Stephenson Harwood LLP - True Picture

Steady as she goes! Stephenson Harwood set coordinates for growth and has been sailing that course for ten years.

Stephenson Harwood training contract review 2022

The Firm

It takes a seasoned crew and experienced hands to steer a ship through turbulent waters –  by that measure, Stephenson Harwood’s 146-year history in the legal industry stood the firm in good stead and gave it the know-how it needed to weather the pandemic and the unusual year that was 2020. Prior to this year, the firm had been growing extensively for the last decade: over that period revenue increased 150%, and headcount also grew – the firm now has over 180 partners and 1,100 people across its nine global offices. Beyond its London HQ, the firm has a pretty large presence in Asia – five offices across the continent between which over a quarter of the firm’s lawyers practice – as well as other international bases in Dubai, Paris, and Piraeus. This “strong international reputation and presence” was a huge draw for those who wanted to take advantage of the international secondments on offer, as well as for those who were simply interested in “the international nature of the work” itself.

“Strong international reputation and presence.”

SH’s particular practice specialisms stand out in its Chamber UK rankings: shipping, restructuring/insolvency, rail: franchising, and contentious regulatory financial services each garner top-tier accolades UK-wide, while areas including art and cultural property law, asset finance (shipping), AIM capital markets, civil fraud, and investment funds also achieve impressive scores. Even Chambers Global considers SH a global market leader for shipping finance. “Many firms have their specialisms,” trainees reflected, “but you’d struggle to find a firm of a similar size with these strengths. It is definitely an interesting feature of the work.”

Although undeniably well known for shipping and related areas, trainees were keen to emphasise that the firm “offered high-quality work” not just in these groups, but “across a variety of practice areas.” As such, sources felt they were able to get “a City firm training experience without a large cast of trainees.” The smaller intake was often cited as an attractive feature of the firm, giving interviewees “the promise of lots of responsibility and good training.”

The Seats

Around halfway through each seat, HR asks trainees to list three seat preferences (ranked 1 to 3) from a list of all available seats for that rotation. “Within the department, you can sometimes select more specific subgroups, for example if you’re interested in corporate, you could then select maybe corporate finance or private equity etc.” Most sources found they usually got “either the first or second choice,” though noted that if you get your third preference, you’re more likely to get a higher preference in another rotation.

“We did a lot of cross-border transactions.”

SH also offers both client and international secondments. Previous destinations have included the firm’s Paris, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Singapore offices. During the pandemic, some of these took place virtually, though there were also occasions where trainees were able to make it abroad. The process is slightly different for those interested in going overseas: trainees need to submit their CV and make a business case as to “why the office should take you.” Interviewees felt “we’re really encouraged to take them up,” and added: “There’s quite a few spots so you’ve got a good chance of going on secondment” if you want to.

Those with a penchant for finance have a choice of seat options including ship finance, rail finance, banking, real estate finance, and aviation finance. The firm’s ship finance team is “really quite big” and is a “well-regarded practice that is busy with mandates all the time.” Trainees described “acting for either the lender or the borrower in a transaction related to ships or vessels,” noting that “they’re usually shorter transactions that close within half a year.” As such, many sources felt “encouraged as trainees to pick up and run with matters.” Trainees had worked on “loans to ship owners, typically acting for banks or alternative finance providers,” as well as “a lot of restructuring-type matters.” Others added: “We did a lot of cross-border transactions and had more contact with the overseas offices.” A recent matter saw the team advise Euronav regarding its acquisition of two Suezmax tankers through joint ventures with Ridgebury Tankers and Tufton Oceanic. Typical tasks for trainees usually revolved around “helping progress the transaction,” including gathering conditions precedent and drafting certain documents. Sources found they were given “a huge amount of client exposure” in this seat, and generally felt “very involved” in transactions.

“... involving ships in far-flung places of the world!”

Marine and international trade (MIT) is another big area for the firm, and a popular seat among trainees. It is a contentious seat – sources highlighted “dealing with quite a lot of marine arbitrations with the LMAA [London Maritime Arbitrators Association]” and “acting for insurance companies in processing ‘damage to vessel’ and ‘damage to cargo’ claims.” The cases tend to be quite large – “some that might even be in the news” – and as the name suggests, the area is very international in nature; trainees had come across matters “involving ships in far-flung places of the world!” Recently, the team acted for EST Maritime and Bridging Finance in a $19 million claim against PetroChina Singapore regarding the wrongful delivery of 25,000 metric tonnes of cargo by PetroChina, fraudulent misrepresentation, and conspiracy to defraud. The group also advised Axis Insurance and other underwriters over a $22.5 million claim resulting from the detention of a bulk carrier in Indonesia following a major casualty, where the vessel was detained due to criminal proceedings against the master. The Covid-19 pandemic also threw up some unusual matters for the team – sources recalled cases “where the vessels had been stranded and unable to go into ports because of new restrictions,” which meant providing “very real-time advice where you could really see the impact.” Due to the size of cases and nature of litigation, trainees worked on a fair few bundles and general document management, as well as legal research, drafting emails, and attending meetings with clients. Some were also involved with case prep and settlement discussions.

Alongside MIT, another litigious seat is commercial litigation. The team recently represented four defendants involved in the sale of Alan Dick Communications (ADC) to Panasonic, in a dispute where Panasonic alleges the four defendants misrepresented the financial position of ADC at the time of the acquisition. The team also acted for global catering company DO & CO Aktiengesellschaft in a dispute arising from a joint venture agreement with Versilia Group Holdings. Generally, trainees will either focus on the commercial side or the arbitration side. Sources also came across some restructuring and insolvency work during this seat, often dealing with “professional firms in terms of professional negligence and insolvency,” as well as a few “personal bankruptcy matters.” On the arbitration side, trainees cited a mix of contentious and advisory work. So far sources had been involved in “helping draft requests for arbitrations, setting up bundles and advising on the enforceability for arbitration awards.” Other trainees also mentioned being able to work on matters with Kamal Shah – a partner who is head of the firm’s Africa and India groups – which meant a fair bit of exposure to Africa and India-oriented matters.

On the corporate side of the firm’s practice, trainees can do a seat in equity capital markets and funds. “The work was a lot of secondary fundraises for listed companies – listed either on a foreign market, or on the LSE or AIM.” For example, the group recently acted for investment banks Nplus1 Singer and Panmure Gordon on a £92 million secondary fundraising for AIM-listed real estate investment company Urban Logistics REIT. For trainees, typical tasks in this seat included “helping draft the main offering documents” as well as more standard tasks such as “working on the ancillaries” and a fair amount of verification.

"There’s a focus on great legal services, but with a dash of good humour.”

Another corporate seat focused on commercial outsourcing and tech, which involved “providing a lot of commercial support to other teams in the firm.” For example, sources mentioned helping “the rail team specifically on their outsourcing and technology contracts,” while others dabbled in “more general commercial contracts, like manufacturing and supply contracts.” In a recent matter, the team worked with Oxford Biomedia, advising on two supply agreements with AstraZeneca to expand the manufacturing support of their Covid-19 vaccine. Similarly, the team also acted for Novacyt S.A. in relation to the supply of Covid-19 PCR test kits to the Department of Health and Social Care. Trainees highlighted they were “given projects to run with,” which meant everything from “getting the contract, negotiating it, and executing it.” There was also an element of advisory work, particularly related to data protection compliance and “updates related to Brexit and what it means with the UK leaving the EU.” Overall sources found that the seat had an even balance between “the grunt work like bundling and document management” and “drafting tasks and ones you’ll gain more from.”

Trainee Life

Trainee sources were largely in agreement on the culture at Stephenson Harwood: “Everyone is very supportive, both from a career perspective but also from a personal perspective.” Even throughout remote working, most groups held both “work-oriented chats” as well as weekly chats “to discuss what everyone got up to at the weekend.” Sources appreciated “the fact that even partners cut out half-hour periods for those, especially where it’s easy for conversations to all be work-oriented.” Another interviewee summarised the firm as “a friendly place where there’s a focus on great legal services, but with a dash of good humour.” This source felt the firm would continue to trend in that direction because “there’s definitely a type of person that is drawn to SH, and that’s someone who is friendly, bright, and contributes positively.”

Beyond general catch-ups, the firm continued to hold (virtual) social events to keep folks connected. “When we had vacation scheme students, we did things like make crochet flowerpots together on Zoom, and over Christmas they sent us hampers and we did some trainee drinks.” Sources also flagged other activities like virtual quizzes, doughnut decorating, and various virtual lunches.

Many were also pleased to see a renewed effort behind diversity and inclusion at the firm. “Historically we’ve not done very well at it, but our new CEO is pushing D&I events and is keen on ensuring we are accessible to people from all socio-economic backgrounds.” In particular, sources flagged various new programmes and initiatives such as a new scholarship programme, CV workshops to “support people at university from disadvantaged backgrounds,” and speaker sessions/panel events. Of course, most still agreed “there’s room for improvement – for example, there’s still not as many female partners – but the firm has got the drive to do well.”

“I had no weekend work in ship finance, but was pretty flat out during the day.”

Typical working hours erred towards the longer side, especially in seats like ship finance and MIT. One source noted that “in MIT, I was working most weekends (though did get some days in lieu),” while another interviewee said: “I had no weekend work in ship finance, but was pretty flat out during the day.” Unsurprisingly, hours in contentious seats would pick up when going to trial, but otherwise, trainees described their hours as “quite level.” Those who had done a corporate seat reckoned those hours had been the lightest by comparison, with more regular 9am to 7pm days. That said, regardless of seat, trainees largely felt “left to manage our own workloads– for instance, if I don’t fancy working late one day, I can get up early the next. It’s not a problem as long as the work gets done.”

Qualification is an ongoing discussion throughout trainees’ training contracts. A couple of months into the final seat, the firm releases a list of all the departments that are hiring, and from there, trainees can apply with their CV to the departments they are interested in. The departments each host interviews (which is “a mix of competency questions, and more general chat”) before trainees find out if they’ve got an NQ position about a month later. Even with the bump in the road caused by Covid, SH maintained “generally quite high” retention, with trainees adding that retention “hasn’t been out of kilter with previous years.”  In 2021, the firm kept on 19 of 21 qualifiers.

Get Hired


Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 31 January 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)  

Training contract deadline (2024): 31 July 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)  


Stephenson Harwood receives around 1,200applications for its placement scheme and another 600 direct training contract applications.  

Both types of application begin with the same online form, which asks candidates to list their academic credentials and other achievements. According to future talent manager Sarah Murray, “we’re looking for future trainees who will be enthusiastic, willing to learn and full of potential. We’re keen to hear about what interests you and excites you, where your passions lie and how you can use this in your career as a lawyer.”  

Tests and assessment day  

Around a quarter of applicants make it past the screening stage and are asked to take an online critical reasoning test.  

The next stage is a 45-minute interview with a member of HR and a case study. This is the final step for placement scheme hopefuls.  The next step for those who applied directly for a training contract is an assessment day, which includes a presentation on a commercial issue, followed by a 45-minute to one-hour partner interview.  

Murray tells us: “We're looking for applicants who demonstrate strong analytical skills and sound judgement, good communications skills, a resourceful and determined approach, and an appreciation of the bigger picture.”  

The placement scheme  

Stephenson Harwood runs five placement schemes: a week-long placement in the winter, a two-week scheme in the spring, and three two-week placements over June and July. There's room for eight candidates on each (so 40 in total), and participants are automatically considered for a training contract. Virtual open days are taking place in November and December, with open days in the London office planned for January and March.  

Each placement scheme attendee is allocated a partner or associate supervisor, plus a trainee buddy they can approach for help or with questions. Alongside their assigned responsibilities, placement scheme students attend practice area presentations and strategy talks and take part in the aforementioned assessment day tasks. Attendees are also invited to various social events.  

The firm takes these assessments into account when deciding who gets a training contract offer, as well as feedback from candidates' supervisors and buddies. “We ask about their input into tasks in particular,” Murray says. “I think enthusiasm goes a long way – we always remember the people who get stuck in and were offering to help out with things. We're impressed by those who ask thoughtful and considered questions.”  

The number of placement scheme students who receive training contract offers “really varies year by year,” Murray says, adding that the firm doesn't prioritise those who have taken part in a placement over other applicants. “We will make an offer to an outstanding candidate whether he or she has completed a placement or not. 

Stephenson Harwood LLP

1 Finsbury Circus,

  • Partners 180+
  • Associates 400+
  • Total trainees 40
  • UK offices 8
  • Overseas offices 9
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Sarah Murray
  • Application criteria  
  • Training contracts pa: 20
  • Applications pa: 1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 320 or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 40
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1st October 2021
  • Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 31st July 2022
  • Placement scheme applications open: 1st October 2021
  • Placement scheme 2022 deadline: 31st January 2022
  • Open day deadline: 31st January 2022
  • Winter placement scheme – 13 December-17 December; spring placement scheme – 4 April-14 April; summer placement scheme 13 June-24 June, 27 June-8 July, 11 July-22 July.
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £43,000
  • Second-year salary: £47,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £75,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £6,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Dubai and Hong Kong
  • Overseas seats: Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, Seoul
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile

Stephenson Harwood is a law firm of over 1,100 people worldwide, including more than 180 partners. Our people are committed to achieving the goals of our clients — listed and private companies, institutions and individuals. We assemble teams of bright thinkers to match our clients’ needs and give the right advice from the right person at the right time. Dedicating the highest calibre of legal talent to overcome the most complex issues, we deliver pragmatic, expert advice that is set squarely in the real world. 

Main areas of work

Commercial litigation; corporate; employment, pensions and private wealth; finance; marine and international trade; real estate and projects.

Training opportunities

There’s a lot to look forward to as a trainee at Stephenson Harwood: top quality global work across a range of sectors, an environment that balances cutting-edge work with a respectful, friendly culture, and the chance to prove yourself on an international secondment. We work in small teams, so every person is critical — that’s why we’ll expect you to work to the best of your ability every day. Our training is not only structured and practical but highly personalised, so you’ll have everything you need to develop along a career path that’s absolutely right for you. Following a week’s intensive induction and a comprehensive post-induction programme, you’ll complete four seats — each six months long — across different practice areas. You could find yourself working on anything from a high-profile, multi-million financial litigation case to a ground-breaking M&A deal. You could even spend time on secondment at a client’s office or do an international seat in our Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Dubai or Paris offices.

Placement schemes

Our winter, spring and summer placement schemes will give you a real taste of life at the firm. We’ll make sure you’re involved in quality work and will try to help you experience any areas of law you’re particularly interested in. Typically you’ll spend one or two weeks in our offices, sitting with qualified lawyers and tackling some case work. You’ll also benefit from an organised programme of interactive sessions, talks and social events.

On your first day, we’ll assign you a buddy — a current trainee who’ll help you settle in, answer your questions and give you an honest overview of what it’s like to work for us.

A placement gives you a great opportunity to talk informally to existing trainees, lawyers, partners and support teams to find out just why the law and Stephenson Harwood are such attractive career options. What’s more, we’ll pay you £380 a week.

Other benefits

We want you to feel valued so we’ll offer you a range of flexible benefits including: critical illness cover, cycle2work loan, dental health scheme, subsidised gym membership, private health insurance and screening, life assurance, pension, private GP services, subsidised café, and a travel to work loan.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Come along to a virtual open day in November or December, and an in-house open day in January or March to get a good feel for what a career at a mid-sized international law firm is really like. You’ll meet partners, associates and trainees as well as the future talent team.

Our virtual open days take place on the 24th November 2021 and 8th December 2021. Our in-house open days take place on 19th January 2022 and 16th March 2022.  

Social media

Twitter @SHLegal

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Our vision is to be known as an inclusive and diverse firm, where all our people feel they can be themselves and thrive at work.

Our people are our biggest asset. We want Stephenson Harwood to be a place where you can do your best work in a team that values who you are and the unique perspectives and contributions that you bring. That is how we unlock our entrepreneurial spirit.

Our strategy focuses on culture, leadership and talent management, and recruitment. To deliver our strategy, we work with a range of organisations including Stonewall, The Business Disability Forum, Aspiring Solicitors, Rare Recruitment, City Parents and many more.

Our employee networks are for, and run by, our people. They create a sense of belonging by celebrating diversity, connecting people across the business, and working with the community. Whatever your role, you can contribute to fostering our inclusive and healthy culture by joining our employee networks: SHARED (Stephenson Harwood advancing racial and ethnic diversity), Disability and neurodiversity, Gender equality, Mental health and wellbeing, SHout (LGBT+) and Social mobility.

In addition to hiring a diverse group of employees, we know we need to foster a culture of inclusion, where all of our people can be themselves and thrive at work. It’s about equality and opportunity, making sure that talented people can thrive and progress at Stephenson Harwood. All of our trainees and associates have a dedicated supervisor or development partner, who has responsibility for supporting their development and career progression, with support from other partners in their group. We are focused on fair work allocation for all. We currently have structured work allocation pilots in two of our practice groups, with the aim of ensuring that the distribution of work is equitable; we are looking to extend this programme across our business.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
    • Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 4)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 2)
    • Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 3)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 2)
    • Aviation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
    • Commodities: Physicals (Band 3)
    • Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 5)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
    • Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 2)
    • Pensions Litigation (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency: Personal Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Shipping (Band 1)
    • Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)

More from Stephenson Harwood:

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