From Belfast to Bogota to Basking Ridge, insurance and shipping specialists Kennedys are rapidly taking over the world. Over the past couple of years, this behemoth has expanded its global footprint by opening offices in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Leeds and Perth. The US market has remained a particular focus with Delaware becoming the firm’s most recent office opening (its eighth in the country), although the firm took the decision to “wind down” its office in Moscow last summer.
And with every new office, new and current lawyers are attracted to build out the ambitious firm’s vision. The latest recruit is the veteran commercial litigator Marc Casarino who leapt at the opportunity to launch the Delaware office, whilst the firm announced its largest-ever partnership promotion round in May 2022. Currently, the firm boasts 44 offices and over 2,400 people across the globe.
And this international strategy is paying off, especially in the US. In the latest round of financial results, Kennedys increased turnover by a steady 8% to £286 million, the highest revenue in its history. Although £153 million of this was generated this side of the pond, UK growth has remained stagnant in comparison to the firm’s 24% and 20% leaps in revenue in North America (£55 million) and Latin America (£8 million).
Despite this international presence, don’t expect an international secondment any time soon – in the words of one wistful trainee: “I wish!”. Trainees can apply to Manchester, Taunton, the London HQ as well as the new Leeds office for a training contract or London, Manchester, Taunton, Cambridge, Birmingham or Sheffield for a 30-month SQE apprenticeship programme in a specified practice area.
Once in though, the firm offers much more than just interesting work with perks including “a good competitive salary, flexible working, regular gifts/social events/client events throughout the year” and “free breakfast [and] private dental and medical insurance”. A more recent addition is the annual Kennedys wellbeing day (an extra day’s leave) that was inaugurated last year following a post-pandemic focus on mental health. There is also real excitement amongst the London intake about moving to the iconic Walkie-Talkie building with its famous Sky Garden by the end of the year.
The core of the firm’s business is defending insurance claims, as well as other major liability matters such as professional indemnity, personal injury and clinical negligence. Accordingly, client secondments are usually with big insurers or an NHS Trust. Big cases in years gone by include the sale of Maxwell House, successful defence of hip replacement manufacturer DePuy against a 300-patient defective product claim and overturning a high-profile personal injury payout by the London Paralympics to one of its volunteers. While the firm does point to non-contentious work and clients in other sectors, getting a training contract at an outfit trying to position itself as the “go-to firm for the insurance sector” without at least a passing interest in the subject is going to be tough.
Our insiders paint a mixed picture of what it’s really like to work at Kennedys. Critics point to the lack of structured training and the unengaging learning materials. One details, “training is very dependent on the team you are in and I found it is much more ‘on the job’ rather than having formal training. This is pretty daunting when you start your TC given most of us have never been exposed to a complex insurance policy before”.
Despite this, supervisors seem to be “supportive and always available to be called when there is a problem, and work with you to find a solution rather than just telling you what to do”. One rookie summarises: “There isn’t a lot by way of formal training in place, and you have to seek it out yourself and track down a poor willing junior to help you. However, the training I have received has been well structured and has allowed me to ask questions without feeling silly.”
The small, tight-knit intakes normally help to steady any rocky starts. “My trainee intake are all really good mates, which helps make me supported and as a consequence more confident at work. We are going on a day trip to Brighton next week! The partners and associates are also great and really want to help you develop as a lawyer” says one. Another appreciative trainee notes, “I cannot fault my peers. I am grateful for all of them”.
And if you can handle the slightly rough and ready approach to training, then the quality of work trainees get exposure to is very high. “The work can be complex and is quite varied, which I really enjoy. I get to complete a range of tasks, including drafting pleadings, conducting client calls and attending mediations. The work makes you think and is never the same,” attests one.
Despite the Kennedys Toolkit of legal tech, an internal Ideas Lab and various awards for use of technology in its business, it seems that the tech leaves something to be desired. Trainees say the case management system is “not fit for purpose” and “adoption [of legal tech] by different teams varies”, meaning that the less tech-savy supervisors “might ask you to do menial tasks like sorting their diary”. Here’s one candid critique: “The intranet is so bad it might as well not exist; the time recording software could do with an upgrade. Hardware wise it’s okay. Some basic things like the phones cannot connect to headsets which seems mad in an open plan office.”
However, the firm did bolster its technology and innovation credentials in 2020 with the launch of its own technology and services business, Kennedys IQ, which brings together six tools which automate or manage day-to-day claims processes. It operates as a separate business arm for the firm, meaning it is open to external investment to rapidly scale across the globe.
When in the office, you won’t be cooped up your colleagues 24 hours a day. The work/life balance here is good, with “very reasonable hours”, though we are told the insurance teams in particular can get quite busy. Indeed, partners are known to “protect your social life and their own”. One insider notes, “the times I have had to work late are rare, and often I have made the decision to put a few more hours in because I am proud of the work I am doing and want to help the team”.
Plus there’s “a lot of flexibility” (encouragement even!) regarding working from home. “There is not an expectation to be in every day, but the option to be. In my current seat, I usually work 2-3 days from home,” one insider tells us. “We received a grant to help with additional costs of working from home, such as buying a desk, office chair etc. Kennedys now supply a work laptop and certain areas of the business will have work phones.”