Exclusive: Legal influencer’s law firm goes into liquidation owing over £1 million

Avatar photo

By Rhys Duncan on

51

Behind Alice Stephenson’s social media glitz and glamour, an uncomfortable reality check


Exclusive: A law firm founded and run by top legal influencer Alice Stephenson has entered liquidation.

Stephenson has nearly 100,000 social media followers across LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and X, where she has charted her journey as founder of Stephenson Law, which won ‘Boutique Law Firm of the Year’ award at the British Legal Awards in 2020 and was shortlisted for ‘UK Law Firm of the Year’ at the same prestigious awards a year later.

In addition to her main role as a law firm boss, Stephenson provides a paid-for course on how to set up your own successful law firm. The former Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) trainee has also recently released a book, called ‘(Out)Law: From Teenage Mum to Legal Trailblazer’, expanding on some of her motivational social media posts to tell the story of her unconventional career and the importance of being yourself at work.

However, behind the scenes a different picture emerges. Stephenson Law entered liquidation last month and a resolution for winding up was published on 24 November. According to a ‘Statement of affairs’ liquidation document filed with Companies House, the influencer’s firm has an outstanding debt of over £1.5 million, including a hefty £800k bill to HMRC.

Included within the limited remaining assets of the company is a £666,157.72 directors’ loan to A Stephenson. The document notes that the estimated value of realising this asset is “uncertain”.

Stephenson did not respond to Legal Cheek’s requests for comment about the liquidation or the directors’ loan, but subsequently posted a statement on LinkedIn (reproduced below).

Publicly on social media she has noted that “🥳 Stephenson Law is now Plume 🥳”, adding:

“We started life as a regulated law firm and we’ve hired amazing people, experimented, built tech, won awards, launched a new unregulated law firm and worked with the most incredible clients. We’ve learned what we’re good at and found our place in the industry.”

According to Companies House, Plume was incorporated in 2020 as Flamingo DPO Limited and known as Stephenson Law Limited between 13 March 2023 and 17 October 2023. It has also been known as Macaw Consulting Limited. Alice Stephenson is the company’s sole director and is also director of a separate company, Stephenson Law (Regulated) Limited, which was incorporated in 2015 and is subject to the liquidation proceedings. She is listed on the SRA website as “SRA-regulated solicitor, not practising”. Having begun her career at WBD, she worked at Bristol firms Bevan Brittan and DAC Beachcroft, before branching out on her own.

Update: 09:34 Fri 8 Dec — Alice Stephenson has issued this statement on LinkedIn:

“Stephenson Law was a regulated firm that ceased trading in October. We owed a large amount to HMRC which we were paying back every month, but HMRC chose to call the whole debt in, which forced us into liquidation. There were no staff, clients or client money in the business. A third of the debt is owed to my other companies. Plume is an unregulated law firm that has been trading for some time. It’s financially stable and completely unaffected by the liquidation, so our clients have nothing to worry about. It’s business as usual. I’ve made mistakes, and I’m always the first one to acknowledge them. I don’t understand why some people take joy from other people’s failures, particularly in the legal industry, but it makes it a very off-putting place to try and effect change, which has always been my mission.”

51 Comments

Curious George

To all ‘influencers’:

If you must flood our social network feeds with material which, at the best of times, is usually irrelevant drivel, at least be competent.

Solicitor

Anyone looking for a refund for her course must remember it was only “how to START a law firm”.

Not surprised

Doesn’t surprise me. ALL “legal influencers” (yes I said all) constantly fill people’s feeds with their nonsense self promoting BS. No surprise that in time they either leave law (you know the exact ones I’m talking about) or end up being found out as incompetence. Good riddance.

Legal_Influenza

You’re a happy chappy!

Carlos

Well this is a well-considered and intelligent conversation. I’m so glad we have people like you in the profession.

Anonymous

Good luck explaining to the insolvency service how a half million £ loan given to herself as director was in the best interests of the company (that was already in debt). Some real mental gymnastics will be required. Really poor company management, I’m sure she will inevitably be disqualified or subject to an undertaking.

Curious

Wondering if the SRA will get involved here?

Anon

At least she gave it a shot; success rarely comes on the first attempt. I’m sure she’s learned valuable lessons, surpassing the critics, and will achieve even greater things in the future. Meanwhile, some of you are stuck in jobs you despise, afraid to break free from the norm and try something new.

(46)(108)

Anon

With respect, this doesn’t appear to be a ‘don’t be afraid to fail’ story but rather a ‘where did the money go?’ story.

4L

Hating your job doesn’t mean you’re particularly well-suited to setting up and running a business, nor that that business would necessarily be successful, though I appreciate that this type of post wouldn’t get many LinkedIn likes.

A successful business requires the person running it to identify a gap in the market, be good at what they do that they will then roll out into the gap, and also be good at scaling, capable at people and money management, and, importantly, aware of where the limits might be. “Hating your current job” isn’t on the list.

Of course, a lot of these skills can be learned whilst building a business if you make the right decisions along the way, and you can course correct if things are going a little wrong, but having seemingly totally failed at doing this once (company in liquidation), is quite the opposite of “surpassing” (?) the critics.

Anonymous

Lawyers/ legal commentators aren’t very good at giving people the benefit of the doubt. Clearly there are questions to be answered and she’ll have no choice but to answer them, and possibly face tough consequences, but she’s a fallible person like everyone else and as Anon 6.54pm said, at least she tried something in the name of trying to improve the profession for those working in it and thinking of working in it

Carlos The Jackal KC

Well said, Mrs Stephenson!

Anon

I’ve followed Alice’s journey for a while so this is sad to read. Even sadder to read some of the comments left behind and how this story has been portrayed!

Anonymous

Writing a book on how to run a succesful law firm and then her own firm goes into liquidation 🤔🤔 with a £1million debt majority of which is due to HMRC. Definitely not the way to go. RIP

6PQEr

Having been on the other side to her firm on a few deals in the past, I’m not surprised given how awful they were. Nice enough people but clearly focused more on pumping out guff on LinkedIn rather than actually doing a competent job.

Realist

Like all ‘lawfluencers’. Yes, ALL, no exceptions.

Anon

So she’ll be allowed to continue her ‘unregulated’ practice, Plume, despite this?

She’s still holding herself out as a solicitor, trading off that badge, yet the trail of debt is hardly giving a good name to the profession.

That loan account takes some explaining…

N

And we should admire this person?

Yes we should applaud entrepreneurs but we shouldn’t applaud people that don’t pay their way

Observer

Pretty shocking way to run a company. I imagine HMRC won’t drop this. The name changes don’t inspire confidence either.

Regulate Me

What exactly is an ‘unregulated’ law firm? What does that mean in practice? Don’t @ me, genuinely curious to know whether / if her new gaffe is the silver bullet she’s looking for.

Anon

Firms only have to be regulated if they’re carrying on ‘reserved legal activities’. Otherwise, you can be a legal business employing qualified solicitors with practising certificates with the solicitors being subject to regulation, but the firm being unregulated.

unreSeRvAble legal activity

The solicitors themselves don’t need to be regulated either (or to be a solicitor at all), surely, if they’re not providing reserved legal activities?

So if they’re not advising on immigration, probate, litigation/need rights of audience, notarial activities or administering oaths – which most solicitors don’t, as a rule – they don’t need the SRA. What am I missing?

https://legalservicesboard.org.uk/enquiries/frequently-asked-questions/reserved-legal-activities

Anon

It won’t impact her ‘influencing’ career as she has already built up a fawning cult on LinkedIn who will back her all the way, regardless. But owing that much to HMRC is just unforgivable. This is deductions from employee’s pay that hasn’t been handed over.

Anon

“Included within the limited remaining assets of the company is a £666,157.72 directors’ loan to A Stephenson. The document notes that the estimated value of realising this asset is “uncertain”.”

Deary me. Good work LC.

Elon Musk

The HMRC debt is VAT and PAYE which are normally paid monthly or quarterly. So it looks like Alice has been holding back VAT and PAYE and instead paying it to herself! This is really bad practice and I would imagine the repercussions will be serious.

Carlos The Jackal KC

In her talk a few weeks ago, “The Power of the Human Lawyer” available to view online, she talks about EVERYTHING BUT how to create and sustain a profitable legal business and instead harps on about how life in the corporate world prevented her from being her “authentic self”. Where’s the beef? How is this “advice” helping businesses to make money for themselves and their clients? The only measurable outcome that I can see is that it has turned LinkedIn into a cringefest.

Junior Leachman

Lets hope that Alice pick up the pieces and learn her lessons from her mistakes in this venture. Many people in the legal profession who are stuck in their current job with a whole lot of frustration would have never taken the risk that Alice had taken. She tried and was not successful at this time , she can try again.

4L

I can see this is going to be the narrative that is attempted here. The fact is, a lot of us stay in our steady jobs because we sensibly weigh the potential reward against the risks of going out on your own in this way. Our decision is not because we are at heart fearful, but because we have correctly assessed the chances & rewards of success versus the potential for failure (and the consequences for failing). We might also think that you’d have to be a really good lawyer, manager and marketer to do this, and maybe we aren’t all of those things, and maybe that’s OK, and better to recognise this than try something that’s beyond us.

LinkedIn is full of people yelling about following your dream and starting your own business, but in reality it’s extremely difficult to do that and make money and stay on top of everything. That’s true in law too, hence why a lot of us just suck it up and show up to the law-firm / solid in-house gig and don’t try to “disrupt the market.” I don’t think law as an industry readily lends itself to the cheery “if at first you don’t succeed” concept; clients don’t want to instruct people who can’t keep their own businesses together. It’s not a fun app where maybe you calibrated things a little wrong and can tweak it for the next version or just cut your losses and move onto the next one. It is a regulated profession dealing with the money, livelihoods and lives of others. Much of the job is about managing, not taking, risk, and time and again we have seen the “innovators” and “risk-takers” wind up on the pages of Legal Cheek or RollonFriday.

That’s not to say it isn’t the right choice for some of us to start our own firms; of course it is, but it’s not really a “stick it to the established field with our snazzy website and wacky lawyer profiles” enterprise, more a case of someone who is good at what they do and maybe not getting recognised, who could be more successful striking out on their own, who makes the careful decision to take that direction whilst ensuring they can handle all of the hassle and admin that goes with running your own business in the legal field (not simple).

RC

agree with all of this.

there is an ex-banker turned entrepreneur called Asim Qureshi (used to work for Morgan Stanley now seems to be a tech entrepreneur based in Malaysia) who posts a lot on Quora and LinkedIn.

he is much more down to earth and recognises that he was able to take the risk of leaving a v well paid salaried job in finance to start his own businesses because his family backed him and because he could afford to fail. His view seems to be if you need your salaried job then stick at it, why risk it all? He also acknowledges that a lot of business success is down to timing and luck as well as hard work and “inspiration” (certainly not much of it is down to talking about tattoos).

Anon

Sad to hear of this situation but her statement is a little disingenuous. Alice states “I’ve made mistakes, and I’m always the first one to acknowledge them” but, in this instance, it has taken a report by legal cheek for those mistakes to have been acknowledged and discussed publicly. I am not a fan of bringing people down for the sake of it but this article has shone a light on the reality behind the facade created by the social media BS.

Another anonymous keyboard warrior

This is exactly it. From the outside looking in the ‘rebrand’ seemed just that, not some kind of weird shift away from a failed business into a new business. I was once approached by a headhunter for a corporate position there and was really attracted by their benefits package and anti-stuffiness. I’m now glad I didn’t make the leap – if nothing else the reputational damage from not handling this well will be immense and I wouldn’t be surprised if they started bleeding lawyers as a result.

The Judge

Well done LC for bringing this to light

nc

Alice’s company owes nearly a million in unpaid tax
Alice owes her company £600k

Will Alice be required to repay her company so the tax can be paid?
Was the sole director’s decision to lend Alice £600k of her company’s money in the best interests of the company?
If no, then how is Alice fit to be the director of another company?

Let no-one turn this into a conversation about influencers and their role in the law. If they can make money and pay their way, that’s great. What we should be looking at is whether someone has brought the profession into disrepute through what was presumably a failure to properly handle the tax affairs of their company.

Are the SRA awake or are they busy looking for another trainee they can kill the career or for losing a document

Laura G

Regardless of what she has done or hasn’t done. This article screams sexism and bias and so does the comments. Let’s not even start on the “glitz and glamour” comment, like that has anything to do with it. People want more empathy and understanding at work but stamp on anything non-traditional. If you want to keep your profession white middle aged men in suits who work 36 hours a day then sure let’s continue to s@£t on legal influencers. Your enemy isn’t individuals who post once a week on LinkedIn about how they are doing something different, it’s a sector which isn’t reforming. This may not be the golden case of that but overgeneralising and stereotyping doesn’t help anyone.

Anon

* 5 times a week . And who sells courses on how to start up a successful law business all while knowing they owe £800k of taxes to HMRC, likely built up over a period of 2 or 3 years, while personally taking 3/4 money of that out of the business for personal use…

Far too much focus on painting a false picture on LinkedIn rather than concentrating on running a business properly and retaining staff, unfortunately. However, the Influencing seems to have worked judging by the numerous flamingo-pink tinted glassed comments on her LinkedIn post today

Surprised

That’s an outrageous slur. Since when was “glitz and glamour” sexist. To allege sexism to try to obscure some potentially very serious financial mismanagement and withholding of tax payer money is extremely cynical. Shame on you.

Laura G

Because no one would write an article on a man claiming “behind the glitz and glamour” and constantly referring to them as an influencer rather than lawyer. This kind of discourse does nothing but discourage young (particularly female) lawyers who want to break out of dickensian workplaces. You do understand two things can be true at once, right? I’m not trying to “obscure” anything. The situation can be dire and mishandled but it doesn’t mean we need to reinforce stereotypes and biases. You’ll notice, if you actually read beyond face value, that many of these comments are referring to “all legal influencers” and making it solely about that. Yes, comment on how LinkedIn in *this case* (and I’m sure there are other example) may have been used to cover over what was actually happening, but then just say exactly that. What I’m actually advocating for here to to keep to the topic at hand and stop overgeneralising.

Anon

The fact she is an influencer is why they have written the article in the first place. That she has this glamorous public profile and wins glitzy awards, while projecting an image of success, contrasts with the very serious financial difficulties her firm is in.

Nothing against ‘breaking out of Dickensian workplaces’ if that is the issue here.

Another Laura

She’s said herself that she no longer practices law – her position is CEO. Let’s face it though, most people will know her due to LI, not because of her company. I’m a woman and truly don’t think the article was sexist.

Archibald O'Pomposity

“She’s said herself that she no longer practices law”

It is “practises”, please.

“I’m a woman”

That isn’t an expert qualification.

“[I] truly don’t think…”

Fervour doesn’t add validity to an opinion.

Matt Damon

Have you not seen Behind The Candelabra?

Anon

It is nothing to do with her gender. It is all to do with the fact that she has 1. portrayed herself as an entrepreneur that is killing it and 2. has the audacity to preach to others on how to run a law firm.

Its just fake social media BS.

And if it weren’t for the 600k loan to herself, I think everyone would be a little more sympathetic…

Laura

Funny thing is I have done nothing but agree with all of you, as I said above, what I’m arguing against is overgeneralising. I’m not sure why I thought I’d have an intelligent conversation with someone hiding in the legal cheek comments as usual.

Archibald O'Pomposity

“I’m not sure why I thought I’d have an intelligent conversation with someone hiding in the legal cheek comments as usual.”

Out of interest, why did you even try in the first place?

4L

The article doesn’t scream sexism and bias at all. The author has simply gone to Companies House and found public information that readily contrasts the stark reality with the online marketing, and reported on it. I sometimes find Legal Cheek pieces less than illuminating, but this is quite solid reporting and deserves the clicks it’s getting.

I am a woman myself, experienced a miserable time at a number of “traditional” law firms, and yet it is tedious in the extreme to jump to a sexism “argument” when the piece has got nothing to do with Alice being female. Whilst I wouldn’t have phrased it as “glitz and glamour” myself (those words don’t spring to mind when thinking of any law firm at all), the author was clearly getting at the distinction between the image presented, and the numbers behind it. The image is non-traditional, edgy, a new-style law practice, presented as apparently successful enough that this management style can be “sold” to others, and the reality is business practices in place that have resulted in an apparent failure to pay over tax to HMRC on a regular basis. Being on a good footing with HMRC and not very behind on payment is round about number one on the list of things any business of any type run by anyone must do, as is well-known, or the taxman will have no qualms about deciding to wind up your company — they have the power, and use it regularly.

Let me be clear that I couldn’t run a business; but, then, I don’t.

Other than “glitz and glamour” (not how I would have put it, but not exactly misogyny), is there anything else in this piece that strikes you as remotely sexist? It reads quite matter-of-fact to me.

Anon

Lawyers are not influencers. A lawyer is an individual that has experience, skill and the intellect in order to understand the particular legal field they have chosen (or been led to), and to explain to their client and advise them of the risks in the pursuit of the client’s objectives, in the light of the law (that be actual law or linguistic mechanics).

Is it not interesting that the highest of quality of lawyers, be that Solicitor or Barrister, are not being advertised and don’t feel the need to become influencers.

In-House

So you’re telling me you can’t be successful by just posting comment after comment about how having tattoos makes you a radical?

Seems like I’ve got a neck piece for nothing!

DavyCrockett

Having known a few people who’ve worked there, not entirely surprised. No one seemed to stay very long and talked about long hours and billing targets, that didn’t sound much different from big law firms. Not entirely clear how the industry has been “disrupted”.

Anonymous

Over £800k in unpaid tax, £45K unpaid CBIL loan, £1.5k unpaid to the University of Law presumably for a trainees PSC course….and she lent herself over £600k?

I love it how Mazars mark the recovery of that money as uncertain?

Curious how Plume (new entity) is also listed as a creditor.

@SRA – Code of Conduct for Firms, Rule 2.4 “You actively monitor your financial stability and business viability.”? When does this get triggered?

Anon

Was business shifted to Plume and Springbird (the trade marks arm of SL they launched) whilst SL was in distress and knowing PAYE and other tax wasn’t being/going to be paid? Is this why there were no employees left in SL? It would be interesting to see a more forensic understanding of what led to this, and how long the end was known to be ‘on it’s way’.

All for celebrating entrepreneurs, and especially women in law, but this business practice shouldn’t be normalised and whilst HMRC can be overzealous, many other business owners pay PAYE etc on time, and make provision for the same (insurance is also a ‘known’ and can be planned for). This is part of running a business and fulfilling duties as director.

The apologists on LinkedIn are bizarre. The reporting is valid, and factual. Alice talks about transparency and openness (her book is her warts and all story) and perhaps she could explain the figures, why it happened, and show some humility rather than comments of ‘Get over it!’ in response to comments that question her practices / courses being sold. It’s actually that openness that could assist people in understanding mistakes made, and not repeating them. That’s where there is value in this situation.

Common Knowledge

Try being a good lawyer and the work will take care of itself.

Join the conversation