Turn the front page and you'll see that London-based Kingsley Napley is about much more than criminal defence work.
Sign o' the crimes
Though this firm may be on the smaller side, its work is hardly trifling; just think of a case that caused a media stir and chances are it's got KN's fingerprints all over it. Recently the firm defended former foreign secretary Jack Straw against allegations he'd colluded in illegal rendition practices; helped David Crompton – the former South Yorkshire police chief constable – appeal his dismissal in the wake of the Hillsborough inquests; and represented Rolf Harris throughout his historic sex abuse trial.
While many of these headlines show KN's nifty ability to handle difficult criminal defence matters, a look at Chambers UK reveals that the firm has other tip-top practices too: its immigration, financial crime and regulatory groups are equally lauded with first-class praise, while the firm's clinical negligence, employment and public law teams are also highly regarded.
Developing its business services panache is an ongoing project for KN; laterals in recent years have bolstered its real estate practice, but the firm also has a corporate and commercial arm that's mostly focused on start-ups in the tech and media sectors. "Our disputes, criminal, public law and corporate and commercial teams have all been particularly busy," training principal Fiona Simpson tells us. "We're just about to embark on a new three-year business plan and all of our teams are expanding, at both the partner and more junior levels; we want to continue providing an excellent service to our clients and increase the number of great matters that we work on."
Seat plans are made before trainees start at the firm and most newbies manage to score at least three of their four preferences. Unsurprisingly, the firm's crime department is especially popular. Most of the team's cases are kept tightly under lock and key but recent front-page matters saw KN represent 'fake sheikh' Mazher Mahmood, who was accused of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos. Lawyers here also successfully defended Nepalese army officer Kumar Lama against allegations he'd tortured the country's citizens.
Sexual assault, dangerous driving, manslaughter and fraud cases all arise in this seat. "You're usually given about four to five cases at any one time,” sources told us. “On smaller cases – like a punch-up outside a restaurant – you meet with the client, gather evidence, and draft and proof witness statements. You visit the police station a lot too." There's less scope for a jaunt down to the nick on larger, complex cases where the work can be decidedly "less glamorous." One trainee explained: "There's less autonomy. You often piggyback on what other lawyers are doing and conduct discrete research ordoc review.” However, “due to the nature of these cases there's so much opportunity for blogging in this seat,” sources added. “Every day there's something relevant to comment on."
“You're usually given about four or five cases at any one time.”
Immigration lawyersfrequently represent high net worth individuals ("mainly entrepreneurs or investors") and blue-chip companies – particularly those within the tech, media and energy spheres. Trainees split their time between both strands of work and in the wake of the Brexit vote, boy have they been working: "We've been so busy and we've been given loads of responsibility!" The corporate side sees trainees helping companies to sponsor visa applications for non-UK workers. Work for individuals, meanwhile, can involve challenging refusals, international adoption issues and asylum applications. Chatty trainees can get their fill "interviewing clients or talking them through any concerns they have regarding Brexit." But bear in mind that immigration can also be "quite paper-based, so it's not for everyone. We're often drafting forms and cover letters to the Home Office."
Brexit has prompted increased chat between KN's immigration and employment teams, as international employers scramble to seek the latest advice. Alongside assisting with this, trainees here can also sample contentious matters like disciplinary proceedings and unfair dismissal claims. The group represents both individuals – think banking and finance high-flyers – and businesses like print company Augustus Martin, accountants RSM UK and communications tech outfit iDirect. “Many of my cases for individuals haven't been able to settle,” said one source, “so I've been preparing witness statements and schedules of losses, as well as attending preliminary hearings.” Despite there being no paralegals, interviewees said they “didn't have to do too much bundling,” freeing up time for research and the drafting of employee handbooks.
“I'm lightly supervised but I'm doing all the ground work.”
KN's regulatory and professional discipline group both defends and prosecutes individuals who've allegedly brought their profession into disrepute. Various industry regulatory bodies are also on the books, including the General Dental Council, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Education and Workforce Council for Wales (EWC). KN's on call to advise these bodies throughout disciplinary hearings and procedures; the group recently advised the EWC during a hearing concerning student/teacher sexual relationships, as well as one involving a primary school teacher (and former Come Dine with Me contestant) who'd been caught shoplifting from ASDA. Sources here generally found that prosecutions on behalf of a regulator bestowed more responsibility than defence work: “Typically I'm preparing cases for hearings; I'm lightly supervised but I'm doing all the ground work speaking to people and bringing documents together."
A whole latte fun
Clocking off by 6.30pm was fairly common among our interviewees, though late nights might be in order every so often. Criminal litigation comes with the longest hours, but even the consistent 7pm exits here are hardly criminal compared to the hours pulled at nearby City outfits. While the pay is “slightly lower than that at the big commercial firms, we do work in different areas," sources acknowledged. “We also get a much better work/life balance and the size of the firm means the work is much more hands-on. It's definitely worth the trade-off."
Traditionally trainees shared an office with their supervisor (either a senior associate or a partner), but due to a drive to boost collaboration almost all teams now sit in an open plan layout: “I was semi-concerned about how it would work out but it means that you're not just developing a relationship with one person in an office – you get to draw upon expertise from the whole department,” one interviewee told us. Sources were even more excited about the renovation work going on at KN's Farringdon base: “We're all like 'OMG have you been to the new reception yet?' They've also revamped the meeting rooms and put in new breakout areas on most floors–each one has acoffee machine that can be very distracting...”
“I prefer the vibe at a smaller firm,” said one insider, “as you know everyone in the lift and the corridor!” Working at such close quarters bodes well for a good social life, as other sources revealed: “Everyone is willing to have a chat. Obviously you have to do work but you can always pop into someone’s office to catch up; we also have a big Christmas party, summer social, quiz nights, Easter egg hunts and an annual social where we can bring family and friends.” Trainees are also allocated a social budget which sees them embarking on mini-golf excursions, karaoke evenings and trips to dart bar Flight Club.
Sources subsequently pegged the firm as a “fun, vibrant place to work” and the trainees we spoke to were certainly lively, engaging and frequently self-deprecating: “I find that I don't have to be someone else at work, although if I've got no job at the end I may have called that wrong,” one joked. The qualification process is fairly rigorous: trainees prepare cover letters, CVs and a “portfolio of work” before braving an interview. Despite the hurdles, “the firm really does try to keep everyone on.” Both 2015 and 2016 saw a perfect 100% retention rate, but 2017's rate came in slightly lower, with five out of six qualifiers staying on at the firm.
KN's “known for being big on diversity,” particularly with regards to gender: half of its partners are women, including managing partner Linda Woolley.
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How to get a Kingsley Napley training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 May 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
Kingsley Napley doesn't have a vacation scheme, although it does offer a handful of week-long work experience placements between March and September each year. See the firm's website for more on how to apply.
KN typically receives around 300 applications per year for its six trainee places – up from five in previous years. Applications for a training contract begin with an online form at Apply4Law. An example of a question from a previous year is: ‘If you were to speak at Speaker’s Corner, what topic would you speak about and why?' The firm recruits just one year in advance.
In addition to a minimum AAB at A level and a 2:1 degree, applicants need a commendation on the LPC if they've already completed it. That said, we're told the firm takes mitigating circumstances into account if a candidate has fallen slightly short on the academic side but otherwise impresses.
Assessments and interviews
The firm shortlists 24 candidates to see over two assessment days. Each day includes a speed networking exercise with a panel of assessors (made up of partners, senior associates and members of the management and HR teams), a written case study exercise, a client interview scenario, and a presentation or debate on a current affair. The topic of the presentation or debate is given on the day, and candidates have 20 minutes to prepare.
The day includes lunch with a spread of current trainees, NQs and junior fee earners, giving applicants the chance to ask about life at KN. They also get to ask the panel of assessors some questions at the end of the day.
After the assessment day, the firm invites ten or so candidates back for a partner interview – the final stage of the selection process. Sources on the HR team tell us they keep an eye out for people who are “very motivated and enthusiastic” and “plan to make a long-term investment” in the firm. “Beyond academics we're looking for well-rounded applicants that are going to be good with people.” Communication skills, character, creativity and a sense of humour are all important.
KN's greatest hits: top ten cases
Kingsley Napley has worked on some of the most interest legal cases in recent history. Click here to read about them.
Interview with training principal Fiona Simpson
Chambers Student: How has the past year been for the firm? Have any practices been particularly hot?
Fiona Simpson: Our disputes, criminal, public law and corporate and commercial teams have all been particularly busy. That's not to say the others haven't been active but those are the ones that are particularly busy.
CS: Have there been any particular highlights in 2016/17 we should know about?
FS: Our disputes team took on a new partner in October 2016: Sue Thackery joined us from Howard Kennedy. We also welcomed a new partner in employment – Juliet Carp from Dorsey & Whitney.
All of our teams are expanding in terms of lateral hires at partner level and at the more junior levels too. We're actively recruiting in a number of teams.
CS: The firm recently revamped its offices, which included making one floor open plan. Trainees posited that this has come about because of the recent growth at the firm. Is that the case?
FS: It's not about having more people per square metre; it's about collaboration. The two teams working in the open plan space at the moment are finding there is a lot more collaboration within their teams. Collaboration happens across teams too, as they're now overhearing and talking about things they wouldn't normally discuss with each other.
CS: Are there any plans to extend this layout to other areas?
FS: Not in the immediate future as far as I'm aware, but it's been a very positive initiative and has been well received even by those who were sceptical at first.
CS: What should students know about the firm's strategy for the future?
FS: The firm embarked on a new, three-year business plan in May 2017. We want to carry on providing an excellent service to our clients, to increase the number of good clients we have and the number of great cases we work on, as well as making sure we carry on and improve the way we look after our people. We did well in TheSunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for this year, but the management team are adamant that although we've done well over the past few years we are not going to sit on our laurels. There is always room for improvement and we take survey results very seriously to see what can be improved in the future.
The other thing to know is that we are growing all our practice areas. At one time we were regarded very much as a crime-centric firm. That's no longer the case in terms of the size of our teams and the revenue they bring in. There are a lot of other practices areas that are thriving.
CS: What kind of person thrives at the firm?
FS: Someone who is prepared to throw themselves in wholeheartedly, whether that's for clients or the KN team they're part of. We like people who are hard working and committed. Our core values include teamwork, respect, integrity, fairness, understanding and commitment. These are very important to everyone in the firm and are certainly things we look for in our trainees. Generally we find that people who have previous work experience, in any industry, are outstanding candidates.
CS: Do you have any advice for students trying to enter the legal profession?
FS: It's necessary to work very hard and maintain a sense of humour. The law is a great profession to be part of but you do need to appreciate that you have to be totally committed.
CS: Anything else students should know about the firm?
FS: We do a lot of cross-practice marketing campaigns, including a fraud initiative which includes disputes, employment and company commercial matters, and we have a business services group which covers all the practice areas that relate to business. Another cross-firm initiative is 'public eye, private lives', which covers reputation management, private client and criminal issues.
Kingsley Napley LLP
14 St John's Lane,
- Partners 52
- Assistant solicitors 95
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Vicki Tavener, HR officer, 020 7369 3804
- Training partner: Fiona Simpson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2019 start: 31 May 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £32,000
- Second-year salary: £34,000
- Post-qualification salary: £56,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
We are known for combining creative solutions with pragmatism and a friendly, sensitive approach. The relationship between lawyer and client is key. We work hard to match clients with lawyers who have the right mix of skills, experience and approach in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
Main areas of work
The training contract will consist of four seats in both contentious and non-contentious practice areas, which aim to provide trainees with a wide range skills and practical experience. Individual preferences for seats will be taken into account, but will also be balanced with the firm’s needs.
Trainees work closely with partners and lawyers at all levels in a supportive team structure, and have regular reviews to assist with development. The firm has a friendly and open environment which gives trainees the chance to meet clients, be responsible for their own work and join in marketing and client development activities.
University law careers fairs 2017