Alice is an entrepreneur, tech lawyer and angel investor passionate about all things inclusion and gender equality.
Alice is straight-talking & authentic; she founded Stephenson Law in 2017 to create a law firm that does things differently.
Along her amazing team they are tackling each stereotype head-on, Alice is leading the charge to build a forward-thinking, innovative law firm which puts people at the heart of everything it does. Their purpose is to protect their clients’ interests and help them grow!
Alice’s goal is to inspire young women to challenge the perceived barriers to success and see that anything is possible!
Key episode topics include:
Alice’s ‘unconventional’ journey into law
Gender inequality in the legal industry
Why the billable hour should be scrapped
The role of a CEO
How to use LinkedIn to grow your platform & presence
[0:00:00.0] Rob Hanna: Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast powered by Kissoon Carr. I’m your host Rob Hanna. This week, I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Alice Stephenson. Alice is an entrepreneur, tech lawyer and Angel investor passionate about all thing’s inclusion and general equality. Alice is a straight talking and authentic individual. She founded her own firm Stephenson Law in 2017 with the aim of wishing to create a law firm that does things differently. Along with her amazing team, they are passionate and, on a mission, to be able to forward thinking, innovative law firm which puts people at the heart of everything they do. Their purpose is to protect their client’s interest and help them grow. So, a very big welcome Alice!
[0:00:42.7] Alice Stephenson: Hi, nice to be here.
[0:00:45.3] Rob Hanna: Pleasure to have you. So, before we go through your amazing achievements and everything you’ve done to date, I just mentioned off air that we start with our customary icebreaker question on the Legally Speaking Podcast which is, on the scale of one to ten, ten being very real, how real would you rate the hit series Suits in terms of its reality?
[0:01:05.5] Alice Stephenson: Well, I’m a bit apprehensive about answering this really because I think you saw I did a recent LinkedIn post about this. And I sort of shattered a few people’s illusions of the legal industry and I created quite a lot of disappointments which I felt quite responsible for because we’re nothing like Suits, unfortunately. It’s a very poor representation of what my life is like.
[0:01:29.0] Rob Hanna: Yeah, I think certain people have given anywhere between zero and five and anything plus five, I think they accept it’s Hollywood so. I think, based on your recommendation there, we’ll go with a solid zero.
[0:01:40.7] Alice Stephenson: I think a zero, yeah.
[0:01:42.6] Rob Hanna: So, Alice you’ve achieved so much, done so much. As we always like to, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a bit about your family background and your upbringing.
[0:01:50.3] Alice Stephenson: I had a relatively – I guess you’d call it typical upbringing. Middle-class, private school, all the kind of stuff that you typically see in lawyers I think really. I was quite a sporty child, very much into my horse riding. Did a little bit, sort of competing and really enjoyed all of that? So, it was all fairly kind of, well normal I suppose. As normal as it can be really. But then things changed quite quickly for me when I was 18 and I became pregnant. And I was still at school at the time. So, I had done my GCSEs and I had done really, really well, and then during my A levels, I guess it’s fair to say, I sort of went off the rails a little bit really. And I got pregnant, and yeah, things became quite a little harder. I had to grow up really, really quickly. I still took my A levels, but I was seven months pregnant when I took my A levels. I guess that was kind of my childhood over fairly quickly and onto the next challenge really.
[0:02:48.7] Rob Hanna: Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing that. And onto the next challenge indeed. And that leads to my next question of did you always want to be a lawyer?
[0:02:56.8] Alice Stephenson: God, no.
[0:02:58.2] Rob Hanna: Why does everyone say that? So, what did you want to be?
[0:03:03.4] Alice Stephenson: I think I had lots of crazy ideas about what I wanted to be, to be honest. At one point I think, I wanted to be a doctor, I don’t know why, to be honest. I think, you know, it was just one of those things you just jump from one thing to the other and you don’t really know what you’re talking about because you don’t really know what any of these jobs are like, really. But I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to be a lawyer because my dad was a lawyer, and his job was really boring. So, that was never on the potential list really. I mean my original career was in human resources. And I fell into that because I wanted to go to University, but I had a young child. She was one, when I went to university and I was a bit restricted in what I could do really, both in terms of the A level results I had restricted the courses I could get onto, and also, I needed something that was going to fit around me looking after Lydia. So, I had to pick a course that didn’t have a huge amount of contact time. So, I did a course in sociology and HR management, and ended up working in HR for a little while after that.
[0:04:13.3] Rob Hanna: Okay. Carry on that journey then. Talk us through your, sort of journey and experiences prior to obviously finding Stephenson Law?
[0:04:21.0] Alice Stephenson: I did the whole HR thing for a little while, but relatively quickly got a bit bored of it and realized that it wasn’t really going to be what I wanted to do long-term, and decided at that point that I wanted to be a lawyer. I never really explained why, to be honest. I think it just felt like a good idea at the time and it was something that I was determined that I was going to do but one of the challenges I had was that I couldn’t just give up work and go back to university.
So, I needed to go back and do the GDL and the LPC, but I was working full-time, and I had my young daughter to support. So, I couldn’t just stop working and go back to university. So, the only way that I could do it was by getting a training contract that also sponsored me to go back to university which was a pretty big challenge particularly because as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t have brilliant A level results, and that’s sort of still something that law firms take into account.
So, I just made my applications and hoped for the best, and I was put on the reserved list for a couple of law firms for their assessment days and then got the call from Bond Pearce which is now Womble Bond Dickinson, saying that a space had become available on an assessment day and I was invited along. So, it was the only assessment day that I got onto and I was offered the training contract on the back of that. So, that was obviously brilliant news for me. It meant that I could go back to Uni and do my studies. But at the same time, it was when the recession happened and when I was about to start my training contract, there were lots of trainees being deferred and it was a really difficult time. I managed to get onto my training contract without being deferred but when I got to the end of my training contract, there was a real lack of NQ jobs on the market, and things went particularly good in the job market at that time.
So, and that I wasn’t able to stay at the firm that I was – that I trained at, which I was really disappointed about because I really enjoyed training there. I had to go out into the big wide world and find an NQ job somewhere else, which I did, and I found something, and it was fine. And I kind of – from there, moved around few sort of private practice roles. And trying to find I think my place, trying to carve out a career for myself. But after a little while of doing that, I just became increasingly disillusioned by the whole thing to be honest. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the way that law firms treat their employees, with the cultures that they create. And I never really felt like I fitted into any of them. So, I kind of reached a bit of a point, when I was three years qualified and I just decided that I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore, because I just wasn’t prepared to be treated in the way that I was being treated.
So, I left. Handed my notice in at the law firm I was at and I just left without having anything to go to, and I was planning on doing something else, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So, I did some consultancy work. Well, I kind of tried to figure that out. And the consultancy work just carried on really for about three years and I did enjoy it. It was very different from the private practice experience I had, and I think I really benefited from having more experience in-house. So, a lot of the consultancy work I did was working with inhouse teams. And then I kind of realized that I didn’t want to be a consultant for the rest of my life, and the next logical step just appeared to be starting my own law firm, which I know to lots of people sounds a bit crazy really, and I think I was pregnant at the time, so maybe there was some hormones messing with my brain at the time, but I just decided that that was what I was going to do, and I was going to make it happen really.
[0:08:15.5] Rob Hanna: Great. And so, you know, 2017 you take the plunge, you have founded your own firm, and you’re doing fantastically well. The people perhaps, who may be thinking of setting up their own firm now or in the future, what does your role sort of founder and CEO entail? And perhaps for our listeners, which areas of law do you specialize in?
[0:08:34.7] Alice Stephenson: I think my role as founder and CEO is evolving all the time as the firm grows. I mean at the early stages; I was doing absolutely everything. I was doing, you know, most of the legal work. I was certainly supervising all of the legal work. And everything, I was doing some of the marketing, the business development, the finance just absolutely everything, I was doing it.
And then as the team grows, you sort of gradually are able to hand things to other people. But it takes quite a long time and obviously finding the right people is really hard because you know, you need people that you can trust and it’s not easy to find people that share your passions, share your visions and that you sort of have that connection with, when you’re running your own business and also, when you’re trying to do something a little bit different as well.
So, I mean it took about two years before I had enough of a team around me that I could really take a day off properly without – sort of switching off but my initial legal work consisted of doing tech law, so tech contracts, general commercial contracts, so outsourcing agreements, services, contracts, things like that. Data protection question and intellectual property as well. So, all of those areas kind of knit together really.
Those have been the areas of law that I specialize in. I’m doing less and less of the day to day legal work now, and more and more of my time is focused on actually running and growing the business. But I kind of enjoy that actually, I think, and I’ve spent 13 years training and working as a lawyer and I quite enjoy having a slightly different focus in my role now.
[0:10:18.5] Rob Hanna: Yeah. No, absolutely. You’re doing a fantastic job, it has to be so then, you have worked for – we touched them and you touched them a bit before but just to go a bit deeper, you’ve obviously worked for international law firms such as DAC Beachcroft, you’ve consulted some big brands such as EE. You know, what were some of the main differences you saw from working in those two different types of environments? Perhaps for listeners wanting to get a flavour for what it’s like working as a consultant versus obviously working in private practice?
[0:10:46.2] Alice Stephenson: Yeah, I mean I think both experiences are really, really helpful because obviously, when you’re working in private practice, you’re dealing with clients and it’s only when you’ve actually got experience of working on the client side of the table that you realize how frustrating it can be to work with lawyers in private practice. If a junior lawyer has got an opportunity to go onto comment in-house or get some kind of exposure to working in house, I thoroughly recommend it, I think it’s really, really important.
And actually, I think all private practice lawyers should, at some point, have some experience working in-house. Because when you’re sitting in a law firm and you’re giving legal advice to clients, you don’t understand what those clients are going through, and how your advice is being received. And that’s a real skill that you need to develop to be a really useful lawyer. I mean one of the things that we really focus on Stephenson Law is try and make sure we’re being as useful as possible, so that the advice that we’re giving to our clients is in the most useful form, and that in-house experience is really critical for that, because inhouse lawyers have their own pressures, have their own stakeholders that they’re dealing with, and they’re under quite a lot of pressure to turn things quite quickly.
So, if you’re sending them a really long detail with note, with all of these comments and risks and you know, unless you’re actually also saying what you think they should be doing. A lot of them are going to look at that and go, “Well, what do I do with this? Like it’s not really helpful for me.” So, I think having that understanding is really important.
[0:12:26.2] Rob Hanna: Yeah, and I think you’ve articulated that really, really well. And I think a lot of our listeners will get value from that. And one of your goals you’ve set is obviously to inspire young women to challenge the steep barriers to success and see that anything is possible. Tell us more about that motivation and that goal.
[0:12:45.4] Alice Stephenson: Well, I think it probably stands from back when I was 18 and pregnant and having a baby and being told that that was going to be a huge barrier to my success, and thinking at that time that it wasn’t going to be. There was no reason why that needed to be the case. And I think, you know, from there on, I was being aware of barriers existing but I’ve never really allowed them to stop me in any way, so, you know, when I decided that I wanted to start a law firm, and I’m talking to people about that then I get lots of comments, “Well, you can’t do that. Are you sure? It is going to be expensive. You’re never going to be able to take a day off. You’re not going to have any clients.”
All of these things, you know, people tell you why you can’t do what you want to do. And if I listened to them then I would have – I wouldn’t be where I am now. So, I think it’s really important that people realize that, you know, these barriers exist either because other people are putting up or you’re putting them up. They’re just basically problems that have to be sold, and there’s always a solution to a problem.
So, one of the barriers that exists is the gender inequality that exist in the legal industry. So, being a female lawyer is a barrier to a lot of things, to promotions, to getting paid properly. The research is out there that gender inequality is still very much an issue in our industry and a barrier to our success. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful. You can still overcome those barriers; you just need to be aware of them and you just need to tackle them head on really. So, I think, I just really want people to realize that you don’t have to just see a problem in front of you and stop. You can look at that problem, that barrier and figure out a way to get around it.
[0:14:39.5] Rob Hanna: And that’s definitely the entrepreneurial skill set in you coming out. So, you – and I guess that leads nicely on to. I know you are co-founder of Inclusive Angel; do you want to tell us more about that?
[0:14:51.2] Alice Stephenson: Yeah, sure. So, I mean Inclusive Angels is still in its very early stages but the idea behind it is we want to address some of the gender inequalities that exist in the Angel investing scene. So, at the moment only one percent of venture capital money goes to female founders which is really quite separate. And there’s a whole multitude of issues going on about why female founders are not getting the funding that they should be getting. And on the flipside of that, there’s also a gender imbalance in the actual Angel Investment community because the majority of Angel investors are men. So, that kind of perpetuates the problem and one of the things that we’re trying to do with Inclusive Angels is raise awareness of these issues, trying to break down some of the barriers that are preventing women from becoming Angel investors because actually, we’re finding that one of the primary reasons why women don’t Angel invest is that they don’t really know anything about it and they don’t know where to go to find out about it themselves.
And finding a network that you can go to that’s inclusive and welcoming within is actually harder than it really should be. So, that’s something that we’re trying to tackle. It’s obviously a massive problem, but hopefully we can sort of do a small bit to make it a little bit better.
[0:16:20.4] Rob Hanna: And I’m very sure you will. And obviously, you don’t sit still, you’re also an advisory board member for Underpinned. Again, tell us more about that.
[0:16:30.0] Alice Stephenson: So, underpinned is one of the companies that I have actually personally invested in. So, it’s an early-stage company and what they’re doing is creating a platform for freelancers who are looking to build their freelance career. So, it’s a really interesting product, it’s something that I think has got real legs, real potential. And it’s got a founding team that I can really get behind them, and really support. And I think that’s really, really important when you’re working with early-stage companies and you’re working with founders is that actually the people behind those businesses are maybe more important than the actual business themselves because what you’re really buying into is their credibility, their passion, their vision.
So, I just basically help them to, you know, achieve what they’re trying to achieve.
[0:17:21.9] Rob Hanna: Good stuff. And I think the other thing that I’ve noticed is you recently moved out to Amsterdam; I believe. So, how are you finding life out there?
[0:17:32.5] Alice Stephenson: We’ve only been here for a couple of weeks now, but we are living it. I mean we spent quite a lot of time here before the move, so it’s always been a place that we’ve loved spending time. But it feels quite different to be here as a resident and not a tourist anymore. And so, it’s really great. I just love it here. The weather’s lovely which always makes me feel happier in any situation to be honest but it’s just such a great city and I’m really enjoying, sort of exploring and finding our way around and trying not to get killed on our bikes that’s kind of number one priority really.
[0:18:07.9] Rob Hanna: Yeah, I can imagine. And lots of people will be interested because you’ve also become a registered European lawyer. Talk us through that process, was it pretty arduous or was it straightforward?
[0:18:18.3] Alice Stephenson: No, it was quite straightforward really, it was because I moved to Amsterdam that I had to register so that I can practice UK law from Amsterdam. So, it was just a registration process really, but I think, you know, it’s really useful to have that registration and we’re going to have a brunch set up in the Netherlands of Stephenson Law as well which from a sort of Brexit perspective, I think is really beneficial to the firm.
[0:18:46.9] Rob Hanna: Yeah. No, absolutely. And you talked earlier about sort of, you know, switching some more sort of business builder type role. And we’re very much now in a content society nowadays and you have a great LinkedIn presence. So, I for one love following your content. But talk is through your sort of process with generating and capturing great ideas for your content?
[0:19:09.5] Alice Stephenson: I don’t know if I really have a process to be honest. I think, I’m definitely one of these people that I kind of – I have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to create content. And that sort of generally means that I need a bit of a clear head to be able to think properly about it. And that can be a bit of a challenge when I’ve got young children and a busy job and finding that sort of headspace to really be able to think of it can be quite hard sometimes.
But generally, I find is, if I create that sort of environment for myself then I just have ideas, I’m definitely an ideal person and things do pop into my head. And then I also get ideas just from talking to people, things that just happen in my day to day. So, you know, I did a LinkedIn post recently on making mistakes, and that was just on the back of a mistake that was made. And it sort of prompted that.
So, I think ideas for content can just come up anywhere and everywhere really. It’s just turning them into content that’s slightly harder.
[0:20:11.9] Rob Hanna: And how much do you, as a business owner of a law firm value the LinkedIn platform and all things social media for the law firms in particular?
[0:20:21.3] Alice Stephenson: I think it’s really, really important. You know, something that we invest a lot in, at Stephenson Law, we have a social media manager. So, you know, we’ve got a person actually dedicated to our social media marketing. I think it’s really important because it’s an opportunity to really showcase the business and the people in the business. I use it personally, and I think that that really helps both build my own personal brand but also build the brand of the business.
And it also just, I think creates a little bit of fun in the industry which I think is really lacking. We think that we are the first UK law firm on TikTok.
[0:21:02.0] Rob Hanna: I’m a big fan of TikTok as well, I know what’s going on at the moment.
[0:21:04.9] Alice Stephenson: Yeah.
[0:21:05.3] Rob Hanna: It’s pretty interesting but I’m a big believer in that platform.
[0:21:09.2] Alice Stephenson: I think we all just need a little bit of fun sometimes; we all just need to chill out a little bit. It can all get a little bit serious sometimes. So, one of the things that we try and do with our social media is actually have a bit of fun, have a bit of laugh ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously.
[0:21:27.6] Rob Hanna: Yeah, and I love that. And it’s great for sort of owners of law firms to come out saying that because I do think, you know, at times the legal industry can get very heavy and of course, there’s a lot of important stuff then, you know, I think that people are doing, but sometimes, you know, better protect people’s mental health and things that are going on. And I think, one of the things that I wanted to ask you is that you’re quoted, sort of mentioning you get a lot of comments about your tattoos as you say, people just don’t expect a lawyer to have a full sleeve and they’re generally surprised by this. What do you say to that?
[0:21:56.5] Alice Stephenson: I don’t really say anything to it to be honest. I mean, you know, it’s just a way that I am for a very, very long time, I felt very self-conscious about my tattoos and I would go to meetings and I would cover them up, and I never felt confident enough to just have them there. So, it’s relatively recently that I’ve developed that confidence and I don’t really get negative comments about them, to be honest. Like, I actually it’s a good thing because it helps me stand out, and it helps other people feel a bit more confident about their tattoos.
And I think if people have got problems with them then they’re not actually telling me about them, and they can, you know – take their problems and go somewhere else, you know, just it doesn’t mean anything to me really.
[0:22:47.2] Rob Hanna: Yeah, well said. And you also talk very passionately about law firms, some of them still using the sort of billable hour to measure lawyers’ performance and you perhaps, disagree with that, tell us why.
[0:22:59.3] Alice Stephenson: We’ve been recruiting quite a lot recently and one of the questions that comes up quite a lot from the interviewing lawyers is, “What’s my billable hours target going to be?” and we don’t have billable hour targets at Stephenson Law because I just think they’re completely pointless, all they really measure is a lawyer’s ability to use a time recording software, that’s it.
I get that there’s a correlation between billable hours and revenue but actually the revenue is what matters, not the billable hour. And the efficiency and the profitability. So, for me, setting billable hour targets is just stupid. I don’t see any justification for it. There are way better ways of measuring the performance of a lawyer, and what really matters is the output that that lawyer is generating and the value that they’re generating both in terms of the value that they are passing on to their clients and the profitability that they’re generating for their employer.
And looking at their billable hours is not a measure of that, there might be a correlation but it’s not a measure of that, and when lawyers are put under pressure to achieve billable hours target, what happen is that lawyers just put down more time than they should be putting down because they feel like, if they don’t meet their targets, they’re going to be punished in some way and that’s not the type of culture that you really want to be creating as a law firm.
It’s not what you need to be doing for your clients because obviously then you’re passing that inefficiency onto clients as well. So, really is just loose, loose in my opinion. And I think, a few really toxic environments where law firms who are actively sort of shame lawyers that aren’t meeting their billable hours, I mean lawyers don’t have the control over the work that is on their desk because they’re junior lawyers and they don’t have any business development responsibilities.
It’s really not the lawyer’s fault if you’re not meeting your billable hours target as long as you’re doing all the work that you’re being given. If the work’s not there, the work’s not there. So, I just don’t think that they should be using it, I think that is the bottom-line.
[0:25:12.8] Rob Hanna: No, and I completely agree with you. I respect what you’re saying, and I think now, times have moved on that we can move away from that model. So, before we wrap up, you’re very busy, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a lawyer, you’re an investor, you’re running your own family, you know, the family. What do you do for a down time? You’ve mentioned you like to get on to your bike which sounds like a bit of a challenge, and my sources tell me you’re a Cross Fitting vegan, is that correct? Maybe tell us a bit more about that?
[0:25:40.2] Alice Stephenson: I am a Cross Fitting vegan, yeah. So, I am not unfortunately, and I would very much like to be. I’m not one of these people that can really sort of sit down and meditate and do yoga. I’m not very good at switching off. So, my way of stress relief is CrossFit, and something that I really enjoy actually. I’ve been doing it for – just over two years now and it’s great fun. And I also think it makes a big difference to my work. I think when you’re training in the way that CrossFit trains you, you see yourself getting stronger, you see yourself getting fitter. And you see that progress and actually that helps build your confidence. And that translates into your performance when you’re working as well. So, for me it’s all part and parcel of the same thing really. So, it definitely helps me.
[0:26:34.8] Rob Hanna: Good stuff. And thanks so much for sharing that. You actually inspired me. I knew we were doing this recording today; I actually did one of my longest runs I’ve done in a while of 15k for today. So, I knew that you were sort of very passionate about CrossFit and all things fitness. So, I thought I needed to up my game. So, you subconsciously inspired me pre-recording. So, if people want to follow you or get in touch with the firm. Do you want to give a shout-out maybe to your website and your relevant social media? We’ll share all the links with the recording but is there any shout-out you’d like to do?
[0:27:03.6] Alice Stephenson: Well, I mean I’m probably best found on LinkedIn, you can just search my name and Stephenson Law again on LinkedIn or ‘Stephenson.law’.
[0:27:13.8] Rob Hanna: Great stuff. Well, thanks a million Alice. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the show. I’m sure all our listeners found that truly inspiring and informative. So, wishing you, all involved with Stephenson Law, lots of continued success! But for now, over and out.
[0:27:28.3] Alice Stephenson: Thanks Rob.
[Audio Ends] [0:27:30.1]