This Mayfair media law expert rolls out the red carpet for a long list of showbiz VIPs, and about a dozen trainees.
We're gonna make you a star!
Melania Trump may not be everyone's favourite person, but she recently stuck it to theDaily Mail, so perhaps she'll squeeze onto a few people's Christmas card lists this year. In an article published in August 2016, the Mail falsely suggested Mrs Trump had gone one wayward step further than she actually had in her career as a professional model. She successfully won damages and an apology – and who did she have to thank? Harbottle & Lewis, of Hanover Square, Mayfair, who represented Mrs Trump in the proceedings. Plenty more of the glitterati can thank their lucky stars for Harbottle too; representing the well known is something of a forte. Recent clients include the Beckhams, Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian and more members of the Royal Family than you can count on one hand. While the firm also has plenty of business clients, it's expanded its offering to individuals recently, bringing in a three-partner family team from Lee & Thompson to further address the delicate needs of the much-written-about.
The media and entertainment practice is Harbottle's very own A-lister. The firm began with film and theatre work, but has moved with the times into music, TV and most recently video games. The media practice gets impressive rankings in Chambers UK and a top ranking also adorns the defamation/reputation management team. There's wider work too: sports, venture capital and corporate all offer diversity with the credibility of some respectable Chambers UK rankings. Well-known commercial clients include Virgin Atlantic, Paramount Pictures and ABC.
A couple of months before trainees start, they're asked to submit a list of the four seats they'd like to do. Preferences are then also discussed in appraisal meetings and can be changed. Although most trainees had got the seats they wanted, they told us: “We don't know how the decisions are made, so unless you speak up you could end up missing out on something you want to do.” That goes for client secondments too. Technology, media and entertainment (TME) is by far the most popular seat option. Many trainees have previous work experience in the entertainment or media sectors. “That's no coincidence,” proffered one interviewee.
Read nothing about it!
The much-vaunted TME team deals mostly with non-contentious contractual and IP law. Trainees spend their first three months doing either film, TV or theatre work, then cross the floor to join the music, tech, video games or sports teams – “though you do tend to work across the entire floor.” On the film side, trainees assist with drafting agreements. One told us: "We work on director's and writer's contracts, and on those for costume designers, production designers and actors. It's pretty cool getting to see what their demands are and what they get paid.” The firm mostly works with production companies, and Universal, Paramount and Amblin (formerly Dreamworks) have all walked Harbottle's red carpet. The firm is one of only two UK law firms to regularly act as production counsel on major Hollywood productions. It recently had a hand in the production of the Kingsman films, The BFG, Bridge of Spies and Jason Bourne. Meanwhile the theatre team advised the producers on all aspects of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child run in the West End, including rights, financing and contractual issues.
"It's pretty cool getting to see what their demands are and what they get paid.”
Skipping, spinning and sliding into the music team, trainees find a similar deal with lawyers working on agreements between artists, their record labels, publishers and management. The team's greatest hits include work with industry giant Universal Music, creator of beautiful bleeps and bloops Floating Points, and innovative music platforms like Mixcloud and Boiler Room. Interviewees had spent time “meeting clients, discussing their concerns and building relationships.” Trainees' other tune consisted of drafting contracts – sometimes from scratch, sometimes from precedent – in line with ongoing negotiations. For those of a sporting inclination, that team gets to grips with sponsorship and media rights deals, for instance for Nissan which it has advised on all its major sponsorships in the past five years including for the Champions League and International Cricket Council.
The litigation department is divided between a commercial litigation team and the media and information group (MIG). The latter is “especially popular” since it contains arguably the most intriguing work: reputation management. Lawyers here act for those who fall under the ever-intrusive public gaze, including a cast of celebs you and your nan have both heard of. That includes the Beckhams, Kim Kardashian, Kate Moss, Sir Richard Branson, Gordon Ramsay and senior royals. Even the Queen has given her royal blessing to the firm, filing a successful complaint against The Sun over its 'Queen backs Brexit' headline. Lawyers are tasked with limiting the damage of bad press coverage at all stages. Trainees told us: “We do pre-publication press management where we contact a person at a paper saying 'don't publish this story because X, Y and Z'. Then there's post-publication work where something defamatory or inaccurate has already been written and we have to write to the publication telling them to take it down.” As well as drafting and sending out such take-down notices, trainees are responsible for “monitoring websites and taking screen grabs – they can change at any time!” It's not a seat for the loose lipped: one trainee boasted that “you get to find out a lot of things you can't talk about.” Before moving into MIG, trainees spend their first three months doing commercial and IP work. That means brand management and protection for clients like the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Prince Harry's Invictus Games and Bounce, the table-tennis bar.
“You get to find out a lot of things you can't talk about.”
The corporate department used to place first-year trainees in the company secretarial subgroup, a quagmire of admin and menial tasks, “but having taken on feedback from our intake it has changed so that both trainees in that department sit with corporate partners. They get more frontline corporate work now.” That includes “drafting ancillary documents, share certificates or basic subscription letters when a start-up company is seeking investment.” The firm recently advised on start-up investments for children's TV app Hopster, rental app Goodlord, and Ethiopian agribusiness Verde Beef. As well as start-up work – which trainees described as “less faceless” – the team draws plenty of corporate work from the media and entertainment industries. A trainee reflected: "There are times when you are doing support work like getting bibles ready and preparing for completions, but you accept that – there's enough other work to make you feel you're still learning.”
Namaste or namas-go?
You've heard of flexible working, but Harbottle & Lewis has given it a whole new meaning: employees can breathe slow, relax and arrange themselves in contorted positions at free yoga classes held in the office throughout the week. There are fitness and zumba classes too, all run in a large space described as being “like an old school hall. Everyone eats lunch in there too, so they just move all the chairs back.” Harbottle's yogis can boast of their feats of flexibility over a free lunch (that's right, we said it) provided every day, which serves as the focal point of this little community. “Everyone sits together to eat lunch, whether you're support staff or an equity partner," one trainee told us. "We all chat and there's a strict 'no phone' policy to make sure we get on socially rather than just as 'business associates'." Another source commented: “We're not tiny, we've got around 100 lawyers, but I feel that in larger firms departments might be siloed off – here everyone knows everyone.”
Though there are well-being classes on tap, nobody wants to stay at work indefinitely, and good news – you don't have to. Trainees told us: “We don't work City hours here.” Instead rookies' regular hours are 9am to 7pm. “There's been the odd late evening," one interviewee reported, "but by late I mean 9pm, and the latest I've ever stayed is 10pm. It's not stressful at all.”
Trainees did register a little higher for stress when approaching qualification, however. “There isn't really a process," one told us. "You effectively express interest in a department and then hope for the best.” One or two trainees' stress levels ratcheted up while explaining this in fact. “To be honest I think it's run terribly,” were one interviewee's strong words. “They decided not to publish a list of vacancies, so everything depends on you contacting partners you may never have spoken to.” At the end of the day threeof six qualifiers were retained in 2017.
How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract
As you might expect, there's plenty of clamour for a training contract at Harbottle & Lewis. The firm usually receives around 400 applications a year for its five or six vacancies.
Harbottle doesn't run a vac scheme, so all applications for training contracts must be made directly. It's rare to find the firm at any university law fairs or recruitment events, so you can't rely on charming the powers that be into giving you an interview. Rather you've got to make sure your typewritten application form is sufficiently impressive and shows off your personality.
The firm vets all applicants for grades: an upper 2:1 and AAB at A level (or the equivalent) are required. Be sure to explain any mitigating circumstances in your application form if your scores don't quite match the brief.
Insiders told us the first interview is “more of a meet and greet” than a formal assessment. “It's not too taxing and mostly entails going over your application,” said one trainee, adding: “The underlying judgement was: Can we work with you? Do you have the right social skills? Do you really want to work for our firm?'”
Those who successfully navigate this are invited to complete psychometric tests.
The second interview is held with training principal Melanie Benson and the director of HR, Helen Loughlin. Current trainees recalled this interview as being “a bit tougher and bit more nerve-racking than the first. You're made to think on your feet about technical law questions.” Nevertheless, they agreed “it's a fair interview – they're definitely not trying be cruel or make you panic.”
Former training principal Sandy Simons offers this advice for impressing at interview: “It's about being bright, about showing you have a real interest in coming to Harbottle & Lewis and can explain why. Beyond that, we also want someone who is personable and easy to get along with.”
Most of our interviewees this year had some media sector work experience before joining. While media sector industry experience isn’t necessary, candidates should have some legal experience under their belt. This especially applies to those who haven't done a law degree, as it helps to demonstrate a commitment to the profession.
One more thing: applicants seeking sponsorship are now required to undertake their LPC at the University of Law and to choose specific electives, including international commercial law and international IP. Non-law students are encouraged to obtain their GDL at ULaw too.
More on media, showbiz and entertainment
Harbottle & Lewis LLP
14 Hanover Square,
- Partners 42
- Number of non-partner UK qualified solicitors 58
- Total trainees 11 (first and second-years)
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruitment: Lisa Lacuna, [email protected], 020 7667 5000
- Training partner: Melanie Benson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5-6
- Applications pa: 400
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 (AAB) or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 May 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Post-qualification salary: £57,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days in the first year and 26 days in the second year
- LPC fees: Paid and interest-free loan towards maintenance
Examples of these include Working Title; Universal Music; Nissan; Emirates; Magic Light; National Theatre; Open Table; Hachette UK; Take-Two Interactive/Rockstar Games; The England Cricket Team; Angelina Jolie; Melania Trump, Niklas Zennström (founder of Skype), CrowdEmotion and Virgin Group.
Main areas of work
We pride ourselves on giving specialist commercial advice to clients in all areas of the communications and creative industries including advertising, broadcasting, charity, digital media, fashion, film, music, publishing, sponsorship, sport, television, theatre and video games. As we have been at the centre of many of these industries’ largest and most high profile transactions and cases, we have a strong reputation for our work in these areas.