Post-LL.M. Careers in Big Law: Latham & Watkins

With offices or regional teams on every continent and a considerable amount of acclaim behind them, working at Latham & Watkins is a dream for many students currently pursuing an LL.M.

Since its founding in 1934, Latham & Watkins has grown into a global powerhouse, becoming the only multinational fully-integrated law firm with no single headquarters. They’ve also earned a sizeable profit along the way; Latham became the first law firm to report over $3 billion in gross revenue in 2018, and they are frequently reported as being one of the highest-paying law firms in the world.

Naturally, having an LL.M. is not a requirement to work at Latham & Watkins. But after speaking with numerous Latham & Watkins employees, it becomes clear that the fundamentals developed during their LL.M. educations form the basis of their everyday work today. Creating this foundation allowed them to further their understanding of the law — and eventually, secure a prestigious career at Latham & Watkins. 

Real-world experience, applied at Latham

Most LL.M. programs mix theory and hands-on practice, in varying degrees. Felix Dörfelt says that the practical experience he gained doing an LL.M. at Pepperdine University went a long way towards helping him land a job at Latham. 

“At Pepperdine, I mediated over 50 cases at the LA superior courthouse,” he details. “It gave me life experience in negotiations that helped me a lot, being a lawyer and having to negotiate my own cases.” Being at Pepperdine exposed him to a new field of law: investment arbitration. “That proved to be very beneficial when I started here at Latham, because representing states in investor-state disputes is now a major part of my practice. The LL.M. basically set the theoretical groundwork for the work I'm doing now.”

Building a theoretical framework with real-world experience is one of the goals of Pepperdine’s LL.M. programs, claims Aparna Gupta, Associate Director of Professional Development & External Relations at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. “Our core curriculum is designed to immerse our students in a vibrant mix of doctrinal and practical learning,” she explains. This is assisted by the university’s connections to firms like Latham. “The relationships that our program has with major law firms and celebrated figures in the international dispute resolution field allow our Institute to promise a rich experience for our students.”

Beyond the hands-on work, the experience of simply being in the international environment at law school can help LL.M.s land jobs at Latham & Watkins. 

“It shows that you are very adaptable. Living in another country, you have to adapt, especially when you're doing an LL.M. and you're with many students from all over the world. In my batch, there were more than 55 countries represented,” recalls Gauthier Jeandidier. Now an associate in the Brussels office of Latham & Watkins, Jeandidier earned an LL.M specialized in Business Law at the University of California, Berkeley in 2018. While he had previously worked at another international law firm, Jeandidier sought an LL.M. to give himself a competitive edge in a competitive local job market.  

“Doing an LL.M. abroad is a sign that you can adapt to different cultures and interact with people from different backgrounds, which I think is a good indicator of some skills that are needed in an international law firm,” he concludes.

The importance of American Law, in degree and in history

While Latham & Watkins is an international law firm, “a lot of, if not most of our clients are American companies,” observes Jeandidier. For that reason, interacting with Americans and American legal culture is a key takeaway for many LL.M.s. 

Having that American immersion “helps with cultural aspects when I work with US colleagues,” explains Maximilian Berenbrok, who received his LL.M. from the University of Virginia before joining Latham & Watkins. “I know how they like to write emails, and I know what they may find impolite that a German colleague might find completely normal.”

Jeandidier agrees, adding that he believes the firm was happy with the fact that he had “experienced American culture and the way American business is being done, how American people interact with each other.” As he notes, “I think this gives them some kind of reassurance that we can deal with clients in a proper way, that we are familiar with the business etiquette.”

To hear Latham employees explain it, an American education is both social and historical, including the development of a background in American legal history and how it differs from law in other nations. “Even if you might not practice American law afterwards — especially for people like me who come from a civil law country — I think it's very much appreciated to have a candidate who has some experience in civil law and in common law jurisdictions,” Jeandidier says. “It shows that you're familiar with different ways of reasoning.”

Knowing this history and its impact is applicable in some fields more than others; for Jeandidier, working in antitrust law has shown just how helpful an LL.M. can be. “Antitrust law is regulated at EU-level in the European Union, and the inspiration of EU competition law draws from German civil law and American common law,” he continues. “The fact that you're familiar with another system of law is definitely an asset when you're working with big law, especially in an American firm.”

How to work at Latham & Watkins after your LL.M.

According to the employees interviewed, the path from LL.M. graduate to joining a Big Law firm can be forged by making connections. All of the Latham & Watkins employees interviewed for this piece noted that utilizing law school connections and resources is a key for future success; most employees interviewed claimed they first met a representative for Latham & Watkins at a university job fair hosted either by their university or a neighboring institution.

These connections are often strengthened through other engagements, such as internship programs available at one’s university.

Additionally, where one actually gets their LL.M. matters considerably, both from the standpoint of location and ranking. To join Latham & Watkins, “it's good if you make it into the top ten,” asserts Berenbrok. If you don’t, he adds, “there is always a way to first get work experience. Then, with that work experience, you probably have a better chance to make it into the top ten at a later point.”

In the end, however, “don't stress out too much,” says Jeandidier. “Be confident in yourself, and be confident that, with an American LL.M. on your resume — from my experience and the experience of all my friends from my LL.M., everything ends up working out.”

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