Top City law firm Stephenson Hardwood is a member of the 'club of nine', a group of law firms that acted as the predecessors for the ‘magic circle’, a term commonly used by legal journalists to refer to the top five law firms in the UK. The firm has more 140 partners with offices in London, Asia, Europe and the Middle East: its five main practice areas are corporate finance, asset finance, real estate, commercial litigation and marine and international trade.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview James Trundle, a commercial property lawyer with 20 years’ worth of sector experience and current partner at Stephenson Harwood. James acts for a wide variety of clients, ranging from individuals to developers, whom he advises on development and asset management, disposal, and investment.
What encouraged you to pursue a career in law?
I wanted to be in a profession that had scope for promotion based on ability. At school, I enjoyed language-based topics such as History and English, which involved facts, analysis and debate. My job is reliant on the use of language and explanation. It also seemed to be a well-respected profession with plenty of opportunities to work in London, a city that I wanted to work in.
What does your typical workday consist of?
My day does involve a fair amount of time at my desk reviewing documents, speaking to clients or other lawyers. I have a team of lawyers whom I work with and I do supervise their work to ensure that the quality is of a high standard, to assist with any queries and, most importantly, to check that the transactions they are leading are moving forward smoothly. I spend a lot of time updating clients on progress of their transactions. About 20% of my time is spent on business development, which can involve giving seminars or hosting lunches and dinners.
What are your general tips for law students hoping to secure a TC or vacation scheme?
It is immensely competitive. We receive a huge number of applications. However, I would say that your qualifications will be the most important part of the CV. Spending time on gap years doesn't really give any huge advantage unless you have done something exceptional. Initially, I would carefully select the firms you want to apply for so that you can, convincingly, explain why that particular firm is of interest. There are some very good firms outside London which may be less competitive but which may have London offices. Don't automatically apply to the top London firms. Be realistic about your abilities and your opportunities.
What do firms look for in an applicant?
Proven ability and appropriate qualifications mainly but a candidate must be amiable, presentable and articulate. The first impression really does make a huge difference.
What do you think law students should be doing in preparation for the legal industry?
Achieving the best possible grades and working hard.
What current challenges do you think the legal profession is currently facing?
Large parts of the profession are dependent on the strength of the economy for their sector - this is, to a large extent, out of the lawyer's control. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to anticipate a declining market and to predict new markets. This is not straight forward - particularly at a time of political change. Artificial intelligence will adjust our role and, possibly, eliminate parts of it completely.
How do you think Brexit will affect the legal industry and, in particular, property?
As of today, I don't think it has affected either due to the enormous attraction of the UK by overseas investors, the comparable stability of the UK and the preference for English law. Having said that, it is impossible to predict the future effects as there is large political change and that will, with Brexit, result in a huge alteration to attitudes. It is not currently possible to make long term predictions as we have numerous political elections in 2017 and an unexpected result in any one of those will have consequences that we cannot, at this stage, foresee. For what it's worth, I believe that it is possible that the UK's importance and strength will grow as other economies that have been dependent on subsidies, bail outs and freedom of movement of their unskilled or unemployed population see each of these recede or disappear.
Applications for Training Contracts for 2019 opened on 1 October 2016 and closes on 31 July 2017. Unfortunately applications for spring and summer Vacation Schemes have now closed.