Selecting a practice area is one of the most important first steps in one's legal career. For law students, this choice may seem overwhelming given the breadth of practice areas. At Kirkland, we encourage prospective summers to take a step back and research their options, including speaking with attorneys and peers who were summer associates at the firm, meeting with career counselors at their law schools, and consulting helpful publications and rankings on practice areas.
Understanding where your interest lies prior to your summer can help you maximize your experience. Our summers enter our program assigned to one of four areas—litigation, transactional, intellectual property, or restructuring—and have freedom and support to explore the various specialties within each practice area over the summer, providing them a clearer sense of how to direct their careers when they return as associates.
We asked Paige Scheckla—a Corporate Associate, Debt Finance—for tips on researching and selecting a practice area based on her own past experience preparing for the summer program. Read on for her insights.
1. Did you go into the summer associate interview process with a specific practice area in mind? How did you research practice areas to prepare for your interviews?
At Kirkland, you need to choose what area you want to practice in prior to coming in as a summer associate. Unlike at other firms where they do a rotation system, we hire people directly into practice areas. That doesn’t mean that you need to know if you want to be a debt finance attorney specifically, but you need to know if you want to be in Kirkland’s corporate, litigation, intellectual property or restructuring departments.
2. What are some resources that you recommend when researching practice areas?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell on various firm websites what kind of practice areas they have and whether they allow summer associates to go between groups or whether they have to stick to one. I believe the best resource here is reaching out to attorneys. Kirkland attorneys are always happy to help. I get emails all the time from students at University of Chicago and UCLA—my alma maters—and I’m always happy to take their calls. Certainly websites like Vault are going to give a good idea of a firm’s top practice areas. Looking at lists that highlight individual partners in a firm, like the Daily Journal’s Top 40 under 40 is also useful because when you see that the top partners are in certain practice areas, that’ll give you a sense of the firm’s leading practice areas. Also looking at the NALP form to determine how many attorneys are in each practice group in any office is truly the best starting point to get a good sense of which firms offer which practice areas.
3. What are some useful questions candidates can ask during the interview process to learn more about a firm’s practice areas?
I would ask folks exactly what their day looks like and what kinds of deals or cases they’re working on. A lot of times, a firm bio may say an attorney works in certain areas, but asking them exactly what kinds of tasks they do on a day-to-day basis will give you a sense of what the firm actually does. You should also ask what summer associates get the chance to do.
4. How did Kirkland’s summer program help you develop in your practice area?
Hitting the ground running in my desired practice area over the summer really helped me hone the skills I needed to start developing over my 3L year and my first year of practice. Kirkland also has top-notch training, which starts when you’re a summer associate. For corporate folks, we have Kirkland University that offers training specific to tenure. Over the summer, part of that is doing a mock negotiation and revising a purchase agreement—both skills I took with me into my first year at the firm. On top of that, because I was able to select my practice area in advance of getting to Kirkland, I was able to do real work from day one as a summer associate—including doing first-year and second-year associate level work on real deals for real clients.
5. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you tell yourself when you were in law school and deciding your practice area?
Don’t stress. There is going to be a firm that fits what you’re looking for in terms of career goals, desired practice area, and culture, as long as you’re willing to put some time and effort into researching your options!
Associate, Kirkland & Ellis LLP