It's not all glitz and glam and celebrity clients at media firm Harbottle & Lewis. But it is a bit...
West End Story
Harbottle & Lewis' slightly quaint name belies the fact it's a firm at the forefront of the ever-changing world of media and entertainment law. Founded in 1955 by legal wizards – and friends to the stars – Laurence Harbottle and Brian Lewis, the firm has grown from its mostly private client-y beginnings to become the law firm of choice for theatre and film producers. And it can boast a client list to make any other feel distinctly Z-list: the Beckhams, Kate Moss, Sandra Bullock and even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have all knocked on Harbottle's door in need of its services in recent years. Indeed senior partner Gerrard Tyrell was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2016 New Year's honours list in recognition of his work for the Windsors.
When quizzed as to why they applied to the firm, our trainee interviewees had no problem giving an answer: “I chose it for the reason everybody does: the media practice. Everyone wants to work there!” The Chambers UK rankings show Harbottle's prestige in the sector, as the firm wins top-tier rankings for media and entertainment and for defamation/reputation management, plus recognition for areas like IP, IT, real estate, sports law and venture capital. The firm's work in these last few areas is a reminder that at Harbottle you can “go down the media and entertainment route but still experience a wider practice.”
"... generally trying to keep things out of The Sun.”
A couple of months before they start their contracts, trainees are asked to put a list together of any seats they really want to do. As with much of the training contract, this is a very informal process and is by no means compulsory. In fact “you have to do your own research to find out which seats there are and what each seat offers.” Technology, media and entertainment (TME) is by far the most popular option. Another thing you have to express an explicit interest in is a client secondment. At the moment Virgin Atlantic is the only regular option on offer, though ad hoc stints with other clients do pop up.
TME person of the year
The much-vaunted TME team deals mostly with non-contentious contractual and IP law. Trainees spend their first three months in the seat doing either film, TV or theatre work, then cross the floor to join the music, tech, video games or sports teams. With such a diverse range of work “the emphasis is on being proactive, seeking out what you want to do and being vocal about it. Everyone is so busy, they're not going to know what work you're interested in.” On the film side the firm mostly works with production companies, drawing up actor, director and producer agreements. And this they do with the “real heavyweights” like Universal, DreamWorks and Working Title. In fact, Harbottle is one of only two UK law firms that regularly acts as production counsel on major Hollywood productions in the UK. In 2015 lawyers advised on major blockbusters including Jason Bourne, The Huntsman: Winter's War and The Mummy.
The music team sings off the same high-profile song sheet, with most of its work concerned with agreements between artists ('talent'), record labels and management. Like their co-stars in the film team, lawyers here work at the top end of the industry with mega-labels like Universal Music and young up-and-coming recording artists like Conor Maynard and Floating Points. During negotiations, trainees are given amp-le responsibility. (See what we did there?) One told us: “I often drafted contracts, and even conducted a call with a client to take them through what I had drafted page by page.” Over in the sports arena, most of the work concerns sponsorship deals, “representing clubs or sponsors in deals for live events and tournaments.” Recently the team closed a robust and full-bodied deal between a Chilean winemaker and Arsenal. The firm's work for Nissan also rippled a few nets as it secured sponsorship deals for the Champions League and the Le Mans 24-hour race.
Scourge of the red tops
The litigation department is divided between a commercial litigation team and the media and information group (MIG). The latter is the one which does much of the firm's juiciest work like “reputation management for the royals and celebs like Kate Moss.” And the Beckhams, and Roger Moore, and Alex Ferguson, and Simon Fuller, and the Middletons. Trainees do commercial and IP work for the first three months and then switch to MIG for the second. In the former team, the work is mostly trade mark enforcement for production companies like Hat Trick, video game developers like Rockstar Games, or creative visionaries like the late Sir Terry Pratchett. Lawyers also work on the other side of cases, for clients who are themselves accused of breaching trade marks etc. MIG deal with all things defamation and privacy. “So you're monitoring news stories and generally trying to keep things out of The Sun,” one trainee said, only half joking. “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.” Even so, a big chunk of the team's time is spent making sure scurrilous paparazzi don't splash a client's face all over the morning papers. For instance, it recently intervened to stop the Daily Mirror publishing aerial photos of the Duke of York's house.
The corporate department 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 mergers, drafting share certificates and attending completions.” Despite the delineation between the two roles, “it's a small team so tasks for both trainees can be reasonably meaty.” You won't be surprised to hear that a lot of the team's client base comes from the TME sector, but there's also “a big focus on start-ups, especially those going through the first or second round of investment.” Recently the firm guided Surrey-based video game developer Kuju Entertainment through its first crowdfunding project.
“The media and entertainment industry naturally plays a huge part in what the litigation department does.”
Trainees can expect to work pretty solidly until at least 7pm most days, but we were told that staying properly late is unusual. One second-year reported: “I've only really had three late nights and even then I didn't work past 10pm.” If you do find yourself in the office after hours the firm will provide a taxi home.
Another deal-sweetener comes in the way of free daily lunch – whoever said there's no such thing? A menu forwarded to us by one trainee revealed a Tuesday menu of 'braised lamb with cinnamon, prunes, almond and coriander couscous'; that's served with a side of “a 'no phones or talking about work' policy” – yum! The offices themselves are “in a great location” in Mayfair's Hanover Square, just opposite Vogue House, the UK headquarters of Condé Nast. The firm first moved here in 1988, so we weren't surprised to hear that “the decor is a bit dated – it's all dark grey and blue stripy carpets.” If you need a moment of zen after staring at the carpets for too long then there are free yoga classes Monday night and Wednesday morning with the “utterly lovely” Kirsty Gallagher (“not that one”) as well as free fitness classes twice a week.
The qualification process was one of the few sore spots identified by trainees. “It's not very transparent and in fact can make you feel quite insecure,” one said. There's no formal process, and instead “you have to speak to people and hope it trickles up to the right person.” Trainees don't have too much to worry about though as Harbottle usually has pretty good retention rates and four of five qualifiers were retained in 2016.
Come for the glam media and entertainment work, stay for the early responsibility and informal atmosphere.
How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2017
As you might expect, there's plenty of clamour for a training contract at Harbottle & Lewis. The firm usually receives around 500 applications a year for its five or six vacancies.
Harbottle doesn't run a vac scheme, so all applications or 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: '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 new training principal Melanie Benson and 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.” Afterwards candidates undergo a two-and-a-half-hour written examination.
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. “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 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 35
- Assistant solicitors 48
- Total trainees 11
- Contact Lisa Lacuna
- Method of application Online application on website
- Selection procedure Interview
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 5 or 6
- Applications pa 500
- % interviewed pa 15%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2015)
- First year: £32,500
- Second year: £34,000
- Holiday entitlement 23 days in the first year, 26 days in the second year
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 60%
- Post-qualification salary (2015)£54,000
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