Stewarts celebrates 20 years in Leeds with a renewed focus on innovative, complex legal disputes
Fast forward two decades to today and much has changed, but Stewarts has maintained and built upon its Leeds and London footprint, working on the most complex cases for business and individual clients while staying true to its local communities.
From tiny acorns…
The Stewarts that first moved into Leeds was a very different firm to that of today. “Back then we were very much focused on personal injury and clinical negligence work”, Head of Leeds Dan Herman recalls. Initially the firm’s small group of lawyers and staff all worked from the same base in London, but as Stewarts’ reputation grew it became clear that geographic expansion was also necessary. “It’s fair to say that a lot of people in the North of England wanted to instruct us having learned about our practice, but their preference was to go with a local firm,” Dan explains. “The time was right to launch another office, and Leeds was the obvious choice.”
As the firm’s resident northerner, Dan was offered the chance to lead the new base, joined at first by just one staff member who remains with the firm today. “We wanted to start an office that would meet the needs of seriously injured people in the North,” Dan says. “Since then we have had several big milestones of adding new practices, and the office has grown significantly from just me and a temp to upwards of 70 people.”
Alongside the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence teams, Stewarts’ Leeds base is now also home to Divorce and Family, Commercial Litigation and Competition Litigation practices. Broadening quantity has come without compromising quality: “Each of our teams has been ranked by the independent legal directories as working in the top tier of their practice area within the Yorkshire market,” Dan notes. “Our aim was always to set up market-leading departments in Leeds, and we have achieved that.”
“Stewarts’ presence in Leeds demonstrates that it has always been a myth that the best legal work in the country is only run out of London,” Dan says. “Some of the largest commercial and competition disputes have been run by partners in our Leeds office”.
He cites the example of the Mastercard interchange fee litigation, where the UK Supreme Court ruled that the credit card giant’s fixing of interchange fees over many years infringed competition law. Head of Competition Kate Pollock, who has previously in her career worked in the capital, led from Leeds in what the Commercial Court described as “the largest and most complex cartel damages claim conducted in the English Courts to date”.
Top level work inevitably attracts top level talent, and Dan pinpoints that one of the major successes of the Leeds team has been “being able to prise people away from leading London firms to come work in Leeds and in Yorkshire”. Divorce and Family partner Lisette Dupré has made the move and previously recounted her experience to the Yorkshire Post. Ellie Hampson-Jones previously worked for a law firm and other companies in the City; commercial litigation senior associate Ed Holmes trained and qualified in an American law firm in London before relocating to Leeds; and associate Kate Howard has also worked in both cities.
Dan acknowledges that while Stewarts’ premium legal offering is an attractive enough proposition for the very best lawyers, the allure of Yorkshire as a place to live and work helps as well. “When convincing lawyers to join us, it is helpful to point out that this area is such a great place to live and work,” he says. “People sometimes want to move here for family reasons and they can either be part of a bustling city which is very different to London, or live just half an hour away from the office in amazing countryside.”
What comes next?
It’s easy to get nostalgic when an anniversary looms, but the team’s focus is firmly on building the future. “What comes next for the Leeds office is inextricably linked to the strategy of Stewarts as a whole,” Dan confirms. “We have evolved a long way and will continue to grow, but our plan is very much to maintain our two existing bases. The vision for Stewarts is to continue significant growth in the types of work we do and to add critical mass to our existing departments, and Leeds will be a part of that.”
With no access to a crystal ball, and AI yet to learn how to see into the future, there is of course an element of guesswork in what comes next. “When we look back to 20 years ago and compare it to now, legal practice has totally changed,” Dan says. “One of the reasons why Stewarts has been successful and continues to be successful is because as times change, we evolve and innovate to continue to best meet the needs of our clients. The greatest challenge will be determining how we continue to do that.”
One thing, he says, is for certain: Stewarts will continue as a pioneering force in the Leeds legal market, and Yorkshire’s largest city will remain central to the firm’s objectives as each team finds new ways to meet the needs of their clients. With change comes opportunity, and Stewarts is well placed to be the leading voice in legal disputes as those opportunities arise.