From Belfast to Bogota to Basking Ridge, New Jersey, insurance 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 poaching insurance lawyers from the likes of BLM, Mayer Brown and Hill Dickinson. Turnover in the UK alone was £118 million in 2017, aided by the addition of a Manchester-based commercial litigation outfit to the empire. Globally, turnover rose by a whopping 31% last year: Kennedys now boasts 37 offices in 22 countries.
Which is all very interesting. Our men and women on the inside painted a slightly more mixed picture of what it’s really like to work at Kennedys, with the expanding giant scoring a bit below par in several areas on Legal Cheek’s annual survey of trainees and junior solicitors. For instance, the perks on offer — on top of a decent £35k London starting salary, it must be said — are paltry. “No cycle to work. Sporadic drinks. Shit bonus scheme”, complains one disgruntled insider. “The firm’s perks are perhaps an area that could be improved” is the more diplomatic version.
The social life and office facilities aren’t much to write home about either — although bear in mind the firm offers training contracts at several locations, so there will be variation here. And the function rooms at the top of the London office offer Insta-friendly views of the City.
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 health care department, all files are primarily hardcopy”.
On the plus side, you meet some good people: “The other trainees are brilliant and everyone else in the firm is supportive, and friendly”, gushes one new entrant. Others hint that the atmosphere isn’t all 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.)
Whatever you think of your colleagues, you won’t be cooped up with them 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.