Kirkland & Ellis LLP is an American law firm. Founded in 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, Kirkland is the largest law firm in the world by revenue, the seventh-largest by number of attorneys, and is the first law firm in the world to reach US$4 billion in revenue. Kirkland also ranks second-highest globally in profits per equity partner, and is the highest among firms with a global presence. While Kirkland was historically considered a firm focused on litigation, during the 2010s, it expanded private equity and restructuring practices which, together with large-scale commercial litigation, comprise the core legal service areas of the firm.
Prominent attorneys of the firm have included numerous conservatives and Republican administration officials, including United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorney General William Barr.
In 1909, two attorneys, Stuart G. Shepard and Robert R. McCormick, formed the Chicago-based partnership that would eventually become Kirkland & Ellis. McCormick was the grandson of Joseph Medill, who had founded the Chicago Tribune. McCormick became president of the Tribune Company in 1914 and, in 1925, sole publisher of the Tribune.
Weymouth Kirkland and his associate Howard Ellis joined the firm in 1915. Kirkland served as chief counsel to the Tribune and other newspapers in various free speech and defamation cases, including Near v. Minnesota. In 1938, Kirkland and Ellis hired young trial lawyer Hammond Chaffetz from the U.S. Department of Justice. Chaffetz spent six decades with the firm, during which it grew to about 780 lawyers, making it one of the 30 largest in the country. Kirkland & Ellis has 15 offices in four countries.
According to a 2016 study, which evaluated the political ideology of the top 20 American law firms, Kirkland & Ellis was among the most conservative.
In 2020, "Kirkland, along with some other out-of-town firms like Sidley Austin and Latham & Watkins," have been reported in media as using "aggressive lateral recruiting to draw from New York’s dealmaking talent pool." The firm earned $5 billion in revenue in 2020. The increase came from heightened demand, induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Lawyer ranked Kirkland & Ellis as the 2018 Law Firm of the Year. "Mergers & Acquisitions" ranked Kirkland as the 2019 Law Firm of the Year for advising on 400 U.S. based-deals (more than twice that of the firm ranked second), and for advising on the largest number of global deals, in each case, in 2019. As of 2020, Kirkland is the largest law firm in the U.S. by gross revenue, with US$4.16 billion in revenue, and an estimated profit per equity partner of US$5.20 million. Kirkland was ranked second in the 2017 ATL Power 100 law firm rankings. Vault ranked Kirkland as the most prestigious firm in Chicago and the number-one firm in the U.S. for private equity, restructuring and business outlook in 2018.
Notable clients and cases
- Brown & Williamson, a tobacco company. In 1995, Kirkland & Ellis made legal threats against CBS to prevent it from airing a 60 Minutes interview with tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand.
- Bristol-Myers Squibb in its US$90 billion acquisition of Celgene, the largest biopharmaceutical deal in history by terms of transaction value.
- AbbVie in its US$63 billion acquisition of Allergan, which received the New York 2020 Healthcare, Pharma & Biotech Deal of the Year award by the Deal (magazine).
- GLP (company) in its sale of U.S. Logistics Business to Blackstone for US$18.7 billion, the largest ever private real estate transaction globally in terms of trade value.
- BP in relation to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill; secured a summary judgment ruling in favor of BP that it had no duty to report the Deepwater Horizon oil spill under the U.S. Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
- Volkswagen in relation to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
- General Motors in relation to the General Motors ignition switch scandal.
- Defended Nike, Inc. against trademark infringement claims regarding the Jumpman logo.
- AbbVie Inc., pharmaceutical company spun-off from Abbott Laboratories in 2013, in a royalty dispute with MedImmune; won a $93.8 million jury award.
- MedTronic in a patent suit won against Atlas IP, LLC.
- Miller UK Ltd., acquired a $73.6 million trade secrets misappropriation jury award against Caterpillar Inc.
- Jeffrey Epstein in a case of sex-trafficking with minors, resulting in a reduced charge plea bargain with limited penalties, which later garnered "accusations that the lenient sentence enabled Epstein to continue his abuse." Evaded legal obligation to notify victims of the plea bargain, thereby violating victims rights under the CVRA, by holding secret meetings with Alex Acosta's staff in the Marriott hotel.
- Toys R Us restructuring.
- A group of major investors in the international fish meal industry, in connection with their claims against China Fishery
- Cariol Horne 2020 action for reinstatement to the Buffalo Police Department, having been fired in 2008 for intervening in an arrest that she perceived as being potentially lethal.
Notable attorneys and alumni
Notable alumni of the firm include, among others, more than two dozen attorneys who resigned when appointed to roles in government.
- Alexander Acosta – former Secretary of Labor under President Donald Trump
- Alex Azar – Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Christopher Landau - Former US Ambassador to Mexico under President Donald Trump
- William Barr – 85th United States Attorney General under President Donald Trump and former 77th United States Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush.
- John R. Bolton – former National Security Advisor under President Donald Trump
- Robert Bork – former Judge of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and former Solicitor General under President Richard Nixon
- Dan Bress – Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- Pat Cipollone – White House Counsel under President Donald Trump
- Jeffrey Bossert Clark - United States Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division under President Donald Trump; acting head of the Civil Division under President Donald Trump
- Paul Clement – former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush
- Viet D. Dinh – Chief Legal Officer at 21st Century Fox, former Assistant Attorney General under President George W. Bush and chief architect of the USA PATRIOT Act
- John C. Eastman - former professor at Chapman University School of Law and advisor to President Donald Trump
- Neil Eggleston – former White House Counsel under President Barack Obama
- Mark Filip – former Judge of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and former Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush
- Jonathan P. Friedland – author, served as Adjunct Professor of Strategic Management, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, co-taught with James H.M. Sprayregen
- Brett Kavanaugh – Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
- Robert S. Khuzami – Deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, former Director of the Division of Enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission and former General Counsel of Deutsche Bank
- Jay Lefkowitz – former Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea and Director of Cabinet Affairs under President George W. Bush
- Dallin H. Oaks – First Counselor of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Jeffrey A. Rosen – Deputy Secretary of Transportation and Deputy Attorney General and acting United States Attorney General under President Donald Trump
- Nathan Sales – Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
- Mikie Sherrill – U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 11th congressional district
- Ken Starr – Whitewater special prosecutor and former Solicitor General under President George H. W. Bush
- Jeff Wall – Principal Deputy Solicitor General under President Donald Trump and former acting Solicitor General
- Ali Zaidi (lawyer) – first deputy White House National Climate Advisor in U.S. history (under President Joe Biden)
The firm has endowed professorships in its name at four law schools: Harvard Law School, Northwestern University School of Law, University of Michigan Law School, and University of Chicago Law School.