The Legal Cheek View
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 surpass £60 million this year for the first time. Average profit per equity partner is down though, £348,000 to £315,000, due to the addition of eight new partners.
Re-elected managing partner Craig Emden is eyeing £80 million in annual revenues by 2024 and hopes to see the firm grow to a 70-partner practice with HK recently introducing a two-tiered partnership of full equity and fixed-share partners.
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. Stephens has represented the likes of James Hewitt, who is said to have had an affair with Princess Diana, Vernon Unsworth, the British diver who brought legal action against Elon Musk, and Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks.
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. Another junior lawyer provides this insight: “I’m out the door by 7pm absolute latest — the partner once apologised to me for putting in a call from 6.30-7.30pm, calling it a ‘late one’. Everyone respects commitments you have outside of work and it’s noticeable that the firm adapts to what people need, especially working parents.”
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 back 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.
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, with the firm offering staff free breakfast every day in the office as well as free lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays. What HK HQ does have, though, is a lovely office location on the Thames: “Views and location are superb.” The newly refurbished cafeteria and social area on the sixth floor have also proved popular recent additions to the snazzy digs.
Not that they’ve been forced to go into the office much post-pandemic — Howard Kennedy is reportedly “very flexible” about where its lawyers work. The firm supplies all the equipment including screens, printers, laptops and phones. But one spy complains the firm “loses points for not being able to expense WFH equipment.”
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 are also offered during the training contract stage though nobody we spoke to had done one.