Published April 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 30
Until only about a decade ago, Linklaters was known as an elite British firm that happened to have a number of small outpost offices scattered around the globe. It was at the time the most well regarded of all the Magic Circle firms. When Clifford Chance emerged as a London based megafirm, it sent shockwaves through the local legal community. In response, Linklaters underwent a number of strategic mergers of their own, emerging as one of the largest firms in the world, both in size and revenue, while maintaining its position as the most well regarded of the London based firms, and an M&A and finance powerhouse.
Linklaters was originally founded in 1838 as Dods & Linklater. The firm went through a number of mergers, but after one hundred fifty years, it was still primarily an English law firm with a number of small domestic operations in some overseas jurisdictions. It was not until the late 1990s when the firm realized the market’s desire for law firms with global presence, perhaps in response to the pressure of other British and American megafirms that were reaching out overseas. It eventually merged with three other European firms, creating a combined force of well over two thousand attorneys in nineteen countries.
The a vast number of Linklaters’ clients are financial institutions, or heavily involved in M&A, finance, and other cross border transactional work. The firm is most well known to the American public as adviser to Lehman Brothers during their bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers was using an accounting practice known as “Repo 105,” which took what was essentially a short term loan, but classified it as a sale, so that the company would appear to be less indebted that it actually was. No American law firm would sign off on this. Only Linklaters would ratify the process, issuing an English law opinion.
In 2008, Linklaters had the highest gross revenue of any firm in the world, hitting $2.4 billion, just edging out fellow Magic Circle firms Clifford Chance and Freshfields. This was buoyed by a number of large deals that year including the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch and work created by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. However the firm was over stretched, and 2009 hit them hard. The firm laid off hundreds of attorneys and support staff, though only five attorneys were laid off in the single US office.
Linklaters is most well known for its banking and finance work. London is a global financial capital, and as such any law firm that excels in that market almost is required to be among the best in that field. Linklaters is among the best firms in the world for finance products and structures, leveraged buyouts, high-yield financing, and project financing. The firm is among the elite in global capital markets, both in the US and internationally. In 2010 it won a slew of Law Firm of the Year awards from numerous European and Asian publications, as well as numerous Deal of the Year awards for international work.
Linklaters is also one of the most prolific mergers and acquisitions powerhouses in the world. In 2008, on the back of numerous major deals around the globe, the firm achieved the number one ranking for deals by total value, surpassing New York M&A giant Sullivan & Cromwell. That year earned it “Deal of the Year” recognition at the ALB Law Awards for China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.
Linklaters’ American practice in New York is small, but growing quickly. Its US mergers and acquisitions practice, though not as prolific as the London office, is steadily climbing the rankings. In terms of deal value in 2008, it was ranked number ten overall by Bloomberg, number eleven by Mergermarket, and number fifteen by Thompson Reuters. It is also developing an excellent litigation group in the New York office that, while not yet recognized among the elite yet, is likely on their way.
Despite being seen at times as a second rate satellite office of an elite global firm, the US Linklaters office has still managed to perform well in rankings. It has top twenty Vault practice area rankings in Securities, Mergers & Acquisitions, and General Corporate Practice, as well as a top ten ranking in International.
Chambers and Partners ranks Linklaters nationally in Band 3 for Capital Markets and Investment Funds, and Band 4 in New York for General Commercial Litigation and White Collar Defense.
Though Linklaters does not have the name recognition in the US that most New York firms do, potential hires should not underestimate the firm. They are one of the elites in the global marketplace, and they have standards to match. Good grades from a top school will get you an interview, but an ideal candidate will also bring language skills and a willingness to travel. Applicants should have a commercial outlook and a demonstrated interest in international practice, the bread and butter of the firm.
The firm has a ten to twelve week summer program that gives summer associates the opportunity to split their time between two of the firm’s offices. The firm requires summer associates to rotate through at least two different practice areas over the program to ensure exposure to multiple departments within the firm. Summers complete between ten to fifteen assignments, and are generally given substantive work rather than “busywork.” However this also means summer associates are held to the same standards of work quality as normal associates, and leaving the office after 7:00 PM is commonplace.
Summer associates are welcome to attend an unlimited number of attorney lunches, and are invited to the Linklaters London office for a midsummer retreat. The firm also holds weekly social events that have included golf, bar outings, and laser tag.
The firm only makes general offers, not practice area specific offers. In 2009, only 73% of summer associates were given offers in the New York office. However, the firm did not defer any associates of the incoming class of 2009.
Compensation and Benefits
Linklaters sets compensation by a lockstep system, both for salaries and bonuses. Starting salaries match the $160,000 for first year associate market rate. While most Magic Circle firms instituted salary freezes in 2009, Linklaters did not (though admittedly the raises were less than standard that year). The firm is a follower when it comes to bonus amounts, but will generally match the prevailing market amount. In 2011 when firms announced spring bonuses, Linklaters matched the lower Sullivan & Cromwell scale, rather than the market-leading Cravath scale.
The firm has no minimum billable hour requirement. Linklaters recently introduced a “target” of 1,900 hours, but there are no real consequences to not meeting the target number. However associates should be cautioned not to fall too far behind the rest of their practice group, lest the firm be looking for ideal targets for a future round of layoffs. Though the firm insists face time is not important, most associates perceive that presence around the office is definitely noted, and appearing at firm-sponsored events is important.
The firm offers twenty days of vacation annually. The European nature of the firm is clearly evident here, as the firm very rarely disturbs associates on vacation. The firm goes as far as to advise associates to leave the BlackBerry behind when they travel. Other benefits include a subsidized cafeteria, retreats and training sessions in Europe, weekly happy hours, emergency childcare, and cost of living adjustments for US associates who are stationed in overseas offices.
The partnership track at Linklaters is a single tier system, eight to ten years in length. Associates who are not promoted on their first try are reconsidered the following year. The firm has no strong up or out policy. However many believe that it wouldn’t matter how many bites at the apple are given, as making partner at such as massive firm is a long shot at best. Given the size of the firm and the proclivity for taking on partners as laterals, very few associates are promoted in any given year in comparison to the overall class size.
Linklaters has a culture that is distinctly informed by its English heritage. Especially when comparing the New York office to other American firms, there are a number of small things that make it stand out. Already mentioned is the very European notion that vacation should mean actually resting, not constantly checking the BlackBerry. Other traditions include the Friday afternoon drinks cart, and the Linklaters World Cup: an intra firm soccer tournament where various offices compete during the firm’s annual subsidized retreat.
Compared to most New York firms, Linklaters is a “lifestyle firm.” This says less about Linklaters and more about the insane expectations that New York big law has created. The firm has a reputation for top quality work without quite the sweatshop atmosphere at other law firms. While billing two thousand hours is certainly still a lot in absolute terms, it is a far cry from peer firms where that would be considered underperforming. The firm is also known as a very social firm, where people consider each other friends as much as they do coworkers. The firm has numerous firm sponsored athletic teams, book clubs, and other organizations. The firm has often been playfully referred to by the nickname “Drinklaters.”
Though the New York office does have a reputation as a second tier firm compared to some of the other Manhattan big shots, people would do well to remember that outside of the United States the name Linklaters means far more that the name Cravath.
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