Navigating Your Career Path: A Q&A with Associates at Akin Gump
September 8, 2016
The summer months are winding down and so is the height of the law school student recruiting season. It is that time of year again – time for incoming associates to transition into full-time practice, and the time when second-year students are making final decisions about where to spend their 2L summer.
For 2L students, choosing a final landing place can be challenging. For recent graduates, moving from life as a student into full-time practice can also be daunting. To gather some first-hand insight into both of these experiences, we sat down with two Akin Gump associates, Kapil Pandit and Lauren York. Although their paths to the firm and levels of experience differ, both attorneys are building successful practices at Akin Gump, and below they share their stories and advice.
Lauren York is a first-year litigation associate in Akin Gump’s Dallas office. Lauren joined the firm as a Pro Bono Scholar for her 1L summer and as a summer associate after that. Kapil Pandit is a counsel in the firm’s Washington office. He practices in the firm’s investment funds practice and co-chairs Akin Gump’s Chairperson’s Associates Committee. Kapil also spent his 2L summer at the firm.
What factors played into your decision to join a large law firm like Akin Gump?
Kapil Pandit: I knew what kind of work I wanted to do, so, finding the right place for me was the top consideration. The second factor, I would say, was the people. I was looking for a team where I would get along with everybody. I want to be friends with the people I work with regardless of whether I work directly with them on a daily basis. That was something that I felt was unique when I interviewed with the firm, and it’s stayed true through the years and the different offices that I’ve worked in since. The third thing is diversity. Every firm emphasizes their commitment to diversity, but, once I started here, I truly saw it. There’s diversity in all levels of the firm—Kim [Koopersmith, chairperson], the management committee, the practice leaders from my own practice and different practices—and it’s not just the traditional sense of the term “diversity”; it’s actually diversity in people’s experiences. One example is how, here in Akin Gump’s D.C. office, we have people who had prior careers in business, in politics, in government. Politics and life and law here all contribute to a kind of diversity that other firms may not have.
Lauren York: For me, it was cultural fit. I think you could get a good feeling of what it was going to be like to work with people that you interview with. If you don’t get along with your callback interviewers, that says a lot. You are going to be seeing those people quite a bit, so, culture was a huge factor for me. The firm’s commitment to pro bono also made an impact on my decision to join Akin Gump because that was something I was passionate about, and I was, of course, interested in the high caliber of work Akin Gump does here in Dallas.
What is one thing you think incoming summer associates and first-year associates need to know about succeeding in a large law firm?
Kapil: I would say the most important thing to me is that we—law firms and Akin Gump—are in a client service business. It may sound clichéd, but that really is what I think is the most important thing a new lawyer needs to know and really comprehend. Your client changes as your career progresses. As a summer and as a first year, your client is the more senior or supervising attorney. If a first year comes in, I might be their client, but, ultimately, I report to someone else, whether it be a partner or an external client. In all cases, I am always making sure we meet and exceed that person’s expectations and help make that person’s life easier. If you call me with a question, I want to make your life easier because then you’re going to come back to me for the work. You trust me, I get your problem solved, and, then, you want to come back to me.
Lauren: One of the best things new associates or summer associates can do is to have a positive attitude, both with attorneys and the support staff. As first years, you may not have the skills or expertise some senior lawyers have, but you do have time. Making that time available to supervising attorneys and making it easy to work with you are very valuable, so that, if your partner asks for a 10-minute turnaround on a request, you know the right people to make it happen.
What training programs did you find most useful when you came to the firm as a new associate?
Kapil: One unique training and development opportunity I experienced was how the firm and the partners are willing to work with junior associates to identify development opportunities. When I started, it was during the recession, so it was a unique time. I took the bar exam, and, then, I went to India for a family vacation. While I was on that vacation, I kept in touch with the partners in my practice, and they actually introduced me to one of the firm’s clients that had an office in India. They helped me network with the client, and that introduction and networking turned into staying in India for seven months, working with that client on one of its transactions and getting that experience and development opportunity to work for one of our clients on a daily basis. I recognize that this was unique, and it came about because the partners aren’t afraid to put you in front of a client even if you’re a first or second year.
Lauren: The firm conducted a week of training when I first came in that allowed us to get up to speed on the fundamentals of becoming a lawyer. The practice-specific training was helpful as far getting a big-picture view of the day-to-day, which is something that you are not going to get in law school. There was also a big focus on writing, and we did a variety of exercises, including a sample assignment and step-by-step training on taking you from the meeting with the partner who’s giving you the work all the way through to going back to that partner, delivering the writing that you’ve prepared and giving a focused summary of the work you’ve done.
Finally, how has your decision to join Akin Gump impacted your career?
Kapil: Honestly, picking Akin Gump was the best decision I’ve ever made because I found the practice and the type of work I like doing. But I also found a practice that lets me have a balance with starting a family, and I’ve been able to work on all aspects of an investment management practice, so I don’t feel like I have cornered myself into one specific area. All of this will benefit me for a long-term career. That’s something that was unique about Akin Gump’s investment management practice and one of the reasons I picked it. In terms of how it’s impacted me, I think it set me up for a very long career as an investment management attorney. I don’t see myself walking away from it. People have asked me if I would ever go take a job somewhere else, and the answer is “no,” because I like the people I work with. I like the work we do.
Lauren: I’ve had an incredible quality of work. We have really strong mentorship here in Dallas. My section is very strong and very busy, so I have been able to see a large variety of types of litigation very quickly, and they gave a lot of responsibilities to a young lawyer, which, I think, makes a big difference.