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 around 200 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 a 17% rise in revenue to a record £55.2 million. Its profit per equity partner sits at £335,000. Linda Woolley, who was also re-elected to managing partner in May 2022, has her eyes set on revenues of £65-70 million for the next financial year.
Kingsley Napley marks itself out from many corporate-focused City firms by its unusually broad range of practice areas. 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 like for trainees?
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. Some of the grunt 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”. 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. 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.
There were some complaints about pay being “below average” with a starting salary of £38,000 that rises to £62,000 on qualification. 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 Napley is probably best known for its headline-grabbing litigation exploits. The aforementioned “Wagatha Christie” dispute joins a strong line-up of famous cases past and present that the firm has acted on, including claims against the British government over PPE procurement to defending Jeremy Thorpe in the Old Bailey, an infamous trial that was recently dramatized in the TV series A Very English Scandal.
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.
There’s a particular buzz around Kingsley Napley’s recent move to a new seven-storey open-plan office on Bonhill Street in Shoreditch. It features everything from “silent libraries” and “collaboration areas” through to a wellbeing suite comproising of a fitness studio, a relaxation room and contemplation areas. Snazzy. But consensus is that the best office perks are the rooftop terrace and array of great coffee shops nearby. As one newbie put it, it’s quite simply “the best”.