The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Davin Laskin and Yihsin Wang, Associates—Corporate (2023)
Davin Laskin is a first-year corporate associate at Kirkland & Ellis in Miami. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in May 2022. During law school, Davin was a 1L summer associate with Porter Hedges in Houston, and a 2L summer associate at Kirkland & Ellis in Houston. Davin received his B.A. in economics, magna cum laude, from the University of Miami.
Yihsin Wang is a corporate associate at Kirkland & Ellis in the New York office. She graduated from Fordham University School of Law. Yihsin received her Bachelor of Science from New York University.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Davin: I am a general corporate associate, which grants me discretion to take assignments in a variety of transactional practices, though I mostly work in M&A/private equity. I appreciate the flexibility this position offers not only in granting a broader perspective of the different corporate groups, but also to become a more well-rounded attorney because of opportunities to see deals from the perspective of the M&A, investment funds, capital markets, and debt finance teams.
Yihsin: I am a general corporate associate, which allows me to take assignments from Kirkland’s transactional practice areas, including M&A, capital markets, debt finance, and investment funds.
What types of clients do you represent?
Davin: I work primarily with private equity firms, including some located locally here in South Florida as well as throughout the country.
Yihsin: I have had the opportunity to work with public and private equity clients and have been bankside on a capital markets deal. Following acquisition by our private equity clients, I have also continued working with portfolio companies on add-on acquisitions.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Davin: I have had the opportunity to work on M&A deals with private equity firms, both to acquire other companies or their assets, or to sell or spin off companies in their portfolio. Having the opportunity to work on both the buy and sell side of deals as a junior attorney really helps to build a birds-eye view of how transactions work and to become familiar with the various tasks and responsibilities of each side. I've also worked on matters with the debt finance group to ensure financing of M&A deals.
Yihsin: I have been involved in a variety of deals across the transactional practice areas, including M&A, PIPE transactions, de-SPACs (mergers between a Special Purpose Acquisition Company and a target), leveraged acquisition financings, and fund formations.
How did you choose this practice area?
Davin: I worked in litigation as a paralegal prior to law school, but I found I preferred the collaborative nature of transactional work. My undergraduate background was focused on business, and I prefer how the corporate practice blends substantive legal work with business knowledge and advice.
Yihsin: The general corporate pool appealed to me because of the exposure to so many types of deals and teams. The practice allows the flexibility to choose the work that interests you and the clients and teams that you’d like to work with.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Davin: It's hard to say what a "typical day" is like because it can vary in so many ways. As a junior associate, many of my tasks involve doing due diligence for transactions, working with our various specialist groups to coordinate diligence requests, coordinating with overseas counsel, overseeing our virtual data rooms and checklists, and participating in calls with clients and attorneys on the other side of the deal.
Yihsin: Junior associates are very involved in the deal process from the beginning, which makes each day different and exciting. Tasks can range from drafting documents and reviewing contracts to collaborating with partners to leading management calls and client calls.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Davin: I would recommend taking courses that focus on business associations and finance. Even if many law school courses don't deal directly with transactional work, having a deeper understanding of the nature of finance, lending, and corporate structures will help "decode" much of the language you'll come across early in your practice. In terms of the firm practice itself, I find that being detail oriented is one of the skills that lends the most value to your team as a junior associate.
Yihsin: Being a lawyer requires attention to detail and organization. Specifically for the corporate groups, being commercially aware is helpful in understanding the deal process and timeline. Kirkland has an abundance of partner-led trainings as well as on-demand videos through our Legal Education Department platform LearningLink and precedents, which help us develop our skills.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Davin: I think Kirkland is really in a league of its own when it comes to M&A in the private equity space. We work with the largest PE firms in the world as well as lower- and middle-market firms—it's not unusual to be working on deals with enterprise valuations under $100 million alongside multibillion-dollar deals. Kirkland’s open assignment system also allows associates a higher degree of discretion in choosing which clients, deals, and partners they'd prefer to work with, so we have the opportunity to align our career trajectory with our interests and goals to a greater degree than many of our peer firms.
Yihsin: What is really unique about Kirkland is our open assignment system. This system allows you to choose your own deals and deal teams based on your interests, while gaining mentorship and support from partners and a workflow team. What’s different here is that we can work across a range of groups at the same time, as there is no set rotation.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
Davin: Summer associates are given opportunities to work directly with associates and partners, including contract review, diligence, client meetings, and coordination of administrative documents like working group lists.
Yihsin: Summer associates gain a preview into the general corporate practice area and the open assignment system the day they join. Our workflow team ensures that summers are matched with their interests and provided a diverse experience.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Davin: At Kirkland, it is understood that everyone has different career goals. Corporate attorneys who leave the firm often go in-house with clients or other companies or join private equity firms. The firm’s internal career services group, CareerLink, helps attorneys achieve their individual goals, whether that be internal advancement or transitioning to an in-house role.
Yihsin: Corporate lawyers gain a diverse skill set by working at a large law firm, and those skills can be transferred into different types of career paths. Some lawyers end up going in-house or working at various organizations, such as Fortune 500 companies, banks, nonprofits, and more.
What has been the most surprising aspect of dealmaking to you?
Davin: Having come from the litigation side before law school, I found the pace and flow of transactional work to be the most surprising. Rather than work on a couple of long-term matters, I can jump on dozens of fast-moving M&A deals, some of which take only a few weeks from beginning to close. Kirkland’s open assignment system also grants flexibility to take on deals that accommodate your schedule and workload. For example, if you know you’ll be less busy over the next month, you can join a fast deal that’ll keep you busy over a shorter period. M&A isn’t known anywhere for being the most predictable, but Kirkland does a great job of giving you some of that control back.
Yihsin: At Kirkland, you have the opportunity to work on some headline deals with top-tier clients. It’s amazing to see your transactions in the newspapers and work on deals for companies that produce items you use in your day-to-day life.