From Belfast to Bogota to Basking Ridge, New Jersey, insurance and shipping specialists Kennedys are rapidly taking over the world. “Ten office openings over a 12-month period may seem like a lot”, revered senior partner Nick Thomas admits, but that’s not the half of it: Kennedys has also been busy luring insurance lawyers from the likes of BLM, Mayer Brown and Hill Dickinson. More recently, it has attracted defectors from Norton Rose Fulbright. Currently, the firm boasts 39 offices and around 2150 people across the globe.
Crucially, this expansion has been matched by robust financial growth, with the firm upping revenues 83% over the last five years. For the financial year 2019/20, Kennedys increased turnover by a steady 9% to £238m, £139m of which was generated in the UK. Meanwhile, in August 2019, Kennedys appointed its first global managing partner with Suzanne Liversidge taking the helm.
Our men and women on the inside painted a mixed picture of what it’s really like to work at Kennedys. Most trainees do say that they learn a hell of a lot on a Kennedys contract, thanks to the “approachable” and “excellent” supervisors. So long as you dig tort and contract law, “there are lots of opportunities to become involved in interesting and complex claims”. But that’s not the case with every seat, so do make the most of the good quality work that comes your way: “in one team I became very well acquainted with the photocopier. In other teams I’ve attended hearings and trials, drafted court documents, met with witnesses and attended conferences with counsel”. There’s a decent chance of a client secondment (yes, it’ll be at an insurance company) but apparently only one trainee out of the 20 or so taken on every year gets the Hong Kong secondment.
Even within the UK, Kennedys sprawls: trainees can apply to Birmingham, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Manchester and Taunton as well as the London HQ. The core of the firm’s business is defending insurance claims, as well as other big-bucks kinds of liability such as professional indemnity, personal injury and clinical negligence. Big recent cases include the 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 feigning at least a passing interest in the subject is going to be tough.
Every law firm these days tries to sell itself as “innovative”, and the insurance law game is no different. This one boasts a Kennedys Toolkit of legal tech, an internal Ideas Lab and various awards for use of technology in its business. But trainees say the case management system is “outdated” and the office still paper-bound: “apart from the healthcare department, all files are primarily hardcopy”.
However, the firm did bolster its technology and innovation credentials earlier this year 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. The new business is spearheaded by commercial director Mike Gilpin and operates as a separate business arm for the firm, meaning it is open to external investment to rapidly scale across the globe.
While tech acumen is welcome, more importantly you’re likely meet some good people at Kennedys: “I have found that as individuals, the trainees are all different in terms of background and personality”, says one new entrant. “What is consistent, however, is our ability to help each other without fail”. However, others hint that the atmosphere isn’t always that friendly: “There is maybe more friction with the more junior members of the teams”, another trainee confides. Trying to get a vacation scheme under your belt to check the vibe out for yourself might be an idea. (It’s just a good idea in general, come to think of it: lots of firms hand training contracts to vac schemers who impressed, and Kennedys explicitly says that they like to hire people already known through this route.)
Meanwhile, the firm has also adapted well to working from home amid the COVID-19 crisis, with a “seamless” transition to home working according to one insider. And when office working returns, you won’t be cooped up your colleagues 24 hours a day. The work/life balance here is good, with “very reasonable hours” that are “vastly better than other city law firms”. Expect to be out the door not long after 6pm on average. Almost as good as the hours at Legal Cheek.