My career story: Kelsey Evans

As a proud global partner of this year’s Dive In Festival, and in support of the annual theme of #InclusionImpact, we spoke to a number of our people around the network to find out about their individual career journeys, the challenges they have faced, the advice they would give to their younger self and what diversity and inclusion means to them.

At Kennedys we have a distinctive culture that makes us a successful firm where people enjoy coming to work. With over 2,000 people across 37 offices globally, our culture is a source of strength and differentiates us from our competitors. And, according to Senior Partner Nick Thomas, “as a diverse and global firm we need to ensure that everyone, whoever or wherever they are in the firm, shares and embraces our values”.

In the first instalment of our career stories we spoke to Kelsey Evans, a paralegal based in our Dubai office.

“As a child, I always enjoyed writing, sketching and helping others. I wanted to choose a career route that used those things. When I was 14 my auntie suggested I study law because I love to write, help others and I am good at arguing a point. That was when I decided I wanted to become a lawyer so I could help others,” says Kelsey, reflecting on the career route she thought she would take when growing up. “After choosing my career route, I knew that my parents could not afford to send me to university so I had to find another way to become a lawyer.

“I really enjoy researching so I went online and searched and searched until I found ILEx (now known as CILEx). When I interviewed with Alexander Harris (which later merged with Irwin Mitchell) they said they would support my CILEx studies. A few years after I joined the firm however, when the merger took place, I think my studies got lost in it all. At that time, I wasn’t very confident so I didn’t want to ask them about my studies, I just assumed they had forgotten about me and I decided to look for another job.”

Prior to joining Kennedys in 2010 and undeterred in her quest to become a lawyer, Kelsey found a job as a legal secretary in 2007, in Manchester, with Eversheds. As fate should have it, she began working with Jeremy Riley. At the time, Jeremy was a Senior Associate at Eversheds but is now the Head of Professional Liability at Kennedys. It was from this point that Kelsey felt her career was starting to take shape.

She says: “I had worked as Jeremy’s legal secretary for almost three years when he got an opportunity to work for Kennedys, in Manchester, as a Partner. He asked me to move with him as his legal secretary and I said yes. Before joining Kennedys, Jeremy had to share my CV with the other partners and noticed in the ambitions section was my desire ‘to study CILEx and become a qualified Legal Executive’. Jeremy raised it with me and said if I still wanted to achieve this ambition, he would support me 100%.

“When I joined Kennedys, I was given one afternoon off a week to go to my classes. As I was still within my first year at Kennedys, I was unable to claim for my studies to be subsidised by the firm but they did pay for my CILEx membership each year. As luck should have it, my parents had decided to downsize and sell my big childhood home with the leftover money being enough to pay for my CILEx studies.”

In 2014 an opportunity to move within the firm’s global network, as a legal secretary, presented itself and, although Kelsey wanted to continue with her qualification, her adventurous side shone through as she applied and was offered the job in the Dubai office, relocating from Manchester.

“Luckily enough, Peter Ellingham and Olga Willers, (Partner and Office Manager in Dubai, respectively) were also fully supportive of my CILEx studies and told me that, once I had completed all of my exams, I would move into the role of paralegal and they would support my CILEx portfolio submissions to qualify as a legal executive after I had completed the three years’ work-based learning in the paralegal role.”

Kelsey has now been a paralegal in the Dubai office for three years. She’s hoping to be a qualified legal executive by the end of this year – fulfilling a long held ambition which is testament to her self-belief. But this has not always been a trait of Kelsey’s.

Discussing the personal and professional challenges she has overcome, she says: “Confidence was a major challenge for me. I was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency of the right femur. I was bullied in school for wearing a prosthetic leg, so I was very shy and had low self-esteem. I had to work on myself daily to build my self-esteem back up again. I am a completely different person from when I joined Kennedys nine years ago and a lot of that is down to my colleagues believing in me and supporting me throughout my journey. I have a lot to thank Jeremy, Peter, Olga and Claire Bushen (Partner in Manchester) for – they are my angels.”

Kelsey’s advice to anybody facing similar challenges or is doubting their ability in reaching their potential is as simple as it is inspiring. “Believe in yourself. You have what it takes to do anything you put your mind to so don’t allow anyone else’s opinion of you to lead you off track. You are a wonderful, unique human being who has so much to offer this world – share your ideas and opinions because they, as well as you, are of value!”

Asked what advice she would give to her younger self, she responds: “Do not listen to the voice in your head that is telling you that you cannot do something or that you are not good enough. You can. You’ve got this. And you are more than enough.”

The old adage that there is no such thing as a silly question is one that Kelsey advocates and feels is important for anyone thinking of starting a career in the insurance industry or legal sector. Kelsey says: “You will feel unsure of yourself when you start out on this journey but you must keep asking questions. Even if you think they sound stupid, they’re not because no one knows everything - so we should all aim to be students for life, seeking knowledge wherever we go. Find a mentor, someone who is the lawyer you want to be like and befriend them – ask them lots of questions too!”

Having been with the firm for nine years, Kelsey is clear in what she enjoys most about working at Kennedys. “Hands down, the people. The firm is full of positive, vibrant go-getters!”

And when asked what diversity and inclusion means to her, Kelsey responded: “It means removing all your fears, bias and judgments so you can allow people to be themselves and reach their full potential.”

This year’s Dive In Festival, marks the second of a two-year campaign, Awareness into Action, with a focus on creating measurable impact. After three years of raising awareness of the business case for diversity and inclusion, the global movement now looks to harness the energy of previous years to help the insurance industry get fit for the future, highlighting the business case for diverse and inclusive workplaces and providing practical ideas and inspiration on how to bring about positive change.

I’m not particularly academic, so studying has never come easily to me, but I persevered even when the results did not go my way. I am now MCIP qualified with the CIPD.

Claire Brockington, HR Manager

Claire Brockington-square.JPG

“I enjoyed working more closely with the lawyers. The camaraderie was brilliant and we all got along. I learnt a lot about court proceedings, the law and how a case file is run. Then, after about two years in the role, I found out that two of the lawyers I worked for were leaving which made me think about what I did next.”

This period of reflection for Claire and her own career happened to coincide with a vacancy for a HR Assistant at Kennedys, which she was encouraged to apply for by the HR Manager at the time. After a successful application, Claire has not looked back since.

“I started working in HR on 3 January 2000 and have not looked back. I honestly did not know what HR really consisted of, but I soon learnt! I have worked my way through the ranks, have managed individuals, teams of people, worked on projects (including several mergers), moved offices and countries, and now manage the HR function for the Singapore and Bangkok offices. In that time I have seen the firm grow from about 180 people in two offices (Chiswell Street and Brentwood), to over 2000 employees with offices across the world. It’s been a massive transformation and still a place I enjoy working at.”

While the transition between roles may appear seamless, there have been many personal and professional challenges that Claire has overcome to get to where she is today. Speaking openly about these difficulties, she also shares her advice for anybody facing similar challenges or is doubting their ability in reaching their potential.

“I studied for my HR qualification whilst working full time and I found that extremely challenging - juggling my social life with both work and my studies. In the end my social life went on hold whilst I studied. I’m not particularly academic, so studying has never come easily to me, but I persevered even when the results did not go my way. I picked myself up and kept going until I passed everything and I am now MCIP qualified with the CIPD.

“I have experienced some very tough personal times whilst working at Kennedys. I got divorced, moved countries and most recently lost both my grandfathers. But I am a firm believer of staying positive and working hard. If you demonstrate that you are a hard worker, enjoy what you do, are eager to learn, adaptable, committed and capable, those qualities will be recognised and you will go far.”

For someone that stepped out from what they knew to embark on a completely different career at Kennedys, Claire’s advice to her younger self is reflective of her own journey. She says: “Do not give up, you can achieve your goals. Think practically and be reasonable, whilst always remembering anything is possible. You never know where life is going to take you so be bold and take a chance.”

Claire’s experience of overseeing interviews shines through when offering her advice for anyone thinking of starting a career in the insurance industry or legal sector. She says: “Research the company. Remember interviews are a two-way street, they want to hear about your experiences and see what you are capable of but, at the same time, you want to assess if that is a company you could work for. So think about the work environment you want to be in and make that part of your evaluation process.”

Reflecting on her own career at Kennedys, which is nearing 25 years’ service, Claire feels there are two key factors behind her enjoyment of working for the firm. “Firstly, the work is diverse, challenging and thought-provoking which make it extremely interesting and rewarding. Above all though, it is the people. I have been very lucky with the colleagues I have worked with over the years and have always been able to share and discuss with them when work/life becomes overwhelming - they have helped enormously in sharing the load. If I did not like these two aspects of my job I would not have stayed as long as I have.”

When asked what diversity and inclusion means to her, Claire said: “Embracing everyone for who they are without judgement. We need a diverse and inclusive workforce to represent and recognise the diverse world in which we live. Without it, how can we represent our clients who are just as diverse as us?”

This year’s Dive In Festival, marks the second of a two-year campaign, Awareness into Action, with a focus on creating measurable impact. After three years of raising awareness of the business case for diversity and inclusion, the global movement now looks to harness the energy of previous years to help the insurance industry get fit for the future, highlighting the business case for diverse and inclusive workplaces and providing practical ideas and inspiration on how to bring about positive change.

Dive In 2019 hub