My career story: Thomas Kaufman

As a proud global sponsor 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 latest instalment of our career stories we spoke to Thomas Kaufman, an associate based in our New York office.

“Growing up, I was blessed - and perhaps partially cursed - with an exceedingly broad range of interests and pursuits. Though enriching, it made settling on a career path quite difficult.  My two greatest interests, however, were cooking and music,” says Thomas, reminiscing about the career route he thought he would take when growing up. “Throughout high school and part of college, I worked as a cook in an Italian restaurant. I also studied guitar, piano and trombone throughout my early life. When I was younger, I thought about being a chef or working musician - something in the arts.

“I was always drawn to careers that were, in a sense, unpredictable. I liked the idea of not knowing exactly where my day would take me when it started.  I also liked the satisfaction of creating. Cooking and music, whether performing or teaching, seemed to satisfy both of those criteria.”

After high school, Thomas’s passion for music saw him decide to formally study the subject after beginning culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Following his studies of classical and jazz music as a guitar major at Nassau Community College and Adelphi University, Thomas began teaching private music lessons and performing, often in theatre orchestra pits. What started out as something he felt passionately about, Thomas soon began to have doubts about a career in music.

He explains: “As the years went by, I realised that playing music as a career had become somewhat dissatisfying for me personally. I wasn’t playing the music I wanted and often had to take other jobs which detracted from my playing. So, in my mid-to-late twenties, I began to consider other career choices. Family members of mine, who worked in the legal field, brought up the idea of working as a paralegal. I had no experience in the legal field at that point, and I was sceptical that it was something I would enjoy doing.”

I did not have what I considered to be a conventional educational background to pursue a legal career. I had plenty of excuses not to go to law school.

Despite this scepticism, Thomas attended a presentation at Hofstra University in New York for their paralegal certificate programme and found himself interested enough to enrol.

“I thought that the coursework, particularly the substantive legal studies, was engaging and exciting. While studying at Hofstra, I began working at an insurance defence law firm in Manhattan, Wenick & Finger. After they closed in 2014, many of their attorneys and support staff, including myself, began working at Carroll McNulty & Kull, which of course merged with Kennedys in 2017. While working as a paralegal at these firms, and after having an opportunity to work closely with attorneys for a few years, I made the decision to pursue law school, which I did at night while working full time during the day. I graduated in 2018, and began my career as a lawyer with Kennedys in September 2018.”

For someone who did not pursue a career in the legal field and, more particularly, a career as an attorney, until his late twenties, Thomas feels he has benefitted from the Kennedys’  ‘open-door’ nature. He adds: “The firm is busy, and full of hard workers, but no one gives the impression that they are too busy to help you with an issue or problem you’re having.”

Thomas, who has recently been admitted to the New York bar, is a shining example for those that may not immediately consider a career in law and has overcome his own doubts to get to where he is today.

Discussing the personal and professional challenges he has overcome, he says: “I did not have what I considered to be a conventional educational background to pursue a legal career. Thus, at that point, I had plenty of excuses not to go to law school. My wife and I were getting married, we had just moved to Brooklyn together and, frankly, had bills to pay. The time and cost of law school seemed, at that point, like an insurmountable obstacle to a formal legal career. Luckily, I had an unwavering support system, both from my family and from the attorneys I worked with, who generously lent me their time and advice as I began my studies.”

For anybody facing similar challenges or is doubting their ability in reaching their potential, Thomas’s advice is passed on from his time at law school and stresses the importance of setting manageable goals.  

“Most of us were working professionals, who were nervous about the prospect of completing a four-year law school program and giving up our precious evenings normally devoted to our families and friends. The dean simply told us not to think about the next four years as a whole, but to just think about the next semester, or the next month, or the next week, or even just the next day, if need be. Focus on a manageable goal and amount of work, get that done, and move on. There will always be plenty of excuses not to take such a huge step in your professional life, the key is to just dive in and knock out the challenges as they come.”

To me, diversity and inclusion means not ignoring differences in backgrounds, abilities, and/or cultures, but recognising those differences and celebrating them.

Thomas Kaufman, Associate

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Reflecting on his own experiences when beginning a career in law, Thomas is clear in what his advice would be to anyone considering a similar career in either the insurance industry or legal sector. He says: “As a complete stranger to the insurance industry and the legal field, I had no idea what to expect when I started working as a paralegal in 2012. I learned a lot about the practice of law and the business of insurance by working directly with attorneys day in, day out. By the time I went to law school, I felt secure and comfortable about my career path, and I think it took a lot of stress away that I otherwise would have had to deal with. So I would recommend that someone looking to start a career in the insurance industry or legal sector finds a way to work with, or at least speak with, lawyers or other professionals in the field to see what the practice is really like.”

And for somebody that originally thought about a career in either food or music, it comes as little surprise that the advice Thomas would give to his younger self is to “be open to new experiences, particularly fields of study that you didn’t see yourself becoming involved in at a young age.”

When asked for his perspective on what diversity and inclusion means to him, Thomas responded: “To me, diversity and inclusion means not ignoring differences in backgrounds, abilities, and/or cultures, but recognising those differences, celebrating them, and realising that we can all benefit from being exposed to different perspectives.”

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.

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