Distinguished law graduate receives alumni award
Alumnus Stephen Sly (LLB Law, 1984) received the Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award on Thursday 23 July 2015, during a graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Award recognises alumni who have achieved distinction in their profession and made outstanding contributions to business and community life, and is named in honour of our late former Vice-Chancellor.
Having grown up in rural Newport, Stephen narrowly avoided a career as a pilot when he opted to study law at Sheffield instead after a friend in the year above told him that “University was good fun”, that Sheffield had a fantastic law school, and a vibrant dance and music scene. This was the era of The Human League, ABC, New Order and Heaven 17.
After graduation Stephen completed his postgraduate studies and worked for a variety of firms before being poached by DLA Piper in 1999. He served as Managing Partner of DLA Piper’s Sheffield office from 2006 for five years. In 2009, he was elected to the International Board of DLA Piper and since 2011 has been Global Co-Chair of the International Litigation Group, the largest of its kind in the world. He is highly respected in his field, with considerable experience in handling commercial litigation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution.
Stephen is proud of his links to the University and has been an active alumnus, hosting events at DLA Piper, being our guest of honour at the 2014 Alumni Reunion Dinner, and taking part in our City Connections Outreach programme.
However, it is for Stephen’s outstanding pro bono legal work towards the creation of SITraN (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience) that he received his nomination for this award. SITraN is a world leading research centre for neurological diseases, led by Professor Dame Pamela Shaw.
Stephen first got involved in SITraN during a dinner held by DLA Piper to attract interest and raise awareness for the Institute – and it was there that he first heard Professor Shaw talk about the devastation that Motor Neurone Disease (MND) causes. Her passion and advocacy was powerful, and despite having no family links to MND, Stephen committed unconditionally to helping her.
Stephen volunteered his own time to assist with the development of the charity, specifically the legal intricacies, and devoted considerable time and energy over many years to bring the project to fruition. Stephen was both a Trustee and the Chair of the Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease (SIFMND), the charity established to raise funds for Professor Shaw’s vision of a new research institute, and he became the key link between the University and the charity. The tipping point in the project was when the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir Keith Burnett, and Stephen, on behalf of the charity, committed to the project in what was really an act of faith.
SIFMND’s fundraising eventually donated over £8 million to for the University – the largest philanthropic gift since its foundation in 1905. SITraN was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in November 2010, and her recognition of the Institute’s work brought hope to thousands of patients with MND and Parkinson’s disease.
Beyond this, Stephen is also a strong supporter of our Law School, with a particular interest in widening participation activities. It is for this and more that we are proud to recognise Stephen as one of our most distinguished Sheffield Alumni.
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