Newcomers are assured of an insurance-heavy training contract at Kennedys, where a policy of expansion reigns.
Party in the USA
Kennedys likes to keep things black and white: the logo, the website, even the offices; “everything is black and white! It's the official colour scheme,” trainees informed us. Luckily the firm's also black and white with its figures, which is good because there's a lot to get through: the past two decades have seen this insurance-focused firm undergo a prolonged growth spurt, as it amassed 32 offices and 16 associate offices and co-operations across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. At the time of writing in July 2017 Kennedys was showing no sign of putting the brakes on its expansion plans, both domestic and international: in just the first half of the year Kennedys had already snapped up Manchester shop Berg & Co; poached Hill Dickinson's entire casualty insurance team in Sheffield; opened a new office in Mexico City; entered into an association with Italian firm Studio Legale Rinaldi Associati; and tied the knot with US insurance outfit Carroll McNulty & Kull. The latter gave Kennedys five offices across New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas, plus 43 partners.
Breathe. These strategic moves are clearly doing the trick, as Kennedys posted an 8% increase in revenue over 2016/17 to £149.9 million, with the performance of the firm's European offices flagged as a highlight. The architect of much of Kennedys' growth in recent years, senior partner Nick Thomas, has just been re-elected to serve another five-year term, so further mergers, alliances and office openings could well be on the horizon. This promising forecast drew many a trainee to Kennedys, but the work itself was also tempting: “The main focus is insurance,” said one trainee, “and I did an insurance elective on the LPC, so that was a key factor that influenced my application.” Others were drawn to Kennedys' target industries, like healthcare and transport. A look at the firm's Chambers UK rankings shows strengths in contentious insurance, as well as professional negligence, health and safety, clinical negligence, personal injury, product liability and logistics work.
At the time of our calls there were 25 trainees in Kennedys' London HQ, four in Chelmsford, three apiece in Manchester and Cambridge, two in Birmingham and one apiece in Sheffield and Belfast. 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. Sources here told us that newbies can't expect to get their first choice every time, as second-years get priority. However, Londoners can be seconded to the Hong Kong office or undertake a client secondment. In the regions, seat options are more limited, with repeat stints or seats in other offices a possibility. “You can vocalise where you want to go, but it doesn't make much of a difference because there are fewer departments. It's more about which order you do them in.” Rotations are also “a lot more fluid” and not necessarily confined to the standard six months.
What a liability
On the insurance department's client roster you'll find some of the industry's key players, like AIG, Allianz and Chubb. Under the insurance umbrella are seats in general insurance, professional indemnity, product liability, construction, marine and insurance/reinsurance. General insurance offers a broad choice of work, including coverage, property damage, medical devices and product liability matters. Many sources had worked on cases involving “significant damage to property caused by a faulty product or defective workmanship. Sometimes we'd act for the claimants to help them recover costs from third parties.” This line of work had trainees “bundling, but also drafting witness statements, letters of claim and particulars of case.” More niche matters saw trainees scrutinising clauses in insurance policies that guard against losses from cyber attacks: “I got to go to trial on that one; there was a lot of prepping bundles and helping to look after the witnesses in court.” Many of the cases here are confidential,but the group have continued to represent German insurance company R+V Versicherung in matters pertaining to the earthquakes that struck New Zealand in 2011; lawyers also acted for insurers RSA, AIG and QBE during a dispute that considered the application of an after-the-event (ATE) policy in a case where a property development in the Caribbean had been delayed.
Over in professional indemnity, lawyers represent solicitors, insurers, brokers, accountants and construction workers accused of professional negligence. The team is one of the firm's hotspots and made up 18% of overall UK revenue in 2015/16. At the time of our calls the department was running full steam ahead, with one source working on “a multi-million claim against an engineer who'd designed a site where faults were reported; I've reviewed about 20 files of evidence and gone to meetings with the engineer – obviously supervised.” Others explained that “if you're defending solicitors it covers a whole range of law. We've worked for family, property and criminal solicitors. It's really daunting to discuss a solicitor's possible negligence with them when they've been practising for over 30 years and you're still a trainee... At least it gives you some pointers on how to do your job!” Other tasks had seen rookies drafting witness statements and instructions to counsel, as well as writing attendance notes during mediations – “thankfully I haven't had to do too much photocopying!” Clients here include property and casualty insurers XL Catlin, W. R. Berkley and Travelers; the team recently acted for the latter and its insured solicitors (Lorrells Georgiou Nicholas) during a claim brought by (the now collapsed) Connaught Income Fund.
“It's not as high drama as a criminal trial but the law is definitely more complicated.”
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. Of latethe department has been instructed by Chubb (and its insured, Merlin Entertainment Group) to manage the civil claims arising from the 'Smiler' crash at Alton Towers in 2015. Lawyers here also acted for Chubb and its insured – Northampton Recruitment – in a case that determined that the company was not vicariously liable for an assault that took place after an office Christmas party and left the claimant with brain damage. Trainees had been “out of the office quite a lot, collecting and drafting witness statements, as well as attending inquests. They're really keen to throw you in the deep end – but only if you're comfortable with that!” Some sources told us that the department is one of the best in terms of responsibility, as it lets trainees manage a few fast-track and small claim files by themselves: “On these you'll be doing anything from attending joint settlement meetings to having a go at the first draft of the defence.”
The clinical negligence practice is part of Kennedys' healthcare department. It acts on behalf of the NHS (it's been on the NHS Litigation Authority panel since 2001 and acts for over 60 trusts), the Medical Protection Society, private hospitals, clinics and medical malpractice insurers. Compensation claims here cover the likes of mild orthopaedic injuries, failures to diagnose conditions like cancer and autism, and complex, multimillion-pound brain damage cases.A recent high-stakes case saw the team defend the NHSLA against a £5 million birth injury claim, where the claimant alleged that a c-section should have been offered to her. Another case required lawyers here to defend a GP after it was alleged that she knew of her patient's allergy to penicillin when prescribing an antibiotic that contained it, which, it was argued by the claimant, contributed to the patient's death. The team's NHS links caused trainees to spill that “there's been quite a lot of admin after the cyber attack. Everything's been down, so it's having a huge knock-on effect on how we can get things signed off.” Admin aside, other duties included “dealing with a load of technical medical expert evidence; drafting witness statements; getting expert reports approved; going to court and taking attendance notes – it's not as high drama as a criminal trial but the law is definitely more complicated.”
With a US merger thrown into the mix, we asked trainees how they felt it would affect the firm. “I'm assuming it will give us more access to American clients,” one sage source suggested, while others said: “To be honest, we don't really know what's going on – the email we received pretty much mirrored the press release! But it's safe to say that the CMK offices will strengthen our offering in the States, which consisted of just one office in Miami before the merger.” This source added: “I think it officially makes us a global law firm rather than just a UK firm with offices around the world.” On the whole interviewees didn't foresee major changesin atmosphere or culture, as “we're not moving offices or changing our name or anything like that – it'll still feel like a London-headquartered firm.”
"It'll still feel like a London-headquartered firm.”
Despite being founded in 1899, “it still feels like a young firm with lots of energy.” From what we could gather, a lot of that energy is injected into the work and the business, with varying amounts left over for socialising depending on the location. Birmingham insiders, for instance, told us that “it's not the most sociable office, but that's because most people have long commutes home – a lot of people just want to leave when it's the end of the day.” Departmental drinks were common across all offices, but in London there are quarterly office-wide drinks: “It used to be a monthly event but it wasn’t well attended so they’ve changed it and now it's great.” It's also catered by the in-house chef who “does anything from sandwich lunches to three-course à la carte dinners for clients.” There's also a communal dining area in London, “which we call the 'Writs.' It's a lawyer pun on the Ritz – cos we're sad like that!”
London is “the main hub where everything is happening,” but “people from the Chelmsford, Birmingham and Sheffield offices do come to the capital occasionally.” Newbies in Cambridge, meanwhile, highlighted that they “have a monthly conference in London, so you don't feel secluded!” Most sources agreed that “while London does outsource work to the regions, those offices are still self sufficient and not dependent on the capital for matters.” Despite this independence, sources still wanted to see some more nationwide events pencilled into the diary to boost cohesion, especially in light of the fact that most PSC training now occurs separately in each office (first-years used to gather in London for a week to complete their PSCs): “I preferred the way it was done before because sometimes in a regional office you can be the only trainee and feel a bit isolated. Bringing us all together meant that we get to network.” One nationwide event that remains a hit is the annual quiz, which is organised and hosted by the trainees for the rest of the firm. In 2017 15 out of Kennedys' 18 second-years could continue to get quizzical as they bagged NQ positions at the firm.
Regardless of location, our sources were all working pretty much the same hours, averaging out at around 8.30am to 7pm-ish. “Sometimes in the insurance-based seats you might have later nights – the latest I stayed was 11pm – but 3am finishes do not exist here.”
How to get a Kennedys training contract
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 winter vacation scheme. “It's a great opportunity for you to see what life is like at Kennedys,” HR adviser Hannah Worsfold tells us. “We tend to offer a high percentage of our vacation scheme students training contracts, as they have gone through our thorough recruitment process and experienced what life as a trainee will be like at the firm’. Last year, half of the vac schemers secured a training contract.
The firm now runs a one-week scheme in January, taking on 12 vac schemers in total. They work within one of the legal divisions during their placement “to give them an insight into what trainees do by undertaking very similar tasks,” Worsfold says. Alongside their trainee work, vac schemers attend various sessions to learn more about the firm, as well as social events – last 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 application kick off with an online form. The firm typically receives around 250 vac scheme and 600 training contract applications. “We want to understand why you are applying to Kennedys in particular and why you would make a great trainee,” Worsfold 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.”
Worsfold tells us that “the candidates who stand out at the assessment day are definitely those who have done their research, as well as those who are enthusiastic and put every effort into the assessment tasks they are involved in. We want to see what sort of person you are, so those who talk to trainees on the day and ask lots of questions are going to stand out.” 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. For example, 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 more 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.”
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 for 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 Oxford 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. 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.
25 Fenchurch Avenue,
- Partners 204
- Associates 465
- Total trainees 56
- UK offices Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Taunton
- Overseas offices Auckland, Bogota, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, Lima, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Moscow, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney
- Contacts HR admin: [email protected], 020 7667 9667
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 600
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 300 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Currently open
- Training contract deadline, 2019 start: 31 December 2017
- Vacation scheme applications open: Currently open
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 30 September 2017
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000 (London), £26,000 (Regional)
- Second-year salary: £38,000 (London), £29,000 (Regional)
- Post-qualification salary: Up to £58,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong, Mexico, Singapore
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Varied across UK locations
We act for insurers, re-insurers, the self-insured, Lloyds Syndicates, claim handlers and brokers, third-party administrators, self-insured national public transport companies, corporates, retailers and local authorities.
Our lawyers understand the impact of not only current, but also proposed regulations and advise our clients on the implications this will have on their business.
Main areas of work
Kennedys ensures that their trainee solicitors are given sound training in the core disciplines. All supervisors are approachable and ready to offer support when needed.
Our training contracts are two years in length and you will undertake four six month seats within areas such as insurance and reinsurance, liability, corporate and commercial and healthcare. You may also have the opportunity to go on an international or client secondment.
At the end of the placement, if we feel you are a good match for Kennedys and our partners are impressed, we will offer you a 2019 training contract position.
To be considered for the placement you will need to have achieved or be on course to achieve a 2:1 degree, have 300 UCAS points or equivalent at A level.
Applications should be made online for the 2018 schemes by 30 September 2017.
Open days and first-year opportunities