Stephenson Harwood

The Legal Cheek View

Stephenson Harwood specialises in litigation (which tends to be counter cyclical, doing particularly well in downturns), mid-tier corporate work and shipping, and has a string of offices in Asia with unusually deep roots. They date back to co-founder William Harwood’s time in Hong Kong, where he built close ties with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (which would later become HSBC). You can find out more about life in the firm’s Hong Kong office here. Harwood would surely be delighted to know that a good number of the firm’s rookies spend time on secondment in locations including Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul. Other sun-soaked destinations include Dubai and Qatar.

Trainees report being given high quality and “intellectually challenging” work that is complemented by “exceptional and consistent” support. “For trainees”, one source tells us, “each department organises its own ‘beginning of seat training sessions’ covering the essentials which are needed for day-to-day practice”. Other departments are said to spread their training out over a longer period whilst others opt to “front-load” at the beginning of the seat.

Reflecting on the work they’ve done so far, one SH rookie explains they have “been able to carve out ownership of matters” so they genuinely feel like they’re “contributing and adding value to the team”. They go on to say, “there are still some trainee tasks that don’t put the legal degree to the test but are still important for developing understanding of the business and adding context to your work”.

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A “collaborative and collegiate” culture permeates the Stephenson Harwood ranks. One source explains that their fellow trainees feel more like “good friends” with little to no “atmosphere of competition”. These good vibes are supported through regular social events, various WhatsApp groups and trainee lunches. There is also a “London-wide Teams chat with all trainees and apprentices”, we are told. Here newbies “can bounce ideas around or simply ask a question if you do not know the answer”. This supportive atmosphere extends to junior associates too, who are “more than happy to help with questions”.

Further up the ladder, partners are generally “very friendly” although we’re told this can vary “a lot” between departments. Sharing a positive experience, one respondent says: “Partners make an active effort to interact with trainees — not only to get them involved but also just to be friendly and to make sure they’re doing ok. I feel very comfortable going to a partner’s office/giving them a call when I have a question or want to get involved with some work. I’ve always felt supported and able to share concerns with the partners, who always seem invested and give great advice!”

The work/life balance at SH isn’t too bad for corporate law, according to our sources. One trainee explains how their team is “very respectful” of downtime and that on the rare occasions they work late or on a weekend, associates and partners are always “very grateful”. Another tells us that they’ve “never been put in a position where I have to cancel a social plan”. But we are told, like with many City firms, work/life balance can be “extremely seat dependent”. Some have “peaks and troughs with workload and the flow can be rather unpredictable,” one source explains. “Some are a constant level of busy and you can accurately predict your finish time and be confident in making evening plans.”

Gen Z’ers take note: Stephenson Harwood offers some solid perks. They include a £300 work from home allowance, free Deliveroo after 8pm, free taxis home after 9pm, as well as a “heavily subsidised canteen” and £400 contribution towards a 12-month gym membership. Other benefits include private medical and dental insurance along with the opportunity to purchase and sell annual leave days. Any eco-conscious aspiring lawyers will be pleased to hear that Stephenson Harwood continues to use ‘keep cups’ and reusable water bottles across its offices to reduce waste. We’re also told the firm is “very aware of its carbon footprint” and is “committed to improving”.

The office is also quite nice, with “gorgeous Lutyens architecture and pretty decent facilities” and delightful-sounding olive trees outside the building. Trainees express their pleasure at it being “not another glass box”, but rather “a building with history and elegance (from the outside at least)”. Inside is “the normal corporate affair, although the glass doors and walls make it feel very open and accessible”. A number of spies also praise its location, “backing on to Finsbury Circus Gardens”. This is apparently perfect for those sunny “summer lunches”.

Despite the generous WFH allowances, trainees have reported that the IT can often affect their ability to work. “Not great tech,” one source tells us. “Often breaks and is slow.” Another informs us the firm is “looking to upgrade the systems” and that some of the tech is actually pretty good. “Contract Companion, DocuSign, Bundledocs make our lives that much easier,” they say.

Stephenson Harwood was one of the first City outfits to publish its latest financial results — and the numbers paint a positive picture. Revenues hit a record £228 million following two years of hovering around the £206 million mark, while profit per equity partner (PEP) bounced 6% from £685,000 to £725,000. “A key strength of the firm”, chief executive Eifion Morris said, is the balance between the contentious and non-contentious practices. “It’s something that very few, if any, City firms share with us, and it’s something we want to retain as the business grows,” he explained when the results were released in June 2023. Newly qualified (NQ) salaries have crept up in recent years and now sit at £95,000.

The firm hasn’t been without its controversies. It made headlines — both in the legal and national press — when it announced in April 2022 that it will reduce the salaries of staff who want to work from home permanently by 20%, as part of a new agile working policy. Under the deal, UK-based homeworkers will still be expected to come into the office at least one day each month, with the firm covering travel or hotel expenses.


London Training Contract 2026

To commence in 2026
Applications open 02/10/2023
Applications close 31/07/2024

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Peer support
Partner approach-ability
Work/life balance
Legal tech

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023-24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


First year trainee salary £48,500
Second year trainee salary £53,500
Newly qualified salary £95,000
Profit per equity partner £725,000
PGDL grant £12,000
SQE grant £12,000


Average start work time 09:16
Average finish time 19:47
Annual target hours No targets
Annual leave 25 days

Average arrive and leave times are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023-24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


Chances of secondment abroad 18%
Chances of client secondment 18%

Secondment probabilities are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023-24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.

General Info

Training contracts 25
Latest trainee retention rate 82%
Offices 8
Countries 8
Minimum A-level requirement No minimum
Minimum degree requirement No minimum


UK female associates 56%
UK female partners 26%
UK BME associates 21%
UK BME partners 10%

Universities Current Trainees Attended

The Firm In Its Own Words