Be a name not a number at the firm

Stephenson Harwood's Lucy Swayne tells Hannah Langworth about the benefits of joining a City firm with a smaller graduate intake

I've been at Stephenson Harwood for nearly twelve months now. I applied to the firm in my final year of university, had my interview that June, and heard I'd got my place here shortly afterwards.

I didn't study law as an undergraduate. I did French and Italian at the University of Leeds, and then went to BPP Law School to do the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course.

About Stephenson Harwood

We're a medium-sized international firm with our headquarters in the City and six other offices across Europe and Asia.

I picked Stephenson Harwood because I thought I would find working at one of the very big City firms too impersonal. In firms with graduate intakes of over 100, you're likely to be seen as just another anonymous trainee whereas here, as part of an intake of around 16, you're appreciated for who you are personally - I know lots of people here and they know who I am. So training here means you're more likely to be trusted with interesting work, and that you can start to make a name for yourself.

My seats

I'm in my second six-month "seat", or departmental placement, out of the four I'll do before I qualify as a lawyer. I did litigation first, and I'm in real estate at the moment. And I've just found out that I'm going to the Hong Kong office this autumn for my corporate seat! Trainees can also go on secondments to our clients' offices.

Unlike at some firms, we're able to express our preferences for our first seat as well as all the others. Litigation was my top choice for my first seat, as was real estate for my second. HR do everything they can to give everyone their first or second preference - I've only known of a couple of people who've had to do their third choice.

HR are always available to talk through your options. I've spoken to them about when would be the best time for me to do my seat abroad and about the client secondments on offer, and have found them very approachable, helpful and honest. Because there's only 16 of us in each intake, they know us all very well.

The work I've done

On my first day in my litigation seat, I was given around twenty small debt collection files to run by myself. It was a bit daunting at first, but a good way to learn, and to experience some responsibility. I could soon easily cover all the tasks required, and got involved in a range of other matters too. In my real estate seat at the moment I'm largely working on commercial leases, though I've had a taste of most of the work the department does.

If you have questions you can go to your supervisor, who usually shares an office with you, or to other associates. There are three or four lawyers in my current team as well as my supervisor who are my first ports of call. I never feel that I can't ask something.

My clients

Many of our clients are big, interesting companies - you'll often read about them in the business press, and it's exciting to be a part of what they're doing. Before I started at Stephenson Harwood, I thought trainees would be hidden from clients but that's not the case. I speak to the ones I'm working with on the phone every day, and send plenty of emails and letters too. I've met clients in person twice now to get documents signed and to field any last minute questions they might have on them, and was given the responsibility of doing so by myself both times.

The hours I work

I felt that I'd have fewer opportunities for a life outside work if I joined one of the very big City firms. I have had some late nights here but, if I'm honest, I don't want to work for a firm where they happen so regularly that sleeping pods are provided! On most days I go home sometime between 7pm and 11pm. There are some exceptions. On Fridays many people leave the office before 7pm because they're going away for the weekend, or for other reasons. On Monday evenings I play in the firm's netball team and am usually able to leave the office whenever I need to.

Social life at the firm

On Friday afternoons, emails generally go round between the trainees arranging a get-together at the pub. I know all the other trainees well and have become close friends with some of them. I think it's important to get on with your peers at a firm because you can then talk about any worries you have with people who know the job.

We also have departmental events and, every so often, firm-wide ones. When we moved into our new building we had a huge party with amazing food! The firm always has a Christmas event - last year we had a champagne reception and three-course dinner followed by dancing. When new trainees start in September and March we have drinks and canapés to welcome them, and also to congratulate the former trainees who are now newly-qualified lawyers.

My future at the firm

I would be happy to qualify into either of the departments I've worked in. Things could change after I go to Hong Kong though - I might prefer corporate work! I like working at Stephenson Harwood very much, and would love to continue my career here.

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