Much like Tom Cruise, Harbottle is small in size but big news in the entertainment biz.
You schmooze, you lose
Oxford Street may be best known for its mega shops and stampeding tourists, but head around the block and you'll find one of the best law firms in the biz. Harbottle & Lewis is renowned as a media and entertainment mogul, and regularly has a hand in the industry's headlines, advising as it does the likes of the Royal Household and the Beckhams (the other royal household). “You just have to look up to see the impact of your work – it's all over the billboards!” one of the firm's 11 trainees enthused. That said, “nobody is here to meet celebs,” a trainee insisted. “Sure, I know someone who once walked into a room and stumbled upon Prince Harry, but it's rare to get exposure at the junior level, and honestly the novelty wears off after a while. We're here because we're interested in how the law applies to the industry, not because we're after an autograph.”
Harbottle earns top-notch Chambers UK rankings for its media expertise, which covers the advertising, digital media, fashion, film, gaming, music, publishing, sport, television and theatre spheres. But while there's no disputing its entertainment know-how, it's actually a full-service firm. Chambers UK also recognises Harbottle's corporate, private equity, employment, real estate, IP and family work. Clearly, this is no one-hit wonder.
The firm assigns all four of a trainee's seats before they start, though “it's not unheard of to switch seats later.” Overall, the allocation process got a thumbs-up from our interviewees: “They try to accommodate your preferences and do a good job. But sometimes it's not possible to get what you want. There's a client secondment with Virgin Atlantic, for example, that's especially sought after, as is the media seat.”
The latter – officially titled technology, media and entertainment – covers various arty industries like film, music and theatre. “Theatre work is one of the things we're best known for.” The teams recently acted as lead adviser on tons of West End productions, including The Book of Mormon and Wicked, and worked with the National Theatre and Universal Studios. On the publishing side, meanwhile, there are plenty of heavyweight houses on the books, like Hachette UK and Oxford University Press, and the music group acts for Universal Music. And over in film, the likes of Dreamworks and Microsoft regularly arrive on scene. Lawyers recently represented Monty Python on its reunion stadium show Monty Python Live (mostly), and worked on Universal Pictures films Dracula Untold and The Huntsman.
Typically, trainees join the media department in pairs and while they physically sit in different parts of the department, they get the chance to take on all kinds of work. Drafting tends to make up “a big part” of the seat; our sources had tackled everything from terms and conditions to publishing agreements to casting contracts “for very well-known actors.” One told us: “It's a busy seat and it's easy to take on too much, but the work is so interesting – you see household name after household name.”
Over in litigation, the department is divided between the commercial litigation team and the media and information group (MIG), which “does a lot of reputation management for celebs like Kate Moss.” Trainees usually work across both groups but “lean more towards the commercial side,” which “is mostly court-based – we often appear in front of a master at the RCJ, draft witness statements and give instructions to counsel. The MIG side revolves around things like defamation and privacy, so there you're monitoring news stories and generally trying to keep things out of The Sun.” As one trainee pointed out: “The media and entertainment industry naturally plays a huge part in what the litigation department does, but we do a lot of other types of cases too.” Indeed, the team recently advised The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.
Corporate takes on two trainees at a time: a first-year who sits in the company secretarial subgroup and a second-year who tackles the rest. The former is typically tasked with admin duties “like completing Companies House forms and drafting basic board minutes,” while the latter "is more likely to be researching who the major players are in recent mergers, drafting share certificates and attending completions." Despite the delineation between the two roles, "it's a small team at the end of the day, so tasks for both trainees can be reasonably meaty. You're not locked in a data room or photocopying for months on end.” Once again “a lot of clients are media and entertainment-related,” though there are a few outliers in other sectors. “We get entrepreneurs and start-ups at the seed investment stage right up to the fully fledged companies.” In recent months the firm has acted for Forward Internet Group, Sixth Music Group and Boomf, a start-up founded by the Duchess of Cambridge's brother that trades in 'multi-sensory magical marshmallows' (£15 a box – who are you people?).
Drinking from the 'bottle
Our interviewees unanimously described Harbottle as "a friendly and open place," with one telling us: “I've been struck by how nice and approachable everyone is, partners included. They told us all during our first week that speaking down to people isn't tolerated, and the partners seem keen to ensure that's maintained. Laurence Harbottle, the co-founder of the firm, set that tone. He used to go around saying hello to everyone.” Sources also praised the way "it's really easy to get to know everyone. The firm isn't huge to start with, but it helps that we do a lot of cross-departmental brainstorming and that the firm provides a free hot lunch every day. Everybody sits together and just chats away." Regular social fixtures also keep tongues wagging. “There's an unwritten tradition of Friday night drinks at the Duke of York or Bonds,” as well as an annual bowling bash and a much-lauded Christmas party, held last year at a private members' club. “The dress code was 'dress to impress' and the theme was 'hats' – one person turned up wearing a turkey dinner on their head!”
Our interviewees described the work/life balance at Harbottle as “pretty good. Standard hours are 9.30am to 6pm, and you only stay late occasionally – if it's film finance season in media, for example. They encourage us to go home at a reasonable time if our work is done.” The trade-off? “Our salaries are a bit below par.” Trainees start on £32,500, and NQs get £54,000. “It's not quite market rate, even for media, but I think it's worth it for the work/life balance," one opined. "And it's not like I'm struggling to pay the rent! People don't come here because they want to make City salaries." Instead, our interviewees were mainly drawn to Harbottle for the chance to “work in an exciting industry. A lot of us are passionate about media and entertainment – many trainees arrive here after getting some industry experience, like running theatre shows or working in a publishing house. We love the spheres in which the firm operates, and applicants should too if they want to get a training contract.”
The media group often has more demand than supply for NQ roles, but keep in mind that the firm's other departments still see media clients. In 2015, three of Harbottle's five second-years took up jobs with the firm.
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How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016
As you might expect, there's plenty of clamour for a training contract at Harbottle & Lewis. The firm received over 400 applications in 2014 for just five training contracts. For the 2014/15 year, three trainees started in September, while the other two did so in March.
Harbottle doesn't run a vac scheme, so all applications are made directly for a training contract. 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.
Applications which pass muster are handed over to five senior associates or partners who decide who to interview.
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: 'Are you a normal person? Can we work with you? Do you have the right social skills?'”
Those who successfully navigate this are invited to a second interview, this time with trainee partners Sandi Simons and Abi Payne, before speaking with Caroline West, head of HR, later the same day. Current trainees recalled the interview with the partners as “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.” Afterwards candidates undergo a two-and-a-half-hour long written examination.
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. “We don't necessarily require industry experience,” Simons clarifies, “but candidates should have some sort of experience relating to the law. This especially applies to those who haven't done a law degree. We don't take people on without some clear evidence this is what they want to do.”
One more thing: applicants seeking sponsorship are now required to undertake their LPC at the University of Law and to choose from specific electives, including international commercial law and international IP. Non-law students are encouraged to obtain their GDL there too.
More on media, showbiz and entertainment
The trainees we spoke to at Harbottle were keen to stress that their days aren't spent schmoozing around town and sipping frothy coffees with the stars of stage, screen and sport. This firm, they emphasised, isn't interested in “people who want to meet celebs or just think media law is glamorous and sexy.” Au contraire, this is serious legal business that's focused on the commercial aspects of the creative industries. Don't forget, “the people you deal with are agents and production studios; it's not like you're on phone with starry clients.” Still, there's no denying Harbottle is the cat's pyjamas when it comes to media law, and new joiners can expect a very intriguing selection of cases at hand.
One of the main missions of Harbottle is to protect the privacy of high-profile clients and strike when media activity starts getting libellous. Take the example of comedian Russell Brand: when the Sun on Sunday published the front-page headline “Russell cheated on his Jemima with me,” Harbottle lawyers sprang to action to quash these false claims of Brand's unfaithfulness. Thanks to the work of the firm's litigators, Brand won the case and vowed to donate his damages to “diverse, just and decent causes.” Recently, solicitors have taken on other defamation and reputation management cases on behalf of David and Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and, thanks to a certain nude Las Vegas débâcle, Prince Harry.
Theatre work has been an integral part of Harbottle's caseload since the firm's beginnings in the 1950s. Today it advises on more West End productions than any other firm, having worked on shows like Wicked, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Book of Mormon. When productions transfer between the West End and Broadway, Harbottle is on hand to advise with the financing. The firm recently advised the National Theatre on the Broadway transfer of its smash hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Elsewhere, comedy geniuses Monty Python enlisted Harbottle's finest to oversee production work on their reunion show, Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five To Go.
What about sport? In this arena, the firm takes on contentious and transactional matters, and services individual sportspeople too. Harbottle's netted some sterling sporting customers in recent years, including Chelsea FC, the England cricket team and diving dynamo Tom Daley. Sponsorship is a major area of practice – lawyers recently advised car manufacturer Nissan on its largest sponsorship deal to date, as it became an official partner of the UEFA Champions League. Previous highlights have seen the team act for Barclays on its renewal of the title sponsorship for the Premier League, as well as for Emirates over its shirt sponsorship deal with Real Madrid – the world's most valuable sports team.
Harbottle & Lewis LLP
14 Hanover Square,
- Partners 36
- Assistant solicitors 43
- Total trainees 11
- Contact Lisa Lacuna
- Method of application Online application on website
- Selection procedure Interview
- Closing date for 2018 31 July 2016
- Training contracts p.a. 5 or 6
- Applications p.a. 500
- % interviewed p.a. 15%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- 1st year £31,500 (2014)
- 2nd year £33,000 (2014)
- Holiday entitlement in the first year 23 days in the second year 26 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. 40%
- Post-qualification salary £53,000 (2014)
Main areas of work