Media and entertainment plays a starring role at this mid-sized London firm, but there's even more to see backstage.
Harbottle & Lewis training contract review 2022
“When people think of Harbottle, they think of it specifically as a media firm, but in actuality, it’s much deeper. There are many other practice areas which are just as interesting.” You’d be forgiven for seeing Harbottle and immediately thinking ‘media’, especially given that Chambers UK awards the firm five separate rankings for media & entertainment areas (top scores for gaming, publishing, and theatre), alongside a client roster that includes the most senior members of The Royal Family, David & Victoria Beckham, and Sir Richard Branson. Talk about VIPs.
But as our initial interviewee highlights, there’s much more on offer. “When I came to the firm, the enticing element was the film, TV and media work, but I actually found I enjoyed Harbottle’s private client team,” one current trainee admitted. And as it turns out, Harbottle’s private client department “seems like it's really growing as part of the firm’s focus.”
Beyond Harbottle's practice expertise, another draw was its relatively small intake of around six trainees a year. Before trainees start, the firm sends them a list of seat options from which they can select four and rank them in order of preference. This continues for each seat rotation but with “more engagement with HR and your trainee supervisor” once at the firm. Naturally, business need is the “overarching factor” when it comes to seat allocation, but sources felt “they try to accommodate preferences.” The firm also occasionally sends trainees on secondment with some of its main clients.
In Harbottle’s growing private client department there are two main strands to the work – international work, and UK-based matters. The team does a fair chunk of “advising international clients on UK tax positions” whether that’s on actually entering the country, or operating a business out of the UK. Interviewees warned that most of the work in private client “is very technical and complicated,” especially when it comes to “high-profile trust disputes” and offshore tax work. There’s also plenty of more ‘bread and butter’ work, which includes “traditional wills, powers of attorney, drafting trust deeds and helping with any other miscellaneous stuff for the client.” Most of this group’s cases and clients are highly confidential. Trainees got stuck into drafting wills and letters of wishes, as well as “a lot of research notes on niche or technical areas of law related to trusts or tax positions for various jurisdictions.” Sources found the seat to be “more research-oriented” overall, but largely found the work “really interesting” in spite of its level of technicality.
“Constant monitoring of social media platforms for clients, and writing to publications where they’ve made untrue allegations.”
Dispute resolution covers various subgroups, including commercial litigation, reputation management, and IP litigation, and contentious family and trusts matters. Reputation management is an area Harbottle is very well known for, so unsurprisingly, the team deals with “a lot of high reputation clients – high net worth individuals and companies in the public eye.” The team secured significant damages for multiple high-profile victims of phone hacking against News Group Newspapers and Mirror Group Newspapers, and recently advised Lisa Armstrong (Ant McPartlin’s ex-wife) on various reputational issues. Trainees found it involved “a fair bit of trolling of the Daily Mail, The Sun, Twitter etc.,” as well as “constant monitoring of social media platforms for clients, and writing to publications where they’ve made untrue allegations.”
In the commercial litigation seat, trainees came across “contract-oriented commercial disputes between large companies” as well as “debt matter disputes” and cases “that go to the High Court.” One source highlighted being involved in an injunctive hearing (which was “very exciting”) and gaining “exposure to the day to day of case management.” For the most part, sources found their tasks in commercial litigation were “predominantly based on bundling and tidying up exhibits,” though trainees are also “allocated a variety of debt matters that are outstanding for the firm. We have to progress them, write letters to clients, and speak to them about settlement or payment of fees.”
The firm’s famed TME(technology, media, and entertainment) group has now been split into two groups: media & entertainment, and film, TV & theatre. Both groups continue to deal with non-contentious commercial work across advertising & marketing; film & TV; gaming & social media; music; publishing; and theatre. The team acted for Universal Pictures as production counsel on Jurassic World: Dominion, negotiating and advising on a full range of production contracts. Elsewhere, the publishing side acts for Dunmanifestin, which controls the publishing rights in the works of Sir Terry Pratchett, advising them in relation to exploitation of those rights.
Family is another contentious practice and covers three main areas: “Helping clients through divorce processes; child arrangements; and financial settlements.” One source reckoned it was their “most litigation-heavy seat.” This meant getting “a close-hand view of the strategic analysis,” and “sitting in on conferences with counsel and QCs,” which sources appreciated. One noted that “while I don’t think I’d want to be a family lawyer, the skills I learnt like client management are ones I can take with me. It was an intense seat, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.” Typical tasks here included “preparing papers for counsel; preparing court bundles; attending hearings and conferences; and liaising with clients with respect to follow up queries.”
“I was able to take the lead on a call with a client about a disclosure letter.”
The firm’s corporate team covers matters from “start-up and early venture capital work” right through to M&A deals and occasional IPOs. At the start-up end, trainees enjoyed getting “extremely hands-on with creative entrepreneurs and working on fund-raisings and investments for early-stage companies.” A recent example saw the team advise Laundryheap, an on-demand laundry and dry-cleaning platform, on its $3.5 million Series A round led by Sova VC. The team also advised fintech company Primer API on a £3.8 million fundraising led by Balderton Capital. Trainees worked on disclosure, due diligence, board minutes and resolutions, data rooms, and “discrete research in respect to company law.” Sources were also able to get a solid amount of direct client contact here – one source said “I was able to take the lead on a call with a client about a disclosure letter. It was a good experience – the associate was on hand for questions and things, but generally the corporate partners are happy for us to be client-facing.”
If you find yourself in Harbottle’s offices (post-Covid, of course), one thing you won’t hear is the ‘meep morp zeeping’ of trainees: “All the partners from the top down make you feel valued, included, and part of the fabric of the firm. You don’t feel like you’re just task robots, there to churn out work.” Even as far as natural law firm hierarchies go, sources reckoned “Harbottle feels much flatter than that.” One interviewee credited the firm’s lunch room as helping to create this atmosphere, noting “anyone would sit with anyone – barriers over job titles just evaporate over lunch. You can get to know everyone, which adds to the cohesion and glue of the firm.” This cohesion continued through lockdown too – even those who started during that pandemic felt they were “able to build relationships with colleagues even with remote working.” Sources flagged an “emphasis on togetherness as a firm” which was reiterated by various wellbeing programmes, as well as more social activities.
Especially during remote working, trainees appreciated that “teams so make an effort to do things” socially. Activities ranged from more typical virtual drinks, to things like wine tasting, virtual murder mysteries, virtual escape room, and Zoom art classes! Every two weeks the firm also hosts a ‘virtual pub’ on Zoom where “anyone can join and just chat. There are different break-out rooms as well.”
“For around 80% of the time as a trainee, I’ve finished work during normal working hours.”
But before hitting the virtual pub, trainees made sure they were first hitting their deadlines, which occasionally meant some fluctuating hours. Most agreed that private client had the most reasonable hours, while litigious seats like commercial litigation and family were slightly more demanding. “Because of the nature of the work and deadlines, there were a few late nights – 11pm to midnight,” though sources noted this would only be “for a short period of time – over a week, rather than constant.” One interviewee added: “For around 80% of the time as a trainee, I’ve finished work during normal working hours.”
Qualification is a pretty informal process at Harbottle: “It’s essentially up to you throughout the course of your training contract to engage with HR and various departments about your interests and where you’d like to qualify.” Trainees then indicate where they’d like to qualify, and the firm discusses this at ‘business level’ to decide whether there is business need for an NQ position in the specific team. Most observed that retention “has been a bit lower” recently but put this down to the “exceptional circumstances” surrounding Covid-19. Sources still felt “there is a general sense that they do want to keep trainees on.” In 2021, the firm retained four out of five qualifiers.
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 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.
The firm vets all applicants for grades: an upper 2:1 and strong A Levels 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 aptitude tests.
The second interview is held with two partners. 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.”
“They look for personable bright candidates who can demonstrate a real passion for the work they do, their clients and their 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.
Harbottle & Lewis LLP
7 Savoy Court,
- Partners 44
- Associates 4
- Total trainees 11
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruitment: Lisa Lacuna, email@example.com, 020 7667 5000
- Training partners: Chris Moorcroft, Mark Irving
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Strong A Levels
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st March 2022
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 31 May 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £44,000
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days, increasing to 26 days after 1 year of service.
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000 each for the GDL and LPC
Examples of some of our clients 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
Additionally, we host internal weekly seminar programmes in both legal topics and industry know-how. An open door policy and a pragmatic entrepreneurial approach to legal practice will provide a stimulating working environment.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
As a firm, we are committed to ensuring that our employees are diverse and reflect the clients we serve. We recognise the importance of having different perspectives, cultures, backgrounds and experiences and creating an inclusive environment. Our firm is stronger when we have diversity. It allows us to better understand client needs and provide innovative solutions.
The firm’s Diversity committee meet on a monthly basis and have focused its efforts at increasing diversity at the graduate level.
Each year, the firm partners with Aspiring Solicitors (AS), an organisation that works with law firms to increase diversity in the legal profession through mentoring, employability assistance, competitions and events and invite its members, graduates from underrepresented groups to apply for a training contract with the firm. In 2019, 55% of the offers were made to AS members. The firm has recently partnered with The Brokerage to support disadvantaged students by providing support through mentoring and masterclasses.
The firm has an extensive wellbeing programme which continues to evolve and expand. Free yoga, meditation and fitness classes for all abilities are offered daily. One-to-one wellness sessions with a registered psychotherapist are offered monthly along with bi-monthly wellbeing talks. Some topics include resilience, sleep and mindfulness.
The firm also offers a fully funded two-day hike in the Lake District for all employees and Partners. The objective of the hike is to promote mental and physical wellbeing and team building.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- 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)