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R. Charles Miller is the administrative partner of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis’ Washington, D.C., office, formed from the Jan 1. merger between Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham and Preston Gates & Ellis. Now, with more than 1,400 lawyers in 22 cities on three contintents, K&L Gates is poised to compete in the global market. Miller sat down in the office’s meeting room with Nathan Carlile of Legal Times to discuss the merger and K&L Gates’ future plans.
LT: What was most attractive about the merger with Preston Gates & Ellis; what clients and practice areas stood out? Miller: The K&L side is very strong on the East Coast and in Europe — London, particularly. Preston Gates is very strong on the West Coast and has three offices in China. That was a wonderful geographic fit. On a firmwide basis, we had a lot of similarities in the strength of corporate, litigation, and IP practices. Those three areas, we felt, were strengths of our firm and of their firm. I’d view the practices in D.C. as being complementary rather than accretive. What I mean by that is, in D.C., K&L is very strong in financial services, banking, securities, securities enforcement, investment management. Preston Gates, on the other hand, is very strong in public policy, lobbying, energy, telecommunications, antitrust — some of the more typical Washington-type practices. And we felt the combination of the two — our financial-service-oriented practice and their public policy — was a very nice balance for us that we hadn’t had before. And then their client base is very strong, particularly in the high-tech and growth areas. They represent a lot of dynamic companies like Microsoft and Starbucks. In Washington, they have some established clients like Delta [Air Lines].
LT: How many people — and was there anyone you view as a serious departure — did you lose due to merger conflicts? Miller: To my knowledge, we’ve only lost one person as a result of conflicts related to the merger. But we don’t view that as a important loss. I guess it was unfortunate, but not strategically important to us at all.
LT: In cities where the firms had two offices — like D.C. — what are some of the hurdles you’ve had to clear? Miller: The first is just logistical. We were fortunate that we had new space at 1601 K St. We recently moved in, so we have a lot of additional space. And so we were very fortunate to have options on further space, which we exercised. On their side, we were also fortunate because they are in the final year of their lease, so their ability to move is fairly easy. We expect by early- to mid-May the Preston Gates staff will be here. Now culturally, we were also lucky. We felt a real affinity, right off the bat. They have people we really respect. They practice law in much the same way we do. But with that said, we’ve had to do a lot of meetings and happy hours and receptions to really get people to know each other on a personal basis, because we’re trying to build a collegial working environment. People need to know each other. So, we’ve had both firmwide happy hours, where everyone is invited, and we’ve also had segments of the firm, with partner lunches, associate receptions, staff happy hours — we’ve had a lot of those. We did it before the merger and then accelerated that once the merger was put in place. It’s also going to be very important for us not to have the firms separated by floors. People will be switching offices. We’re going to be mixing people up and [we will] physically integrate the work space between the two firms.
LT: Prior to merging, did you feel external pressure to increase your numbers and get above the 1,000-lawyer threshold? Miller: I don’t think there’s any magic with getting your number up to 1,000. But it is very true that both our clients and our competitors are growing and converging at a very rapid pace. Particularly with our clients, we need to be able to service our sophisticated clients wherever they are geographically, and also in whatever legal areas they need assistance. And the only way to be able to do that is to have a firm of size and depth that you can essentially cover the waterfront for clients, no matter what their legal needs.
LT: There’s a regional stereotype that comes with being a midsized firm. Do you think this merger has changed the way Kirkpatrick is viewed? Miller: I think, if you look at the size of our offices, we now have offices in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Washington that are well over 200 lawyers. We have offices in London, New York, and Boston which are well over a hundred and, in some cases, over 150 lawyers. So we have, in a lot of major markets, very substantial offices. We don’t really view ourselves as having a headquarters office, much like other similar firms; Latham [& Watkins] comes to mind, Morgan, Lewis [& Bockius]. We like to think of ourselves as having a nationwide or worldwide platform. But I do think it’s essential that both our New York and London offices become even bigger than they are now. Those are the world’s two financial centers, and of the cities where we have existing offices, it’s where we’d expect to see the most growth. We also just opened a Berlin office in January. And I’d expect us to have further build-out in Europe fairly rapidly.
LT: Simpson Thacher & Bartlett raised associate salaries in D.C. earlier this week to $160,000. What is your reaction, and will your firm hold the line at its current level or will you match? Miller: I can only answer for the Washington office. We, like a lot of firms, are market-specific. We’re going to have to wait to see what the effect is in D.C. of the Simpson Thacher jump. From our standpoint, we will always be competitive with the big Washington firms. That is a given for us. What I also think is that law students these days are looking at things other than just salary. We have, for instance, a very advanced hours program, so that a fairly high percentage of our associates are on a balanced work schedule. This flexibility is very important to people coming out of law school. So it’s not just a salary-driven decision for people coming out of law school.
LT: How has K&L Gates decided to balance attracting partners laterally and growing from within through the associate track? Miller: We think both are important. We have some wonderful associates and partners that have come up through the ranks. But at the same time you have to remain attractive but pretty aggressive at going after lateral talent when it comes available. And given our merger, we’re now 210 lawyers in D.C., which makes us one of the largest 20 offices in Washington. And I think that visibility and footprint should increase our ability to attract top talent. The number of lawyers is only one important factor, but it is something people look at.
Working Lunch appears every other week in Legal Times .

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