From Belfast to Bogota to Basking Ridge, insurance and shipping specialists Kennedys are rapidly taking over the world. Over the past year, this behemoth has expanded its global footprint by opening three new offices in Brisbane, Houston (Texas) and Newcastle. The US market has remained a particular focus with nine offices now stateside, and like many, the firm shuttered its office in Moscow in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Currently, the firm boasts 45 offices and over 2,500 people across the globe. This international strategy is paying off, especially in the US. In the latest round of financial results, Kennedys increased turnover by a steady 11% to £313 million, the highest revenue in its history. Although £286 million of this was generated this side of the pond, UK growth of around 6% was overshadowed by its impressive 24% and 19% revenue upticks in North America and Latin America.
Despite this international presence, don’t expect an international secondment – in the words of one wistful trainee: “I wish!”. However, there may be some hope on the horizon as one hopeful spy told us a potential Singapore secondment could be on the cards.
Back in less tropical climes, trainees can apply to Manchester, Taunton, the London HQ as well as the 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”. We also heard reports of a £50 voucher at Christmas, a £250 contribution towards gym memberships and an annual Kennedys wellbeing day (an extra day’s leave) following a post-pandemic focus on mental health. One Kennedys convert told us: “They are ok, but they aren’t the reason you would come to Kennedys. The real perk is culture.”
The firm’s London office made a much-anticipated hop to the iconic Walkie-Talkie building this year and initial reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Describing the new digs as “swanky”, our sources rave about “a secret lift straight up to Sky Garden” where apparently lawyers get a 20% discount on food and drink. “It feels great working in a landmark building in London!” enthused one insider.
It’s not all fancy glass towers, though. “We have very basic regional offices in comparison to the all-singing all-dancing London office, which probably takes up 98% of the budget,” one regional spy said.
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”. Another source echoes this, saying, “It’s quite a hands-off approach to training [and] a bit of trial by fire — but you do learn quite quickly.” But this approach can be rewarding, as this junior explains: “You’re not always chucked into the deep end, but when you show you are capable, there is a natural progression in the responsibility given and there is always useful feedback.”
The open plan office in the Walkie-Talkie means that trainees often sit with partners, who are said to be to be “extremely approachable” and “many senior figures will genuinely take time out of their day for you and take an interest both in your development and as a person.” One rookie summarises: “I feel very comfortable approaching the seniors in my team for anything. There are people I prefer to go to for support but would be equally happy speaking to any senior.”
The small, tight-knit intakes normally help to steady any rocky starts. “Your peers get how stressful it is and are more than happy to help share the work and share shortcuts. I feel very lucky to have a great group of juniors.” says one. Another trainee notes, “The regional trainees are very supportive, and you know you can always reach out to them. There is a bit of a divide between the regional trainees and London trainees though.”
And if you can handle the slightly rough and ready approach to training, then the quality of work trainees get exposure to is high. “Plenty of opportunities to go to court, assist with business development and get heavily involved with big and complex cases. Sometimes you even get your own cases which is nice,” attests one. Another balanced this, saying, “I receive a mixture of work, some of which is very interesting and innovative, some of which is fast-paced but slightly less cerebral.”
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 tech leaves a bit to be desired in terms of reliability and some juniors don’t get phones, so you are expected to be using your own phone to be contactable when out and about at court etc.”
However, the firm did bolster its technology and innovation credentials several years back 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 with your colleagues 24 hours a day. The work/life balance here is good, with “very fair hours for a law firm”, though we are told the insurance teams in particular can get quite busy. One source told it like it is: “You won’t be expected to be in the office until stupid o’clock, but equally the work needs to be done and done on time, and juniors are almost without exception first ones in and last ones out.” Another insider noted, “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 here’s “a lot of flexibility” 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. And the home set-ups seem good, with the firm providing “big monitors, keyboard, mouse and headphones”.
Kennedys appears to be making efforts to push for greener practices in the offices, including limiting waste, teaching about environmental impact through seminars and supporting a global environmental charity.