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K&L Gates Likes Them Sassy

Vivia Chen

June 28, 2010

Kalis_Peter-1 You can always count on K&L Gates chair Peter Kalis to upset conventional wisdom on any given topic. And he doesn't disappoint, in talking about what his firm looks for in new hires. 



What's your ideal candidate?
I like someone who's iconoclastic--smart, sassy, and a bit edgy.

Sassy and edgy? Sure you're not talking about your interior designer?
Law is a contact sport. You have to be intellectually nimble and confident. I like interviewees who can pitch as well as catch. 

Give me some examples of what you mean by sassy and edgy.
Well, I don’t mean you should go make fun of the managing partner's hairline. But you should ask searching questions. How practice has changed over the years and how you deal with the changing demands. And how hard it is to reconcile your life at work with the rest of your life.

Sounds like you prefer the inquisitive type. Wouldn't it be easier to get associates who jump on demand?
No, I don't want malleable. I want formidable.

But don't those independent types have a hard time adapting to law firm life?
That's not my view. I don't believe lawyers should bow to icons. I want them to look me in the eye and ask the tough questions.

Let's talk about those candidates you really can't stomach.
I'm deaf to smugness and self-absorption. 

How do people project those qualities?
Body language. Sometimes people say outrageous things. You can also tell total self-absorption when people describe themselves as the hero of every story.

Aside from the truly obnoxious, who else might not be a good fit at K&L Gates?
If someone takes comfort in hierarchy, methodologies, and formal structures, we're not for them.

Your Pittsburgh office is still the largest one in your firm. So is there a Pittsburgh flavor to the firm? 
We've had eight mergers under my watch, so it's not a Pittsburgh thing. But in all the mergers we looked for cultural affinity. 

And what's the culture that you shared with the firms you merged with?
We all spent our formative years "punching above our weight"--meaning we're used to working against New York or D.C. firms that were a lot bigger than us.

So even though your firm is almost 2,000 lawyers, you still see yourself as a bit of an underdog?
My partners might not like that, but that's right.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo courtesy of K&L Gates.


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While I find Mr. Kalis' outlook exciting and almost energizing, the hiring practices of his firm's individual offices have not changed to reflect his views on incoming lateral attorneys. A close look at the practices reflects a bowing to the traditions of "big law" and make K&L Gates unattainable for many of the most talented, if not pedigreed, amongst us... I applaud Mr. Kalis' vision, and after working with several K&L offices, hope it is quickly filtered down and reflected in the hiring and mentoring of younger attorneys thoughout their organization.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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