Stone King’s Chair, Alison Allen, has just achieved the impressive milestone of a quarter of a century at the Bath-headquartered law firm.
She joined the firm in 1998 as a solicitor in the Trusts and Estates Team, at a time when Stone King had just one other office in London. Since then, it has grown considerably and now operates nationally, with additional offices in Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds and Manchester
The focus then, as it is now, was on the firm’s work for the charity, education and private client sectors. These days, the firm also specialises in business & social enterprise and faith law, with Stone King top-ranked by independent legal guides Chambers and the Legal 500.
“I was five years qualified when I came to Stone King and had just had my first child, my eldest daughter, who was just one,” said Alison.
“What struck me about Stone King was the quality of the work and the high degree of professionalism, balanced with a friendly, supportive culture and a strong family focus.
“It wasn’t easy being a professional woman with a family back then. Enhanced maternity leave wasn’t around in the profession in the 90s and people just weren’t looked after as much as they are now.
“Like many women then, I went back to work when my eldest daughter was 16 weeks old, which was very difficult.
“When I had my twins three years later, I managed to take six months off. Of course, it was still very hard working and caring for a young family; I can remember having to prepare 18 bottles of milk every day before I came to work.
“I’m so pleased that, at Stone King, women are now supported to take a year out on maternity leave, with paternity leave also very much the standard.”
Juggling work and family is always a challenge, but there were additional hurdles.
“When I started, there was quite a big recession and training contracts, or ‘articles’, as they were called in those days, were really quite difficult to get,” Alison added.
“I trained at a firm in Bristol and was really thrown in at the deep end and expected to hit the ground running – but that was good experience, looking back.
“There were, unfortunately, some men who, when they found out I had a family, would say things like, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a family, I thought you were a career woman.” There was an assumption there, an assumption that I couldn’t have both.
“In my previous firm, I used to be mistaken for a secretary, and once had someone mistake my male trainee for my manager.
“For a long time in my career, I was the only woman in a lot of meetings and, as I became more senior, I felt very strongly that it was part of my duty and responsibility to change that. Obviously, it’s not something I’ve done on my own, but I have tried to be a voice for women in particular.”
As well as being Stone King’s Chair, Alison is Head of the firm’s Private Client Sector. She advises on general private client matters, including inheritance tax, trust drafting and administration and Wills. She also specialises in advising older and vulnerable clients and their families and carers, something she particularly enjoys.
“I think it’s because I like looking after people.” Alison said.
“For some of our older clients who’ve got nobody else, we are the only people in their corner. We can make a real difference to somebody’s life and we can really make sure they’re looked after. I like doing that.”
Alison also enjoys the estate planning and Will writing work. “To do this well we have to understand the complexities of tax, of course, but we also need to appreciate what is important to our clients. Some people think a Will is just a piece of paper – it’s not. It’s the last communication you have with your loved ones. We aim to give our clients peace of mind and confidence that those they care about will be taken care of.”
A lot has changed in the legal sector since Alison began training as a lawyer, not least people being able to smoke in the office, no computers and a mountain of paperwork and post.
These days, technology has aided the legal sector, benefitting clients who can’t come into the office. It also means the days of being surrounded by papers are, thankfully, long gone.
There have been societal changes too, with law firms, like wider society, recognising the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
“At Stone King, it’s become the norm to accept that it is the responsibility of those leading to implement changes,” Alison said.
“Even though we’ve got a way to go, as an organisation there’s a real commitment to getting there.
“I’m pleased and proud of the fact that DE&I has become central to everything that we do.
“We’re also involved in several projects and initiatives that aim to diversify the legal profession and provide more opportunities to people from low-income and other under-represented backgrounds, such as our partnerships with Bright Network, Tutors United, our participation in the 10,000 Black Interns scheme, and the fact that we are a Disability Confident Employer.
“I also think our apprenticeships are fantastic.
“They’re one of the best things that have happened to enable people to come into law and feel like there’s a route through for them.”
With Stone King continuing to enjoy further growth, the firm’s clients remain very much at the heart of the matter.
“I’m very fortunate to be where I am,” Alison added. “I’ve benefitted hugely from working with some really brilliant, stimulating, highly capable people, but, at the end of the day, what it’s all about is being able to serve our clients, that will always be the most important part of what I do.”