Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a Chicago-based law firm that hires many Knox alumni, recently finished major work on the BP oil spill case – the largest civil litigation the United States has ever seen.
Claire Anderson ’11, has been working as a project assistant on the case ever since she started working for the firm on June 27, 2011, a date she claims to remember vividly. The case had just completed trial after three months, for which Anderson recalls putting in 90-100 hours per week.
“Leading up to that, an 80-hour week was pretty normal,” Anderson said. “[Ending at] 8 o’clock is kind of an early night.”
Anderson was assigned to a team that focused on determining the cause of the spill, who was to blame and, therefore, who owed money. Trials have finished for this phase, but a verdict has not yet been reached. Phase two, which is scheduled for this coming fall, will determine how much was spilled and how much the responsible party or parties owe in penalty.
“There’s still a hefty amount of residual work,” Anderson said.
Anderson feels that her major in English literature set her up well to work for the firm. Other Knox alumni also feel their Knox education prepared them for work at Kirkland & Ellis.
Ryan Larson ‘11 focused on history, political science and religious studies while at Knox.
“Mostly through college I wanted to be a lawyer…so I designed my courses that way,” Larson said.
Professor of Political Science Lane Sunderland helped him secure an internship with the Knox County Public Defender’s Office during his time at Knox. He also feels that serving on the Honor Board helped prepare him for legal work.
Larson’s desire to pursue a law degree wavered at the end of his senior year. In the summer after graduation, he chose to apply for a project assistant job with Kirkland & Ellis. Project assistants, Larson explained, are typically hired by senior legal assistants who work under an attorney. As a project assistant, one is hired onto a team to serve a client (such as the BP case which involved multiple clients). The position is entry level and under a hierarchy of legal assistants and attorneys.
Project assistants perform a variety of tasks for every case team they are assigned to. This can range from Boolean searching in online databases for deposition documents to printing and copying to proofreading briefs to preparing an attorney for depositions.
“I once printed 19,000 pages … talk about running a printer for three hours.” Larson said.
Larson has since left Kirkland & Ellis in pursuit of a master’s in criminal justice from St. Ambrose University.
Kirkland & Ellis has strong ties with Knox College, having employed former college President Roger Taylor ’63 both before his presidency and now.
“[Roger Taylor] took us out for drinks a couple times,” Larson said. “I think there were six Knox people on my floor…we’d see each other in the elevator and laugh and stuff…They [Kirkland & Ellis] have had a lot of positive experiences with Knox students, and when you have a good thing, you keep coming back.”
Tim Schmeling ’11 is the only former Knox student on his floor – floor 36 – but that does not stop him from having fun.
“I’ve started even playing office pranks,” he said.
Schmeling enjoys the professional aspects of his project assistant job, which focuses on legal restructuring such as mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies.
“Really, there’s more to bankruptcy than people understand,” he said, going on to explain how terms like “double bankruptcy merger” can combine to describe a case. As part of his job, he often accompanies attorneys to hearings.
“I have to take all that work to the courthouse…I need to be there right at hand when the attorney needs something to be like ‘Here it is. Got it,’” he said.
At Knox, Schmeling double majored in integrated international studies and modern languages and feels that these studies have helped prepare him for cases that involve international clients. More generally, he feels that life as a Knox student prepared him for work at Kirkland & Ellis.
“It definitely taught me good multitasking and good time management…I work on five or six cases a day [here], and sometimes they have the same deadline,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted Ryan Larson as saying that he had printed 1,900 pages, not 19,000.