Solicitor using £50k prize to develop automated advice platform

Stephenson: We allow people to be themselves

A solicitor who won a female innovators award is to put her £50,000 cash prize to building an automated platform that will provide cost-effective legal support to start-ups.

Alice Stephenson, who runs fast-growing Stephenson Law, was one of three women in law among the 40 winners last week of Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation awards.

We will next week profile the others – barrister Samantha Woodham, co-founder of The Divorce Surgery, and Becki Cassia, co-founder of family law and client management communications platform

As well as receiving a cash injection of £50,000 each, Ms Stephenson said the prize came with mentoring, coaching and training, as well as the community of winners and wider support network.

“There are people from all these different sectors who have won it with me and there’s so much we can learn from them,” she said.

Ms Stephenson set up her firm in 2017. It now has 21 people, with several more in the pipeline.

She admitted that she had not expected to grow so fast. “We’ve just been responding to the demand of our clients. We are attracting really good-quality lawyers who are looking for something a bit different.”

Though regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, it is avowedly an ‘alternative’ provider of legal services; she described its culture as more akin to a fast-growth tech company than a long-established law firm.

Most of its work comes through subscriptions – the firm offers a ‘general counsel’ package, to fill that role in a start-up company; a ‘legal counsel’ package for a flexible bolt-on resource to help in-house teams manage the peaks of their workload; and specialist data protection and trade mark portfolio management packages.

The firm works in a range of sectors, such as technology, sport, digital health, life sciences, advanced engineering, retail, energy and media.

Ms Stephenson worked previously for a major law firm in Bristol but, by the time she was three years qualified, “I just got really fed up with it, particularly as a woman with young children”.

She had also been frustrated that she could not be creative or express her individuality, with her tattoos frowned on.

At Stephenson Law, “we allow people to be themselves, to wear what they want to wear, to look how they want to look and to work where they want to work”.

Before setting up the firm, she worked as a consultant solicitor and said this experience made her realise “that there’s a real barrier that exists between private practice law firms and the in-house teams that need their support”.

The process of engaging a law firm on a piece of work could be “really inefficient and so lots of work that could have been outsourced was kept in-house. Or they’d get in people like me”.

The solicitor said the firm was regularly approached by start-ups unable to afford the help they needed.

The platform it is building will given them access to wide range of resources for a low-cost annual subscription, enabling them to “self-serve to an extent”, with the money from the prize going towards developing an artificial intelligence element that will answer certain questions that may then arise.

Ms Stephenson said the tool could in time have much broader use: “It comes down to making legal advice more accessible and using technology to help us do that.”

Pre-pandemic, the firm had an office in Bristol, although staff all worked as they wanted to.

But over the last year, the firm has recruited people from all over the country and no longer has the office. Ms Stephenson said they may use a co-working space in future.

“We’re a lot more flexible in adapting our systems and processes to fit with our clients. My experience of private practice is the total opposite.”

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