Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Stephens Scown

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Stephens Scown

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘Employee ownership’; ‘I supported the values that the firm upholds and the image it has created’; ‘its ethos’; ‘the firm emphasises a work/life balance and really involves trainees in the work that is undertaken’; ‘the fact that it is employee-owned’; ‘I wanted to stay in my local area’

Best thing about the firm? ‘The culture’; ‘the people, who are knowledgeable, proactive, commercial, friendly and willing to pass on their knowledge’; ‘the employee ownership, which makes it much more unique’; ‘the work/life balance’; ‘plenty of autonomy’; ‘the training contract being made up of three eight-month seats’; ‘the well supervised training’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Trainee salaries could be more competitive’; ‘the inefficiency of some of the processes’; ‘occasional lack of communication from higher up as to the overall direction of the firm’; ‘some partners are extremely resistant to change’; ‘the purple colour scheme everywhere’

Best moment? ‘Being involved in a long-running case, which was successfully concluded in our favour’; ‘the best moment was assisting on a high-value real estate development transaction’; ‘helping a client finalise her divorce at a final hearing’

Worst moment? ‘The time when I was overwhelmed with work due to sickness, holidays and lack of capacity’; ‘making mistakes’; ‘thinking I had made a mistake and so sending an application to the court twice’; ‘a disagreement with my supervisor’; ‘forgetting to send two important emails’

The Lex 100 verdict on Stephens Scown

The firm: Stephens Scown is a South West regional heavyweight law firm with offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell.  It has a sector approach within chosen areas where it is nationally recognised for the work it undertakes.  Stephens Scown offers great careers and has featured in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies for six consecutive years.

The deals/cases: Habberfield v Habberfield, an inheritance and trust disputes case involving a High Court ruling over a multimillion-pound farm; assisting with the conversion of a nearly 50-year-old company, Altec & Victoria, to an employee ownership model; the landmark Challen v Challen inheritance forfeiture case which went to the High Court; Legal & General Affordable Homes and Coastline Housing Ltd home creation agreement; completing a multimillion-pound purchase agreement between two UK Apple premium resellers.

The clients: St Austell Brewery; Imerys Minerals; The Diocese of Exeter; Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust; Pendennis Shipyard; Riverford Organics Ltd; Trewithen Dairy; ReneSola Ltd (listed on the NYSE); LiveWest Housing; Reflex Marine.

The verdict

South West-based Stephens Scown is ’employee-owned’ making it ‘very different to other firms’. Several trainees ‘wanted to stay in the area’ (the firm has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell) and felt that the full-service outfit had ‘similar values and ambitions’ to their own. Recruits undertake three eight-month seats, during which they are ‘supported and able to complete important work without feeling abandoned’. Stephens Scown has earned a Lex 100 Winner award for confidence of being kept on. Colleagues are described as ‘proactive, commercial and friendly’, and are ‘more than willing to pass on their knowledge’, plus they ‘really involve trainees in their work’. ‘Completing a £4m refinancing deal which I had project managed’, ‘winning in court on the last day of my seat in dispute resolution’ and ‘a barrister calling my supervisor to compliment the brief I had drafted’ made trainees especially happy. In addition, the ‘work/life balance is very good’ and is respected by supervisors. Complaints were varied but included the ‘occasional lack of communication from higher up regarding the overall direction of the firm’ and the ‘resistance to agile working’. ‘The time when I was overwhelmed with work due to staff sickness, holidays and a general lack of capacity’, ‘forgetting to send two important emails’ and ‘sending an application to the court twice because I thought I had made a mistake’ were low moments. CSR and pro bono opportunities are plentiful: ‘we have a firm-wide charity and an office charity and we organise events such as a Christmas raffle, a cycleathon and a bake-off’. For ‘plenty of autonomy, even as a trainee’ in a ‘friendly working environment’, take a closer look at Stephens Scown.

A day in the life of… Dave Robbins, second-year trainee, Stephens Scown LLP

Dave Robbins, Stephens Scown

Departments to date: Corporate, employment

University: University of Law

Degree: LLB 1st (won the Ede and Ravenscroft Award for highest overall mark across the university's seven campuses), LPC Distinction

8.30am: I arrive at the office and check through emails. Some of today’s emails are on issues I have been assisting my supervisor with, so I draft responses and send them to my supervisor to check. The employment team offers an HR advice service called HRExpress, and today I am manning the helpline.

9.15am: I take my first helpline call. An employer is looking to restructure their business and make some staff redundant. I explain the legal test for a redundancy situation, and the process that must be followed. It’s exciting being on the helpline as you never know what queries will come up, but my supervisor is always there to guide me if needed.

10.00am: My supervisor and I meet with a potential new client. She is the director of a company, but is looking to negotiate a takeover after falling out with her business partner. My supervisor advises on the employment aspects, and I make notes. Knowing that I was previously in corporate, my supervisor asks for my input on the company law aspects. I explain to the client possible ways of how her partner’s exit could be structured and refer her to my previous supervisor from corporate. I’m very pleased that my supervisor requested my input, as it makes me feel like I am working with him rather than for him.

12.30pm: Back at my desk, I see a new email regarding a sex discrimination and harassment claim we are pursuing in the Employment Tribunal. The other side has told the tribunal that our client was employed through an agency, has no standing to bring employment claims, and that the claim should be struck out. I do urgent research into the employment status of agency workers, and draft an email for my supervisor to send to the tribunal explaining that our client does have standing to make her claims.

1.00pm: Lunchtime. I take two LPC students out for coffee. They are at the firm completing their written assessments for their training contract application. It’s an opportunity for them to ask a current trainee about what life is like working at the firm.

2.00pm: Back in the office, my supervisor says we have received a without prejudice offer for a client, who has a claim for disability discrimination against her previous employer. I’m asked to negotiate with the employer’s solicitor to reach a financial settlement, overseen by my supervisor. I’m nervous as this is my first attempt at settling a case, but I explain to the other side why our client has a strong case and make our counter-offer.

2.45pm: I receive another call on the helpline, from an employer whose employee has been stealing alcohol. Due to the risk of further thefts, the employee can be suspended. However, as they live on the employer’s business site, they would have a licence to live on the premises which may complicate any potential dismissal; I inform the client and refer them to the firm’s property team for further discussion.

3.15pm: My supervisor asks me to assist with a matter involving the purchase of a national technology retailer. I access the data room and find employment details for each employee. I review these to determine whether they adhere to the relevant employment legislation, and highlight any deviations for my supervisor so they can reference these in the transaction’s disclosure letter.

5.30pm: At the end of the day, I write my to-do list for tomorrow. There is a lot to juggle, so I always update my list to make sure nothing leaves my mind overnight. I then shut down my computer and head out with my fellow trainees for a netball tournament against other local firms.

About the firm

Managing partner: Richard Baker

Other offices: Truro, St Austell

Who we are: Stephens Scown has a regional focus but the expertise and experience of a London law firm, and looks after employees through employee ownership.

What we do: Key practice areas include: corporate and commercial, dispute resolution, family law, and IP and IT. Clients range from individuals to SMEs, FTSE and international companies.

What we’re looking for: We are passionate about what we do, so we look for individuals who share that passion, and can demonstrate the drive, enthusiasm and ambition to be our future lawyers and partners. Applications are encouraged from both law and non-law graduates with a strong commercial and business awareness. You’ll also need great personal and communication skills, as well as creativity and a sense of fun. There’s huge potential for the right people!

What you’ll do: Your training contract with us will be fulfilling, challenging and rewarding. Undertaking three seats in a variety of contentious and non-contentious areas, you will be able to discuss your preferred choices and be actively involved in your development and progression. High-profile and challenging work, extensive client exposure and important responsibilities will all come your way. You will be positively encouraged to think outside the box, be creative and come up with ideas that the firm can take forward.

Perks: Private medical insurance, group life assurance scheme, auto enrolment pension scheme, employee assistance programme, 25 days’ holiday, plus bank and public holidays, day off for your birthday, unique shared ownership bonus scheme, performance-related bonus scheme, flexible working and family friendly policies, cycle to work scheme, opportunity to join a number of social clubs, enhanced maternity and paternity pay.

Sponsorship: LPC course fees covered where the LPC has not already been undertaken.

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