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K&L Gates Likes Them Sassy
June 28, 2010
You can always count on K&L Gates chair Peter Kalis to upset conventional wisdom on any given topic. And he doesn't disappoint, in talking about what his firm looks for in new hires.
What's your ideal candidate?
I like someone who's iconoclastic--smart, sassy, and a bit edgy.
Sassy and edgy? Sure you're not talking about your interior designer?
Law is a contact sport. You have to be intellectually nimble and confident. I like interviewees who can pitch as well as catch.
Give me some examples of what you mean by sassy and edgy.
Well, I don’t mean you should go make fun of the managing partner's hair line. But you should ask searching questions. How practice has changed over the years and how you deal with the changing demands. And how hard it is to reconcile your life at work with the rest of your life.
Sounds like you prefer the inquisitive type. Wouldn't it be easier to get associates who jump on demand?
No, I don't want malleable. I want formidable.
But don't those independent types have a hard time adapting to law firm life?
That's not my view. I don't believe lawyers should bow to icons. I want them to look me in the eye and ask the tough questions.
Let's talk about those candidates you really can't stomach.
I'm deaf to smugness and self-absorption.
How do people project those qualities?
Body language. Sometimes people say outrageous things. You can also tell total self-absorption when people describe themselves as the hero of every story.
Aside from the truly obnoxious, who else might not be a good fit at K&L Gates?
If someone takes comfort in hierarchy, methodologies, and formal structures, we're not for them.
Your Pittsburgh office is still the largest one in your firm. So is there a Pittsburgh flavor to the firm?
We've had eight mergers under my watch, so it's not a Pittsburgh thing. But in all the mergers we looked for cultural affinity.
And what's the culture that you shared with the firms you merged with?
We all spent our formative years "punching above our weight"--meaning we're used to working against New York or D.C. firms that were a lot bigger than us.
So even though your firm is almost 2,000 lawyers, you still see yourself as a bit of an underdog?
My partners might not like that, but that's right.
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