“Excellence beyond the City” is what regional firm Stevens & Bolton offers each year to the handful of trainees looking for high-calibre work outside of the hustle-and-bustle of the capital. Not that you’ll be very far away from it all (with the firm’s only office located in Guildford) but the more sympathetic approach to work-life balance and close-knit friendly office environment at S&B is a world apart from London’s BigLaw.
And if you thought this cordiality would come at a financial cost, think again. The firm’s latest financial figures show revenues amounting to £35.9 million after 12 years of consecutive growth, and a respectable profit per equity partner (PEP) figure of £289k. Eleven of the firm’s 13 practices areas enjoyed growth last year, with corporate, commercial real estate and property litigation leading the pack. While a single-office set-up helps promote strong bonds across the firm, S&B still undertakes a decent amount of international work, with international clients accounting for sizeable slice of its revenue.
All this fiscal success has spelt good news for potential trainees, as the firm has decided to double its annual rookie intake from five to ten this year. That being said, it’s still a relatively small cohort, so rookies can expect to take on a decent amount of responsibility early on, with complex, cross-department deals being the norm at S&B. As one insider tells us, “as a trainee you are not just passed small and admin-type tasks, but can get involved in key transaction documents and management too. You’re encouraged to ask questions all the time which helps to keep you interested in the transaction as you understand the context to the deal and the documents involved.”
On the whole, rookies describe the training as “second to none — very hands on and patient on-the-job”. The firm invests in its juniors with “a lot of opportunities for training which relate to wider issues such as D&I, junior development”, according to the trainees we spoke to. Despite a few grumbles that the leaner team structures occasionally mean rookies are left to figure things out on their own, “there are people willing and able to help answer queries”. One junior lawyer praises the firm for holding a talk on imposter syndrome, adding that “they think outside of the box with how to support us to become the best we can be at S&B and to make sure we grow with confidence”.
As one insightful trainee notes, “many of the senior lawyers have come from London / Magic Circle firms” so it’s no surprise that trainees at Stevens & Bolton are receiving top-quality training. Partners and senior associates are also said to be “highly approachable and supportive” – which is good because you’ll be working in close contact with at least one of them on every matter. One insider tip is getting involved in different committees, which “encourages you to get to know superiors in other teams also”.
“Fantastic clients” are also the norm! Trainees might get to assist with providing legal support to corporate giants such as Nintendo and those in the commercial seat could be found advising on franchising and commercial agreements for clients like Papa John’s. Most recently, the firm has been onboarding clients in the renewable energy sector, with the corporate team working on deals with firms such as Future Energy Ventures (FEV) in its investment in electric vehicle-grid integration across North America and Europe.
Indeed, the firm is big on sustainability — a fact that’s been reflected in the environmentally focused revamp of its office-space. Working closely with sustainability consultants, the firm has recently transformed its HQ at Wey House into an eco-hub, with LED lighting, new energy efficient heating and cooling systems and over 900 plants working alongside the lawyers. What’s more, the open-plan revamp also includes very smart client meeting rooms, phone booths, project rooms, libraries, coffee machines and state-of-the-art hybrid working tech across the office space, to make flexible working even easier. “All the mod cons – on a level or better than any London office I have been to”, says one happy trainee. But worry not Stevens & Bolton traditionalists — the Roman pillars, along with the beautiful office terrace space, have been left untouched! The redevelopment also included a “lush town hall” space which is used for socialising and events.
Social life is another highly rated aspect of the firm — “S&B love a party!” one fun-loving trainee tells us. “Everyone is very friendly” and “there’s a consistent feeling of support and everyone genuinely wanting the best for you”, another insider tells Legal Cheek. You are encouraged to take part in various committees at the firm, which helps with meeting more peers, and there are monthly firmwide socials. Sporty trainees can look forward to the firm’s summers of cricket and a tennis club has recently been set-up for those looking to score some points on the court.
And with an average finish time of around 6pm, you’ll have time for all these extra-curricular activities and more! Rookies inform us that there is still the “odd late night, but this is rarely required or expected” and “everyone is very grateful whenever you do have to work late, and you don’t feel bad for doing it because you want to work with and support the rest of the team.” One wise trainee puts it like this, “It is up to you to manage your time and capacity, but they are constantly checking in to make sure you are not overloaded, and they encourage sharing work and offloading work around the team. We start at 9am, and there is no expectation to be in earlier. If you are working too late consistently, the partners will be concerned.”
The firm’s WFH set-up is similarly praised as “top notch”. Trainees tell us that “they offer all the equipment you could need” and lawyers can work from home up to three days a week as part of the firm’s agile working model. Tech on the whole is described as being “pretty great”, the IT team is “amazingly supportive”, and the systems are said to be efficient and to play ball…most of the time.
Salaries aren’t quite City levels with rookies taking home £40,000 in their first year, £42,000 in year two and £62,000 at NQ level. But rookies don’t seem to mind given the interesting work coupled with decent work-life balance. Perks include a standard package of private medical and dental insurance, a cycle to work scheme, travel allowance, a retail shopping discount, free mortgage advice from a London advisor, a parking permit, a profit share scheme and the opportunity to buy or sell leave days.