Left right, left right
Latterly an MP in Clement Attlee's Labour government, Mr Lewis Silkin founded the firm that bears his name in 1920, and in doing so initiated its long-standing commitment to social housing projects. Then, in the 1980s the firm was the first to advertise its services on a billboard, and today the burgeoning media department works with leading figures across the ad industry, including Labour and Tory favourites Saatchi & Saatchi.
The firm recently opened a new office in Cardiff, and training principal Lisa Patmore told us: “We want to keep growing our core areas in employment, creative industries, and real estate development and regeneration.”
The employment, media and mid-market corporate/M&A departments are all top ranked by Chambers UK, and the firm offers trainees seats in employment, reward and immigration; media, brands and technology; real estate/development; corporate; and litigation.
If there was any dissatisfaction among the trainees we spoke to, it was to do with the seat allocation system. One trainee described the process as “a game of luck,” while another said: “The decision-making process doesn't seem all that clear. They're not very open about it.” Most of our insiders, however, were fairly happy with where they had been placed, and Lisa Patmore told us: “We give each trainee two priority seats between their second and fifth seats, but we do also try to accommodate them in their desired departments for the rest of their training contract.”
House of Fazer
Employment is a regular stop for trainees, and the department accounts for 40% of the firm's revenue. It hosts 86 employment law specialists, making it the largest department of its kind in the South of England, and attracts names like Nokia, MTV and Marks & Spencer. “It's a great seat because of the range of work on offer to trainees,” one source said. “You get to run some smaller claims by yourself, but then you also get the experience of working as part of the team on the high-value litigation disputes. I was drafting witness statements and correspondence and getting involved in giving advice to clients.”
Another trainee mentioned “really interesting work for major football clubs,” while a senior associate in the department was recently quoted by the BBC on points relating to the law surrounding unpaid internships after it transpired that David Gauke, HMRC minister and MP for South West Hertfordshire, was advertising for an unpaid graduate position in his constituency office.
The media department was another popular stop for our interviewees. It deals with film/TV, music, theatre, advertising/marketing, publishing and interactive content matters. One trainee told us: “The work is contentious and non-contentious, and there's a huge amount of scope and variety in terms of the cases you might be working on. You get a lot of responsibility, and it feels like there's loads going on.” Another said: “The media side of the firm is booming – it's a really exciting seat to be in.” The department recently represented both Fazer and Tulisa from N-Dubz, winning an undisclosed six-figure sum for Tulisa after her sex tape was leaked online. It also won a settlement for Holly Willoughby when the Sunday Sport faked an up-skirt shot of the TV presenter.
Over in real estate/development, the work is split between social housing and commercial projects. “I found that you had a lot of responsibility,” one trainee told us. “You're given your own small files to manage, which might be something like a property sale, and you keep control of them right up to completion.” Another said: “I managed four different cases from start to finish in the course of four months. Each was the sale of a residential property. The supervision is really good, and I was left to do as much as I possibly could so as to get the experience, though I knew help was always on hand if I needed it. You have to be quick, efficient and responsive.”
The commercial branch has advised Fulham FC on plans to expand Craven Cottage stadium and helped EDF Energy with a National Grid tunnel-building project worth £6bn. The social housing branch works on regeneration and development projects in areas like Elephant and Castle and Notting Hill. You can read more about social housing at Lewis Silkin in our bonus features.
Fulham FC works closely with the firm on immigration matters, and trainees seeking plenty of client exposure need look no further: “I was regularly spending two days a week with clients independently. Most of the work involves preparing visa applications for employees at large companies, and I was drawing up contracts for foreign professional footballers and rugby players who were coming to play in the UK. I also got to go to the Border Agency's Public Enquiry Office, and there's lots of scope for advocacy. Sometimes the work gets repetitive, but it's really satisfying when one of your applications is granted.”
Speaking of advocacy, another trainee said this of their time in the litigation department: “I went up in front of a Master at a bankruptcy hearing. It was terrifying. I was on my own, and I had only just started the seat! That said, it was such a great experience.”
A quick word on the corporate department: it has carved out a spot of its own in London's lower mid-market. It has “a lot of advertising agencies” on the books and also acted for United Agents on its acquisition of the share capital of AP Watt, one of the oldest literary agents in the business. It's a “really nice department,” said sources, and “good to be in as a trainee because you can get involved in the smaller cases, drafting share-holders agreements and board minutes.”
One of our sources said “it's a really positive place, and you feel that at all levels.” Although this may sound like we've merely mic'd-up the marketing channels, the fact that Lewis Silkin regularly appears on The Sunday Times' '100 Best Companies to Work For' list does lend some weight to the suggestion that it's an enjoyable place to work.
Charity work is “really important” to the firm, and one recent money-spinner saw the firm keeping bees on the roof of the Chancery Lane office and selling the honey they made to raise funds for a London children's hospice. Staff across the firm also completed the Three Peaks challenge for charity, and there has been talk of a sponsored cycle ride to Amsterdam.
Trainees spoke very highly of the social life, which includes dinner in a swanky West End hotel around Christmas, regular departmental curries and Friday night drinks across the road at Baranis wine bar, where “there are always people from across the firm, and the bar staff know us by name now, for better or worse.” While late nights in the office are not unheard of, particularly in litigation, “a normal day is 9am to 7pm,” so there's plenty of time for getting acquainted with staff (and local bar staff, apparently) after hours.
The current trainee intake includes a former literary agent, a one-time antiques dealer and a couple of round-the-world explorers. So what do Lewis Silkin's trainees have in common? “If there's anything, it's that the people here are all really interesting, and most have a particular talent of some kind, whether it's playing sport or a certain instrument.” Another source said: “We're all good with people.” Perhaps the final word should go to the trainee who told us: “Everyone is here to be part of the firm and part of the team; there's never any kind of competitiveness or one-upmanship.”
Lewis Silkin offers a training contract that's a bit different from the standard. In 2013 the firm was happy to report it retained all seven of its qualifiers.
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These firms with a strong media law practice:
- Collyer Bristow
- Davenport Lyons
- Farrer & Co
- Harbottle & Lewis