What are the major differences between US firms? (in terms of their works)

John Doe

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Hello everyone,

For US firms that have an office in London and have maintained a stronger US identity than a global identity (e.g. Davis Polk, Skadden, Kirkland, Sullivan, Sidley Austin, Shearman, Cleary Gottlieb & etc.) - what are the key differences between these firms in terms of the work they do?

I'm aware that some of them may be more focused on corporate or finance, but when they share a focus on similar practices, how can I go one step deeper and tell apart, e.g., the corporate practice of Shearman v.s. that of Davis Polk?

Thank you! - any answers on this thread will be very helpful to my applications!
 
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George Maxwell

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Hi @John Doe,

Really interesting thread to have started. 👨‍🎓

To kick things off, here are five ways of finding further information about US firms in London:

1. One useful resource (although it doesn't seem to cover some of the firms you mention) is The Legal 500 (for example, linked here is Milbank's London practice). It gives a breakdown of the types of work the firms do in their various practice groups.

2. Another place to look is Chambers & Partners. If you type in a specific firm and navigate to their UK practice, they give a rough breakdown of the type of work a particular practice group does. For example, here is Davis Polk's UK "Capital Markets: Debt & Equity" ranking.

3. If you can, speak to people with experience of the London legal market (preferably at a US firm) and ask them about (the practices of) other US firms. I found this useful and generally more senior lawyers have an informed idea of other firms acting in their practice area (at least).

4. Related to 3., although this would take some time, identifying the leading Partners at the London offices of these firms and reading their profiles (on the firm website and their LinkedIn profile) could give you an indication of the general slant of a firm's practice. Often they provide brief descriptions of the types of clients Partners work with. This is especially relevant if a firm has a very small number of partners in a particular practice area (e.g., Akin had 5 in litigation/international arbitration when I was doing my vacation scheme!).

5. I know that this point applies further down the application line, but I thought it was worth mentioning. From my experience, I found that speaking to people on my vacation schemes, particularly at Akin Gump gave me an understanding of various firms in the UK market (in certain areas), as well as just learning more about Akin itself. This goes, a little to 3., in that ultimately a great way of gaining this sort of knowledge is through speaking to people.

I hope that helps 🍾.

Tagging @Jaysen here as he had some experience at Weil.

@James Carrabino had various VS experiences with US firms and is also all-round good at answering this sort of query!
 

AvniD

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Hello everyone,

For US firms that have an office in London and have maintained a stronger US identity than a global identity (e.g. Davis Polk, Skadden, Kirkland, Sullivan, Sidley Austin, Shearman, Cleary Gottlieb & etc.) - what are the key differences between these firms in terms of the work they do?

I'm aware that some of them may be more focused on corporate or finance, but when they share a focus on similar practices, how can I go one step deeper and tell apart, e.g., the corporate practice of Shearman v.s. that of Davis Polk?

Thank you! - any answers on this thread will be very helpful to my applications!
Hi @John Doe,

Really interesting thread to have started. 👨‍🎓

To kick things off, here are five ways of finding further information about US firms in London:

1. One useful resource (although it doesn't seem to cover some of the firms you mention) is The Legal 500 (for example, linked here is Milbank's London practice). It gives a breakdown of the types of work the firms do in their various practice groups.

2. Another place to look is Chambers & Partners. If you type in a specific firm and navigate to their UK practice, they give a rough breakdown of the type of work a particular practice group does. For example, here is Davis Polk's UK "Capital Markets: Debt & Equity" ranking.

3. If you can, speak to people with experience of the London legal market (preferably at a US firm) and ask them about (the practices of) other US firms. I found this useful and generally more senior lawyers have an informed idea of other firms acting in their practice area (at least).

4. Related to 3., although this would take some time, identifying the leading Partners at the London offices of these firms and reading their profiles (on the firm website and their LinkedIn profile) could give you an indication of the general slant of a firm's practice. Often they provide brief descriptions of the types of clients Partners work with. This is especially relevant if a firm has a very small number of partners in a particular practice area (e.g., Akin had 5 in litigation/international arbitration when I was doing my vacation scheme!).

5. I know that this point applies further down the application line, but I thought it was worth mentioning. From my experience, I found that speaking to people on my vacation schemes, particularly at Akin Gump gave me an understanding of various firms in the UK market (in certain areas), as well as just learning more about Akin itself. This goes, a little to 3., in that ultimately a great way of gaining this sort of knowledge is through speaking to people.

I hope that helps 🍾.

Tagging @Jaysen here as he had some experience at Weil.

@James Carrabino had various VS experiences with US firms and is also all-round good at answering this sort of query!
Completely agree with @George Maxwell's detailed response to your question- speaking to people at different US firms is definitely the best way to get a rounded picture of how these firms differ in practice.

I also really like this article on Chambers Student that breaks down the difference between US firms in a more technical manner-https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/law-firms/types-of-law-firm/us-firms-in-the-uk

Knowing the technical differences, coupled with inside knowledge of how these firms differ in terms of their practice, values and strategy, will ensure that you have a really strong understanding of what makes these firms distinct. I hope this helps!
 

George Maxwell

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Completely agree with @George Maxwell's detailed response to your question- speaking to people at different US firms is definitely the best way to get a rounded picture of how these firms differ in practice.

I also really like this article on Chambers Student that breaks down the difference between US firms in a more technical manner-https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/law-firms/types-of-law-firm/us-firms-in-the-uk

Knowing the technical differences, coupled with inside knowledge of how these firms differ in terms of their practice, values and strategy, will ensure that you have a really strong understanding of what makes these firms distinct. I hope this helps!
@AvniD this article is fantastic!
 
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James Carrabino

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Hello everyone,

For US firms that have an office in London and have maintained a stronger US identity than a global identity (e.g. Davis Polk, Skadden, Kirkland, Sullivan, Sidley Austin, Shearman, Cleary Gottlieb & etc.) - what are the key differences between these firms in terms of the work they do?

I'm aware that some of them may be more focused on corporate or finance, but when they share a focus on similar practices, how can I go one step deeper and tell apart, e.g., the corporate practice of Shearman v.s. that of Davis Polk?

Thank you! - any answers on this thread will be very helpful to my applications!
I completely agree with everything @George Maxwell said, except for his claim that I would be good at answering this query!!

I'll start by saying that @AvniD's article is one of those articles that I read regularly when I was applying and thought 'Wow, whoever spent the time to compile this is an absolute legend'. It just provides so much information about what these firms do in the UK.

My own anecdotal knowledge of these firms can only provide these nuggets of information:
  • Sullivan & Cromwell is famous for its special relationship with Goldman Sachs. Over half of the firm's lawyers globally are in New York City and the London office mainly services New York clients (like Goldman).
  • Shearman & Sterling I would actually consider to have a global identity just as much as a US identity.
  • Kirkland is especially excellent at big-ticket private equity.
For your own research, however, the main thing I would look at is the Vault Law 100 rankings (the website seems to have changed its name to 'Firsthand'). This is an annual ranking of perceived prestige of the top 100 firms in the US based on a survey of associates at other firms. Additional rankings extend to practice areas and a range of other metrics. I think that for the kinds of US firms you are talking about - those whose US identities remain stronger than their international ones - the breakdown of their US reputations is quite indicative of their strengths in London as well, since their London offices are likely doing a significant amount of work in support of their US offices and clients.

I hope that between the three of us you are able to find some of what you were looking for @John Doe :)
 
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Kola

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The information posted so far has been excellent. Just to add my two cents, I think another good way of differentiating US firms (although this applies to all firms) is by distinguishing between specialists and generalists. Specialists focus on one or two particular areas, whereas generalists offer clients a buffet of different services. For example, Quinn Emmanuel is a specialist as they only do litigation, Kirkland are specialists as they specialise in PE, and Vinson & Elkins are specialists because they dominate certain sectors like Oil & Gas and Energy. Generalists would be firms like Latham, White & Case, Sadden etc. who offer clients a variety of services and aren't known for a particular niche.
 
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James Carrabino

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The information posted so far has been excellent. Just to add my two cents, I think another good way of differentiating US firms (although this applies to all firms) is by distinguishing between specialists and generalists. Specialists focus on one or two particular areas, whereas generalists offer clients a buffet of different services. For example, Quinn Emmanuel is a specialist as they only do litigation, Kirkland are specialists as they specialise in PE, and Vinson & Elkins are specialists because they dominate certain sectors like Oil & Gas and Energy. Generalists would be firms like Latham, White & Case, Sadden etc. who offer clients a variety of services and aren't known for a particular niche.
Excellent insight @Kola! The lines are slightly blurred but on the whole I think you're spot on :)