Howard Kennedy has gone through some pretty major changes in recent years — and seems to have emerged in good shape, proving the doubters wrong. The product of a 2013 merger between sensible corporate outfit Howard Kennedy and the slightly quirky media law-slanted Finers Stephens Innocent, the combined outfit initially seemed an unlikely jumble of practice areas and personalities. But a successful consolidation has seen turnover hit £57 million and profit per equity partner rise to over £600,000.
Howard Kennedy’s financial services and real estate departments have led the growth charge, while the firm’s tech and media work, led by high profile co-founder Mark Stephens, adds glamour to the mix.
A move out of the West End several years ago — where both legacy firms had been based — to swanky 1 London Bridge overlooking the Thames and the City is symbolic of the new Howard Kennedy ethos. Instructions are increasingly coming in from the banks, companies and start-ups across the river.
What all this means for rookies at the firm right now is a reasonable combination of decent work upon which to cut their teeth and a “really good” work/life balance. “Back in time for Antiques Road Trip,” quips one trainee.
The training is solid, with insiders reporting plenty of “hands-on experience” thanks to “regularly being taken to client meetings, mediations and court. Senior lawyers are said to be “very good at making sure that I get out the door at a decent time on a regular basis”, while partners are described as “pretty approachable on the whole” with “a couple of grumpy characters”, but the open plan office “helps foster a genuinely non-hierarchical culture where everyone is very approachable”. “It’s a collaborative rather than competitive environment,” one rookie sums up.
The firm can also be apparently “very social” with lawyers sometimes “all walking out the door together to go to the nearest pub”.
How long this utopia can endure as Howard Kennedy becomes more ‘City’ in its culture is another matter. Indeed, there are signs that HK’s culture is coming under strain amid reports in 2016 that its lawyers have their computers blocked if they fail to rack up seven hours of work a day. Still, according to our data the average leave the office time remains reasonable. “I usually only stay late out of choice, to stay on top of my work but there is rarely an expectation to do so,” a trainee tells us.
What you won’t get here are stellar perks or many secondment opportunities. Having said that, a wellness drive featuring free smoothies and talks about health has been well-received. A particular favourite has been the monthly ‘Early Riser’ breakfasts, made in spite of the fact that the office lacks a canteen. What HK HQ does have, though, is a lovely office location on the Thames: “Views and location are superb.”
Not that they’ve been seeing much of the view lately with moves to more agile ways of working amidst the pandemic. On the whole the firm adjusted well. “They offered everyone screens and printers and we were already set-up with our own laptops and phones,” one spy tells us. But another explains the firm “loses points for not being able to expense WFH equipment”. And since the lockdown, we’re told the firm has become “very eco-friendly!”
International secondments are rare (the firm can’t be faulted on this as it only has one office), although trainees do get to go along with their supervisors on the odd business trip — and have travelled to, among other places, the US, Hong Kong and Stockholm. Client secondments, meanwhile, are not offered during the training contract stage.