Most NQs are just thrilled and relieved to have got to the end of their training contract. Not David Napley! The moment Napley, then in his late teens, had completed his articles (the predecessor of the training contract) and qualified as a solicitor in 1937, he co-founded a City law firm that was to become the now internationally renowned Kingsley Napley. Napley’s legal career and his law firm have both enjoyed meteoric success. Whilst Napley went on to be one of the leading criminal solicitors of his day, Kingsley Napley now has a headcount of 400, around 200 of which are lawyers, and a long history of celebrity clients from the Royal Family to WAG Rebekah Vardy. Trainees confirm this reputation, telling Legal Cheek that their work often involves “high-profile cases with celebrity and/or high net worth clients”.
In its most recent financial results, the firm reported an 11% rise in revenues to a record £61.2 million. Notable areas of growth include dispute resolution, which has been bolstered by a new IP disputes sub-division led by partner Melanie Hart, and immigration, which raked in over £2 million in revenue alone. Kingsley have also been busy elsewhere, recently launching a new restructuring and insolvency practice, as well as consolidating their corporate and commercial offering with a new head of practice, Anthony Macpherson, who joined the firm as a fresh-faced associate in 2007. Investment has been the name of the game for KN this year, but it has come at a cost; profit per equity partner (PEP) dropped by nearly a third to £225,000.
And a record increase to its partnership isn’t the only investment KN has made this year. Two years on since the firm moved into their swanky seven-story open plan office on Bonhill Street, Shoreditch, managing partner Linda Woolley has emphasised the investment that went into making this office KN’s new home. It features everything from “silent libraries” and “collaboration areas” through to a wellbeing suite compromising a fitness studio, relaxation room and contemplation areas. Snazzy. But consensus is that the best office perks are the rooftop terrace, an array of great coffee shops nearby, and the canteen-cum-restaurant ‘Lennie’s’. As one newbie put it, it’s quite simply “the best”.
As far as work goes, Kingsley Napley marks itself out from many corporate-focused City firms by its unusually broad range of practice areas. The firm has made a name for itself as the go-to outfit for headline-grabbing high-profile disputes, assisting on the infamous “Wagatha Christie” trial; claims against the British government over PPE procurement; and, most recently, the scandal surrounding GB News presenter Dan Wootton. But Kingsley is far from a one-trick pony. From multi-million pound personal injury claims in the medical negligence & personal injury team, to cutting-edge notes raisings for AI start-ups in corporate, the “quality of work is the best thing about KN,” one trainee tells us. Some notable corporate names on the firm’s clientele list include the University of Cambridge, Fulham Football Club and even the Labour Party – and those are only the ones we know about!
As you might’ve guessed, trainees are given the opportunity to do a variety of seats which include crime, corporate, immigration and clinical negligence practices, amongst others. So, what’s life really like for Kingsley newbies?
Expect hands-on training and interesting work. “I have gotten to work on some very interesting, high-profile matters and do a lot of in-depth tasks which demonstrates the trust the firm puts in its trainees. There is always some grunt work of course, but there is an appreciation of showing trainees what the work of a qualified lawyer at the firm will be like”, details one insider. Exposure to varied and interesting cases was a common theme, and this extends to Kingsley’s pro-bono offering: the firm recently won a high-profile case defending a female Afghan judge’s right to enter the UK. Some of the less exciting work is alleviated by a strong support network of admin assistants and paralegals.
Newbies note that “feedback is generally great and team members are happy to spend the time to ensure I understand any changes made and make time to answer questions I have about amendments”. The trainee cohort is said to be competitive but also “extremely supportive and approachable”. However, this supportiveness can vary greatly between teams and is dependent on the willingness of your supervisor. This rookie summarises the situation: “Supervisors vary hugely so you might get someone who invests time in teaching you but otherwise, it’s luck of the draw whether someone sits down and teaches you”. That’s not to say that senior members of the firm aren’t approachable. “On the whole, they are incredibly approachable and want you to be the best you can be”, explains one, adding that their “seniority and capacity” can sometimes mean they have less time for trainees. Though, generally speaking, trainees described a complete absence of hierarchy: “I could speak to anybody in the firm at request, all the way to the managing partner”.
In fact, the people are Kingsley Napley’s real strength both at work and beyond. A good example of this is the popularity of the firm’s netball & touch rugby teams. “KN is all about the people. My peers have been incredibly supportive throughout my training, regardless of the team I was in”. The firm has a reputation for having a slightly older trainee cohort than the many law firm grad schemes, with it not being unusual to see trainees in their late twenties or early thirties. This is in part down to the fact that many have had previous experience as a paralegal or undertaking work experience at the firm before joining. That, however, should not deter recent graduates from applying for one of the nine training contracts on offer every year.
With its single office set-up, trainees aren’t able to jet off to any international secondment destinations but client secondments to Canary Wharf corporates such as OFGEM offers willing rookies a change of scenery.
There were some complaints about pay being “below average” with a trainee starting salary of £40,000 (the firm doesn’t disclose its NQ rate). Perks are few and far between with the highlight being a £200 wellness subsidy that can be used for things like fitness equipment and classes, massages, music or language lessons. But this must be put into the perspective of an excellent work/life balance that sees trainees clocking somewhere between 5:30pm and 7:30pm on a normal day. “One of the significant draws for KN is its work/life balance. The firm recognises you are a person with a life outside of work, and the maintenance of both is encouraged and celebrated”, explains one trainee we spoke to. Kingsley offers a generous 40-60% WFH split, with office chair, desk and screen all provided for newbies working from home.
The firm also has quite a socially conscious culture. Kingsley Napley’s responsible business strategy consists of six committees (Business Conduct, Charities and Community, Diversity and Inclusion, Environment, Pro Bono and Wellbeing) made up of lawyers and trainees. These have produced fun firm events such as a Strictly-style dance competition and has yielded firmwide initiatives such as ditching the term BAME with the aim of making the workplace more inclusive and offering paid leave to staff affected by the loss of a pregnancy.