Media law expert Harbottle & Lewis has helped out many a distressed celebrity, while its wellbeing programme ensures its trainees don't have to take the strain.
Snog, marry, avoid? Prince Harry, Bradley Wiggins and David Beckham. Or how about this one: Anne Hathaway, Kate Moss and Meghan Markle? Few firms' client lists will inspire pub games like this, but then Harbottle is something quite different. You don't lure in big-name clients like that without a top-notch defamation practice, and Harbottle's is ranked among the best in the country by Chambers UK. The firm is a big name in the media and entertainment sector, picking up top rankings for its publishing, theatre, gaming/interactive work. For one trainee, Harbottle was the perfect place “to help bring creative visions to life!”
"You need to show enthusiasm for working in all our areas.”
Trainees can expect to encounter work with a media and entertainment slant in most of the firm's practice areas. So, while sources agreed that a seat in technology, media and entertainment (TME) is “definitely the most popular,” they also stressed that “it's not the only place you do media and entertainment work.” However, for those applying solely on the basis of specific areas such as sports or film, our interviewees advised caution: “The firm isn't looking for someone who has tunnel vision. You need to show enthusiasm for working in all our areas.” It's worth noting that Chambers UK also ranks the firm for employment, family, IP, IT and lower mid-market corporate work.
Future trainees are invited to submit a list of four seat preferences before they start. Once trainees are with the firm, their preferences are then discussed in appraisal meetings and can be changed. Sources agreed that “the firm is good at listening to you and tries hard to accommodate preferences.” That said, they also emphasised that “you are expected to go where needed. Even if you have a burning desire to do something, it's not absolutely guaranteed.” A number of client secondments are also available, including a rolling six-month stint with Virgin Media.
Does your mother know?
Trainees doing a seat in litigation spend three months with the defamation team and then three months with the commercial group. The former acts for all manner of A-listers, helping to tackle scandalous allegations concerning clients' sex, family and business lives. Besides the big names already mentioned, recent clients include Melania Trump, Richard Branson and Alex Ferguson. Unsurprisingly, it's often the Daily Mail and The Sun that are to be found stirring the pot, and the firm has won a number of cases against the tabloids in recent years. For example, the team was recently successful in forcing an adjudication over a Mail Online publication featuring photos of Prince Harry and his then-girlfriend Meghan at a wedding in Jamaica. However, “the vast majority of the work we do is pre-publication,” a trainee explained. “Ten years ago, before the Jackson reforms, we had injunctions left right and centre, but we bring a lot fewer claims to court now.”
Trainees can often be found "conducting research on media outlets, looking at their corporate structures, and reviewing the scope of their readership so we know exactly how to go after them.” One source revealed: “I was once asked to find out how easy it is to buy a copy of The Sunday Times in Cape Town!” Trainees can also engage in a wider variety of work in the commercial team, which includes property, contract and IP disputes. “In the run-up to a big arbitration I was doing a lot of the classic grunt work but also attending all our client meetings," said a source. "I was involved in strategising the day before trial and in on all the lunchtime panic meetings about what to do with a new piece of evidence.”
“I was once asked to find out how easy it is to buy a copy of The Sunday Times in Cape Town!”
“TME is essentially one super-department and covers areas like film, TV, tech, sports and data," an interviewee explained to us. "As a trainee you sit in one area but that doesn't restrict where you can source work from.” Those in sports reported helping “brands sponsor professional sports teams and events,” while in film you might be “sending out draft agreements to actors." "We handle all the main contracts for the film needed to get the big names on board to boost revenues,” a trainee explained. "Once we've sent out contracts to actors, and they've gone over them and sent them back, we look over which amendments can be accepted and get to a place where the actor is secured for the project." The firm has recently acted as production counsel on Mamma Mia 2, The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle and Nick Hornby adaptation Juliet, Naked. The first of these involved complex negotiations to acquire the music rights, while producing Doctor Dolittle entailed the added headache of hiring child actors.
Trainees refine their writing skills “drafting IP licences, terms and conditions, and privacy policies,” all of which are “very topical in the TV and music industry.” Rookies might also find themselves working on financings for games and virtual reality apps, advising on the production of shows such as The Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots, or working on more general advertising and marketing contracts. For example, the team recently advised Nissan on its appointment as the official automotive partner of the World Expo in Dubai in 2020.
The corporate department mainly serves the TME industries, though the firm also acts for other corporate clients like private equity firm Forward Dimension Capital 1. A trainee told us: "I was working with long-standing clients which are expanding and seeking investment, like entrepreneurs in the tech and media sector or founders of fashion and retail companies." Another source reported: “I take ownership of the due diligence process and the supporting documents for an investment. But I also got some experience drafting shareholder and disclosure agreements.” Even those who didn't wish to qualify into the team agreed that “it's a really worthwhile seat as it gives you a good grounding in how companies work.”
The last supper
Harbottle's trainees all rushed to tell us about one of the firm's big perks: “We get a free home-cooked lunch every day in the canteen. Everybody goes down at the same time, which is a really good way of meeting people – especially when you're new as you can start conversations without seeming too creepy.” We heard the lentil and sweet potato pie is particularly good. Rookies also don't have to worry about the prospect of getting chronic back pain from being sat behind a desk all day: as part of a firm wellbeing programme, thrice-weekly yoga classes and weekly circuit training are organised in-house to help loosen up those muscles. This is supplemented by “helpful talks from guest speakers on things like managing pressure.” And for those who really want to indulge, massages are available once a month – “though places get booked up pretty quick!”
“We get a free home-cooked lunch every day in the canteen."
All of this isn't to suggest Harbottle trainees are often on the verge of a stress-induced breakdown – quite the opposite. Trainees frequently head out the door at 7pm, though one did admit: “I've had a few weeks where I was working until 11pm, but the bottom line is the hours are pretty good unless you are at the peak of a deal.” The firm's location right around the corner from Oxford Circus lends itself to after-work drinks in Soho which are normally well attended. “When there's a strong social environment, everyone gets on that bit better,” believed one interviewee, who was eagerly awaiting the firm's next social at Junkyard Golf in Shoreditch.
Unfortunately it's not completely plain sailing for Harbottle trainees. “Qualification is the one area where the firm could improve,” sources agreed. “Jobs aren't listed and teams don't publish vacancies – you're just kind of encouraged to speak to the teams you wish to qualify into. It can be quite daunting and there definitely could be more transparency around the process.” In 2018 the firm retained four of five qualifiers.
Few of our interviewees had joined the firm straight from law school. Most had gained paralegal or media sector experience before starting a traineeship.
How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 May 2019 (opens 1 March 2019)
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. You've got to make sure your typewritten application form is sufficiently impressive and shows off your personality. You can find the firm at a number of university law fairs or recruitment events in London.
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 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.” Nevertheless, they agreed “it's a fair interview – they're definitely not trying be cruel or make you panic.”
Training principal Melanie Benson offers this advice for impressing at interview: “We are looking for personable bright candidates who can demonstrate a real passion for the work we do, our clients and our ethos.”
Most of our interviewees this year had some prior legal experience before joining the firm. 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 required to undertake the GDL and LPC at the University of Law and to choose specific electives, including international commercial law and international IP.
More on media, showbiz and entertainment
Harbottle & Lewis LLP
14 Hanover Square,
- Partners 44
- Number of non-partner UK qualified solicitors 52
- Total trainees 12 (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: AAB) or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 May 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year salary: £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £59,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days in the first year and 26 days in the second year
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000 each for the GDL and LPC
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 in-depth 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Data Protection & Information Law Recognised Practitioner
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Theatre (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 3)