Harbottle & Lewis LLP - True Picture

When the glitz loses its glam, Harbottle & Lewis is on hand to help manage the mess. And that's not all folks...

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Some say any press is good press, but we’d hazard a guess that many of the silver-screen stars, sports personalities, pop stars and literal royalty on Harbottle & Lewis’s elite client list might beg to differ. These people are used to being in the public eye and regularly face heavy scrutiny from the media. But when someone gets it wrong – such as a newspaper printing fiction over fact – media and entertainment experts Harbottle & Lewis are on hand. With their top-notch defamation practice (which gets a top ranking from Chambers UK) the firm works on stopping privacy infringements in their tracks and ensuring any libellous gossip stays out of the papers. Power couples like the Beckhams and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have turned to the firm in times of trouble, as have a series of Sirs – Sir Richard Branson, Sir Bradley Wiggins and the mighty Sir Alex Ferguson.

The firm also picks up tip-top media and entertainment rankings in theatre, publishing, and gaming, and another high ranking for its work in film and TV. Interviewees did add that the firm “doesn’t want people who only want to do film and TV work – you should go in with an open mind about different teams.” Besides, many film and TV clients naturally cross with other parts of the firm.Elsewhere, the firm is ranked for its lower/mid-market corporate M&A, family, IT, IP, sport, private wealth and venture capital private equity work.

“Helping our clients stay out of the public eye.”

Before starting, trainees are asked to list four seat preferences. For each seat rotation onwards, they can discuss their thoughts and preferences during appraisal meetings. Sources felt seat allocation can be “fairly down to luck, depending on availability and what the firm needs as well.” Some managed to get all the seats they’d requested, while others had had fewer of their choices, prompting some to say: “It’s not the most transparent process.” The firm told us that it makes an effort to ensure trainees get at least three of their four choices.

Infraction in bio

The litigation seat is split between standard commercial litigation, and media and information. The former covers the usual commercial issues like contract disputes, plus a fair bit of IP work and trade mark infringement, while the latter covers topics such as defamation and privacy issues. The firm provides its expertise to many members of the Royal Family (including the Queen), and most recently advised in relation to the royal weddings of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank. The team also made a complaint to The Daily Telegraph on behalf of Melania Trump over false claims about her past, to which the paper agreed to publish an apology as well as pay her damages and legal costs.On the media and information side, much of the work involved “a lot of helping our clients stay out of the public eye.” As such, trainees spent a good deal of time scrolling through social media “like Twitter pages or Instagrams, trying to find evidence or infractions of privacy.”

The team often works with its clients opposite tabloid or online papers – usually “before things go to court.” Other tasks involved “sending letters and emails to news outlets” as well as “monitoring the news to see if any clients are mentioned.” Trainees also helped for preparing to go to trial (“though we didn’t go often”). On the commercial side, sources recalled working on a “two-week arbitration involving a big Russian family – we went along every day for a week, taking notes and listening to experts give evidence.” 

“One time I got to go to a film shoot for a client!”

In the popular TME [technology, media and entertainment] group, trainees covered areas like media, film, TV, theatre and sports. “The work was mostly on commercial contracts in the context of film and TV for example,” interviewees explained, “like production agreements, or director/actor agreements. One time I got to go to a film shoot for a client!” The firm recently advised Working Title (owned by Universal Studios) on the production of the film adaptation of Cats. Other clients in film and TV include Netflix and Amazon Studios. In the theatre space, the team advised The Royal National Theatre on the West End transfers of various productions including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Trainees were able to get “a good amount of drafting experience” in this seat, as well as “negotiating experience with the other side’s agents.”

The corporate team does a lot of work with the wider firm’s media and retail clients, as well as some work with start-ups and tech companies (which links in with the firm’s gaming work). The team recently advised The Panoply Holdings (the parent company of a technology group) on its £30 million acquisition of four technology-related businesses, as well as its admission to the AIM market. It also advised the Royal Opera House on the £2.7 million sale of its arts production and distribution company, Opus Arte. Sources highlighted “going through funding options with start-up clients,” working on discrete parts of longer documents like sale and purchase agreements, and drafting shorter ones such as board minutes and investment subscriptions. Trainees found the seat pretty varied, with interviewees having worked on “a competition for an investment” as well as “assisting on an IPO.”

In family, the focus is largely on high net worth individuals. The work covers everything from child arrangements to divorce financial orders to prenups and postnups. Due to the nature of the work, all of its clients are confidential so we can’t give away any examples, but they include the firm’s celebrity clients as well as “other high-value individuals like private businessmen.” Trainees had got stuck into classic bundling and drafting court applications, but had also been able to draft prenuptial agreements and witness statements. One recalled: “I would often go to hearings with counsel and the client, so I would be the main contact for the client during that day.”

HIIT Me Baby, One More Time

“There’s a strong trainee culture here,” one interviewee told us. With about 11 trainees in total, “you know everyone quite well, which is especially good when you’re changing seats – you can get people’s advice on what to do.” These ties are strengthened through a healthy bout of socialising, which kicks off with a trainee night out for every new intake. Not to mention informal get-togethers: “It’s easy to send an email around asking if anyone wants a drink.” Firmwide, there are a few events throughout the year: one highlight was a “pub quiz that we play in departments – the losing team has to organise it the next year, and the money raised goes to the firm’s chosen charity,” currentlythe Spitalfields Trust.

“Everyone is in the same boat, struggling through a HIIT class together.”

The firm’s focus on wellbeing was another highlight: “There are exercise classes, including yoga three times a week. It’s really fun working out with your colleagues – even partners! Everyone is in the same boat, struggling through a HIIT class together.” The firm also organises hikes around the Lake District in the spring and autumn where “you’re encouraged to not use your mobile or check work emails.”Sources were less impressed with the firm’s old digs on Oxford Street (“they’re run-down and crumbly”) but the firm relocated to a new base on the Strand in 2019.

Compared to their counterparts in the City, trainees felt their hours were “a dream.” We heard this from several interviewees: “I can usually leave comfortably by 6.30pm every night – the latest would be 7.30pm.” Of course, some seats were heavier on the hours front than others, particularly “if there’s a litigation matter or a corporate deal on.” Sources agreed that commercial litigation required the longer stints, but if a case forced trainees to stay exceptionally late (beyond midnight for example), they noted: “You’re on the battlefront with everyone, so it’s actually quite fun.”

Qualification is a relatively informal affair at H&L: “You decide where you would like to qualify, then informally talk to the department and see if they have space, and whether they’d be interested in taking you on.” We heard that departments will usually have an idea of this beforehand, thanks to regular appraisals throughout the training contract in which trainees can express their preferences for qualification. Sources admitted that the informality meant “some people can feel a bit unsure of what they’re supposed to do,” while another said: “Sometimes it felt like I was left to flounder a bit.” Trainees aren’t normally required to hand in formal applications or do interviews for NQ positions.

In 2019, the firm kept on five of seven qualifiers.

How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract 


Training contract deadline (2022): 31 May 2020 


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.” 

Trainee profile 

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. 


Harbottle & Lewis LLP

7 Savoy Court,
Website www.harbottle.com

  • Partners 40
  • Number of non-partner UK qualified solicitors 61
  • Total trainees 11 (first and second-years)
  • UK offices London
  • Contact 
  • Graduate recruitment: Lisa Lacuna, [email protected], 020 7667 5000
  • Training partner: Melanie Benson
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 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: 2 March 2020
  • Training contract deadline, 2021/2022 start: 31 May 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £37,000
  • Second-year salary: £39,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £60,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days in the first year and 26 days in the second year
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £6,000 each for the GDL and LPC

Firm profile

For more than 60 years we have acted for some of the most creative, talented, entrepreneurial and successful people, businesses and corporates across all their legal needs. Our clients range from start-up businesses to multinational companies; early stage entrepreneurs to established industry leaders; and household names to private individuals.

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 provide innovative and specialist advice on corporate, commercial, employment, family, finance, intellectual property, litigation, private wealth, property and tax law. We also advise on regulatory matters and the legal issues faced by organisations and individuals in the media spotlight, such as defamation, information protection, privacy and image rights.

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.

Training opportunities

The two year training contract is divided into four six-month seats where trainees will work on deals or cases across a wide variety of practice areas ad sectors. Seats include, corporate, employment, family, tax/private client, litigation, property, a secondment to a long-standing client as well as a seat in the firm’s core industries, including film, interactive entertainment, music, publishing, sport, television and theatre. The firm has a policy of accepting a small number of trainees to ensure they are given relevant and challenging work and are exposed to and have responsibility for a full range of legal tasks. The firm has its own seminar programme in both legal topics and industry know-how. An open door policy and a pragmatic entrepreneurial approach to legal practice provides a stimulating working environment.

Other benefits

Lunch provided; season ticket loans; private medical insurance, group personal pension scheme; 25 days holiday; childcare vouchers; cycle to work scheme; on site yoga, massage therapy and fitness classes; employee assistance scheme.

Social media

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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 5)
    • Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 3)
    • 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 4)
    • Sport (Band 3)