Spotlight on our solicitors – meet Eleanor Stephens

Spotlight on our solicitors – meet Eleanor Stephens

How long have you worked at Harper James?

Since September 2020.

What inspired you to practise law in the first place? Tell us about your legal career so far?

I am one of those very sad individuals who always wanted to be a lawyer, from the age of around 10! Well, it was between that or opera singer, and frankly I was not really cut out to be the latter (as my family subtly warned me)! Having studied law at Liverpool University, I went to Guildford Law College. I came out of College in the middle of a bad recession.  As a result I spent a few years waiting for a training contract, during which time I worked as a legal secretary, which gave me some great experience of law firms – and ensured I was very nice to the secretaries when I finally qualified! 

I trained at a one man band in Sussex, then moved to a larger firm in Sussex on qualification where I fell into Insolvency.  I stayed with that firm as it grew and expanded, where I became a partner and then ended up heading the Recovery and Insolvency and Dispute Resolution teams, working for a huge variety of clients, corporate and personal.  After 12 years at that firm, I took a sabbatical to take a year out to travel and do voluntary work in Namibia, Central and South America and India, before returning to the firm to take on a secondment at the Pensions Regulator for 9 months. By then I had become a bit jaded with all the management tasks that partners face in private practice, and decided to take an entirely different direction. I joined Lexis Nexis, to recruit and then and head up a new insolvency team, creating and writing a brand new product providing on line support for insolvency lawyers and practitioners, called Lexis PSL, which I worked on for just over 8 years. 

While I loved the job, I didn’t enjoy the many hours a day I spent on delayed and cancelled trains attempting to get to London, so 3 years ago my husband and I took the giant step of giving up our current jobs and lifestyle in order to travel around Europe on a semi-permanent basis, with our cocker spaniel! As a result, I work as a consultant with Harper James from whatever country we may be in at the time.  As long as the wifi is strong (which is a prerequisite for accommodation), it’s been working out very well, as we are loving this new way of working and the freedom it brings.  Perversely, the pandemic has actually helped with this method of working, as the norm is now to meet clients through Zoom or Teams rather than face to face.

How does working with Harper James compare with other firms you have worked at?

In so many ways, Harper James is completely unlike any firm I’ve worked at before. The way the firm is set up is incredibly efficient, and by centralising many of the traditional roles that solicitors struggle with in private practice - such as setting up new clients with all the compliance requirements this takes, sending invoices, and all of the business development that solicitors have to do as part of their usual role - this leaves solicitors to do the actual job they were trained to do, that of advising and working with clients, undistracted by admin.

It also means that those more administrative roles are carried out by people whose sole job is to undertake those tasks, and as a result they are much more efficient than we are at them! It’s a breath of fresh air to be freed up to just do the law. The innovative model of pricing and charging clients is also unlike anything I have experienced before.  It means clients get the benefit of low hourly rates while accessing highly skilled lawyers – many of whom are highly experienced and often ex city lawyers who were previously charging clients 2-3 x the hourly rate of Harper James for their skill set.  In return, Harper James gets the benefit of an up front credit control and compliance system, and therefore doesn’t generally lose out chasing clients for unpaid invoices. The client ultimately benefits from this by low rates.

It’s a great model and I am not sure why more firms have not caught on to this. I suspect it will be the norm in many years to come for most firms.

What’s the best piece of insolvency advice you’d give a business?

Don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening!  I see so many businesses when they are beyond help, whereas if they had faced financial issues when they first arose and taken professional advice (either from a lawyer, or an accountant/insolvency practitioner), the chances are they would have been able to resolve them and move on before it becomes fatal.  The earlier advice is taken, the more likely it is that there are options still available to a business, and even if not, they can maintain some control over the process.

What has been the proudest moment at Harper James/of your career so far?

As someone who’s work predominantly in the office/behind a desk, I am always proud of the times when I have a successful day in court – especially if I am doing my own advocacy on behalf of the client.  On a wider and more personal level it is always very satisfying when I have been able to help a client who is in a really tricky situation and can’t see a way out.  As an insolvency lawyer, it’s really satisfying to help people or companies avoid insolvency or claims, particularly personal claims, that could have a devastating affect on them.

What do you do to unwind?

I love to travel and see the world, which I am able to do a lot of now that I am working as a consultant. I love animals and really enjoyed all the voluntary work I did with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, particular in Africa and Ecuador, but how I really unwind on a day to day basis is a long country or beach walk with the dog.  When we are in the UK, socialising with family and friends is great, as is taking advantage of our proximity to London to visit the theatre and enjoy restaurants and bars. Also, nothing beats a good book…


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