In-house yoga, “Ottolenghi-style” food and some of the best media and entertainment work you’ll find – welcome to the lives of trainees at London-based Harbottle & Lewis.
One way we at Chambers Student kept busy during lockdown (in our downtime, of course) was by having a little peruse of tabloids’ gossip columns. Many of the more scandalous stories we came across will no doubt provide work for Harbottle & Lewis’ lawyers at some point down the line. From Kate Moss and the Beckhams to the senior members of The Royal Family and Melania Trump, you’d be hard-pressed to find a firm that counsels more celebrity clients through cases against said gossip columns than this top-ranked defamation-defeating dynamo.
However, trainees didn’t decide to ply their trade at Harbottle purely for its media and entertainment expertise (it’s nabbed no fewer than five media rankings in Chambers UK, covering advertising, theatre, publishing, film and TV, and gaming and social media). Newbies also thought Harbottle’s relatively small size was a good place to cultivate their careers: “I had conversations with absolutely everyone when I was doing work experience here and everyone is happy to get you on board.” Others highlighted Harbottle’s “really fantastic corporate commercial work.” We’re inclined to agree, given the firm’s also picked up a ranking for its mid-market corporate work in Chambers UK: “The lawyers have come from the magic circle so they have really interesting clients, but it’s not like City firms where everything is for banks.” Indeed, Harbottle’s corporate, private equity and IP work typically involves matters for media, entertainment, tech and communications sectors. Chambers High Net Worth also rates Harbottle’s private wealth, defamation/reputation management and family work for HNW individuals.
Trainees submit their seat preferences about a month before starting the training contract and for subsequent rotations find out where they are going about a month before moving on. An insider said that whether you get your top choice each time is “luck of the draw. You have to be [sensibly] forceful about it and keep reminding them of where you want to go.” Fortunately, “most people get their first or second choice."
The employment seat is “really interesting because it gives you a mix of contentious and non-contentious work.” On the disputes side, newbies get involved in “gearing up for tribunals or settlements” by helping to prepare witness statements and “going to chambers numerous times for conferences with barristers and clients.” A recent tribunal case saw the firm successfully defend Harrods against an unfair dismissal claim. Drafting experience comes in the form of writing employment contracts and consultancy agreements using templates and tailoring them “to the client’s specific situation.” Because we came calling during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, non-contentious work had involved related research tasks – namely how employers should handle the situation. Trainees in this seat are also responsible for organising ‘Know-How' sessions: “Every other fortnight one department presents on the biggest cases or goings-on in that area for the rest of the firm.”
“We get to work with household names – it’s amazing!”
TME (technology, media and entertainment) is unsurprisingly the most popular seat “so they usually take two trainees at a time to accommodate everyone.” This is generally considered “the commercial seat” and “involves a lot of industry-focused matters” in areas such as advertising, sport and video gaming (the work doesn’t involve playing FIFA, unfortunately). Trainees had helped with agreements between magazines and for “elite athletes in different types of sports,” plus conducted some work with professional football clubs: “It was so exciting!” Non-sporty types can get involved in work “with production companies and household names, which was amazing!” Speaking of which, the firm recently acted as production counsel for Netflix as it made its first UK-shot film, Rebecca. We got the impression that TME offers the most varied work: “You work across the whole floor, so you encounter all the sectors.” On the advertising side, the group advised David Beckham on brand ambassador/endorsement deals with the likes of adidas and Haig Club whisky, while on the gaming side lawyers here represent Microsoft, The Pokémon Company and games studio Dream Harvest.
There isn’t a shortage of “the biggest household names” over in litigation, either. This seat is split into two three-month stints, between commercial litigation and IP on the one hand, and MIC (the Media Information Group) on the other. Commercial litigation “isn’t as hands-on” as the media half according to a source: “There’s a lot of admin, but you do get to draft cease and desist letters.” The media side sees trainees assume a Malcolm Tucker-type role: “Fundamentally, your job is to keep stories out of the press and to stop potential defamatory broadcasts from happening.” Case in point: the firm recently acted for none other than Prince Harry, when LA-based Splash News used a helicopter to photograph his private home. ’Nuff said. Another matter saw the team file a successful complaint against The Daily Telegraph for Melania Trump over false claims made about the First Lady’s past. Naturally, it’s a fast-paced seat: “You’ll get a call from someone saying, ‘This is being broadcast next week,’ so you have to rush around the clock to shut it down – it’s so exciting!” Trainees thought that “it’s the least legal seat – there’s a lot of screenshotting and monitoring newspapers.”
“I don’t feel like a small cog in a giant wheel.”
“A lot of our deals are for clients in the film and TV sectors,” explained one interviewee when discussing the corporate seat. Here trainees deal with the business mechanics behind the scenes, however. “We do a bit of private equity and venture capital too, like fundraising rounds for small companies – that’s how we differentiate ourselves. We get to meet the founders and watch the companies grow, which is nice.” Harbottle recently represented Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant group on its multimillion investment from LA-based private equity outfit Lion Capital; the team also acted for independent film and TV production company All3Media Finance on its acquisition of live sports programmer Aurora Media Worldwide. High levels of client exposure were reported here: “You take notes and run through the warranties with clients in disclosure meetings.” Irrespective of the type of deal, “we have small teams, so trainees genuinely play a crucial part. I don’t feel like a small cog in a giant wheel.” That being said, “we also have to do a lot of house stuff, like updating spreadsheets, which isn’t as exciting as the client-facing parts.”
“The culture is best demonstrated by our wellness package,” said one insider, and what a wellness package it is: daily fitness classes, fortnightly massages, monthly therapy sessions and fortnightly talks on mental health are all free. Managing partner Glen Atchison tells us more: “We could have fit everyone on two floors in our new building, but we took four so that we had the room to grow and could have dedicated wellness and breakout rooms. Our yoga/fitness studio is better than most of London’s, given our river view.” Can Chambers Student have some guest passes please? Interviewees were pleased to report that “the fitness classes break down the barriers between us and senior people. I’m often doing yoga next to our managing partner, which probably doesn’t happen elsewhere!” Even in the midst of a global pandemic, fitness classes continued via Zoom to “keep our sense of community.”
“I’m often doing yoga next to our managing partner, which probably doesn’t happen elsewhere!”
If yoga isn’t your cup of tea, you can also ‘break down barriers’ in Harbottle’s eighth-floor café. There aren’t any Mean Girls-style “You can’t sit with us!” vibes here: “In my second week I was eating lunch with another trainee and a partner asked if they could join us, which was a big deal. There’s no social hierarchy.” It’s also a phone-free zone, “so everyone sits together and chats for an hour.”Every trainee we spoke to waxed lyrical about the “Ottolenghi-style” lunch, which is far from school dinner stodge: “It’s genuinely amazing. It’s on another level. We have an app on our phone with three different options every day and it’s all free,”said one trainee, while another added: “I really missed it when I was on secondment!”
Further bonding comes in the form of quarterly inter-departmental hiking trips: “They take ten people from different levels, including support staff, and we walk through the Lake District for three days, staying in hotels along the way. We don’t have to take annual leave for it and they encourage us not to take our phones. It’s such a good bonding experience.”As trainees walk towards qualification, things tend to remain quite informal: “If there’s a department you want to qualify into you chat to them, and if they have room and like you they’ll take you. It can be problematic that a lot of people come here for TME work, so if everyone wants to qualify there I would be surprised if they took us all on!” Both of Harbottle's spring 2020 qualifiers stayed on at the firm as NQs, but due to Covid-19 the firm did not retain any of its three autumn qualifiers.
Business Class: Trainees can get involved in each department’s business development activities regardless of whether they’re sat with that group or not: “It’s really fantastic and something you probably couldn’t do at bigger firms.” The sports lawyers recently let a trainee attend a conference on their behalf “because they knew that person was interested in the area.”
How to get a Harbottle & Lewis training contract
As you might expect, there's plenty of clamour for a training contract at Harbottle & Lewis. The firm usually receives around 600 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.”
Partner 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 the office and hours
In keeping with its rich and famous client roster, the firm moved to a new office right next to the Savoy Hotel in 2019. Managing partner Glen Atchison told us the reason for the move was two-fold. With Harbottle’s former Hanover Square home being smack-bang in the middle of Crossrail, “the landlord would no doubt have wanted to turn our building into a retail opportunity, such as H&M."The prospect of incoming fast-Swedish-fashion aside, “the old building was a bit of a rabbit warren, so it was less conducive to our modern collaborative way of working.” The new stomping ground features an open-plan workspace that’s “dealt with in a sympathetic way. I strongly believe in the importance of nesting, so we don’t do hot-desking,” confirms Atchison. “We’ve got lots of light breakout spaces and there are plants everywhere, in keeping with our commitment to the wellbeing of our people."Sounds ideal to us.
Like most corporate groups, trainees had “a couple of bad stints” hours-wise, “but the latest I stayed was 10pm, which isn’t bad compared to City firms.”Across departments, “there isn’t a culture of staying late just for the sake of it,” said one interviewee, while another declared that on the whole “the hours are really good. Seriously good. The work/life balance here is incredible for a law firm!”
Harbottle & Lewis LLP
7 Savoy Court,
- Partners 38
- Associates 60
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruitment: Lisa Lacuna, [email protected], 020 7667 5000
- Training partners: Melanie Benson, Mark Irving
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 600
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st March 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2022/2023 start: 31 May 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- 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, 2020
- 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)