Even Stephens: at this full-service, Southwestern powerhouse where working 9 to 5 is the way to make a livin’.
Stephens Scown training contract review 2024
For anyone keeping half an eye on the legal market in the South West, Stephens Scown is about as recognisable a name as you can get, even if it’s usually mispronounced (a little insider tip: the ‘Scown’ bit rhymes with ‘stone’!). “We pride ourselves on our sector work,” partner and training principal Thea Bennun tells us – sector focuses that include food and drink, mines and minerals, leisure and tourism. “These are very South West-based sectors that complement us as a full-service law firm offering everything except criminal work.” Stephens Scown is also one of the only firms in the South West to offer an immigration practice, as Bennun is quick to point out, adding: "Our recent Taunton office opening also adds geographical breadth and secures our South West stronghold." For a firm that leaves few Scowns unturned, there’s a list of Chambers rankings to match, with top-tier rankings for the firm’s family/matrimonial work in both Cornwall and Exeter & surrounds. There are also nods in areas like corporate/M&A (with SMEs), professional negligence and social housing in the South West, as well as energy & natural resources: mining nationwide.
“…very South West-based sectors that complement us as a full-service law firm.”
The breadth of practices on offer at the firm was one of the big selling points for the current cohort, especially given that trainees don’t have to choose a specialism from the get-go. With offices in Exeter and Truro (and a relatively even split of trainees between them), the firm strikes the right balance between “a big enough reputation, and less intensity than massive city firms.” But there’s no doubt about it, the main draw for the trainees we spoke to was a “focus on work-life balance that’s not just lip service.” Case in point: “Our slogan is: ‘Having fun matters’” Bennun adds, “we include trainees in all teambuilding and firm events to make them feel a part of our community, even if they’re moving around seats.” We also heard that the firm is adjusting their recruitment timeline to ensure that trainees will now join in cohorts at the same time, rather than at different stages throughout the year.
At the time of research, Stephens Scown opted for a 3 x 8-month seat structure, with newbies encouraged to paralegal in the same department they'll be sitting in first, before they start their training contract. “It means you have a bit more of a chance to see things through,” trainees explained. “It was useful having almost a year of the same seat while learning about the firm and its office environment.” Interviewees also emphasised that the move away from staggered starts has made the process of getting your first choice for seats a little simpler. It should be noted that the firm now runs the typical 4 x 6 month structure, following trainee feedback.
“…you’re dealing with people in a crisis. I like helping people get out of those issues.”
The dispute resolution team at the firm is split into commercial, construction, inheritance and property, and trainees are in most cases assigned one sub-group for the duration of their seat. The inheritance and trust group deals with anything related to disputed estates, such as will validity and disputes between executors or beneficiaries. “A lot of the work is very personal, and you’re dealing with people in a crisis. I like helping people get out of those issues,” a trainee explained. Sources added that the firm is “starting to become a go-to firm for clients with this issue so we’re getting a lot of high value cases.” Tasks for newbies might involve drafting agreements and correspondence, researching case law and attending meetings with clients and counsel. “Investigation and fact-finding are a big part of it,” according to one trainee. “You’re looking at medical records, investigating the lead-up to someone making a will and whether it can be challenged. It’s very interesting!”
As one of the seats to fall under the broad dispute resolution umbrella, work the property litigation seat revolves around specialised matters like boundary disputes and rights of access cases. We heard the Exeter and Truro teams are well-connected and being in the South West, they’re often working on farming leases or with wind farms. However, you can also find names such as the Ministry of Sound, Applegreen and Holland and Barrett in its list of clients. For the latter, the firm has advised on a host of issues, from portfolio lease renewals to dilapidations. Trainees will often get the chance to prep for and attend hearings, but typical day-to-day tasks include working on the land registry portal, updating clients and drafting letters. “It’s a research-based team. When you’re looking to build your argument it’s very rarely black and white, so we have to research the legal points, create advice notes and present legal arguments to our clients,” summarised one trainee.
The firm’sreal estatepractice is divided into separate seats, with trainees completing rotations with the rural property, development, commercial and woodlands and mining, or social housing teams. There’s plenty of work with local companies across sectors, from Cornish Metals to St Austell Brewery, and in one recent deal, the firm advised Kingsley Developments in the £13 million sale of a development site with outline planning permission for 225 homes. The rural team typically works with land and farms around Devon and Cornwall, while the social housing team deals with registered advisors in the region. This transactional seat was described as “a good one for gaining responsibility and confidence” by one trainee, who mentioned how there’s plenty of client contact. “Property is really personal to people,” a trainee reflected, “so it’s rewarding to help people solve thorny issues and see how grateful they are at the end.” There's plenty of drafting on this seat, including niche property contracts, leases, agreements and transfers. Many interviewees mentioned how they had the chance to run smaller matters “under supervision, but as the client’s first point of contact. I could see it through from A to Z and it was nice to be trusted.”
Familytends to be popular among trainees and the team is separated into children and family finance seats. It’s a contentious department, and most of our interviewees worked on the finance side, largely dealing with divorce matters. “There’s a real mix of complex cases, and it’s good to compare the different considerations of low- and high-value cases,” summarised one interviewee. Shadowing supervisors on this seat means that “trainees have the chance to try out pretty much anything and everything that a partner would work on.” Adjusting to the court process is a big part of life in the family group, so trainees often find themselves preparing for and attending hearings, drafting court documents and prepping bundles. The subject matter is highly personal (so we can’t disclose any names or matters, of course) but trainees can expect a good level of client contact: “It’s the most client-facing in that you have so many in-person meetings. Unlike companies, family clients like coming in for a chat.” Interviewees appreciated the team’s supervision, which gave them enough confidence to take on an advisory role for clients. For one interviewee, “I really enjoy drafting consent orders because it feels like you’re bringing the matter to a close for your client.”
Intellectual property, information technology and data protection (helpfully abbreviated to IPDP) encompasses all of the things you might expect, along with some additional commercial and trademark work mixed in. “It’s almost like three seats within one,” said one trainee, with another explaining“it was probably the most varied seat I’ve done.” And judging by its client list – with various local brewers, the Uni of Plymouth, influencer agencies and the as-seen-on-TikTok Fitwaffle on the books– it's got range. Trainees get to try out the whole spectrum, with IP often involving interesting research tasks, audits, applications and objections to trademarks. There are a lot of shorter tasks so “you can have an initial conversation with a client, do the work and finish off the matter in about six weeks.” Data protection and IT work involves more than just tech service and licence agreements according to trainees, who also worked on access requests, privacy and cookie policies with various companies across sectors. “I attended lots of client meetings,” an insider explained. “Towards the end of my seat, I got the opportunity to lead those meetings, too.”
We've got some great news! At Stephens Scown, you won’t have to sacrifice a personal life to access high-quality work. The firm’s official hours are 9am to 5:15pm and it’s completely normal for SS solicitors to stick to these hours for the most part. “There have been occasional days I’ve stayed late but that’s not regular or expected from my supervisor,” summarised one trainee. “They tell us to go home when we're finished.” This meant that sources typically felt the salary was fair, especially since Devon and Cornwall trainees are equally compensated. On the wellbeing side, trainees can “meet with a graduate recruitment officer to talk about how things are going. We can raise any concerns and it’s nice to get advice from somebody removed from the legal side of things.”
“We’re good at celebrating the wins. If someone’s got something to celebrate, be that qualifying or moving seats, we’ll pop the champagne.”
Sources felt that the culture was supportive across both offices as “everyone’s very friendly and has the time talk to you, whether it’s related to the work or not. I really feel like I can approach any partner at the firm.” The open plan layout helps keep things a bit less intense and hierarchical as “people will just throw out a question to the room and get feedback like that.” To get the full benefit of working in a shared office space, the firm does encourage trainees to come in at least three days a week but that’s dependent on your team and supervisor. “As long as your team knows what you’re doing and you’re in the office when you need to be, there’s no pressure,” assured one trainee. Those who do make it into the office on the first Friday of the month can have a few drinks with their colleagues, socialise and meet people from other teams. More informally, “we’re good at celebrating the wins. If someone’s got something to celebrate, be that qualifying or moving seats, we’ll pop the champagne.”
One Exeter trainee particularly enjoyed the social life: “Because we’re so close to town, it’s very easy for us to pop out for dinner. We just send a message out asking if anyone wants to go.” The Truro office, meanwhile, “is on the river, which is lovely when the sun’s out and the tide’s up! We’re only a five-minute walk from the town centre and there are some nice coffee shops around” – a ‘Scown’s throw’ away, if you will. One trainee was impressed that the offices have electric charging points in their car parks, mentioning how “it’s nice to be part of a forward-looking firm that cares about the environment.”
Trainees are especially encouraged to take part in the Exeter or Cornwall Professionals Group, which Bennun tells us is “a specific marketing and business development group for our trainees and NQs to harness the additional skillset that comes with being a lawyer.” However, one interviewee added, “if I haven’t tried or been trained in something yet, I or my supervisor can email around and find someone who can help me in that area.” Towards the end of their training contract, trainees are given an hour target as “an encouragement to learn and practice time recording before qualifying.”
As part of the shift to a more structured onboarding system, the firm is adjusting its qualification process to even the playing field for trainees. “They’re trying to make it clearer,” trainees agreed, adding that staggered qualification might have led to unequal access to NQ positions. Grad recruitment is implementing a new formal timeline for qualification, beginning six months before the end of the training contract with offer letters sent out three months later. Interviews are only necessary if there are multiple applicants, but trainees’ general opinion was that “the ball is in your court. I don’t think anyone feels that the firm wouldn’t want to keep them.” In 2023, SS retained nine out of ten qualifiers.
Stephens Scown is employee-owned, meaning all its employees, from partners to support staff, are given a share in its profits. What’s more, the firm was recently granted B-Corp status, making it the first law firm in the South West (and one of only a handful of law firms in total) to achieve the certification.
How to get a Stephens Scown training contract
How to get a Stephens Scown training contract
- Vacation Scheme Deadline: March 2023
- Training Contract Deadline: Rolling basis
- Number of applications each year: 150+
- Assessment days: 2 days each year (late Spring and November time)
Applications and interviews
To apply for a training contract at Stephens Scown, students will need to go through an online application process on the firm's website. Recruiters look for applicants with good quality legal work experience and an ability to draw skills and learning points from their time. They also look for an awareness of what makes Stephens Scown unique. Drive, enthusiasm and ambition are key traits of a lawyer at Stephens Scown. For a long successful career at the firm, recruiters look for applicants with strong commercial and business awareness, good communication skills; creativity and a sense of fun will also go a long way.
The firm invites around 8-10 candidates to its assessment days, these consist of various activities and tasks requiring work both independently and collaboratively. Interviews will also take place on the assessment day; candidates will complete an interview with two training partners. When being assessed, the firm are on the lookout for people who can demonstrate a well thought out approach and give a considered and commercial outlook. The firm are looking for individuals who can bring something different and demonstrate varied and well-rounded skills, both within education and professionally as well as through wider experiences and personal interests.
The vacation scheme
- Number of vacation schemes: 5+ (work experience)
- Number of applicants: 300+
Summer is the season for vacation schemes at Stephens Scown, the scheme typically lasts 2-5 days. To apply, students will need to complete a short online application form and submit an up-to-date CV and a covering letter. Successful candidates will spend time with a minimum for 2 different teams completing contentious and non-contentious work.
Stephens Scown LLP
At Stephens Scown our ethos runs through our four core values – “Being great matters”, “Having fun matters”, “Doing good matters” and “Owning it matters”.
Doing outstanding work for notable clients, building our skills with talented people, and having a positive impact on our communities sits at the heart of everything we do.
As the first large employee-owned law firm in the UK, we work together for the good of our colleagues, our clients, and our communities. Now a Certified B Corporation™, we have joined the thousands of businesses across the world who have committed to being a force for good, balancing people, planet, and profit.
Based in the South West but with a client base that stretches across the UK, our flexible and innovative way of working enables us to bring the very best professional legal expertise to our clients wherever they are. We have band 1 Chambers and Tier 1 Legal 500 rankings in several practice areas.
Working here is something else entirely. It’s a place where we can step up to tough challenges with people so good, they inspire us to be better. We proudly work in a beautiful part of the country, go beyond expectations and achieve things that matter.
Main areas of work
Your training contract with us will be fulfilling, challenging and rewarding. Undertaking four seats in a variety of contentious and non-contentious areas, you will be able to discuss your preferred choices and be actively involved in your development and progression. High-profile and challenging work, extensive client exposure and important responsibilities will all come your way. You will be positively encouraged to think outside the box, be creative and come up with ideas that the firm can take forward. You will also be part of our Professional Marketing Group where you will share ideas, learn new skills and be part of the firm’s marketing & business development plan.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
At Stephens Scown, we have always cared about doing things the right way for our people, our clients, our planet and our community. As the first large law firm in the UK to become employee-owned, we have built a dynamic and innovative business dedicated to delivering for its clients and providing a rewarding and supportive workplace for its employees. Gaining our B CorpTM Certification at the end of 2022 – the first law firm in the South West to do so and one of only a handful of B CorpTM Certified law firms in the UK – underlines our long-term commitment to also being a force for good in wider society.
All our people receive equality and diversity training when they join the firm, and at regular intervals during their employment with us. This helps to ensure we don’t discriminate in the services we offer, or in the way we run our business. We treat complaints of discrimination very seriously, and have sound procedures in place to deal with any undesired conduct in this area.
The health and wellbeing of our people is paramount to us and our business. We are a Mindful Employer – We believe a happy team gives great client service. Those who are in need of additional support can benefit from access to our Employee Assistance Programme and Counselling Sessions.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Exeter and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining: Domestic (Band 2)