While Stephen Hopwood may have only just recently been ann-ounced as managing partner at Harrogate-based McCormicks Solicitors, in reality he has already been carrying out additional duties since the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Hopwood, who is also head of family law at the firm, said: “What happened was at the start of the lockdown, because my job allows me to be in the office as I have ongoing cases – family lawyers are designated key workers – it became logical that I would start picking up day-to-day matters, staffing issues more and more.”
Peter McCormick, who established McCormicks in 1987, at the same time had a growing role with the Football Association.
“Peter, through no fault of his own, has been in London for the past few years whereas I am physically in the building all the time,” Mr Hopwood added.
His career in the legal profession began in 1995 after a stint working as a caseworker at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Mr Hopwood said: “I entered the civil service and then I transferred to the CPS. I saw the work that the lawyers did and it was something that I was always interested in.
“I worked at the CPS for four or five years and started my legal training part-time while I worked there.”
It was the forensic ability of lawyers that he found most interesting.
“The fact that they had to absorb a lot of information very quickly and to present a compelling case,” he says. “I just thought they were really good at it and I found that really interesting, getting to grips with a case and then presenting it at its best.”
In 1995, the same year that he got married, Mr Hopwood started to convert his history degree into formal legal training.
He got his training contract at York-based law firm Pheby and Co in 2001.
“It wasn’t like a training contract at a big firm,” Mr Hopwood says. “I was just expected to get on with the caseload from day one. Having already been in the legal sphere I felt able to do that.”
After leaving Pheby and Co, Mr Hopwood moved to Stowe Family Law in Harrogate. He would spend seven years at the specialist family law firm.
“When I worked at my first firm I realised I was really interested in family law,” Mr Hopwood says. “Anything client-facing is what I’m interested in. I’m interested in jobs where you meet people and deal with people.
“I’ve always done litigation so family law became a better and better fit.”
He joined McCormicks in 2013 after deciding that he wanted “a bit more autonomy”.
Mr Hopwood had “kept an eye” on what Mr McCormick had been doing with the founder of the law firm enjoying a high profile with his work in professional football in particular making him stand out amongst lawyers in the region.
“When the opportunity came up to move to McCormicks, I was really interested because of the reputation of the firm, the client base but also the fact that it was still on the high street,” Mr Hopwood said.
He added: “You are getting day to day cases but then you’re getting big cases off the back of the firm’s reputation. I was taken on to develop the family department and that’s what I have done.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has made life hard for small high street firms such as McCormicks, which has 30 staff including seven partners.
However, the new managing partner is steadfast in his belief that there is still a place for law firms on the high street.
He said: “We’ve got clients who wouldn’t feel able to engage with us in any other way. Some of our clients are very vulnerable. That’s one of the realities of working on the high street. You’ve got vulnerable people to look after.”
Over the past year, it’s building has fallen silent like a lot of high street premises and the pandemic has affected the firm in different ways.
Some staff have had to brave the virus and come in while others have had to face isolation at home. Situations that Mr Hopwood says he worries about.
“In terms of finances, we have weathered it well because we are diverse and one side of the practice can look after the other but it has had an affect,” he added.
The legal industry itself has also seen a shift towards greater use of technology. But the new managing partner of McCormicks doesn’t believe that it means the end to face-to-face work post-pandemic.
Mr Hopwood said: “The larger corporate firms will reduce their office space forever and I think they will use Zoom calls etc. My practice will probably go back to pretty much as it was, certainly on the client-facing side of the practice.”
He added: “More cases I think will be heard remotely. People will just be used to it. I’ve had administrative hearings that are 150 miles away that have now taken me ten minutes to get to. People will wake up to that fact and say why don’t we just do this by phone. But cases that require evidence and things like that will need to be back live. They don’t work as well, whatever anyone says.”
Despite the promotion, Mr Hopwood insists this is still very much Peter McCormick’s firm, who has the title of senior partner.
He said: “It is what Peter has created in terms of the diversity and the sustainability of the practice.”
Mr Hopwood will also be keeping his title of head of family law at the firm with a “very good support network” for him to fall back on. “I’ve got plans to expand the department this year to take on another member of staff to help me move forward,” he says.
He said its too early to start talking about future plans.
“The focus really is to navigate our way out of the pandemic and then take stock and see where we are in terms of the future.
“On the high street it’s very difficult to do anything else. Big corporate firms can and do make plans but they are not exposed to it as much as we are.”
It may be a strange time to be taking on the role of managing partner of a high street law firm but Mr Hopwood has proven so far that he might just be the right person for the job.
Job title: Managing partner at McCormicks Solicitors
Date of birth: 05.07.71
Education: Pocklington School, University of Northumbria, College of Law
First job: Kitchen porter whilst at college
Favourite holiday destination: Remote Scottish Isles
Favourite film: Withnail and I
Favourite song: Rush, Finding My Way
Last book read: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Car driven: BMW touring
Most proud of: My family
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