Stephenson Harwood LLP

Alex Thornton
Stephenson Harwood LLP

Stephenson Harwood LLP

University:  University of York
Degree:  Politics and philosophy (joint honours)
Year of qualification: 2014
Position: Associate
Department: Commercial litigation

What attracted you to a career in law?

I wanted to do something that would provide me with an intellectual challenge, while also giving me the team environment that I have always enjoyed. Having had work experience at a commercial law firm during my school days, I was inspired by the people and their approach to the work they were doing. 

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I came to the decision that I wanted a balance of two things - first, top-quality work with a reputable firm, and second, being part of a small trainee intake where I could get responsibility from the start

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I had a reasonable amount, across a range of firms. This helped me to decide what type of environment I was looking for and get a better feel for different types of legal work. I also undertook non-legal work experience to make sure that my path towards being a lawyer was the correct one for me.

More broadly, these experiences introduced me to different professional environments and I began to pick up on the importance of skills such as client care and having an eye for detail. 

What do you think made your application successful?

When applying I took care to demonstrate that I really was a well-rounded person and a team player.

Which departments did you train in?

My four seats were in tax, commercial litigation, real estate, and marine and international trade. I could not have asked for a better spread, getting experience in advisory, transactional and contentious work. 

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

One of the highlights of my training contract was the work I did on a high-profile fraud case in commercial litigation. The case had only recently come in and I was asked to get up to speed quickly.  I took part in early and ongoing strategic discussions and, having read the same documents as the rest of the team, my contributions were valued.  Following this, I was given increasing amounts of responsibility in reviewing further documents, highlighting various aspects for the attention of the associates and partners involved. I was also charged with managing various paralegals that had been assigned to the case. It was a great team and an invaluable experience.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I am in the general commercial litigation team, which also gives me the opportunity to assist in areas such as finance litigation and arbitration, both of which I very much enjoy.  In the short term, it has allowed me to gain a broader experience, learn from a range of people and work with a broader range of clients. On a typical day I could be drafting letters, affidavits or memorandums of advice, communicating with counsel, reviewing documents and liaising with the partners and associates that I work for.

What do you most enjoy about your career and why?

Looking back, one of the best things has been seeing how much I have been able to develop over time. Being given responsibility provides you with the opportunity to prove yourself and in the right circumstances that just keeps pushing you forward. I also particularly enjoy working alongside such bright, intelligent and friendly people.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The people, the quality of work and the emphasis on being a well-rounded individual. The people at Stephenson Harwood are very approachable and I am constantly learning from those around me. As our partners have high expectations of us, it means we are continually getting the opportunities to develop.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

A good eye for detail and the ability to absorb large amounts of information are very useful. I would also say that resilience, determination and an ability to communicate well, on paper and in conversation, are essential. It goes without saying that you also have to be a good team player.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

Recognise that it's not always easy and work out whether the type of work and the type of firm you choose is going to allow you to enjoy what you do. I would also say that you should be prepared to always produce your best work – it makes you stand out from the very beginning of your training contract, and beyond, as someone who is dedicated to achieving results.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching rugby with friends.

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