Insurance may be a risky business, but if it sparks your interest, ever-expanding Kennedys is a safe bet.
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The Kennedys story could be a 'How To' guide to transmogrifying a law firm: within two decades this firm's gone from a solely London-based insurance outfit to a viable contender on the international scene. It first got a taste for expansion when it opened its Belfast office in 1996, and since then the wheels have very much been in motion; Kennedys has scoured the globe, leaving a trail of mergers, international alliances and new office openings in its wake. Now you'll find a grand total of 22 Kennedys offices in the likes of Singapore, Australia and Russia, as well as 15 associations with firms in countries like China, India and Brazil.
But Kennedys isn't done quite yet. Its ambitious gaze recently fell on Scandinavia: first it merged with an associated firm, Advokatfirmaet Erritzøe, giving it an office in Copenhagen; next it opened its arms to two associations in the region, one with Norway's Kogstad Lunde & Co and the other with Sweden's Advokatfirman NorelidHolm. This was followed by new offices in Chile and Columbia. Despite a slight slip in turnover in 2015 – a blip that training principal Andrew Coates describes as “probably more due to currency fluctuations than our ability to deliver on our targets”– Kennedys is still on the lookout for targeted growth opportunities. Coates explains: “Our growth strategy includes starting with associations in particular regions we've highlighted. It's a low-risk way of vetting an area's commercial potential, and often these associations will flourish into full-blown offices. At the moment we're looking for growth opportunities across the Americas.”
Kennedys is big in all things insurance and has a huge litigation slant. It excels at helping the likes of AIG, Allianz and Zurich out of all sorts of predicaments, and, unsurprisingly, the firm's contentious insurance expertise is regarded highly by Chambers UK. Its professional negligence, health and safety, clinical negligence and personal injury work also scores special praise. “You won't be doing much admin here,” said one trainee. “From day one you're made to feel like a valued member of the team, and from what I've seen there really isn't much of a gear shift when it comes to qualifying. You're instantly brought in on high-value, complex cases, and the supervision you receive puts you in good stead to be an excellent lawyer.”
At the time of our calls there were 25 trainees in Kennedys' London HQ, three in Chelmsford, two apiece in Sheffield, Manchester and Cambridge, and a lone ranger up in Birmingham. For 2019, the firm is recruiting trainees in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Chelmsford. The Taunton office occasionally hires a trainee from its pool of paralegals. Each seat on offer falls into one of four main departments: insurance, liability, commercial or healthcare. Londoners have the whole menu at their disposal, and are encouraged to complete at least one liability and one insurance seat. But seat options in the regional offices are more limited – for example, a training contract in Cambridge tends to focus on clinical negligence work, so trainees here usually head to London for one of their seats. In the capital, “the seat allocation process is very polished, and you'll know where you're going next some two months in advance,” sources explained. However, “in the regional offices it's much more fluid as it depends on where you're needed. You may spend six months in a seat, and then be asked to stay on for another three. It's a good way to take on advanced responsibilities, but it certainly isn't regimented.”
Stop the press
Insurance “is the firm's biggest selling point, so if you're applying here you really need to do your research,” one advised. “Have a look at our website, develop an understanding of our market presence and our clients, and don't be afraid to take on that insurance elective at law school.” You may have passed an uninspiring afternoon sorting out some last-minute travel insurance and found the whole thing rather dull, but rest assured there are plenty of interesting insurance cases passing through Kennedys' doors. “We actually play a vital role in helping companies manage risks and losses that stem from many headline news stories,” sources told us. “Natural disasters, terrorist attacks – you name it.” Under the insurance umbrella are seats in general insurance, professional indemnity, product liability, construction, marine and insurance/reinsurance.
General insurance offers one of the broadest choices of work, including coverage, property damage, medical devices and product liability. The firm typically acts for defendants (i.e. the insurer) though occasionally veers to the other side. “There's plenty of variety on offer,” satisfied interviewees reported. “You may begin with an employee liability claim for a borough council, and by the end you'll have done all sorts of other stuff, from food poisoning claims against package tour operators to electric cable repair disputes following road repair works.” Recent highlights in this area include acting for AIG after a $1.2 billion project to construct a North Sea oil production unit was terminated; the team has also continued to represent insurer RSA during an appeal to establish how much compensation should be paid out after a Sony warehouse in Enfield was destroyed during the August 2011 riots. Trainees who'd sat here told us they'd mostly kept busy with “lots of trial prep for big disputes,” which “mainly involves taking minutes for meetings, doing research, handling disclosure tasks, and drafting instructions to counsel.”
Over in professional indemnity, lawyers represent solicitors, insurers, brokers, accountants and construction workers accused of professional negligence. The team has been acting for RSA and law firm Maclay Murray & Spens during a £16 million claim; it stemmed from allegations that MMS had failed to carry out its duty to investors who were backing a Lanarkshire-based Enterprise Zone. Matters tend to circle the low to mid-million mark and “can go on for over five years in some cases.” As such, trainees “are not left in charge of any files,” but make themselves useful by keeping up-to-date chronological summaries, “so that outsiders can have a quick read and see what's happened in the case so far.” Still, the odd opportunity to really get stuck in does crop up from time to time. “If you're lucky you may be able to have a go at drafting instructions to counsel,” one rookie winked. “Under supervision, of course.”
“We'll check social media to see if the story matches.”
The product liability team focuses on claims related to faulty products in the healthcare, consumer, engineering and automotive industries. Lawyers here recently acted for motorcycle purveyors Harley-Davidson after an axle failure issue caused multiple injuries. If you fancy a more “niche area,” then a stint in aviation should do the trick. Kennedys has a practice devoted to financing and acquiring aircraft, but also one that deals with pretty much everything that can go wrong in the aviation space, from flight delays to catastrophic losses. A range of insurers and airline operators like American Airlines and Etihad fill the books; the group's currently representing BA and AIG on the liability issues arising from Flight 2276's engine failure as it took off from an airport in Las Vegas. Baggage and flight delay claims are trainees' “bread and butter,” but major losses see trainees “helping with the big stuff like building up passenger schedules, examining expert reports and figuring out valuations.”
The personal injury group defends insurers and their clients against public liability claims. Lawyers work on everything from low-value slips and trips to multimillion-pound catastrophic injury and traffic accident matters. Claims “often come in bulk,” which means “there's plenty to keep on top of. You need to make sure you've take into account the demands of multiple claimants at the same time. It's a bit of a juggling act.” One such case emerged from the terrorist attack on a Tunisian resort in June 2015, when 39 people were killed; Kennedys is helping travel leisure group TUI address 30 claims, which argue the company could have done more to warn of possible terrorism risks and increase security on the resort. The firm's also been helping TUI settle food poisoning claims brought by guests who've stayed at all-inclusive resorts. These “provide a good opportunity to get investigating,” trainees told us. “If the insurer doesn't buy that a claimant was rendered bed-bound by food poisoning following a dodgy meal, we'll check their social media accounts to see if the story matches up. If there's sufficient contrary proof – like pictures of them over the following days swimming or rock climbing or out and about – it may add weight to the insurer's suspicion that the claimant is just looking to make a quick buck.”
The clinical negligence practice acts on behalf of the NHS, the Medical Protection Society, “a few private healthcare companies,” and medical malpractice insurers. The team defends the latter against compensation claims which range from mild orthopaedic injuries to complex, multimillion brain damage cases. “It's useful to have an interest in medicine,” one insider suggested, “because you'll be looking at medical records and speaking with doctors on a daily basis. You'll need to be able to differentiate between particular areas of the body – in a more scientific way – as well as certain sorts of medicine. And it's best not to be squeamish!” This 'sleeves rolled up' attitude also helps juniors tackle the bundle of responsibility on offer. “I routinely ran my own cases,” said one Cambridge trainee. “My supervisor was always on hand, but the workload is so high that you just have to get on with it.” There's very little photocopying, and we heard of trainees who had drafted documents for court, discussed cases with counsel, attended meetings with the client and even “been lucky enough to go to trial twice over the six-month period.”
“You need to get stuck in and figure things out.”
“London's insurance market is up and running 24/7,” an interviewee stated, reflecting others who'd highlighted the longer hours in insurance seats. The disputes here are large and teams become very busy in the run-up to a trial or mediation; trainees exit between 7.30pm and 8pm most nights, but also encounter the odd midnight finish. A typical day in most other departments sees trainees out the door by 6pm, and we heard that “the hours are a little less strenuous in the regional offices.” Still, Londoners had “never heard anyone complain about being made to stay late. If you look at other City firms, the work/life balance here is actually rather good.” The trade-off? “Trainee salaries are a little lower than they are at peer firms,” one insider conceded.
By and large our interviewees were happy with the supervision they'd received over their training contract. “Despite their busy schedules, most supervisors put a lot of effort into providing a full strategic briefing when you first enter a case,” one insider raved. “They'll make sure you're up to date with what's happened so far, and will explain how they'd like to push it forward.” From then on 'measured autonomy' is the name of the game: “There's always supervision there, but partners trust that you'll act sensibly and considerately. If you prepare a defence then it'll be signed off by a partner, but if your client calls no one will be there feeding you lines to say.” Rookies usually get feedback on work submitted, but “you also need to have the confidence to get stuck in and figure things out.”
The firm pads out its supervisor-led training with regular lunchtime seminars covering recent practice area developments. It's also worth mentioning the PSCs, which all trainees complete together in London at the start of their training contract. “It's a nice start,” newbies agreed. “You get to know everyone outside of the formal work setting, so by the time you begin practising you already feel like you have a group of friends across the firm's network.” From here onwards, “there isn't a constant flow of work between us, but you'll certainly meet up with colleagues from other offices on the odd occasion.” Meet-ups are usually more focused on sharing knowledge instead of project collaboration. “Most practice areas hold an annual nationwide conference,” one trainee revealed. “I've also called other offices to quiz expert colleagues on particular points of law.”
With the majority of trainees stationed in the London office, it's no surprise that sources elsewhere were a little envious of their City colleagues' social lives. “They have office drinks at the end of the month,” one regional rookie griped. “The idea was pitched in our office but nothing came of it.” However, we heard that the Chelmsford, Sheffield and Birmingham offices are now hosting monthly drinks. “The Sheffield office also has dress-down days every Monday and Friday,” one occupant boasted, while the Chelmsford lot were chuffed to add that “we're given £200 a year to put towards gym memberships.” That'll probably come in handy, because when it comes to charity fund-raising, Kennedys' cohort are big on the outdoor pursuits. “Around 30 of us recently took part in a mud run for Age UK,” one Londoner recounted, and we also heard of past teams who'd conquered Atlas Mountain expeditions and dragon boat races. At the time of our calls a new crop of hopefuls were planning to tackle the slopes of Mount Etna. “It's a four-day trek that's taking place over a long weekend,” one insider explained. “Kennedys has even given us an extra day's holiday to cover it,” proving that “CSR is an important focus here.”
Some offices have a formal application process for NQ positions, while elsewhere it's just a chat with HR. In 2016, 15 of Kennedys' 18 second-years stayed on with the firm.
How to get a Kennedys training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (winter 2018): 30 September 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 December 2017
Kennedys generally offers 12 training contracts in London and eight in the firm's regional offices each year. Applicants need at least 300 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree to pass the initial screening.
Your best bet for landing a training contract is completing the firm's summer vacation scheme. “This route is a fantastic opportunity for you to see what life is like at Kennedys,” HR advisor Nicola Standley tells us. “We tend to offer a high percentage of our summer vacation scheme students training contracts, as not only have they undertaken a rigorous recruitment process, they have also demonstrated they can work well with the teams.” Last year, half of the vac schemers secured a training contract.
The firm runs two one-week schemes over the summer, taking on 12 vac schemers in total. They work within one of the legal divisions during their placement and “get an insight into what trainees do by undertaking very similar tasks,” Standley says. “We aim to give them an accurate depiction of what it's like to work here.” Alongside their trainee work, vac schemers complete a group task and attend socials – this year featured a speedboat tour down the Thames.
Applications and assessments
The vacation scheme application process is broadly the same as the one for straight-to-training contract applicants.
Both types of applications kick off with an online form. The firm typically receives around 250 vac scheme and 600 training contract applications. “We want to understand why they are applying to Kennedys in particular, and why they're interested in the type of work we do,” Standley says. She advises applicants to “highlight any relevant work experience and any other achievements aside from academics.” Shortlisted candidates are then invited to undertake an automated video interview, focusing on their application form and reasons for applying to Kennedys as well as commercial awareness questions.
The firm then selects around 100 applicants to take a timed critical thinking test online, and around 60 candidates are then invited to attend an assessment day. The day includes some group exercises that test communication skills, plus a written task and a short interview with a partner. “One of my group exercises was a debate and the other two were games with cards and a murder mystery,” a trainee source reported. “It was all about seeing how we interacted.” Meanwhile, the written task is scenario-based. “Mine involved a client who'd been in a car incident – I had to write to the garage saying what the client wanted,” our source said. “They're looking at how you approach the situation, not your legal knowledge.”
Standley tells us that “the candidates who stand out at the assessment day are definitely those who go the extra mile and make an effort to mingle with our staff over lunch and coffee, as well as put every effort into the assessment tasks they are involved in. Show an interest and make an effort to ask questions to our current trainees. It's all about demonstrating that you're enthusiastic and giving us a chance to see what kind of person you are.” Beyond this, “we're looking for people who match our values,” she says. These include being approachable, straightforward and supportive.
From here, vac schemers and trainees are chosen. For those aiming to crack offices outside of London, a further follow-up interview in their chosen office is held before the final decision is made.
Kennedys regional offices
Most of Kennedys' trainees are based in London, but a few start in Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Chelmsford and Cambridge each year. Across the firm seats span four main departments – insurance, liability, commercial, and healthcare – but it's worth noting that unlike in London not every department is on offer in each regional office. Manchester promises the most choice, with seats in commercial, liability and insurance up for grabs, followed by Birmingham and Sheffield which both offer insurance and liability options. Chelmsford hones in on liability matters while Cambridge focuses on clinical negligence. Regional trainees may also be offered the chance to complete a seat in the firm's other domestic offices and noted that outside of London “there's more flexibility in how your training contract is run; you may have the chance to repeat a seat or sometimes rotations can be split or lengthened.” One northern source stressed: “if we do end up following a different pattern the firm still ensures we get all the experience we require.”
The newest and largest of the regional offices, Kennedys' Sheffield arm is based in “a gorgeous, central and recently-built office, with lots of glass and lots of light.” It opened in June 2010 with 11 partners from the insurance team of collapsed firm Halliwells and has a reputation as being Kennedys' most sociable branch. “There's always something happening. We're often found at the Old Queen's Head pub in the evening and it's full of Kennedys lawyers at Friday lunchtime. The firm appreciates that downtime is beneficial to us when we're working so hard,” one source raved.
The Manchester base is on Peter Street, and was created after Kennedys merged with local firm Kershaw Abbott in 2008 then nabbed a team of three from Halliwells in 2010. It now specialises in professional negligence and insurance work. 2008 also saw Kennedys take over specialist insurance boutique Davies Lavery, a move that expanded its existing Chelmsford operation, and opened up an office in Birmingham. The latter is a relatively small affair spread over the top floor of 35 Newhall Street. It has “fantastic views” and resides in the financial district, “near lawyer bars like All Bar One and Metro.” Despite the location we heard that Birmingham “isn't the most social of offices; only a few of us tend to head for drinks but it's still a very friendly place.” Chelmsford on the other hand is “quite lively,” thanks in part to its open-plan layout. Still, trainees here had noticed “your social life is likely to be busier in your first year, as people are always keen to get to know you and make sure you're settling in alright. Towards qualification you'll want to get your head down!”
Finally, there's the Cambridge branch, which the firm opened in response to its 2001 appointment to the NHS Litigation Authority's legal panel in London and East Anglia. It's located near the university and River Cam, which trainees found “very peaceful, but not the easiest place to find somewhere to eat!” The office is home to two partners and around a dozen solicitors who specialise in clinical negligence work.
Interview with training principal Andrew Coates
AC: The figures recorded in 2014/5 were probably more due to currency fluctuations than our ability to deliver on our targets. In 2015/16 we reported a 7% rise in global turnover, which is a fantastic achievement.
It's important to acknowledge our Asian offices for their role in that global growth, with Hong Kong's turnover rising by over 30%, and Singapore's by over 140%. We also opened an office in Denmark in January 2016, which had been an aim of ours for a long time. That office will benefit from the associate agreements we signed with Norwegian firm Kogstad Lunde & Co and Sweden's NorelidHolm.
On that note, we're always on the lookout for targeted growth opportunities. As was the case in Scandinavia, our growth strategy includes starting with associations in particular regions we've highlighted. It's a low-risk way of vetting an area's commercial potential, and often these associations will flourish into full-blown offices.
At the moment we're looking for growth opportunities across the Americas. We hired our first US lawyers in Miami in October 2015. Neil Bayer has been excellent in heading up our US practice, as has Alex Guillamont, who focuses more on Latin America and the Caribbean. Off the back of that we've announced further openings in Brazil and Peru, and we signed association agreements in Argentina and Chile in January. There are likely to be a few more announcements to come yet, particularly where South America is involved.
SG: How about hiring over the past year?
AC: We've taken on 21 lateral partners specialising not only in insurance, but in other industries too. It's a clear indication of our commitment to growth. Where trainees are concerned we've just announced an 83% retention rate on this year's cohort, which saw 15 of 18 qualifiers return as NQs. For our 2017 intake we aim to employ 20 trainees in England and 13 apprentices too, as part of the government's two-year paralegal apprenticeship. Also, in our May partnership promotion round we made seven new partners. Two of seven were female, and another two of seven were formerly trainees at the firm.
SG: What challenges does Kennedys face in the wake of the Brexit referendum result?
AC: Our unique proposition here is that we don't suffer from the usual boom or bust fluctuations that do arise in full-service firms. A high proportion of our work remains insurance-related dispute resolution, which tends to bring us fairly reliable steady growth. In terms of career progression at Kennedys the benefits of this focus are clear: it enables us to offer a progressive career structure, and avoid having to make mass redundancies during big economic shake-ups, like a recession or the referendum.
Our senior partner Nick Thomas has been very clear in his recent internal communications. Given that we work for a lot of global insurers, there'll inevitably be a period of short-term instability in all markets, but we're sure that they and we will continue to prosper. London is extremely well placed in the business world and will continue to thrive. The hard economic reality is that clients seek out expertise, and for law and insurance that expertise will remain in London.
25 Fenchurch Avenue,
- Partners 199
- Fee earners 777
- Total trainees 38
- Total staff 1,510
- Contact Nicola Standley, HR advisor trainees and apprentices, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Assessment day
- Closing date for 2019 31 December 2017
- Training contracts pa Approx 18
- Applications pa 900 (London)
- Required degree grade 2:1 and 300 UCAS points or equivalent at A level
- Training salary
- First year: £35,000 (London); £26,000 (elsewhere)
- Second year: £37,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees offered job on qualification 95%
- Offices We have 27 office locations around the world: Auckland, Belfast, Birmingham, Bogota, Brussels, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Lima, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Manchester, Mexico City, Miami, Moscow, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Sheffield, Singapore, Sydney and Taunton.
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