Alice Stephenson – CEO and founder of Stephenson Law – ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’

Hello! My name is Alice, and I’m the CEO and founder of Stephenson Law; a human-centric, technology-driven law firm.  On qualifying as a lawyer in 2011, I spent the next few years working for a number of law firms and big companies. I founded my own firm in 2017 with the vision to build a forward-thinking, innovative law firm that puts people at the heart of everything it does.

A typical day for me has one constant and that is, that my day is constantly changing! No two days are the same, and that’s exactly why I love it. As an entrepreneur, each day is a learning experience, and comes with its own unique challenges: but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My journey into law took a few twists and turns, but ultimately, I chose this career for a few key reasons. At the time, I was working in HR, and realised it wasn’t the career for me. I wanted a job that provided challenge and stimulation: while providing a secure future for me and my daughter. I certainly wasn’t born thinking I would be a lawyer, but once I dipped my toe in the industry, I realised this was where I belonged. Getting to where I am today was the result of facing challenge after challenge. There were many points that seemed insurmountable… but I’m so glad I persevered. 

‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’

Getting here took a lot of grit, a lot of hard work, and a lot of dedication. I worked a host of jobs, set up businesses, watched them fail, and tried again. I juggled life as a single mum with academic study, I fought tooth and nail to secure a training contract, and I slowly but surely worked my way to where I am today. It certainly didn’t happen overnight and it’s a testament to the importance of taking life one step at a time. 

The setbacks I encountered were not easy, but I overcame them by simply refusing to give up. There were a lot of times that made me feel like throwing in the towel, but I didn’t. I just put one front in front of the other, and kept going.

An initiative I feel passionately about is that it is so important for to me to show aspiring lawyers and legal professionals alike, that the legal industry doesn’t have to be ‘how it always was’. There are incredible people in this industry, truly inspirational, but many of them are forced to work in patriarchal archaic environments that stifles their growth. I’m passionate about showing that there’s another way. I want this industry to be a space where diverse groups and diverse thinkers can thrive, they can be empowered, and they can impact our future for the better.

My daughter gave me the drive and determination to succeed. When I was 18, I got pregnant and, in every imaginable aspect, it changed my life. I became homeless, I faced hardship, and my world was turned upside down. But I now had something even more important than myself to fight for: I had my daughter. Knowing I was building a life not just for me, but for her, was an incredibly powerful motivator to succeed. My daughter gave me the motivation to keep fighting, to keep pushing, and to keep working for a better life. She’s now my best friend, and a daily reminder of what it’s all for.

There are so many great things about being a woman in my role, but getting to enact real change is right up there. The legal industry is steeped in tradition, including male dominated environments and approaches. I offer a new perspective, a new approach, and I challenge industry norms by simply being myself. In law, we need leadership from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds: it’s the only way we’re going to haul this industry into the modern day. Simply by being a woman I faced criticism and harassment for how I looked, for being a mother, and for being outspoken in work. Where a man was seen as taking the lead, I was seen as bossy. Unfortunately, sexism still prevails in work today, and it’s something I needed to constantly rail against when I began my career. That’s not to say I don’t still deal with it now, but it’s a challenge I’m more used to tackling.

‘Don’t fear failure; embrace it’

My biggest achievement in life is setting up my own law firm. It was a really proud moment for me. In my career as a lawyer, I struggled to find a place that felt like “home”. So much of the industry is living in the past, and I refused to accept that my success as a lawyer had to come at the cost of who I was. Setting up Stephenson Law was not only the realisation of a personal dream, but it also gave me the freedom to succeed on my own terms.

The biggest lesson I have learnt is that failure is part of the journey. Life isn’t an instant path to success. It’s filled with highs and lows, hardships, and mistakes. Every achievement will have followed a stream of obstacles, and there is no simple route that avoids failure. By accepting failure as part of the journey, you’re opening yourself up to growth, self-reflection, and personal improvement. Don’t fear failure; embrace it.

Outside of work fitness is really important to me, and I’ve fallen into the CrossFit craze! Otherwise, I’m a huge advocate for the welfare of animals, and am a vegan. I live by my mantra of one step at a time.

My top three tips for young females starting their career journey would be:

1. Don’t try and do it all yourself and ask for help in the areas you’re weak in. 

2. Ignore the naysayers. You’ll be surrounded by people telling you why it’s not possible. They’ll try and put you down because they couldn’t do it themselves and you need to block them out.

3. Don’t give up. You will have sh*t days but go back to your purpose, take a deep breath and keep going. You will only fail if you give up.

The best advice I have ever been given is just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of the guarantees in life is that it will constantly change. Once you embrace this, and take it as part of the journey, things get a whole lot easier.

My key motivators are that I am motivated to empower diverse groups and diverse thinkers, I’m motivated to impact my industry for the better, and to break down the stereotypes surrounding the legal industry, and I’m motivated to give my family a stable and happy life.
I definitely don’t think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance. We are not there yet. There’s a statistic really sticks with me: you’re more likely to have a CEO named David, than a woman. How wild is that? There’s so much more that needs to be done to address gender imbalance, and it’s a mission that’s going to take a lot of work for a long time. 

‘We’re in this together!’

Some strategies to help women achieve a prominent role in their organisations are that I got to where I am now out of a refusal to follow the status quo. So often women are made to feel as though their success is reliant on submitting to tradition, and “playing the game”. It’s a disservice to the women in our industry, and a sure-fire way to impede progress in our industry. To women looking to achieve a more prominent role I would say: give yourself a voice. Trust in your opinions. Trust in your capability, and reject the idea that to succeed is to fit in. My advice for women aiming for leadership positions is Network! It’s hard going it alone, even harder if your industry is lacking in female leaders. It can give you the impression that it hasn’t been done, and it can’t be done. By putting yourself out there, you’re opening yourself up to a support network that’s crucial to make it as a leader. I’ve been so grateful for the guidance I’ve had along the way, and often times it came from being vulnerable, and putting myself out there. Reach out. Talk to people. Ask for advice. Share thoughts. There’s a community of women out there, and we’re in this together! 

A leadership lesson I have learnt along the way is that you can’t do it all. Learn to delegate, trust your team, and give them the tools they need to succeed. Leadership isn’t about doing it all on your own, nor is it about being front and centre stage. A good leader will empower those around them, and will understand when it’s their time to step in, or when it’s time to simply watch. Embrace change. Change can be scary, but it’s the one constant we can guarantee in life. Sure, it can be uncomfortable, but that move from your comfort zone is an amazing opportunity for growth. Take it. Make the most of it. Use it to your advantage.

If I could tell my 16-year-old self anything, it would be to just believe in yourself! Be kind to yourself, and know: it’s going to be OK. 

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