Insurance takes centre stage at Kennedys, where trainees applauded their seniors' “accessible” nature.
“We're pushing to become a truly global firm for insurance. We now operate in all the significant insurance markets across the globe. We're making sure we're where insurers want their lawyers.” This trainee has it right. Kennedys primarily specialises in tackling insurance-based disputes – its client list includes AIG, Allianz and Esure – and it's in the midst of impressively persistent, but very targeted, growth. “We're not looking to change our growth strategy, or make brand-new offerings to the market in the way of new sectors we will work for,” emphasises training principal Andrew Coates. “It will be the same client types, the same sorts of work, just in more jurisdictions.”
But this still leaves plenty of scope to expand. In 2017 the firm finally tied the knot with US insurance firm Carroll McNulty & Kull, giving it a handful of invaluable stateside offices. “The merger has been the primary cause for celebration here,” says Coates. “We spoke to CMK four or five years ago, so we had working relationships at all levels across both firms, and built a deep level of trust before we merged.” But there's been plenty more to celebrate: it's been acquiring teams and big-name lawyers left, right and centre in a number of locations around the world. The firm made 14 lateral partner hires in 2017, opened offices in Argentina, Paris and Bermuda, and the first half of 2018 saw the arrival of five partners from Mayer Brown. Global revenue grew by a whopping 31% in 2017/18 to £196 million.
As assurance of its expertise, the firm gains stellar Chambers UK rankings in contentious insurance, personal injury, clinical negligence, product liability, professional negligence, health & safety and transport. Kennedys' flavour of work was definitely an attractive factor to a lot of trainees – “it's been great dealing with high-level clients and working on matters for the largest insurers in the world” – but they also appreciated the “inclusive, collaborative environment.” Sources felt the firm “stood out for its friendly people, especially in comparison to the City horror stories!”
At the time of our research, 28 trainees could be found in London – the highest number. As for the regional offices, there were seven in Manchester, four in Chelmsford, three in Cambridge and two in Birmingham. The seats on offer fall into one of the firm's four main departments: insurance, commercial, healthcare, and liability. London has the most seats available, though all trainees generally do an insurance and liability seat. Each rotation, trainees submit three preferences in order of priority. Sources advised “discussing with HR both what is available and what you're interested in.”
“There's so much diversity to it, which is something I don't think people understand.”
The firm's insurance department covers seats in general insurance/reinsurance, professional indemnity, product liability, marine and construction. One source boasted that “for most of the large-scale losses that have made it into the public eye – Hurricane Katrina, the Alton Towers crash, etc – Kennedys has been involved in some way.” But it's not that audacious of a boast. The team advised Protector Insurance, the Norwegian insurer of Grenfell Tower, on all legal issues arising out of the tragic fire. Sources admitted “insurance can sound like a boring subject,” but were very quick to assure us “there's so much diversity to it, which is something I don't think people understand. One day we might be dealing with cracked windows in a massive skyscraper, the next it could be a fire in someone's law firm.” The general insurance seat offers a broad choice of work, including coverage, property damage, medical devices and product liability matters. The complexity of trainees' tasks was equally broad: “You're doing everything from bundling to drafting insurance clauses. And it was a good seat to get hands on with running our own files and corresponding with experts.” Other tasks included drafting witness statements, reviewing policies, and research into particular points of law. The seat also involves “working with different offices all over the world, as 70% of the international insurance market goes through Lloyds in London.”
The personal injury group primarily defends insurers and their clients against public liability claims. The team handles road traffic injuries, brain injuries, child abuse and more: a range that also encompasses travel work, relating to injuries occurring abroad. When smaller claims come along, trainees reported being able to take charge on those matters and “get stuck in with my own files. I really liked that element of the training contract.” On larger matters, trainees were involved with “reviewing medical records and experts' reports, attending mediations, and drafting documents like letters of discontinuance.” The team recently advised domestic appliances manufacturer Beko and their insurers on a number of product liability claims. The claims alleged that defective products were linked to 11 deaths and over 1000 domestic fires. The team also regularly defend insurers like Esure against various road traffic accidents that have led to catastrophic injuries.
The bulk of the work in the clinical negligence department involves “defending NHS trusts against claims of clinical negligence, though there's a little bit of private health defence work as well.” The team is on the legal panel for NHS Resolution, and works for over 90 NHS trusts. Its defence work covers claims regarding birth injury, missed diagnoses of serious conditions and many other thorny and sensitive issues (which are sadly confidential). As a trainee explained, the value of these ranges from “£50,000, up to larger cases in the millions.” Trainees here had a healthy serving of court experience: “I'd only been in the seat for three months, but I had already attended court quite a lot. I went to a CMC [Case Management Conference] hearing on behalf of the firm, and went to an injunction hearing on my own last week.” Outside of court, trainees were tasked with corresponding with medical experts and other external parties, drafting letters and instructions, and reviewing incoming letters of claim. Sources felt “you get the full spread of work, from pre-action right up to trial.”
“Very interesting, but very technical.”
In professional indemnity, the team deals with “negligence claims against white-collar professionals, like solicitors, accountants, IT professionals, architects and construction professionals.” Once again, in addition to the professionals and firms involved, this involves work for the insurers that cover the accused parties. Recent examples have seen the firm act for a national accountancy firm (insured by AIG) which faced allegations that it breached its fiduciary duty during its work on the demerger of a property business; and defend the insurer Travelers, along with the firm of solicitors it insured, against a multi-million pound claim focused on some finance-related legal work the firm carried out. Trainees described the area as “very interesting, but very technical, so it involves a lot of research and reviewing.” Though trainees were kept on a slightly tighter leash in this seat, finding that their work was “very carefully checked,” they were still able to “accompany partners to various settlement meetings and arbitrations.”
The commercial team is one of the smaller teams, but that didn't stop the work from being “incredibly varied.” The team benefited significantly from the 2017 acquisition of Mancunian firm Berg & Co. It works with clients in the insurance, construction, healthcare and travel spaces, and now covers “everything from banking work, to equity and debt financing, with some employment, property, and insolvency work too.” The firm was appointed to advise the Airport City Limited Partnership on its huge £800 million Manchester development. The client is a joint venture consisting of the Manchester Airport Group, Carillion, Beijing Construction Engineering Group and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. When we called, we heard that “GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] is the flavour of the month right now, so there's a lot of research into that as it's an up-and-coming development of the law.” Otherwise, trainees had completed a range of tasks, from “due diligence on the acquisition of some restaurants by a large brewery” to “drafting board resolutions and amending the terms of agreement.” Sources added that “because of the nature of corporate matters, you might not get much client contact when the value is higher.”
Take it to the fridge
“There's a lot of expertise here, and that expertise is very approachable.” Approachable. Approachable. Approachable. Trainees wouldn't stop mentioning this. “You get one-to-one contact with partners – I have friends at magic circle firms who don't at all.” Perhaps more importantly, it extends beyond troubleshooting, and the odd bit of tutoring. “People go out of their way to say 'hi' and everyone wants to know more about you.” All in all, sources found Kennedys to have a collaborative culture: “It's a very grown-up atmosphere. You're treated as an adult, not molly-coddled. And you're working with people, not trying to get one over on them. It's not a cut-throat environment at all.”
It also helps that trainees found the firm to be “very work/life balance focused.” One source recalled: “On my first day, a partner said to us, 'You're adults – if you've done your work, there's no expectation for you to stay for the sake of staying.'” As a result, most trainees noted leaving anywhere between 5pm and 7pm most of the time – “it's rare to be here after 7pm.” That was true across all offices. Naturally, some mentioned having “some big tasks that required very late nights, but they are few and far between.” The latest we heard of was an 11pm finish – a damn sight better than most City firms – and this was “the exception, not the rule.”
But this moderate work schedule hadn't resulted in an extravagant amount of out-of-work socialising. “There could be more” was the verdict given by many. We found variations between offices, and also between teams. “It seems to be that each team has its own social calendar.” For example, one London source reckoned “the healthcare team enjoy doing things outside the office more, whereas the commercial team is more inclined to do things in smaller groups as opposed to big departmental things.”
Both the London and Manchester offices held bi-monthly drinks, which, in Manchester, were informally known as “Fridge Fridays.” Sources from the regional offices also found that, “especially with trainees, there seems to be quite a big divide between the regions. The majority of trainees are in the South, so in terms of socialising, it's difficult for us to get there.” Still, the offices play host to plenty of sports teams (including football, netball and softball) and the firm recently “did a bicycle ride from London to Amsterdam which anyone from the firm could take part in.”
The London office is located on Fenchurch Avenue – a stone's throw from Lloyd's of London. The office itself was described as “quite modern” with a nifty balcony that “goes all the way around and has amazing views of the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie.” The Manchester office recently “moved from down the road – this office is much nicer.” The only grumble was that “because of the merger [with Berg & Co], we're very quickly running out of space.”
“In a few years the firm will be an even better place to be.”
Though the offices have seen an influx of new faces, sources felt the recent mergers and general growth hadn't affected the overall culture at Kennedys. Still, it was definitely on trainees' minds: “I think Kennedys will become a pretty big firm, so it needs to find a way to preserve the culture through the growth period.” The majority had a positive outlook on this front: “I imagine in a few years the firm will be an even better place to be, with more opportunities – maybe for more international secondments.”
This positivity extended to qualification. With a strong retention record in the last couple of years, trainees were pretty confident about their chances of being kept on. “They've invested in you, so unless there's a real differentiation between you and the firm, they like to keep people on.” In 2018 Kennedys retained 16 out of 21 qualifiers. The process itself is relatively straightforward: the firm releases a jobs list, then trainees can chat with HR “to make their intentions known” and submit their application to their chosen teams. The departments then interview candidates and “you find out a few weeks after that.”
Client secondments are available “depending on client needs,” and occasionally a lucky trainee packs their bags for a seat in the Hong Kong or Bermuda office.
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Training contract deadline (2020): 31 December 2018
Kennedys generally offers 12 training contracts in London and eight in the firm's regional offices each year. Applicants need at least 120 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree to pass the initial screening.
Your best bet for landing a training contract in London is completing the firm's winter vacation scheme. “It's a great opportunity for you to see what life is like at Kennedys and to really experience our culture,” HR Manager Hannah Worsfold tells us. “We tend to offer a high percentage of our vacation scheme students training contracts, as they have gone through our rigorous recruitment process, understand the firm and have experienced what life as a trainee will be like.” Last year, 11 out of 12 of the vac schemers secured a training contract.
The firm now runs a one-week scheme in January, taking on 12 vac schemers in total. They work within one of the legal divisions during their placement “to give them an insight into what trainees do by undertaking very similar tasks,” Worsfold says. Alongside their trainee work, vac schemers attend various sessions to learn more about the firm, as well as social events – last year featured a pizza making class.
Applications and assessments
The vacation scheme application process is the same as the one for straight-to-training contract applicants.
Both types of application kick off with an online form. The firm typically receives around 600 vac scheme and 900 training contract applications. “We want to understand why you are applying to Kennedys in particular and what makes you stand out from other applicants,” Worsfold says. She advises applicants to “highlight any relevant work experience and any other achievements aside from academics.” Shortlisted candidates are then invited to undertake an automated video interview, focusing on their application form and reasons for applying to Kennedys as well as commercial awareness questions.
The firm then selects around 100 applicants to take a timed critical thinking test online, and around 50 candidates are then invited to attend an assessment day. The day includes some group exercises that test communication skills, plus a written task and a short interview with a senior associate. “One of my group exercises was a debate and the other two were games with cards and a murder mystery,” a trainee source reported. “It was all about seeing how we interacted.” Meanwhile, the written task is scenario-based. “Mine involved a client who'd been in a car incident – I had to write to the garage saying what the client wanted,” our source said. “They're looking at how you approach the situation, not your legal knowledge.”
Worsfold tells us that “the candidates who stand out at the assessment day are definitely those who have done their research, as well as those who are enthusiastic and put every effort into the assessment day. We want to get to know you too, so those who engage with us on the day and ask lots of questions are going to stand out.” Beyond this, “we're looking for people who match our values,” she says. These include being approachable, straightforward, supportive and distinctive.
From here, vac schemers and trainees are chosen. For those aiming to crack offices outside of London, a further follow-up interview in their chosen office is held before the final decision is made.
Seats by location
Birmingham: Liability; Healthcare; Insurance
Manchester: Insurance; Liability; Commercial
London: Insurance, Liability, Healthcare, Commercial
25 Fenchurch Avenue,
- Partners 204
- Associates 465
- Total trainees 56
- UK offices Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Taunton
- Overseas offices Auckland, Bogota, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, Lima, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Moscow, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney
- Contacts HR admin: [email protected], 020 7667 9667
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 600
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 300 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: currently open
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 December 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: currently open
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 30 September 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000 (London), £26,000 (elsewhere)
- Second-year salary: £38,000 (London), £29,000 (elsewhere)
- Post-qualification salary: Up to £58,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong, Mexico, Singapore
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Varied across UK locations
Main areas of work
Kennedys ensures that their trainee solicitors are given sound training in the core disciplines. All supervisors are approachable and ready to offer support when needed. Our training contracts are two years in length and you will undertake four six month seats within areas such as insurance and reinsurance, liability, corporate and commercial and healthcare.
We develop careers in an innovative and collaborative global environment, with a variety of training opportunities available. This includes secondment opportunities to clients and our global offices. We believe that supporting individual growth and development puts us in the best position to attract and retain talented individuals.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounds
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant Recognised Practitioner
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Aviation (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 1)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 2)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 4)
- Insurance: Volume Claims (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: Product Liability (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 4)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Shipping (Band 4)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 4)