral hiring. But then you just pay headhunters and you don’t know what you’re getting. We would much rather have lawyers come up through Kirkland.

Deeley: [Summer associates] are people who are invested in doing the work and have gotten to know the people. There are advantages for those students, too. And they are eager and ready to be working with them. If you look around the firm, a significant number of us who are equity partners at the firm started as summer associates. It’s a great base for us to start our recruiting and start our training and get people in the door here who can do great work.

Big Law Business: What makes an ideal Kirkland & Ellis attorney?

Deeley: There is obviously a baseline for people to come in having tremendous qualifications. I think the people who are really successful are people who come in with enthusiasm and initiative and they know how to solve problems and draw from their experiences to do that.

I think Kirkland is, at bottom, a meritocracy. And we are looking for people to bring talent to the table and we cast a broad net for that. We will have the best attorneys available if we make sure we are casting that broad net and doing a really aggressive recruiting of the stars. We have attorneys from all sorts of experiences and backgrounds and I think we need to expand that.

Kanner: It’s not like we’re looking for a particular type of person. There are plenty of high caliber attorneys.

UPDATED: This post has been corrected to correct the number of law student callbacks at Kirkland.

Write to the reporter at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.

Write to the editor at gabefriedman@outlook.com.

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