The Legal Cheek View
With headquarters in London, international law firm Stephenson Harwood specialises in the areas of commercial litigation, corporate, finance and international trade, real estate and private wealth. The firm has a string of offices in Asia with unusually deep roots. They date back to co-founder William Harwood’s time in Hong Kong, where he built close ties with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (which would later become HSBC).
Outside of the UK, Hong Kong is the firm’s largest office and it is the hub for Stephenson Harwood’s Greater China practice. Across the region, the firm has a representative office in Shanghai, in association with a local law firm in Guangzhou, as well as having significant presence in Singapore and Seoul.
Stephenson Harwood invites around 12 interns to its annual summer vacation scheme (which takes place over two weeks in June). Currently, the firm recruits four trainees from the vacation scheme and has a direct training contract application route too. The firm’s position on the smaller intakes means that trainees are given “individual attention and responsibility from early on, including exposure to clients”. The training contract is two years and covers seats in corporate, finance and trade, disputes or private wealth. Another draw for trainees is that the firm provides opportunities to complete an overseas seat in Dubai, London, Seoul, Shanghai or Singapore.
The training is thorough, beginning with an induction to help newbies familiarise themselves with the way the firm does business and to get to know the people. There are regular internal and external training sessions and workshops during the training contract as well as dedicated ‘check-ins’ to make sure trainees are receiving the right level of feedback and guidance through their seat rotations. Generally, trainee responsibilities include drafting, due diligence, research, attending court and client meetings, and of course, getting involved in their employee social networks. The firm requires future joiners to be fluent in English and Mandarin, and as is the case at most law firms, language skills will be assessed during the recruitment process.
Trainees praise the “friendly” and “supportive” office environment. They are given close supervision by virtue of sharing an office with either a partner or managing associate, as well as being allocated a ‘buddy’. “What draws me to the firm is our culture,” says a junior associate at Stephenson Harwood. “We have an open-door policy — partners and seniors welcome questions and are more than willing to answer and provide feedback. They are happy to engage trainees in various projects and client events — you feel part of the team. Ties between colleagues extend outside work in our social events such as sport activities, festive celebrations, parties and ad hoc team gatherings.”
The Hong Kong office is located at the United Centre in Admiralty and close to the Hong Kong courts, which is very convenient for the litigators! It’s easily accessible by MTR and connected to various shopping and food hotspots in Hong Kong, such as Pacific Place, via an elevated walkway.
Stephenson Harwood lawyers have access to a huge in-house pantry (aka ‘RefreSH’) complete with an Italian Elektra coffee machine and plenty of lounge, bench and table spots to have lunch. Hong Kong Park is also not too far away for those wanting to lunch outside.
Highly noteworthy is that the Stephenson Harwood Hong Kong office has been accredited with the Caring Company Award each year since 2018, and which is awarded in recognition of the firm’s commitment to ‘Caring for the Community’, ‘Caring for Employees’ and ‘Caring for the Environment’. They have a vibrant corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme engaged in a range of community and pro bono work, and also a highly active diversity & inclusion (D&I) committee who regularly organise activities for the firm on topics from allyship, reverse mentoring, through to mental health awareness. Charities, social enterprises and non-for-profit organisations the firm partners with include Redress, Pathfinders, HER Fund and The Women’s Foundation. An interesting project the firm is currently undertaking is in partnership with Hong Kong Shifts and Rooftop Republic which aims to promote social inclusion and understanding of social entrepreneurship through a photography project. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a key area of focus for the firm, both in its service offerings and internal environmental and social efforts, and they have been recognised by multiple industry awards for their efforts. For all of these programmes, Stephenson Harwood trainees actively participate in and help drive efforts.