A recent rejig has reaffirmed Lewis Silkin's commitment to the creative industries and employment work.
Watch the introductory video on Lewis Silkin's website and a series of colourful kaleidoscopic logos swirl towards you, while a voice distils the firm's raison d'être: this is a specialist outfit, with twin focuses on the creative industries and employment work. It's all very hypnotic and reflects Lewis Silkin's recent joint rebranding and restructuring exercise, which, as chief executive Ian Jeffery tells us, “allows the firm to better focus in on its areas of strength and develop its position as a market leader.” It seems to have done the trick: Chambers UK positions the firm as top dog in London for its employer and senior executive-focused employment work, while on the creative side Lewis Silkin is considered first rate for its advertising and marketing expertise, plus its patent and trade mark know-how. Elsewhere the firm performs well in the gaming, social media, immigration and lower mid-market corporate spheres.
Trainees were drawn to these practices and to Lewis Silkin's perceived status as “one of the edgier law firms – the legal profession can be very conservative, but here it's more broad church and progressive.” They agreed that it's a standout choice “for those who are feeling especially bored browsing corporate website after corporate website and don't want to always be working for big financial institutions and companies.” That's not to say that Lewis Silkin lacks ambition: it's been busy adding laterals to areas like litigation and technology and communications; establishing its first international office in Hong Kong; and investing in non-legal services (like its data and cybersecurity audit service, born from a collaboration with financial adviser Grant Thornton).
"The legal profession can be very conservative, but here it's more broad church and progressive.”
Let's look at this restructuring in more detail: the firm has now divided all of its former departments into two “super groups”: EIR (employment, immigration and reward) and CMI (creators, makers and innovators). Within these two divisions are the firm's 12 'legal practice groups' (LPGs); most fall under CMI's remit, which houses everything from dispute resolution and IP to real estate and corporate. EIR is more straightforward and does what it says on the tin. In addition, eight 'sector focus groups' (SFGs) – including sports, advertising & marketing, and technology & communications – exist "to channel the energies from both divisions into specific areas so we can better establish ourselves in those markets."
How has this affected seat allocation? "We still have four six-month seats, but instead of indicating a particular legal practice group, we indicate which supervisor we want to sit with based on their work. You still have an area of focus but it has become more fluid." Commenting on the changeJeffery added: “By moving away from rigid groups trainees will be free to develop interests in more than one area.”
Within CMI many sources had sampled a mixture of IP, brand management, commercial and data privacy work. Data audits and offshoring projects often required trainee assistance: “These can be time intensive, but you get to interview employees and help to produce the policy documents that emerge from the audit. On the offshoring side there's a lot of project management work, so you're liaising with foreign counsel, and keeping track of all communications and costs.” Sources had also been helping to gain advertising clearance in various jurisdictions, drafting talent agreements and getting films into production: “I was involved in a lot of film-financing deals – it's really interesting to see all the different documents that go into it, and I got to draft a director's agreement.” Recent highlights in this area include advising on the branding of the 'London Fashion Week Festival'; drafting a series of sponsorship agreements for the Royal Albert Hall; and negotiating several licences with Disney to stage live productions of some its most well-known stories including Frozen and Ratatouille.
“I was involved in a lot of film-financing deals.”
After gobbling the firm's IP litigation matters, Lewis Silkin's dispute resolution practice has fattened up to become one of the firm's largest LPGs. A routine task for trainees is managing companies' debtor files, which involves dealing with statutory demands, processing negligent claims and trying to recover unpaid funds. Interviewees felt it was a “good, worthwhile experience because you get to handle all of your files and feel a lot more autonomous.” However, “when there's a lot of money involved they don't just let you run loose!” Shareholder, joint venture, civil fraud and utilities disputes are all handled here too. Of late lawyers have been advising the charity Save China's Tigers after its assets became the subject of a bitter divorce between its founders; assisting cosmetics retailer Lush on a shareholder dispute; and acting for Nissan as it sued the Vote Leave campaign for exploiting its intellectual property before the EU referendum.
Lewis Silkin's real estate practice focuses on commercial transactions, like media and marketing agency Havas UK's acquisition of its hot new premises at 3 St Pancras Square. “A lot of the work for trainees is commercial tenant work, so we negotiate new leases,” sources explained. There are also opportunities to work in planning, development and construction: “I did a lot of work liaising with architects and contractors on a big development project in Islington.” The advertising and marketing sector is a key focus for the firm's corporate lawyers, who advise big movers and shakers in the PR space, like French multinational Publicis; the firm recently advised it on its equity partnership with a West African marketing and communications service provider. Running due diligence, drafting board minutes and preparing Companies House filings are typical trainee tasks here.
Accounting for around 40% of the firm's workforce, employment is the firm's “bread and butter.” TUPE, discrimination and restrictive covenant matters are highlights here, with clients drawn from a more diverse range of sectors; car manufacturer Ford, magic circle law firm Freshfields, and online companies ASOS and Deliveroo are all on the books – the latter required advice on worker status issues as its couriers sought to unionise and gain workers' rights. A healthy spread of contentious and non-contentious work saw trainees helping to construct employee handbooks; writing scripts for redundancy meetings; assembling names for counsel and attending court: “On one case, I wrote a witness statement and was able to attend the final hearing and watch the witness being cross-examined.” Sources also noted specialist areas to get involved in, like gender pay gap reporting, boardroom disputes and maternity leave discrimination.
Our Silkin sources found the culture “more relaxed than the atmosphere found in City firms – it's not a suits and ties kind of place and people aren't arrogant. The fact that many partners were once trainees here and rose up is also indicative of a healthy culture.” To help keep things relaxed there's a “healthy trainee budget for, well, drinking essentially!” Jaunts to magic shows, comedy gigs and 'hint hunts' even out the fun in a more sober direction, while office-wide events like the firm's summer party (which was recently held on a boat on the Thames and had an A Midsummer Night's Dream theme) scored a big thumbs up.
“There's never going to be a wedding you have to miss!”
While the firm “prides itself on work-life balance,” trainees did see fit to “advertise caution, as it does expect people to stay when there's a lot of work on.” Still, even in full throttle hours rarely approach those seen in the City proper with late finishes at 11pm deemed rare. On a standard day trainees arrive at 9am and consistently leave between 6pm and 7pm. “People are also very respectful if you have something you need to get out for – there's never going to be a wedding you have to miss!” Those with families are also offered a degree of flexibility with opportunities to leave early and pick up work from home.
Things are less casual when it comes to qualification, where a more formal approach reigns. It's “definitely not a case of 'we want you, what job do you want?',” insiders explained.Trainees are required to apply to the LPG they wish to qualify into with a CV submission, which is followed by one or two partner interviews and a written test. While insiders admitted the process can be “pretty intense,” they highlighted that “there's no tension between the trainees.” In 2017, the firm retained all five of its qualifiers.
“They've moved away from assigning partners as supervisors; they're often managing associates now, which is better because they have more time. However, people are generally open to being approached for feedback.”
How to get a Lewis Silkin training contract
Training contract deadline: 16 June 2017 (opens 1 March 2018)
Lewis Silkin receives around 500 applications for training contracts each year. These are made via Apply4Law, and there are no CVs involved.
The firm shortlists approximately 40 applicants to complete the pre-selection exercises (a written case study, video interview and verbal and numerical reasoning tests), and these do not require any preparation in advance. Following this, 16 are chosen to take part in an assessment centre that involves a group exercise and interviews with two pairs of partners, plus a chance to speak to current trainees.
According to an HR source, the group exercise is “fun and tongue-in-cheek,” but candidates “should still be mindful that they are being assessed: the exercise is designed to test their decision making, analytical skills and their ability to put forward a persuasive argument. It also allows the candidate to show us their personality.”
In previous years, the exercise centred on a management-related scenario in which “an award-winning architect and building practice had to create a new landmark building in London by considering the location and design concept.” Future candidates take note: your group exercise – though also focused on management – will not be the same!
To impress, successful candidates need to demonstrate 'personal effectiveness' and people skills. Our HR source explains: “In terms of personal effectiveness, we look at whether they understand instructions and demonstrate a clear thought process. For people skills, we're looking to see if they get along with each other, if they create a team environment and act as a natural leader. We keep an eye out for negative indicators too – for example, a limited contribution to the task, and an unwillingness to make decisions and express opinions.”
To bag one of Lewis Silkin's training contracts (of which there are up to six) our source tells us that you need to be “a bright, open-minded and curious lateral thinker, without the baggage of machismo, arrogance, bravado or working at the expense of others.”
Of course, “there's not a single type of person that the firm's looking for,” trainee sources agreed. “Everyone in my intake is sociable and hard-working, but there's quite a wide age range among us, from 24 through to 36. And a lot of different backgrounds too.” It's worth noting that “many of the trainees have work experience in creative industries like media and advertising,” though that doesn't mean those fresh out of law school can't nab a place.
Lewis Silkin has replaced its vacation schemes with two three-day workshops at the beginning of April. These involve a variety of presentations and interactive sessions with partners, associates and business services managers, plus a Q&A with trainees.
Attendees also get to participate in an interactive speed networking session. “We give them some soft skills training, and then we let them loose with staff from across the firm and get them to try to find answers to a set of questions,” an HR source says.
There are between ten and 15 spots available per workshop. Applications are made through Apply4Law.
Who was Lewis Silkin?
You might have noticed how firms like their names to be double, triple or even quadruple-barrelled. In an ever-consolidating legal market, these names often reveal the patchwork of mergers behind a firm's current form. They also frequently point to founding members, as Lewis Silkin's does. But there were not – as you might think – two people: one called 'Lewis' and one called 'Silkin', but rather one person: Mr Lewis Silkin. So who was the eponymous Mr Silkin?
In short, he was a lawyer, a Labour MP, a minister of town and country planning under the post-war Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee, and latterly a baron. Born in 1889 to a Jewish family of Lithuanian migrants, Silkin grew up in London's East End. Early on he showed academic promise, but his family's finances prevented him from taking up a place at Oxford, as did the intervention of his schoolmaster, who helpfully informed the university that “this boy will not benefit from a university education.” With his academic career cut short, our young hero tumbled into the world of work: first, at the East India Docks; then at a solicitors' firm as a clerk. Inspired by his employer, Silkin eventually went on to qualify as a solicitor and soon went about setting up his own firm.
Running alongside his career in law was an interest in politics – particularly socialism – and it quickly overtook his legal work. In 1925 Silkin was elected to the London County Council and by 1936 he had a seat in parliament as the member for Peckham. When his brother Joseph also qualified as a solicitor (forming – you guessed it – Silkin & Silkin), Lewis put law on the back-burner to press on with his political career.
Silkin's first decade as an MP coincided with the Second World War and presented many challenges. However, he still found time to cover some endearingly everyday topics in parliament. On 25 July 1940, Silkin asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what action he intended to take to ensure that an 'exceptionally abundant' crop of plums didn't go to waste. He followed this in 1943 with a timely question to the Minister for War Transport, which touched upon the beloved British topic of queueing: “[Is he] aware that the regulation requiring queueing at omnibus stops is frequently not being observed?” A scandal!
As minister for town and country planning, Silkin went on to shape three key pieces of legislation during the post-war drive to reconstruct Britain. The first, in 1946, came the New Towns Act, which created 14 new towns beyond the big city boundaries. Second was the Town and Country Planning Act (1947), which set an early precedent for modern planning law. The third was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (1949), which reserved national parks “for the hikers and ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside.” Of all the political legacies to leave, this is evidently one of the more desirable ones.
And what about the law firm that bears his name? Well, it developed quite independently of the man himself after his departure into politics. Silkin returned later on, applying his specialism in planning and development law, but the modern incarnation of the firm was mainly shaped by other family members and fellow partners. However, the firm still wears Silkin's name as a badge of honour, paying tribute to the man who traversed the worlds of law and politics and achieved success in both.
Interview with chief executive Ian Jeffery
Chambers Student: The firm has recently restructured its practice areas. Could you talk us through the restructure?
Ian Jeffery: We have 12 legal practice groups which correspond with more traditional practice areas that you see at other firms. But rather than being separate departments, these are grouped under two super-divisions – employment, immigration and reward (EIR) and creators, makers and innovators (CMI) – to make sure the firm is fully focused on these two areas as we look to develop our position in the market. Having these two supergroups ensures everything is focused on the two big stories the firm is looking to tell. The creative industries are at the heart of CMI: in the past decade this has become an increasingly rich sector with the growth of IT and alternative and social media. Modes of communications are far more integrated than they have ever been before. Many of our clients have moved away from conventional business models – for instance, in an area like advertising – towards cross-media strategies. With our restructuring we have done our best to respond to this.
CS: What impact do you think the restructuring will have on incoming trainees?
IJ: I think it should have a number of positive effects. The firm is structured to address the needs of the modern world which many younger trainees will be familiar with. The way we are organised should feel very natural to them. For example, the idea of cross-media or trans-media business is very contemporary. The other thing our structure provides is openness and the opportunity to collaborate with other people across the firm. The aim is to move away from rigid groups in the firm, allowing trainees to develop interests in more than one area in each seat. It should give them the impression that the firm fits in well with the contemporary world.
CS: Trainees now sit with a specific supervisor, rather than in a particular department. What do you think the advantages of this are?
IJ: It's all coordinated by the HR team who do their best to balance trainee career development, the needs of the business and demands from clients. The best way for trainees to approach the system is to look at the work supervisors are doing so they have a clear understanding of the work they will get involved with. But it's not a one-on-one model: trainees will also be working with other people in the team.
CS: Do you think Lewis Silkin has a particular culture that sets it apart from other firms?
IJ: I think we have a well-differentiated culture. One aspect of the culture is our diversity: we take on people – not just at trainee level but across all levels of the firm – from lots of different backgrounds and with different perspectives on the world.
CS: How can a candidate really impress at interview?
IJ: It's important to have done your homework on the firm and thought deeply about whether we are the right match for you. It's also important to convey an idea of what makes you as an individual a good match for Lewis Silkin.
CS: Could you clarify how the qualification process for trainees now works? We've heard the process has become more formal.
IJ: Because we want to make an objective assessment of whether a career with the firm is right for the individual, we have introduced a little more structure. It may be a tad formal but the HR team coordinates the process and support the trainees as they work their way through it.
Lewis Silkin LLP
5 Chancery Lane,
- Partners 56
- Associates 100
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London, Cardiff, Oxford
- Overseas offices Hong Kong
- Contacts Human resources officer: Juliette Drummond, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 6
- Applications p:a 400+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: mid-March 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 15 June 2018
- 2018 Vacation scheme applications open: mid-December 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline 31 January 2018
- Open day 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £55,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London (and sometimes Cardiff)
- Overseas seats: No
- Client secondments: Business-need dependent
The firm has a friendly, lively style with a commitment to continuous improvement. The firm has been listed in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For listing since 2009, one of only a handful of law firms to make that index.
Main areas of work
Lewis Silkin’s employment and immigration team offers an unrivalled service supporting clients, including many of the world’s leading businesses, on their HR, employment and immigration law needs domestically and internationally.
The creators, makers and innovators team is made up of leading advisers for creative, innovative and brand-focused businesses, offering a deep understanding of the industry sectors in which clients operate combined with real expertise across a wide range of legal services.
It provides services through its key sectors: advertising and marketing; media and entertainment; professional services; retail, fashion and hospitality; sports business; and technology. The major practice areas include: brands and intellectual property; commercial; corporate; data and privacy; dispute resolution; employment; immigration; partnership; real estate; tax, reward and incentives; and trade mark and portfolio management.
Trainees will enjoy responsibility from day one and will gain a broad range of contentious and non-contentious experience. The firm aims to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds, they don’t mind if you’re fresh out of law school or someone with previous experience in another industry.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017
- London Law Fair