For top-notch employment work, a whole host of household-name clients and a friendly vibe reaching from Cardiff to Hong Kong, get yourself over to Lewis Silkin.
Tryin’ to run the town
Like an episode of Doctor Who from 2005, Lewis Silkin trainees have the option of splitting their time between London and Cardiff. The firm also has a trainee-less base in Oxford and small overseas offices in Dublin and Hong Kong. The latter recently opened itself up to domestic clients after hiring a new senior consultant and legal director. The training contract is officially based in London, but it was Cardiff that was the biggest talking point for our interviewees. Set up in 2012, the Welsh office has seen dramatic growth in the past couple of years. Currently there are only two seats available in the office, so trainees must complete a minimum of one seat in the London office. At the time of our calls, there were two trainees sat in Cardiff and the other nine were in London. Currently all trainees are officially based in London, but sources hoped that “eventually the firm will be in a position to host an exclusively Cardiff-based training contract – they just don’t have a dispute resolution or corporate team there yet.”
In London, Lewis Silkin is based on Chancery Lane and its location right on the edge of the City reflects its somewhat edgy and unusual practice areas, which are a bit different to your usual City fare. Employment, IP and media are all “interesting” areas Lewis Silkin works in, which might pique your interest. The firm's employment work is so well established that it gains a top ranking not only in Chambers UK but in Chambers Global too. The firm is also ranked nationally for advertising, gaming, theatre, sport, retail and partnership work, and in London gains recognition for its corporate, litigation, IP and immigration practices. The Cardiff and Oxford offices are both ranked for employment.
To make the most of its specialisms, Lewis Silkin is structured into two broad divisions.
To make the most of its specialisms, Lewis Silkin is structured into two broad divisions: Creators, Makers and Innovators (CMI) and Employment, Immigration and Reward (EIR). Within these are the firm's 12 legal practice groups, most of which – from dispute resolution and IP to real estate and corporate – fall under CMI's remit. Meanwhile, eight sector focus groups bring the practice groups together to target specific markets, like advertising and marketing, financial services, media and entertainment, and manufacturing and engineering. We know it's all a bit confusing, but Lewis Silkin does some genuinely interesting work, so it's worth reading on.
Workin’ for the man
Employment is a “big department with over 100 lawyers – there are a lot of us!” A number of specialist teams make for a wide variety of work: “There’s a High Court team dealing with all High Court litigation like breach of restrictive covenant and team moves – when a big group of people move from one company to a competitor. There’s an atypical workers team that covers stuff like zero-hours contracts and flexible working. There's also a team doing trade union work and a data protection team.” Then there’s generalist contentious work which covers Employment Tribunal claims, and non-contentious advisory work related to contracts and policy reviews. Phew! Clients come from a range of sectors – our interviewees had worked with law firms, financial services companies, advertising agencies and delivery companies. The client roster leads with a whole host of household names: Sainsbury’s, ASOS, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Vivienne Westwood. And this team are also the ones behind the only reported court victory for an employer in the gig economy – they represented Deliveroo in the High Court in the dispute which decided that Deliveroo riders are not legally classified as 'workers'.
Working on employment disputes, trainees end up doing a lot of bundling and research – “a good first exposure to contentious work.” There’s also a fair amount of reviewing case files, claims and policies, as well as drafting responses and employment contracts, preparing for hearings, and attending interviews for investigations. On the non-contentious side the firm recently advised Viacom on workplace data protection issues, and worked with the Old Vic to establish a 'guardians programme' to help employees seek confidential advice – the firm had previously helped the theatre investigate sexual harassment claims related to Kevin Spacey's time as artistic director.
Dispute resolution tackles both commercial and IP litigation, plus shareholder, joint venture and civil fraud disputes. Trainees we spoke to had encountered work for all kinds of industries “from fashion and retail to industrial engineering.” Commercial disputes clients include Marks & Spencer, Arsenal, Lush and House of Fraser. The group recently represented the latter in an unfair prejudice petition presented by a minority shareholder, part of the same group as Sports Direct. On the IP side the work ranges from High Court IP disputes about brands and media to international trade mark work. The team recently represented Dyson in a trade mark infringement dispute with the makers of Shark vacuum cleaners over the latter's new advertising campaign. Other IP clients include Britvic, Superdry, Visa, Argos and Facebook. Trainees tend to watch over the “many cases we have on, keeping track of them, making sure we don’t miss deadlines, and checking things with local counsel and clients.” Of course, litigation also means bundling and trial prep, as well as assisting with witness statements, proofing court documents, putting together exhibits, drafting letters and liaising with experts.
“Working with case law can be like being back at law school!”
“It’s quite different work to the rest of the firm,” trainees told us of the real estate department, somewhat brutally adding: “You don’t come to Lewis Silkin to do real estate.” However, property work is a big part of the firm’s history – its founder Lewis Silkin was housing minister in the post-war Attlee government – and this legacy lives on to this day. The group tends to do a lot of litigation work such as defending oppositions to planning permission and handling tenant grievances, as well as infrastructure, protest, property finance, regeneration and planning work. The team helped Harrods and Canada Goose seek injunctions against anti-fur protesters and represented a North London mosque in a compensation claim against the local council following a regeneration scheme. The department mostly exists in London, with the Cardiff team an “extension of the London team,” working on primarily the same work, with one real estate partner holding the fort. Trainees told us they “get a lot of responsibility: drafting client reports, licences for alteration and landlord and tenant agreements.” As well as this, we heard trainees proofread leases, handle completions, and do the occasional site visit – “they’re interesting and get you out the office!” Trainees told us the work can be quite “legalistic – working with case law can be like being back at law school!”
The “smaller” commercial brands and IP team covers “a breadth of work that exposes you to many different things.” Up for grabs is advising advertising agencies on regulatory issues with the Advertising Standards Agency for ad clearance from an IP perspective. (Try saying that after a glass of fizz.) There’s also a media and entertainment practice, a sports practice and a general commercial practice which handles things like data privacy. One interviewee rated the advertising work as it’s “quick and fast-paced – you’ll advise on something and then all of a sudden you’ll see the ad you helped to clear on TV.” Advertising clients include Bacardi, Booking.com and Hilton Hotels. The group was also enlisted by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers to draft the first ever industry standard template contract for brands working with online influencers for marketing. The team also helped ASOS negotiate a new contract for its design and manufacturing services. And lawyers advised on the IP aspects of the staging of a new musical in the US and Canada based on the music of rock band Foreigner. Trainees get to draft talent agreements, advertising guidance, IP licences and general commercial agreements, as well as doing the odd bit of due diligence.
“All of a sudden you’ll see the ad you helped to clear on TV.”
It’s extremely common to do a client secondment if you’re a trainee in Lewis Silkin’s London office. Interviewees rated the experience as “a great way to get client contact, learn a lot about an industry and bring that knowledge back to the firm.” In Cardiff “the cut and dry is there aren’t really any local secondments yet,” but trainees still have the option to do a secondment in London. Despite the firm having offices in Hong Kong and Dublin, international travel isn’t common. Sources told us: “Some partners and associates go out there, and they do encourage trainees to go on office visits – but more Oxford and Cardiff than Hong Kong!” The Hong Kong office works on employment only and Dublin works on both employment and IP.
What a way to make a livin’
Working so heavily on employment matters must teach Lewis Silkin a thing or two about keeping employees happy. During our interviews the words “friendly” and “casual” were ever-present. “Sorry if I sound emphatic but I’m just enjoying it so much here!” one interviewee gushed. Trainees found it fun to socialise with “all the different types of people at the firm – there’s people with theatre, advertising, music and HR backgrounds.” A small intake means trainees can get quite “intimate,” having drinks most Fridays and keeping in touch on the group chat. London trainees rated the “non-hierarchical office structure – a lot of us sit in an open-plan space and things are quite casual.”
The Cardiff office has “grown considerably,” one source told us. “There were about 20 people in total when I got here, now there’s about 40!” Inhabitants of the Welsh office have seen “friendship groups form – any given Friday people will naturally go out for drinks or go do something like mini-golf. Previously you had people come in, do their work and go home. It’s nice to have that social aspect to the office now.” Trainees also liked the office's “relatively young age on average – most people are in their 20s or 30s.”
“Encourages openness about mental health issues.”
Overall, trainees in London tend to work 9am to 6 or 7pm each day, with “very busy” classed as regularly staying till 7.30 or 8pm. Cardiff trainees reported usually finishing at 5.30pm – “it’s more chilled I think.” Trainees felt the firm as a whole is “not a very racially diverse firm,” but recognised that there are a lot of initiatives in place to improve things. This includes a diversity and inclusion committee and a mental health awareness initiative named #ThisPlaceMinds, which “encourages openness about mental health issues – we have a log on our intranet where people write about their experiences. It’s used by all levels of seniority, and it encourages you to be very inclusive and open.”
Newbies get a buddy when they join to “learn the ropes.” But their main points of support are the “really supportive and friendly” supervisors who provide daily advice and wider-scope chats such as “talking about your career expectations and those sort of things to help figure everything out.” We heard that the qualification process used to be incredibly rigorous, with CVs, interviews and even a written test. But thankfully in 2019 that's all been scrapped due to it being “unnecessary admin.” The new system produces “way less stress” and has largely done away with the interviews and the test. Retention rates fluctuate, though in 2017 and 2018 the firm retained all its qualifiers, and in 2019 it kept four of five.
Lewis Silkin trainees recently organised a 24-kilometre trip in the Brecon Beacons, raising over £18,000 for charity in the process.
How to get a Lewis Silkin training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 5 June 2020 (opens mid-March 2020)
Lewis Silkin receives over 400 applications for training contracts each year. These are made via Apply4Law, and there are no CVs involved.
The firm shortlists approximately 40 applicants to complete the pre-selection exercises (a written case study, video interview and verbal and numerical reasoning tests), and these do not require any preparation in advance. Following this, 16 are chosen to take part in an assessment centre that involves a group exercise and interviews with two pairs of partners, plus a chance to speak to current trainees.
According to an HR source, the group exercise is “fun and tongue-in-cheek,” but candidates “should still be mindful that they are being assessed: the exercise is designed to test their decision making, analytical skills and their ability to put forward a persuasive argument. It also allows the candidate to show us their personality.”
In previous years, the exercise centred on a management-related scenario in which “an award-winning architect and building practice had to create a new landmark building in London by considering the location and design concept.” Future candidates take note: your group exercise – though also focused on management – will not be the same!
To impress, successful candidates need to demonstrate 'personal effectiveness' and people skills. Our HR source explains: “In terms of personal effectiveness, we look at whether they understand instructions and demonstrate a clear thought process. For people skills, we're looking to see if they get along with each other, if they create a team environment and act as a natural leader. We keep an eye out for negative indicators too – for example, a limited contribution to the task, and an unwillingness to make decisions and express opinions.”
To bag one of Lewis Silkin's training contracts (there are up to six on offer) our source tells us that you need to be “a bright, open-minded and curious lateral thinker, without the baggage of machismo, arrogance, bravado or working at the expense of others.”
Of course, “there's not a single type of person that the firm's looking for,” trainee sources agreed. “Everyone in my intake is sociable and hard-working, but there's quite a wide age range among us, from 24 through to 36. And a lot of different backgrounds too.” It's worth noting that “many of the trainees have work experience in creative industries like media and advertising,” though that doesn't mean those fresh out of law school can't nab a place.
Lewis Silkin holds a three-day workshop in April at its London office. This involves a variety of presentations and interactive sessions with partners, associates and business services managers, plus a Q&A with trainees.
Attendees also get to participate in an interactive speed networking session. “We give them some soft skills training, and then we let them loose with staff from across the firm and get them to try to find answers to a set of questions,” an HR source says.
There are between ten and 15 spots available per workshop. Applications are made through Apply4Law.
Summer vacation scheme
Lewis Silkin’s Cardiff office now offers vacation scheme weeks in June where students get to experience what is like working at the firm, with hands-on training and exposure to real life matters.
Who was Lewis Silkin?
You might have noticed how firms like their names to be double, triple or even quadruple-barrelled. In an ever-consolidating legal market, these names often reveal the patchwork of mergers behind a firm's current form. They also frequently point to founding members, as Lewis Silkin's does. But there were not – as you might think – two people: one called 'Lewis' and one called 'Silkin', but rather one person: Mr Lewis Silkin. So who was the eponymous Mr Silkin?
In short, he was a lawyer, a Labour MP, a minister of town and country planning under the post-war Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee, and latterly a baron. Born in 1889 to a Jewish family of Lithuanian migrants, Silkin grew up in London's East End. Early on he showed academic promise, but his family's finances prevented him from taking up a place at Oxford, as did the intervention of his schoolmaster, who helpfully informed the university that “this boy will not benefit from a university education.” With his academic career cut short, our young hero tumbled into the world of work: first, at the East India Docks; then at a solicitors' firm as a clerk. Inspired by his employer, Silkin eventually went on to qualify as a solicitor and soon went about setting up his own firm.
Running alongside his career in law was an interest in politics – particularly socialism – and it quickly overtook his legal work. In 1925 Silkin was elected to the London County Council and by 1936 he had a seat in parliament as the member for Peckham. When his brother Joseph also qualified as a solicitor (forming – you guessed it – Silkin & Silkin), Lewis put law on the back-burner to press on with his political career.
Silkin's first decade as an MP coincided with the Second World War and presented many challenges. However, he still found time to cover some endearingly everyday topics in parliament. On 25 July 1940, Silkin asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what action he intended to take to ensure that an 'exceptionally abundant' crop of plums didn't go to waste. He followed this in 1943 with a timely question to the Minister for War Transport, which touched upon the beloved British topic of queueing: “[Is he] aware that the regulation requiring queueing at omnibus stops is frequently not being observed?” A scandal!
As minister for town and country planning, Silkin went on to shape three key pieces of legislation during the post-war drive to reconstruct Britain. First, in 1946, came the New Towns Act, which created 14 new towns beyond the big city boundaries. Second was the Town and Country Planning Act (1947), which set an early precedent for modern planning law. The third was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (1949), which reserved national parks “for the hikers and ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside.” Of all the political legacies to leave, this is evidently one of the more desirable ones.
And what about the law firm that bears his name? Well, it developed quite independently of the man himself after his departure into politics. Silkin returned later on, applying his specialism in planning and development law, but the modern incarnation of the firm was mainly shaped by other family members and fellow partners. However, the firm still wears Silkin's name as a badge of honour, paying tribute to the man who traversed the worlds of law and politics, and achieved success in both.
Lewis Silkin LLP
5 Chancery Lane,
- Partners 60
- Associates 112
- Total trainees 11
- UK offices Dublin, London, Cardiff, Oxford
- Overseas offices Hong Kong
- Contacts Yannis Mandravellos, [email protected]
- Training Principal: Shalina Crossley
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 6
- Applications p:a 400+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Strong academics
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: mid-March 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: mid-June 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 applications open: mid-December 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 cdeadline: 31st January 2020
- Open day 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £42,500
- Post-qualification salary: £62,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: No
- Client secondments: Business-need dependent
Main areas of work
The firm’s employment and immigration team offers an unrivalled service supporting clients, including many of the world’s leading businesses, on their HR, employment and immigration law needs domestically and internationally.
The creators, makers and innovators team is made up of leading advisers for creative, innovative and brand-focused businesses, offering a deep understanding of the industry sectors in which clients operate combined with real expertise across a wide range of legal services.
It provides services through its key sectors: advertising and marketing; media and entertainment; professional services; retail, fashion and hospitality; sports business; and technology. The major practice areas include: brands and intellectual property; commercial; corporate; data and privacy; dispute resolution; employment; immigration; partnership; real estate; tax, reward and incentives; and trade mark and portfolio management.
Trainees will enjoy responsibility from day one and will gain a broad range of contentious and non-contentious experience. The firm aims to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds; they don’t mind you’re fresh out of law school or someone with previous experience in another industry.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
National Leaders (outside London)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Theatre (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)
- Employment (Band 2)