Once again Stephenson Harwood has seen revenue rise, this time by 6% from £176 million to £189 million, but opted to reduce partner profits while INCREASING newly qualified (NQ) salaries. This is welcome but unusual behaviour from a corporate law firm, most of which prioritise partner remuneration at almost all costs.
Profit per equity (PEP) partner at Stephenson Harwood fell this year by 6% from £708,000 to £664,000 while NQ pay jumped 11% from £66,000 to £73,000. Trainee salaries were also boosted.
The context to this anti-fat cat behaviour is that Stephenson Harwood’s PEP soared by around 50% in 2015, which was a record year for the firm. The restraint it has been showing since then is emblematic of a prudence that has seen the firm through nearly 150 years of very profitable existence after being founded as Harwood & Stephenson in 1875. No one seems quite sure when or why the order of the names was swapped around.
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 Asian offices with unusually deep roots. They date back to co-founder William Harwood’s time in Hong Kong, where he built close ties with the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (which would later become HSBC). Harwood would surely be delighted to know that around half of the firm’s annual intake of 18 trainees each year spend time on secondment in locations including Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul.
Rookies report very good levels of training and quality of work. One tells us: “It has varied between departments but the exposure to high-octane litigation work has been the best experience of my training contract. I don’t think you can obtain the same level of responsibility and exposure without compromising the quality and level of work in any other top City firm.”
A friendly culture prevails. Among the trainees there are various WhatsApp groups and regular social events, although a few report feeling that “an ‘SH type’” of trainee dominates slightly and can leave those on the fringes a bit left out. Most partners are friendly and approachable, with the odd grouchy one (perhaps miffed by their reduced PEP coming at a time of rising junior lawyer salaries!).
Work/life balance isn’t too bad for corporate law. According to data gathered in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19, Stephenson Harwood has an average arrive time of 8:59am and leave time of 8:03 pm. This is half an hour later than last year. But the fortunes of trainees can vary. One tells us: “In all honesty [work/life balance] is not as great as I was lead to believe. Some trainees appear to have coasted through their TCs, but I’ve had several stretches where I haven’t seen my housemates for weeks on end.” Another says that a 7pm finish “is a normal/low-intensity day”.
Console yourself, millennials, with the perks. Stephenson Harwood offers pretty good ones. They include “a huge discount on gym membership”, a subsidised dental plan and sporadic free tickets to the Royal Albert Hall. “Now that work has quietened down a bit I’m looking forward to rinsing the Proms for all they’re worth,” one rookie quips.
The office is also quite nice, with “gorgeous Lutyens architecture and pretty decent facilities”. 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 makes it feel very open and accessible.” Be wary of the machine coffee, though, and the canteen’s “adventurous menu”.