The national law firm, Stephensons, which was established from the kitchen table of a terraced house in Golborne, is celebrating 40 years of legal services this month.
The firm now employs more than 450 staff from seven offices, including its largest at Wigan Investment Centre, which is home to the firm’s litigation, family, conveyancing, crime, regulatory and civil liberties teams.
Since its foundation as Stephensons & Co. in 1977, the firm has helped hundreds of thousands of clients, whether helping them out of a tight spot or helping them to fulfil their personal and business aspirations.
Stephensons now assists more than 25,000 people per year.
The firm is considered to be one of the region’s great success stories, achieving tier-one status with the Legal 500, the definitive guide to the legal sector, and being rated as a ‘Top-150’ law firm by The Lawyer guide.
In 2015, Stephensons was shortlisted as one of the most innovative legal companies in Europe by The Financial Times.
A further accolade followed in 2016 with the coveted ‘Investors In People Gold’ standard in recognition of the firm’s exceptional achievements in and commitment to management.
Only 3% of IIP accredited companies are awarded the Gold standard.
Taking pride in home-grown talent
What sets Stephensons apart from others is its commitment to personal development at all levels of the firm.
This means that there is a larger number of home-grown talent than might be found elsewhere, with some taking unconventional routes to senior positions.
This is certainly true of Stephensons’ chairwoman, Ann Harrison who joined the firm in 1991 as an assistant solicitor in the personal injury department.
“I never set out to be a lawyer”, Ann explains. “I haven’t got a law degree! It was only through doing a couple of university modules on employment law - as part of my Business Studies degree - that my love for law began.
“I became head of personal injury law after a couple of years and was made partner in 1993. By 2002, I was asked to step up to the senior management team.
“The people who work here are absolutely fantastic – they really make the most of themselves.
“We’ve seen some really good examples of career development over the years, particularly among those who have started their legal careers here.
“There are some real success stories with over 50% of our partners starting life as graduate clerks with the firm.”
From brewing up to boardroom
Andrew Leakey, head of dispute resolution and a partner, started at Stephensons when he was just 17 years old: “My first job was making brews for the accounts team – I wasn’t very good at it, to be honest! But I made cups of tea and crunched data. That was my first job.
“I later came back on a university vacation scheme as a student, then got a training contract and qualified as a solicitor. I’m now a partner.
“The reason I’ve stayed for all this time is simply that – as a firm – we look after people.
“We’re not a firm that wants to burn people out or push them to breaking point. It’s not good for the staff and ultimately, it’s not good for the clients when their solicitors are working in that environment.
“We’re very focused on the work-life balance.”
Andrew believes that another aspect of the firm’s success is the belief in the power of the services it provides.
“I think it’s very important to believe in what you do and believe in the place that you work.
“You spend a lot of your life in that working environment and it’s important that your ‘nine to five’ means something.
“Staff need to see the good their work achieves and that is something we are able to provide.”
Planning for the future
Like many law firms, Stephensons has been required to adapt to an ever-changing business environment; not only addressing the evolving needs of its clients but the demands of government and regulators.
In particular, the firm’s recent transformation, from a firm predominantly dependent on legal aid work, towards catering for privately funded cases, has allowed it to adapt and thrive in a period of government reform.
While competitors have struggled, Stephensons has diversified and continued to grow – most recently expanding into London.
For Ann Harrison, the firm is ideally placed to face the challenges the next 40 years will bring.
“One of the true strengths of this firm is our ability – and willingness – to evolve and be innovative.
“Stephensons has faced some enormous changes through its history: the way cases are funded; the needs and wants of our clients; the advent of the internet and new technology.
“That the firm is still around today, and thriving, is because we are constantly looking ahead – anticipating challenges and changes, rather than reacting to them. That’s what makes Stephensons a success.”