Famous faces embroiled in headline-grabbing scandals form just one part of the package offered by this progressive Londoner.
Crime after crime
Think of a high-profile criminal case and chances are Kingsley Napley has worked on it. In recent years it's secured Charlie and Rebekah Brooks' acquittal in the aftermath of that phone-hacking scandal; represented Rolf Harris throughout his historic sex abuse trial; and defended reporter Mazher Mahmood ('the Fake Sheikh'), who found himself facing a perjury charge after N-Dubz star Tulisa Contostavlos' drugs trial collapsed.
But it would be criminal to suggest that this work is the only feather in KN's proverbial cap. It also boasts strong immigration, clinical negligence and regulatory practices, which sit comfortably in the higher echelons of Chambers UK. Plus it's not just individuals that KN concerns itself with – for many years the firm's been beefing up its business services arm, giving trainees a chance to experience areas like corporate and real estate. It's a mix that went down well with our sources. “I wanted a combination of seats that offered more than just the standard variations of commercial law. You won't find this collection of areas everywhere.”
Kingsley Napley is a pioneer for female leadership: 50% of partners and women, including the managing partner.
“Over the last year growth has been pretty substantial,” outgoing training principal Nicola Hill told us (as of 1 May 2016 Fiona Simpson is taking over the role). “We’re up by 30 fee earners. Our real estate team has nearly doubled in size and we’ve hired laterals into employment too. These teams were traditionally there to support our litigation capabilities, but now they are increasingly attracting their own work.” Reputation management is another developing area, Hill adds, especially after KN nabbed a specialist in the field from Mishcon de Reya. This growth bodes well for future KN trainees too, as the intake size is on the up. “We traditionally took on five trainees each year, but last year we took on six and in September 2016 we’ll be taking on seven,” Hill confirms.
This trainee summed up the general feeling about KN best: “It's a vibrant place, with interesting work that gives you serious issues to think about.” Sound good? Then let's continue...
“You get at least three out of your four preferred seat options,” trainees were pleased to report. As you might expect, the top-ranked crime department remains the most popular destination. With the media furore surrounding many of the matters here, interviewees relished the feeling of being “in the thick of it. You hear things on the radio and you're like, 'I've met that person.'” Understandably, “practically everything is extremely confidential.” What we can tell you is that lawyers have been busy representing Colonel Kumar Lama, who's accused of torturing Nepalese citizens, and former BA pilot Bartle Frere, who was jailed for child sex offences in 2015.
“I felt like a proper lawyer!”
Trainees here might encounter anything from “sexual assaults to road traffic accidents to complicated white-collar crimes to public inquiries.” One source raved about working on an extradition matter: “During the proceedings I interviewed witnesses, drafted their statements and put together 'proof of evidence' documentation. I felt like a proper lawyer!” High-value white-collar matters come with “more paralegal-type work like doc review and research,” but smaller sexual assault cases offer up more responsibility: “I was able to draft instructions to counsel and clerk the resulting trial.” The hours can be more taxing – with an average leaving time of 7.30pm – but sources didn't mind one bit: “It's worth it for the varied experience you get and the cases are so interesting.”
KN's regulatory and professional discipline group both defends and prosecutes individuals who've allegedly called their profession into disrepute. This means trainees are kept on their toes. “I've worked on 20 cases already,” one source yawned, “so I've prepped a lot of bundles and learnt a lot about case management!” Regulators like Ofgem and professional bodies like the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors also call upon the group for advice on their disciplinary procedures. Trainees can therefore get stuck into research assignments and have a hand in client training: “I helped to prepare a PowerPoint presentation on a relevant case and delivered part of it with other members of the team.”
"You get to interact with the face of the business."
Immigration lawyers frequently represent high net worth individuals and blue-chip companies – particularly those within the tech, media and energy spheres. Trainees split their time between both strands of work. On the business side, “there are many Tier 2 applications, where companies sponsor workers to come over.” Work for individuals, meanwhile, can involve challenging refusals, international adoption issues and asylum applications. There's also been a bump in clients opting for citizenship programmes: “It's essentially a quicker process, compared to the long-winded one that's in place for acquiring a visa.” Sources were able to draft “the form and cover letters for applications,” and also enjoyed attending “client events, like fancy breakfasts – that's definitely not a chore.”
Corporate and commercial “is a small but growing” team with a clear advantage for trainees: “We represent a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners, so you get to interact with the face of the business, unlike at larger firms where you'd just be meeting a representative.” A broad range of matters are covered, from takeovers and joint ventures to rights issues and corporate finance deals. There's plenty of opportunity to hone those drafting skills on a mix of facility agreements, shareholder resolutions and disclosure letters. “The size of the team means you get real hands-on work,” one satisfied trainee told us. So no crummy bundling? “Never done it.” Really? “OK, maybe once!”
They see me rollin', they bakin'
Most newbies get to leave around the 6.30pm mark, but if a department is especially busy there can be a few late nights – some corporate and commercial trainees had been leaving at around 10pm. While the focus is clearly on the work, there's still time for play: “There are a lot of well-attended socials.” These include a firm-wide Christmas party complete with “singing waiters,” as well as a summer ball and many a departmental outing. “I've been to a wine tasting at Vinopolis with one group, and made bread at Borough Market with another. The head of the group was very enthusiastic about it!”
Interviewees felt this was symptomatic of “a very inclusive culture: trainees are kept up to date via group meetings and everyone is approachable.” This more nurturing vibe carries through into trainee appraisals too –“we get mid and end-of-seat reviews, and the feedback is always pitched at the right level of formal: you don't feel uncomfortable talking about any issues you might have, and you feel comfortable receiving any criticism.” With all this in mind, we weren't surprised to hear trainees describe themselves as “more easy-going,” but they're certainly a savvy bunch nonetheless. Most had picked up some form of work experience before securing the training contract: some had volunteered at law centres assisting immigration teams, while others had shadowed family lawyers. Many had paralegal experience under their belt. While not viewed as a prerequisite, sources did feel that their weightier CVs helped them nab the training contract. “It gave me a chance to research and experience the areas I was interested in, and I could discuss that in the interview.”
When it comes to qualification, “no one ever wants to leave, people really love it here!” The stats back this up. Most years reap a 100% retention rate, and 2016 was no exception: all five of KN's qualifiers stayed on board. The process itself is quite labour-intensive though. A jobs list is released around March/April time, and trainees have a few weeks to submit their applications. “You have to send a cover letter, CV and an application pack containing pieces of work, good feedback you've received and examples of extracurriculars like blog writing,” one rather sleepy trainee told us. “It's basically another full job interview, but because they tell us what they expect early on nobody freaks out!”
Blog writing is a big deal at KN and trainees are encouraged to post about legal developments that crop up during their seats. A real keen-o might consider starting their own.
How to get into Kingsley Napley
Training contract deadline (2018): 31 May 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 could change one event in history, what would it be 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 and members of the management and HR teams), a written case study exercise, a client interview scenario, and a debate on a current affair. The topic of the debate is given on the day, and candidates have 20 minutes to prepare an argument either for or against the house.
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 key.
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 outgoing training principal Nicola Hill
Student Guide: The firm has grown quite substantially recently, and in 2015/16 in particular. How did that come about?
Nicola Hill: You're right. The growth has been substantial. We've increased our numbers by 30 fee earners, and our real estate and private client teams have nearly doubled in size. We also recruited three Nqs externally into the employment team. We're also expanding our capacity in dispute resolution. In our reputation management team we've recently been joined by Charlotte Harris, who previously worked for Mishcon de Reya and the public law team has attracted a lot of work from the Goddard inquiry [the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse] acting for various bodies.
Historically, it's fair to say that we've been viewed predominately as a litigation led firm, but always with the support of teams like property and employment. However, there is now a much bigger focus on these teams to continue attracting their own work and growing their practices. We have a wide breadth of work coming into our commercial and commercial, tax and immigration teams, and our property team recently represented Lord Sugar, his family and his privately owned real estate vehicle, Amsprop, on the development of a building by St Paul's.
SG: Kingsley Napley is clearly changing. What do you think the firm will look like in the next few years, when our readers will potentially be joining?
NH: The biggest change for us has been taking on more trainees than ever. Traditionally, we had five trainees join us each September; this year we took on six and next year it will be seven, so that we will have at least one trainee in each practice area. This is purely down to a response to the growth in supply and demand for our services.
We recently started attending student careers fairs and heard from students that their universities were pushing the two extremes of law firms; either magic circle or high street. However, there are more options for law graduates and Kingsley Napley fits, quite uniquely, into this middle ground between the City and niche firms.
We are always conscious about caring for our staff as well and building good relationships with them so our employees’ wellbeing is always top of the agenda. Each year we organise yoga classes, pay for music lessons or baking classes as well as having massages in the office and offering employees the chance to get a mini health MOT. We have a number of successful sports teams and a choir that our employees can join, and we bring in a dietician who runs a session on healthy eating and hosts lunchtime sessions on how to deal with stress, how to prepare for maternity leave or even how to deal with difficult children.
This is really helped by our responsible business committees: the charities and communities group, the diversity and inclusion group and the pro bono committee which organise different events throughout the year.
As a firm we have always taken on a lot of pro bono work, and it was previously kept within each team, so in order to bring all of our pro bono activities together, we brought in a pro bono coordinator who works with all our practice areas across the firm. We have recently worked with death row charity Amicus, and people from all across the firm (including the support teams) got involved with this together, which is definitely something we want to continue to encourage in the future.
SG: How do you help trainees get the most out of their training contract?
NH: It's been a long standing joke that we don't see trainees for the first few weeks of their training contract. This is because they get lots of training in all different areas of their role, including things like opening and running a file, time management and time recording. There's training on billing and how to market themselves so that they can start to create and maintain relationships to get work when they qualify. We encourage them to start blogging and tweeting about legal developments or areas of work they are passionate about. We also encourage them to meet with their peers in other firms to foster good work relationships from this early stage.
SG: Legal blogs play an important part in a trainee's experience. Can you tell us about that?
NH: Yes we like our trainees to blog, we feel that it's an important part of their training contract experience. We have two types of blogs that trainees can get involved in: the first type is a sort of ‘day in the life of a trainee’, where we ask them to write about what the training contract is like and what they get to do. The second feeds into different legal developments within our practice areas. This can be new case law or something pertaining to that area in the news. Even if they research and write blogs on behalf of fee earners, they will be credited too.
SG: What is your advice to students who are trying to break into the legal profession?
NH: Do as much different work experience as you can. Also: do your research. Don't just think that your only options for work are either the magic circle or the high street. Not everyone fits that image and there is so much in between. Research what firms offer work experience or vacation schemes, and find out what's available to you. We are always keen to meet those who have taken the longer path to get here as well as those who have come straight on from law school. We have a real mix of backgrounds at KN and everyone brings their different life experiences to the table.
Kingsley Napley LLP
14 St John's Lane,
- Partners 50
- Assistant solicitors 90
- Total trainees 13
- Contact Jemimah Cook, HR director or Vicki Tavener, HR officer, 020 7369 3804
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection Procedure Assessment centre. Candidates who are successful at this stage will then be invited to an interview.
- Closing date for September 2018 31 May 2017
- Training contracts pa 6
- Applications pa 250
- % interviewed pa 6%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2016)
- First year: £31,000
- Second year: £33,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree 40%
- Post qualification salary (2016) £55,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification 100%
Main areas of work