What you need to know about… Akin Gump

May 13, 2022

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4 min read

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An intro to the firm

Akin Gump has come a long way since being set up by two former FBI agents in 1945. The Dallas-founded firm now boasts 20 offices, more than 900 lawyers, and works in more than 80 countries. With a strong presence in the Middle East, the firm is active in emerging markets, especially Africa and South America. As for its London office, 2021 continued a 12-year growth streak, which peaked during the pandemic when revenues were up 19%. The team has been bolstered by intelligent lateral hires, in particular from Allen & Overy, White & Case and Vinson & Elkins. Still, the office is relatively small with 140 lawyers, and there are just six training contracts on offer each year. 

The NQ salary, the sterling equivalent of $215k, is currently the highest in London. Key London departments are financial restructuring, investment management, and energy. Elsewhere the firm is known primarily for its renowned international trade practice, and in the US has a notable lobbying practice. Under the leadership of US-based chairperson Kim Koopersmith, Akin Gump is international, strategic and forward-thinking.

Its key strengths

The focus of the London office is its Band 1 restructuring practice, headed by James Roome and Barry Russell. In 2020 the team won Restructuring Team of Year at the Legal Business Awards, in particular for advising Agrokor on its landmark restructuring. The conglomerate was Croatia’s largest corporate group with more than 150 companies and around $5.2bn of debt owed to third parties. The team was extremely active in relation to the high-profile casualties of the pandemic. For example, it advised the senior secured noteholders on the financial restructuring of foreign exchange company Travelex. Ultimately, Akin Gump is pre-eminent when it comes to complex, multi-party restructuring matters, and has been described as the go-to London firm for buy-side investors (i.e. private equity funds, hedge funds, pension funds) in energy restructurings.

The firm’s private equity practice is highly regarded and is building its reputation after a series of lateral hires. The team has a strong presence in emerging markets, with recent deals involving companies from Nigeria, Colombia and South Africa. Key clients include Helios Investment Partners (the largest private investment firm which focuses on Africa), which the firm advised in connection with its investment in UK-based telecoms giant, Helios Towers. Further, the firm advised Emerging Capital Partners on its proposed acquisition of a 95% stake in Burger King South Africa.

Finally, Akin Gump’s oil and gas group has an excellent reputation, advising on M&A, disputes, restructurings and regulatory matters. A high point was advising Dutch commodities trader Vitiol on its $2.3bn acquisition of Vivo Energy, a fuel distributor which focuses on Africa. Inevitably this practice group has a Russian focus, and the firm advised Equinor in its acquisition from Russian oil company Rosneft of a 49% interest in Russian onshore petroleum assets. On the contentious front, the group represented Russian oil company Tatneft in a $380m theft and fraud litigation against Ukrainian oligarchs.

Training, training, training...

The training at Akin Gump is hands-on, high-quality and fulfilling.

As is typical for US firms with a smaller London office, the training at Akin Gump primarily consists of hands-on experience. Sources say 80% is learning on the job. Whilst this can be daunting it means trainees develop their skill-sets more quickly. There are also fortnightly formal training sessions, and trainees can also request certain topics to be covered.

The upshot of a small trainee intake is substantial levels of responsibility – there is no place to hide and everyone’s role is important. Whilst this comes with a steep learning curve it also comes with early exposure to deals and clients. This is especially so in the investment management team, where trainees are also trusted to liaise with in-house-teams and external counsel. Furthermore, the quality of work that trainees get to get involved in is widely recognised as outstanding. The 2020/21 Lex 100 Trainee Survey ranked Akin Gump first in this regard. The small size of the firm means trainees are allocated substantive tasks as well as administrative ones. The firm was also the winner in the international secondment category; Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong are popular destinations.

Finally, Akin Gump fosters a supportive and fulfilling environment for its lawyers. It launched the Be Well programme to promote the wellbeing of remote workers. This included fortnightly talks on topics like mindfulness and resilience. The firm has also signed the Mindful Business Charter, entailing, for example, that lawyers are encouraged to assign time in winter to take a walk in daylight. And crucially, the Lex 100 Trainee Survey also declared Akin Gump a winner in the category of firms living up to expectations.

Report written by Oliver Hutton

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