Partnership & Culture
Kirkland’s associates make partner a lot quicker than other law firms, often after just 6PQE. In 2017, 97 lawyers became salaried partners with 13 in London. Most of these are in corporate followed by debt finance.
Kirkland is known for paying huge amounts of money for targeted lateral hires and in many ways that has changed lateral law firm recruitment altogether. The magic circle and other US law firms have been forced to modify their lockstep model – where partners are paid according to seniority – to compete. That’s helped Kirkland to recruit star corporate partners from magic circle firms like the 2017 hire of David Higgins.
Kirkland’s remuneration system is even more flexible than other elite US firms. Kirkland’s top partners can earn 8 times more than its junior partners compared to 3 or 4 times more at rival firms. A few years ago Kirkland’s hire of star leveraged finance partner Stephen Lucas from Weil at a reported $8m shocked the market.
Kirkland makes up more partners each year than almost any other law firm. That’s because the firm makes use of non-equity partners i.e. salaried partners who don’t have a stake in the business or join partner meetings. That’s useful for a number of reasons: it makes junior partners work hard to bring in business but they’re only paid a little more than they were as associates; it lets the firm heavily assess partner potential and if they’re not equity partner material, they can be told to leave; it keeps equity partner compensation high to attract lateral hires.
The firm is one of the most active lateral hirers in London. It recently took a team from Debevoise in New York and a 5 partner investigations and corruption team from Ropes & Gray. But Kirkland also has one of the highest attrition rates of any US law firm in London. According to The Lawyer, out of 40 associates that made partner in London between 2010 and 2015, only 25 remained by March 2016.
That leads to the issue of culture. Kirkland is often described as competitive and ‘sharp elbowed’. Some point to the firm’s alleged ‘up or out’ policy and the heavy management of partner performance. Others have noted the clash between existing partners and newly hired laterals on large pay packets – allegedly a factor in the recent six-partner exit for Sidley Austin. But it’s difficult to say whether this is still the case. Kirkland recently introduced a number of measures to encourage group working and collaboration between partners.