Harbottle & Lewis' media and entertainment work
Despite its reputation as a confidant to the stars, trainees at Harbottle were quick to dispel the assumption that their days are spent sipping frothy coffees with the Windsors, or the Beckhams – the other royal family. This firm, they emphasised, isn't interested in “people who want to meet celebs or just think media law is glamorous and sexy.” Au contraire, this is serious legal business that's focused on the commercial aspects of the creative industries. Still, there's no denying Harbottle is the bee's knees when it comes to media law, and new joiners can expect to have a fascinating selection of work at hand.
The main mission of Harbottle's defamation and reputation management practice is to protect the privacy of high-profile clients, especially when media activity starts getting into potentially libellous territory. In August 2016 the firm was instructed by Melania Trump – now First Lady of the United States – in legal proceedings against the Daily Mail. The case refers to an article published in the paper suggesting that Melania Trump worked as an escort in the 90s, while also asking questions about her previous immigration status. The firm also acted against the same paper on behalf of ex-Bond Roger Moore over an article entitled 'The spy who ‘groped’ me' – the paper had to formally apologise over the false and defamatory claims it had made.
In a more contemporary case lawyers represented former Conservative party deputy chair Lord Ashcroft in a case against Facebook over objectionable posts about him on the social media site. The firm lends a hand to royals too: it challenged The Sun on behalf of the Queen regarding the 'Queen backs Brexit' headline; it also made a successful complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) on behalf of Prince Harry after The Daily Star printed a story that claimed he'd been romantically involved with Pippa Middleton. In the past, Harbottle's solicitors have won cases for Russell Brand and taken on other defamation and reputation management cases on behalf of the Beckhams, Sir Richard Branson, Kate Moss, Alex Ferguson, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Tamara Ecclestone, the Middletons and Sandra Bullock.
Theatre work has been the firm's bread-and-butter since its beginnings in the 1950s, when its two founders – Laurence Harbottle and Brian Lewis – used their connections in the industry to acquire their first clients. As of late 2016 the firm was lead advisor on nine running West End productions including The Book of Mormon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wicked and Motown. Lawyers also advise on many West End and Broadway transfers, including An American in Paris (which opened in the West End in February 2017), The Audience and Wolf Hall. Theatre clients include the National, the Old Vic and the Donmar Warehouse.
The firm is also a leading light in the world of film production, acting as counsel on both Hollywood productions and British films. For example, it recently worked out the financial agreements for and acted as production counsel on the The Mummy (the recent Tom Cruise re-hash, not the 1999 version with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz). One trainee recently worked closely with a partner and an associate on two film-funding schemes, both a UK one run in conjunction with the BFI and an international project which will begin with a UK-Indian co-production involving India's Cinestaan and up-and-coming UK producer Kurban Kassam.
What about sport? In this arena, the firm takes on contentious and transactional matters, and services individual sports people too. Harbottle's netted some sterling sporting customers in recent years, including Kevin Pietersen, the England cricket team and controversial heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury. Sponsorship is a major area of practice: lawyers recently advised Virgin Media on its sponsorship agreement with Southampton FC; they also facilitated car manufacturer Nissan's eight-year deal with the International Cricket Council to become sponsor of all Cricket World Cups until 2023 (the firm had previously helped the car maker do a similar deal for the UEFA Champions League). Lawyers also advised on the staging of the second Invictus Games in Orlando in May 2016 and helped cricketer Andrew Strauss sort out his appointment as the new director of English cricket by the England and Wales Cricket Board.