Stephen Levinson (Leading employment lawyer 1974 to 2021)

ELA has opened a book of condolence in which ELA members may leave their messages, which will be passed onto Stephen's family. The book will be open until 28 February and can be accessed here.

Eulogy by Fraser Younson, Life Vice President, ELA

It was about 40+ years ago that Stephen and I both decided (quite independently) to be specialist employment lawyers. There were only a small handful of us then. Over 40 years later the employment lawyers’ community has extended to several thousand specialists in a legal environment where most law firms have specialist employment law teams. Until about 20 years ago, employment law was seen by many law firms as a “soft” option – little did they know how it would grow and become so central to business law. I first came across Stephen in those early days – mostly as an opponent in both contentious and non-contentious matters, but also via the Industrial law Society!

Stephen was one of the driving forces and pioneers of employment law in those early days, right through to his recent “retirement”. His style was not to self-publicise his considerable contribution, but to roll up his sleeves and get on with it. He was wholly committed to putting employment law on the map and to play an integral part in this.

Stephen and I shared a long and deep interest in employment law and how it developed in the UK and, in later years, internationally. We were what one might call “early employment law nerds” – in an honourable way! Sometimes, in discussions on the employment aspects of a corporate transaction in which we were opponents, we would just go “off piste” and have intriguing debates on some of the nicer points of employment law – even if not directly relevant to the matters at hand! In these encounters it was always fun and illuminating. Stephen was always courteous and constructive, he listened to opposing points of view and rarely (if ever) pushed a bad point. It was a mark of him as an excellent lawyer that he was able to do this.

One of Stephen’s great strengths was that he was politely tenacious if he believed he was correct on a point or needed answers or action. I recall many meetings with him, when as part of an ELA delegation, we would meet annually with the EU Commission. One of the challenges of such meetings was to extract information from the EU Commission which, on occasions, it seemed reluctant to give. Stephen was a master at not being ‘fobbed off” by evasive answers from civil servants or opponents! If he thought something was wrong or someone was being evasive, he would say so and not shrink from that. This also included some of his many interactions, on behalf of ELA, with Dept of BEIS (and its earlier iterations) where he would always give insightful and pragmatic input to Government.

Stephen’s style as a lawyer was wholly professional, courteous and thoughtful. His enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, employment law often gave him the edge over his opponents. He occasionally could be a stickler for doing things the “right way” – but often for good reason! He was also a generous, trustworthy and kind professional colleague and opponent.

Stephen started his employment law career in the early 1970s with Paisner & Co, where he spent 27 years (most as Head of its Employment Department), before subsequently joining other firms. He was a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and an active member of the Employment Law Advocacy and Advice Service for almost 20 years.

Stephen was one of the very early members of the Industrial Law Society, which he actively supported throughout his career – including as Chair and Vice President. He was an ever-present attendee at the ILS’s annual conferences in Oxford. He was a member of the Law Society’s Employment Law sub-committee. He was also one of the very early members of ELA and served on most of its Committees – including as Chair of the Publishing Committee, Vice-Chair and Treasurer of ManCo, and on the Legislative & Policy and the International Committees. He was an avid and enthusiastic participant in these committees. I doubt whether there has been anyone who has been so actively involved in ELA and for so long. I don’t think the true extent of his contribution to the development of ELA has ever been fully recognised. It has been very considerable. But the one thing that I used to really enjoy most over the years, in addition to our expansive debates, was his monthly column in ELA Briefing which was written with wit and great insight. I really do not know how Stephen fitted it all in, especially over so many years.

Stephen was one-of-a-kind who was bold and did not shrink from saying what he felt needed to be said. His various contributions certainly made a real difference. ELA and the wider employment law community will miss him greatly.

Fraser Younson

Life Vice-President

Employment Lawyers Association

18 January 2021