Stephenson Harwood has always had a strong reputation for middle tier corporate work, shipping and litigation. Notable large litigation cases in recent years include SH lawyers acting for property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz in a £2.2bn claim and also The Fiona Trust litigation - where SH represented Russian client Dmitry Skarga against Sovcomflot in a huge shipping fraud matter. There’s a lot of fraud work that comes through the door, with SH also getting instructions related to the Libor litigation.
As far as shipping goes, it’s not all battling it out in the court, with a fair amount of transactional work too, poring over the details of contracts to make sure they are water tight. The firm also has carved out a good reputation in other Transport areas – with aviation being particularly strong as the firm has acted for clients such as AirAsia and Vietjet Air. SH also can boast substantial rail expertise with the firm working on major rolling stock transactions in the UK, including on Crossrail, Thameslink and Voyager fleets. One trainee summed up by saying “there are opportunities to get involved in some interesting work”.
There is a mixed response as to what it is like working at SH, with many positive comments on the friendly nature of the firm – one associate said “people you work with are generally friendly and get along well” and that “Work life balance is generally good”. However, there were some grumblings that “good people leave because there is no opportunity for advancement.” Another source commented that they felt amongst the partnership it was still very “hierarchical” with “lots of the old guard who think the firm is much bigger than it actually is”. The firm also didn’t do that well in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Survey, finishing in the bottom section of the table.
Salaries were "generally good” according to one associate, with another source telling us that “bonuses were doubled recently – now 10% of gross salary for hitting 1550 hours and additional money if you exceed the target”.
Whilst the firm is not a major global player compared with the truly behemoth firms, SH still has a solid international network, and there are good opportunities for trainees to do a seat abroad. A particularly strong set of offices in Asia distinguishes the firm, with five out of its nine offices based in the region (Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore). The other offices are in London, Hong Kong, Paris and Piraeus (the latter particularly important for shipping work).
In essence, SH is a capable mid-sized firm, having decided to specialise in the areas in which its strengths lie (banking and asset finance, maritime services, litigation and property).