Insurance litigation – disputes about things that went wrong – is a big deal at Kennedys; the irony is trainees find life here very agreeable.
Next time you’re watching an explosion-filled blockbuster, take yourself out of the action for a moment and imagine the insurance claims that such devastation could cause. If your brain already works like that, Kennedys might just be the firm for you: a global outfit with 39 offices spanning 22 countries, it’s capitalised from two big mergers in the last few years to register turnover north of £210 million a year, putting it comfortably in the UK’s top 30 firms by revenue. That’s an empire built on insurance and litigious expertise: Chambers UKranks the firm top nationwide for clinical negligence, contentious insurance, personal injury, product liability, and travel.
Perhaps surprisingly, Kennedys’ rapid expansion began in 2008 and 2009. Aggressive expansion in the middle of a global recession suggests a firm that doesn’t over-leverage itself (their insurer clients must be delighted) and indicates that Kennedys could be in for a period of rapid growth in the post-pandemic economy as the insurance market goes into overdrive. Though the firm is sizeable, it takes on just over 20 trainees nationally each year, and our interviewees confirmed “you don’t feel like you’re just a number.” A small handful already had history with the firm, having started there as paralegals before applying.
“Kennedys is planning to sponsor the LPC. In the past it didn’t.”
Moving forward, we heard that “Kennedys is planning to sponsor the LPC. In the past it didn’t,” so there could be more opportunities for those who aren’t keen on the paralegal route. It’s expected that sponsorship will continue to the SQE as it replaces the old route.By far the largest trainee cohort was based in London; Birmingham, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Manchester, Sheffield and Taunton also welcome newbies. Everybody completes four six-month seats, which are split into three main categories: insurance, liability and commercial. “There are technically no compulsory seats, but you’ll definitely do a liability seat or two in your first year, because the teams are big and insurance seats typically go to second years,” insiders revealed.
In the liabilitycategory, you’ll find seats in regulatory, travel and (funnily enough) liability; insuranceoptions include aviation, marine, casualty coverage, property/energy/construction, professional liability, product liability and life sciences (“I’ve no idea why they’re not liability…”) and financial and political risk. Kennedys’ commercialseats are corporate, employment, insolvency, property, and international arbitration and commercial litigation. From September 2021, some incoming trainees will join a team within one of the firm's specific divisions (like healthcare, liability, insurance or commercial) through a new SQE training programme. Trainees on the traditional training contract route will still do seats across the firm's offering.
Trainees also have the options of client and international secondments. Trips to Hong Kong are “ad hoc,”but if you want to do a seat in Bermuda “you have to apply before starting the training contract.”Client secondment opportunities include Allianz, N-Star, AIG and Zurich, and the product liability team “always has someone at Chubb.”
Future Cambridge trainees should bear in mind that a training contract there comes with “fewer options than London” because the office focuses largely on clinical negligence. “Three of the four seats will be clin neg,”sources said. “You move around and work with different people for six months at a time, but within the same practice.” For the “fourth seat you can either go to London or do NHS employment work.” Trainees based in London can offer preferences for their first seat, “but the reality is that your preference doesn’t go very far at all,”and Manchester trainees get automatically allocated. Frustration with the seat allocation was common, and while trainees understood seat choices were above all determined by “business need and second years getting priority,” the consensus was that “decisions don’t make sense, even once you’ve factored everything in. You look at what people put down, look at how the seats were allocated and think, ‘How the hell did this happen?!’” Trainees agreed “there could be a bit more transparency” around seat allocation firm-wide.
“There was a bizarre case involving an airline carrying rhinos.”
A seat in travelrevolves around mostly “low-value, fast-track claims alleging sickness abroad.” Small claims may be the bread and butter but Kennedys also handles bigger matters: the firm acted for TUI on the inquest into the deaths of British nationals in a terror attack on a beach in Tunisia in 2015. Trainees normally “handledtheirown caseload, managing the procedural timelines and running any files to trial at the county courts (also known as fast-track courts).” Sources described working on “20 or 30 active cases at a time, interviewing witnesses and drafting ancillary documents, from witness statements to client advice.”Kennedys counts Mark Warner Holidays, Virgin Holidays and Disney US and France on its client roster, and much of the work trainees can expect to engage in derives from compensation claims from holidays gone wrong – firstly by determining their veracity, and advising the client on whether to settle or go to trial.
While we’re talking all things travel, our favourite story came from the aviation department (which counts as an insurance, not a liability seat). “There was a bizarre case involving an airline carrying rhinos,”a still-bemused source began. “The male rhino was improperly tranquillised and travelling with a female in heat...” Hold your ‘horny’ jokes. “The male broke through the enclosure while in mid-air… that’s the kind of stuff you’re dealing with in aviation. Anything you can think of.” To give a general definition, Kennedys’ practice deals with individual plane incidents that lead to insurance claims. The firm was sole counsel to British Airways on liability from passenger claims after Flight 2276 from Los Angeles to Gatwick caught fire during take-off and the passengers and crew had to be evacuated. Kennedys also represents big names Etihad Airways, Ryanair, Aer Lingus and easyJet. Our trainee sources described lawyers in the team as “super supportive” and suggested they “had exposure to a spread of general aviation law, dealing with and prepping for inquests and aviation policy work.” This is a department which may be heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which may generate different work.
“It’s probably one of the best places to do your first seat.”
While team aviation mostly deals with single incidents, product liability (life sciences) leans towards “mass litigation.” Described by trainees as “70% insurance and 30% liability,” the department acts for defendants on “a lot of class-action claims, typical for product liability departments.” Naturally that means “the work is quite reactive.” Johnson & Johnson Medical is one key client: Kennedys has handled defence and product claims across the EMEA region and acted for the company during Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review investigations into pelvic mesh products. For trainees, the bulk of this seat involved “helping manage non-lead claims, notifying clients of changes in cases and providing monthly updates.” On big-volume cases, trainees input “every new claim into a spreadsheet, with all the rest of the information.” They’re responsible for “checking all the facts, requesting medical records, drafting letters of response, disclosure and liaising with experts.” Although trainees would “occasionally bundle, most of the admin is done by support staff” in the department. Many came away with happy memories of the seat: “I loved it. It was really interesting, and the people were absolutely fantastic.” Because of the mix of insurance and liability-style work “it’s probably one of the best places to do your first seat and you can decide which one you prefer,” sources reasoned. There’s also a “fair bit of cross-border work” as some cases involve multinationals.
Commercial seats are available in the London and Manchester offices. “The commercial dispute work that runs off the insurance work we do” falls under commercial litigation and international arbitration. Kennedys may “be helping an insurer with a contract with a third party,” trainees gave as an example. The department also handles “breach of contract disputes and a lot of property litigation.” International arbitration cases vary from multi-jurisdictional clashes over pomegranate juice exports to disputed construction of oil platforms; Kennedys recently represented an Irish energy company in a dispute with a US business, with arbitration commencing in the UK. Trainees in the litigation and arbitration seat were “drafting tons of different kinds of agreements, something different every day.” They clarified that “one or two fee earners deal with arbitration, it’s 90% commercial litigation.” Outside of London there’s a strong banking and finance litigious practice, acting for clients like Metro Bank and the Euro Hotels Group. Sports clients are a common theme in the Manchester office, including clubs and directors.
Insiders suggested that Kennedys encourages a “good work/life balance. You won’t be working crazy hours: I’m hardly ever in the office before 8am or past 6pm.” That’s partly down to the firm’s focus on litigation: deadlines for court filings typically close at 4pm, which means the office can be “really manic until then before you can breathe again.” That’s not to say later nights won’t be needed, but if “it’s an 'all hands on deck' situation then you’ll know about it long beforehand.” A consistent diet of litigation and insurance law can be stressful (disputes are big arguments, after all) and we heard that Kennedys aims to avoid unnecessary stress. Across UK offices, trainees described their colleagues and supervisors as “friendly and supportive,” appreciating opportunities for “flex schedules and working from home" even before the national lockdown. "When I’m done for the day, I can just leave,” said one. This doesn’t mean trainees are mollycoddled: “If you show supervisors you can manage yourself they let you get on with it. Even paralegals can get their own cases, so trainees are trusted from the get-go.”
One way to limit hierarchy is an open plan office: both Manchester and London are open plan, and trainees suggested you “wouldn’t know a partner from an associate. It’s great that you can hear discussions between partners and senior associates; that’s a great way to learn.” Sources added that “despite the size of the firm, you’d struggle not to get on with people. Kennedys prides itself on making sure all its people are like-minded,” with the aim of creating “a family unit. It feels like that, and no matter which office I’ve worked in, they care about you.” It’s true that across the offices we spoke to, trainees were chummy with the rest of their cohort – the squad in Cambridge host trainee lunches, while Manchester and London trainees were more likely to go out for drinks after work. Londoners suggested the juniors there “will always try and do a big drinks event every so often,”while others highlighted that “departments themselves are quite social,” with informal drinks every Friday night in some cases.
“No matter which office I’ve worked In, they care about you.”
Formal responsibility for supervision and mentoring falls in the lap of each seat supervisor, but first years also get a “second-year trainee buddy.”Having forged close relationships with their supervisors, our interviewees told us: “You don’t need to organise anything with them in advance to have a meeting, but most want a formal meet-up every three months.”Feedback comes “from everyone you’ve done work for,”and there’s additional training available in the form of “writing courses and online tutorials on subjects like drafting witness statements.” A strong mentoring system is essential to promoting from within the ranks, but the firm still struggles with diversity at partnership level: just 3% of partners come from ethnic minority backgrounds. Kennedys fares better in gender diversity, with around 30% women partners (close to the national average) and about 70% female associates and trainees.
On the eve of qualification season, “HR speaks to each department to find out how many trainees they want to take on.”To manage expectations, the firm reveals this information to trainees before they “submit an application to any teams you’d be open to qualifying into.” In 2020 Kennedys retained 21 of its 23 qualifiers. Trainee and NQ salaries are higher in London than the firm’s other offices, but our sources outside the capital weren’t salty – there were some murmurs that the London and Northern offices aren’t as connected as they could be, but sources approved of “cross-office article writing and business development.”
The firm changed its name from Kennedy, Genese, Syson & Lewis to the snappier Kennedys in the 60s – JFK was president of the USA at the time, and the name was all the rage.
How to get a Kennedys training contract
SQE Training Programme deadline (2021): 31 December 2020
Training Contract and SQE Training Programme
“We offer a two-year training contract allows you to develop relevant experience and skills that will set you up in your career as an excellent solicitor,” the firm tells us. “You will be given a good level of responsibility early on, dealing with varied areas of work and will be a valued member of the team from the start, working alongside experienced solicitors and partners in a relaxed and open plan environment .
From September 2021, the firm will be introducing a new SQE Training Programme that allows candidates to start working and earning at Kennedys immediately after university, before sitting the SQE1 and SQE2 exams to qualify.
Kennedys generally offers around 20 training contracts in our UK offices each year. Applicants need at least 120 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree to pass the initial screening.
Applications and assessments
Both types of application kick off with an online form. The firm typically receives around 1000 training contract applications. “We want to understand why you are applying to Kennedys specifically, what interests you about the firm and the work we do, as well as why you should be selected for a training contract above other applicants,” Worsfold says. She advises applicants to “showcase the knowledge they have about the firm throughout all stages of the application process.” Shortlisted candidates are then invited to undertake a timed situational strengths assessment online.
The firm then selects applicants to take an automated video interview, focusing on their application form and reasons for applying to Kennedys as well as commercial awareness questions timed situational strengths assessment online. Around 50 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 senior associate. “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 those who have done their research, as well as those who are enthusiastic and put every effort into the assessment day. We want to get to know you too, so those who engage with us 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, supportive and distinctive.
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.
25 Fenchurch Avenue,
- Partners 263
- Associates 323 UK
- Total trainees 22 1st years and 22 2nd years
- UK offices Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Taunton
- Overseas offices 28
- Contacts HR Admin: [email protected], 020 7667 9667
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 20
- Applications pa: 1000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 120 UCAS points or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: currently open
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 December 2020
- SQE Training Programme applications open: Currently open
- SQE Training Programme deadline, 2021 start: 31 December 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,500 (London), £27,500 (elsewhere)
- Second-year salary: £41,000 (London), £30,000 (elsewhere)
- Post-qualification salary: Up to £65,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong, Mexico, Singapore
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Varied across UK locations
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.
We develop careers in an innovative and collaborative global environment, with a variety of training opportunities available. This includes secondment opportunities to clients and our global offices. We believe that supporting individual growth and development puts us in the best position to attract and retain talented individuals.
SQE Training Programme
Prospective trainees looking to start the SQE training programme must have completed a law degree or the GDL/PGDL prior to starting with Kennedys.
The two year six-month training programme will involve working at Kennedys four days a week and having one day off a week to study at BBP. In addition to a dedicated supervisor at Kennedys, you will have a tutor and skills coach at BPP, to ensure that you have all the support you need at work and with your studies.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounds
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Aviation (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 1)
- Insurance: Volume Claims (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: Product Liability (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Shipping (Band 3)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 4)