Welcome to the Tough Cookies series where we interview and celebrate the strong and determined individuals who are making waves in the tech industry.
This week we are checking in with Alice, Founder & CEO of Stephenson Law. Alice sheds light on the changes happening in the legal industry, the challenges startups and scale-ups face and how to find a relatable legal team… This and vegan cookies!
So tell us a little bit about Stephenson Law and what brought the idea about
I spent a few years working in private practice and as a consultant for in-house legal teams and was generally feeling disheartened about a career in the legal industry. I found the culture of traditional private practice unappealing and stifling, and the industry’s regulatory restrictions made working as a consultant frustrating. Basically, I couldn’t find a law firm that I wanted to work at so I decided to create my own!
Stephenson Law is therefore very different from traditional private practice, and lots of people don’t believe me when I say that and need to actually see it to believe it. We’ve ditched the corporate persona of a law firm; our focus is on delivering an excellent service to our clients so we don’t worry about what people are wearing or where they’re working. Our focus is on our relationships with our clients and each other and, whilst we’re all excellent lawyers, what matters most is how we communicate our advice.
You mentioned that you work with high-growth technology companies, what drew your business to them?
We provide a unique service to early-stage tech companies which we call our GC retainer. We spotted that many of these companies have an under-developed, under-resourced legal function that is typically managed by the CFO or COO and is completely reactive in nature.
They’re not big enough to justify recruiting a full-time GC, but they are big enough that they need specialist support to ensure they don’t trip up in their next funding round. So what we do is act as their part-time, external General Counsel and basically take over the function of the legal department.
Tech companies like working with us because our culture is much more reflective of theirs than a typical law firm, so we quickly integrate into their team and, as a young company ourselves, can relate to the challenges they are facing.
Legal tech is a big buzzword at the moment
What are the biggest challenges your clients face?
The tech startups we work with face all the challenges that a typical scaleup faces. Recruiting and managing a growing team, driving sales through marketing and sales activities, developing the product(s), managing an increasing customer base and raising money are all typical challenges.
From a legal perspective, the main challenges we see are around compliance (particularly GDPR) contract management and streamlining the legal operations in the business so they don’t act as a blocker to getting customer deals signed and governance.
My biggest challenge was having my daughter when I was 18 and putting myself through university whilst supporting her
Do you see the industry changing much in the next few years due to technology?
Legal tech is a big buzzword at the moment and I certainly think it’s going to drive some big changes in the industry through automating certain tasks, enabling lawyers to work more efficiently and levelling the playing field for smaller firms. However, I’m not sure that legal tech is enough to bring about the change that’s so needed in the legal industry; this is only going to happen through a change in the mindset of the people at the top.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was having my daughter when I was 18 and putting myself through university whilst supporting her. I had to work nights and study during the day so it was extremely tough, but I’m a strong believer that you can achieve anything you set your mind to!
Is there a piece of software on your laptop/mobile that all business owners should be using?
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to tech, so all business owners need to find the software that works best for them. We love using Notion at SLHQ to share information across the team and manage workloads. We also love Teams for internal chat.
It’s really important to find the right legal partner for you.
Any advice for businesses looking for legal help? (apart from contacting you of course!)
It’s really important to find the right legal partner for you. There’s a temptation to focus purely on price, but a good lawyer will always add value to the business in more than one way. It’s obviously important to get the expertise you need (so make sure you find someone who is experienced in the area of law you need help with), but team fit should also be on your radar when choosing a lawyer to work with.
At SL we are very relationship-driven and spend a lot of time getting to know our clients so we can provide the best possible support, and it’s worth both parties investing this time into the relationship. It means that we can spot legal issues in the business that you might not be aware of and proactively suggest ways in which you can protect your business from risk.
What’s your favourite flavoured cookie?
I recently became a vegan and have spent the last few months seeking out the best vegan cookie in Bristol. The chocolate chunk at Mrs Potts Chocolate House wins hands down for me!