Name: Usman Khan
Job Title(s): Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Backstory: I was born in Lahore, Pakistan. I moved to the UK as a two-year-old and, barring a brief stay in Dubai in 2016-17, London has been my home ever since. My dad was not able to work due to a disability (he had kidney failure so was on dialysis three or four times a week) and mum was a full-time carer for him as well as working part-time as a dinner lady at my primary school.
I went to a state school and was the first in my family to go to university here in the UK. I read law at King’s College London and graduated in 2010. After completing my LPC, I trained at Paul Hastings and qualified into the finance team in 2014. I moved to Hogan Lovells in Dubai (as mentioned above) and returned to Paul Hastings in 2017.
I moved across to Kirkland & Ellis as a partner in September 2021. My practice focuses on domestic and cross-border real estate financings (REF), in the most parts, for private equity sponsors.
Who or what influenced you to train as a lawyer?
I studied Law as one of my A-Level subjects and enjoyed it. When it came to selecting a degree, I was not too sure what to choose. I liked the broad nature of Law but at around that time, I wasn’t thinking about training as a lawyer. My choice was pragmatic in that I thought completing a Law degree would open up various career opportunities for me, not just as a lawyer. There wasn’t anyone in my direct circle who could tell me what life as a corporate lawyer was like as I didn’t know anyone doing the job. It was only by going to university and speaking to friends there who had contacts in the profession I was able to find out what being a lawyer entailed.
And though I applied to other graduate schemes at the time (to hedge my bets), I thought my personality and characteristics were a good fit for a career as a lawyer.
And why finance?
I initially thought I would enjoy M&A work and was excited that it was my first seat as a trainee. The reality was slightly different! I didn’t really enjoy being neck-deep in datarooms and preparing due diligence reports. Granted, that’s not what all M&A lawyers do but I knew straight away that I didn’t want to do this for the early stages of my career. I did however know that transactional work suited me. My next two seats were spent in finance and I quickly grew to like the nature of the work. I enjoyed the project management aspects and procedural nature of transactions, and what’s more, most of the deals completed in 4-6 weeks rather than dragging on for months or indeed years. I also got on particularly well with the finance teams so it felt like a natural choice to pursue this as an NQ.
If you didn’t pursue a legal career what would you be doing now?
The dream would’ve been to play for my beloved Liverpool FC but, alas, my football skills are quite average! Realistically, I would’ve been an entrepreneur running my own business.
You’ve had such a varied career, which aspects have you enjoyed the most and why?
I very much enjoy the developing relationships part of my role which is great fun and incredibly rewarding. I enjoy speaking to different people and discovering more about them and their businesses to see how I can help them / work together.
What would you say is a common misconception or misunderstanding aspiring or junior lawyers have about the legal profession?
Thinking that they need to know everything and be involved in the more interesting workstreams from day-one. There is a process involved and junior / younger lawyers get noticed for doing the simple stuff really well i.e. no typos, being organised, following through with what they have said etc. The more complex work follows and builds on the basic building blocks.
What does success mean to you?
Professionally, growing the REF practice at Kirkland (within the last year, we have grown to become the biggest sponsor-side REF practice in Europe) to even bigger heights. Bringing through talented associates and working alongside interesting clients.
Outside of work, being able to enjoy my four young boys grow older alongside my wife!
Imagine a time when you felt like giving up. What helped you bounce back?
Training contract applications and dealing with some rejections even after thinking I had interviewed quite well at some firms. I am usually a positive-minded individual but any sort of rejection did dishearten me. My parents (especially my dad) and my faith helped me to persevere and get through rejections by saying this is part of life and I should be using these challenges to grow as an individual.
What careers advice would you give to your younger self?
I would take my own advice given above about making sure that got the basics right and gave simple tasks 100% instead of being so impatient!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about life and / or work outside of a formal education setting or away from the office?
Having a good network really opens doors. Be kind to people, get to know them and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how this can help you in the future.
If there was one skill you could’ve excelled at during your formative years as a lawyer what would that be?
Being more proficient with IT as a trainee – if I were able to master that earlier on, it would’ve saved quite a few late nights as it was half the job!