X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The boyish face, curly hair and giant teddy bear like frame is familiar to most of us whether within or outside the legal profession. This alone singles Mark Stephens out among lawyers. There is a lot more — his working methods are not traditional and neither is his background. Stephens had no legal background — his father was an artist and his mother a social worker with a psychology doctorate. “We were very poor �- I used to have free school meals.” It will surprise noone to learn that Stephens attended stage school from the ages of 11 to 16 nor that it was his own choice and not his parents. He modelled in catalogues and acted in cinema, on stage and television. He paid for his fees himself out of his earnings. However he had to leave because, as he admits: “I wasn’t the best.” Stephens tells the story of how he became interested in the law having been accused of committing a traffic offence whilst cycling home from Waitrose where he stacked shelves as a Saturday job. “I represented myself at Chertsey magistrates court convinced that justice would ensure that I was acquitted. “Sadly, my faith in justice was extinguished. But I was inspired to look at the ability to use the law to see that justice was done.” Being a lawyer as opposed to putting the world to rights was still an alien concept and he admits he was more interested “in going on the road with bands and various other strange and exotic jobs”. While in college, Stephens was the entertainments officer and spent an inordinate amount of time going to gigs and bringing bands to Queen Mary’s College in London. He even brought the bands to a wider audience through his TV program “Rock Goes to College”. Stephens says the high point in his career was 21 years ago when as a 23-year-old he founded Stephens Innocent. The firm started by offering protection to musicians and artists and developed rapidly to become well known as an innovative practice in the areas of intellectual property, media and civil liberties work. This is perhaps a reflection of Stephens himself, whose sense of justice underpins all his work and whose intellect produces novel solutions. “There are two types of lawyer -� the fixed paradigm lawyer and the lawyer that offers you a solution. I’ve always been the latter.” Stephens takes the law, analyses it and applies his creativity to the problem, pushing at the edges and developing the concept. “I want to be where the law is moving because that is what’s interesting and intellectually challenging and stimulating.” He says that is why his practice has moved and been fluid so that from time to time, some areas need to be developed and moved on: He cites pensions as a recent example. Stephens claims that the move from senior partner of his own firm to a larger more varied partnership — Finers Stephens Innocent — is not a backwards step. He points out: “I am the only named partner and the larger firm offers my clients a better service.” This is what he wants the world to hear, but is it really enough for such an individualist? Stephens admits to liking and expecting the best of everything: “I like quality in art, I am absolutely rigorous about those I work with, they have to be top rate, able to think and challenge me.” Stephens himself has always challenged others -� his teachers: “all the time -� about their basic assumptions, about social mores, about everything. Nothing to me is unchallengeable.” HUMAN RIGHTS This is perhaps why Stephens does not think the Human Rights Act will have any impact on his own practice. “I’ve been practicing human rights style of law for 10 or 15 years anyway. Convention issues have been in all of my cases � I’ve taken Strasbourg points, I’ve always looked at cases with that in mind.” He is also skeptical of the ‘human rights bandwagon” perhaps epitomized by Matrix Chambers which he thinks is suffering a tremendous backlash at the moment. “I think there are some exceptionally good people in Matrix -� I have instructed many of them �- Cherie Blair, Ben Emmerson, Antony White and Heather Rogers. “But I’m not sure that a set of chambers that sets out its stall to represent the Government, to make money from human rights is really where I feel enormous simpatico.” He confirms he has no need of the bandwagon: “I think I’m rolling on the bandwagon some miles down the road!” The fact that his formative education was spent at stage school and his further education making London rock, seems better suited to treading the boards of a courtroom than doling out advice from a solicitor’s office. Stephens admits to being tempted to the Bar, but denies being an exhibitionist: “At least I don’t think I am.” However his main reason for taking the solicitor route he says was money: “I didn’t have any and my parents certainly didn’t have any to fund me to become a barrister through pupilage and several years of poor income.” Unsurprisingly Stephens’ entry into the legal profession was not the usual one. His parents’ lodger just happened to be Peter Barnes who ‘discovered’ Elton John and Marc Bolan and published music for Pink Floyd. Stephens claims to have been tricked by Peter who persuaded him that as his lawyer he could do music and be a lawyer and “earn an absolute fortune”. “What he failed to tell me was that people in music industry make far more than their lawyers! I was mugged,” he exclaims. Stephens was characteristically at the beginning of a trend: “In those days intellectual property lawyers were a bunch of oddball boffins who either did patents in big firms or worked as trademark agents and then there were music lawyers. “There used to be a club and we used to meet every now and again and there were about 12 of us who used to meet and that was the music lawyers in London.” Now, of course, intellectual property is possibly the single largest growth industry in the law and expanding with the advent of new media such as the Internet. There was no way Stephens as solicitor would conform to traditional stereotype. He does not dole out advice from his office � or not nearly as much as he goes out to meet clients and public alike. He thinks the public perception of lawyers could be improved but, he says, lawyers are very good at speaking openly and directly: “When they talk to their friends they don’t talk in jargon, in ways that are intended to obscure things but when they talk to clients and the press they do tend to…” Stephens says it is basically about communication: “That you tell someone something crisply, cleanly and they’ll understand it.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.