Impress interviewers at the top-ranking law firm Kirkland & Ellis with advice from its recruiting chairs and an industry recruiter

Kirkland Recruiting Chairs

Summary List Placement

A summer associate role at Kirkland & Ellis, widely considered one of the most prestigious law firms in the world, is highly sought after by many law students.

Kirkland has raked in the top spot in the Am Law rankings three years in a row, and is the highest grossing law firm in the world at more than $4 billion in gross revenue in fiscal year 2019, according to the American Lawyer.

Founded in 1909 in Chicago, Kirkland has established itself as a legal powerhouse, with 2,700 lawyers across 15 offices globally. It has four core areas — transactional, litigation, intellectual property, and restructuring — in which the firm has represented prominent clients such as Toys R Us, Facebook, and General Motors.

As part of their efforts to add to their pipeline of future associates, Kirkland typically participates in about 50 law schools’ on-campus recruiting events and regional job fairs each year, and collects resumes from additional schools. The firm said they will be hiring around 250 second-year law students for its 2021 summer associate program.

Insider spoke with two of Kirkland’s hiring decision makers and an industry recruiter on what you need to know to land a job at the elite law firm.

Take advantage of this year’s virtual format for recruiting events

Although there are drawbacks to meeting someone through a computer screen instead of in-person, there are distinct advantages to a virtual OCI.

“There is a lot of upside when it comes to virtual touchpoints, since you can connect with an expert in a practice area you’re particularly interested in, even if they’re not in town,” said Lauren Casazza, a recruiting committee co-chair and litigation partner at Kirkland.

While the actual format of “on-campus” events is still evolving, Casazza said that recruiting is still “very much going to be all hands on deck.” The firm has already had a few virtual receptions at law schools, where students were randomly assigned breakout rooms with various attorneys to try to mimic the flow of a cocktail reception.

At these events, it’s crucial to meet a lot of people and pick their brains. “We understand that all the firms can start to seem the same, so meeting the people who work there is key to noticing the differences,” Casazza said.

Pick your practice area with intention

During the initial screening interview with Kirkland, summer associate candidates have to pick one of its four core practice areas: transactional, litigation, intellectual property, and restructuring. If they’re offered a full-time position at the firm upon graduation — which happens nearly 100% of the time, according to Casazza — it’ll similarly be for a particular practice area.

While this may sound daunting to some students who may not yet know what type of law they want to specialize in, summer associates won’t be “pigeonholed” and will have the opportunity to dabble in different areas.

Davis pointed out that a larger area like transactional law encompasses a range of practices, such as M&A, capital markets, and debt finance. He added that in some offices all the summer associates sit together on one floor, and so can not only get to know their fellow summers, but also gain exposure to the different practices.

Michael Parrillo, founder of the legal recruiting company Parrillo Search Group, who’s worked with Kirkland for nearly 10 years, has some practical advice for law school students considering career options.

First things first, “for a person coming out of law school, go to the best law firm you can that feels right at the time. That is what’s going to give you the highest level of marketability in the future,” he said.

“Then decide on which practice area: If you haven’t identified any specific areas of interest, pick the group you feel the most comfortable with in terms of the people, or the group the firm is the best known for,” Parrillo advised.

Get to know Kirkland’s emphasis on empowering young attorneys

Another important aspect of Kirkland’s culture that candidates should know is its emphasis on giving junior associates ownership over their career. The firm has what Parrillo calls a “unique” open assignment system, where partners and associates reach out to each other directly with new matters. The associates can choose what work to take on and have the ability to find the work that is most interesting to them. 

“You have a say on what you’re working on and how you’re developing your career,” added Casazza.

Each office at Kirkland also has an associates committee, which discusses issues and topics, such as the associate review process, professional development and leadership opportunities, and mentorship and social activities, and comes up with ideas that are relayed to the firm’s partnership. For instance, the associates committee in the New York office implemented associates-only networking events with friends and colleagues in companies that are existing or potential clients — no partners allowed, giving younger attorneys a chance to be a part of business development.

In addition, Kirkland has set up a robust mentoring program for associates, connecting them with mentors both within the firm and externally with clients, said Jonathan Davis, an M&A partner who also co-chairs the recruiting committee.

“We’re very big into letting you grow relationships with mentoring, giving people at an early stage in their careers the opportunity to develop client relationships, which is a tremendously important skill to have as a lawyer,” Davis said.

Be honest with your interests and values during the interview

The interview is arguably one of the most important — and nerve-wracking — parts of the application process.

“We’re looking at all different types of criteria: whether someone can speak substantively about legal issues, shows enthusiasm and excitement for the firm, has strong communication skills, and seems like a team player,” explained Casazza.

The interview questions are designed to gauge these characteristics. Some examples, according to Casazza and Davis, include:

  • Can you name something that was challenging about a job you’ve had?
  • What was something you’ve learned from a past experience?
  • What was the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
  • What are you looking for in a law firm?

It goes without saying that doing a little bit of homework on the firm and interviewers will set candidates up for success in an interview.

“The more information you walk in with, the better,” said Parrillo, who suggests researching the firm’s clients and recent transactions and matters.

On top of reading through the specially curated material for law school students on the firm’s careers page, Davis recommends that candidates read up on trends in the practice area they’re interested in.

During the actual interview, Parrillo said that prior legal experience, whether it’s a stint as a paralegal, volunteer work, or legal studies during spare time, are certainly worth highlighting. Ultimately, though, it’s important to be open and honest with what you’re looking for in your legal career.

“It’s a really important time for your career, and the firm you choose sets you on an important path,” said Parrillo. “It’s in your best interest to be yourself: Talk about your values to make sure you’re picking a firm that best aligns with who you are and the type of attorney you would like to become.”

Excel at Kirkland by engaging in learning and collaborating with your colleagues

So you’ve made it through the doors of one of the most prestigious law firms. Davis cautioned that it won’t be easy, but that summer associates will come away with substantive experience, from gaining the ability to manage teams of people to interacting with clients.

“It’s incredibly important to have a genuine interest in learning, since there’s a steep learning curve when someone first comes in,” he said. “It’s not like you’re taught in law school the day-to-day at a law firm.”

The attorneys at Kirkland are more than happy to mentor people, particularly when a junior attorney shows an interest in their own development, so it’s also helpful to take advantage of the community around you, Davis added. “By doing that, and coming in with the right mindset, you are very well-positioned,” he said.

SEE ALSO: How to stand out during Morgan Lewis’s individually-tailored virtual interview process, according to the Big Law firm’s recruiting manager

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SEE ALSO: How to impress interviewers and land a job at elite global law firm Baker McKenzie, according to its recruitment director, hiring partner, and 2 industry recruiters

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