In a black-and-white corporate world, a dual focus on employment and the creative industries gives Lewis Silkin a more colourful edge.
Ol' blue eyes
It was Frank Sinatra who said “the best revenge is massive success,” and Mr Lewis Silkin had reason to agree. Having won a scholarship to Oxford back in the early 1900s, his headmaster wrote hastily to the powers that be, telling them: “This boy will not benefit from a university education.” The 99-year legacy of the firm he helped found proves he didn’t really need one. Chambers UK bestows a tip-top nationwide ranking upon Lewis Silkin (the firm) for its media and entertainment work, particularly in advertising and marketing. In London, the firm performs especially well in employment and immigration work; but it also scoops a prize each for its IP, real estate and corporate practices. Unlike swathes of firms in the City, however, most of those teams tend to swim in more creative waters. Out of its HQ on Chancery Lane, the firm works with an impressive array of clients in the creative industries. There’s theatre (the Royal Albert Hall), music (VEVO and The Ministry of Sound), and publishing (Time Out and The Economist), plus advertising top dogs.
"We felt it was important for us strategically to have a base within the European Union.”
Looking beyond London, Lewis Silkin has bases in Oxford and Cardiff (both do mainly employment and real estate). Further afield there’s an office in Hong Kong which deals mostly in employment, and in April 2017 the firm opened a Dublin office which will also start out by focusing on employment and creative industries. Chief executive Ian Jeffery tells us the move was driven partly by Brexit: “Quite a lot of work we’re involved in is cross-border, and we felt it was important for us strategically to have a base within the European Union.” In another new move, the firm is looking to open up opportunities for trainees in its Cardiff office – at the moment, trainees based here have to complete one seat in London in order to meet SRA requirements.
To make the most of its specialisms, the firm is structured into two broad divisions: CMI ('Creators, Makers and Innovators') and EIR ('Employment, Immigration and Reward'). 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 & marketing.
All trainees are assigned to a particular legal practice group for each seat. However, they also sit with a supervisor whose expertise may cover other groups – the result is a more fluid experience, with trainees' six-month seats each containing work across a number of areas. Trainees are encouraged to sit down with HR and/or the training partner before each rotation to flag any seat preferences they may have. “Because of the size of the firm, you never end up somewhere completely out of touch with what you want to be doing. It’s all quite connected.” Client secondments were also fairly common among the trainees we spoke to.
I'm a sponsor ... get me out of here!
Within CMI many sources had sampled a mixture of IP, brand management, commercial and data privacy work. “You get a chance to have experience in a lot of different areas of work with clients in a range of industries, like sports and fashion,” boasted one source. A recent highlight saw the firm advise Suzuki on its renegotiation of a sponsorship deal with Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, which followed from Ant's drink-driving incident. In the field of data protection, the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has provided the firm with plenty of work, as it advised both ODEON and media multinational Viacom on its effects. The firm also advised Fulham FC on the IP licensing necessary to appear in Konami's Pro-Evo Soccer. And, as an example of how the firm ties many of these related practices together, it sits on the legal panel for Sainsbury’s, Argos and Habitat. That entails managing their global trademark portfolio, handling infringement disputes, and defending them in advertising and marketing disputes. Trainees' tasks in these areas included drafting terms and conditions, privacy policies and talent agreements.
“You’re getting that gritty litigation experience while working for cutting-edge clients.”
There are more household names to be found in the firm’s dispute resolution work: Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, and Deliveroo to name a few. There's both IP and commercial litigation here, and shareholder, joint venture and civil fraud disputes are all handled. Two recent examples saw lawyers advise Lush Cosmetics on a shareholder dispute, and act for SuperDry in a High Court trade mark infringement claim. Trainees explained: “We see a lot of clashes in brand advertising. The team provides a nice balance: you’re getting that gritty litigation experience while working for cutting-edge clients.” Trainees enjoyed “getting to grips with the court system – I've worked on disclosure tagging, and cease and desist letters.” One particular highlight was “helping on an injunction within two weeks of starting.”
Over on the EIR side of things, there's an employment team that excels at working for some “big name employers – which makes it even more exciting.” Among those big names there’s Ford, ASOS, LinkedIn and magic circle firm Freshfields. Trainees were lucky to enough to have involvement in a worker status case on behalf of Deliveroo employees, which centred on the highly contentious 'gig economy.' The firm also carried out the Old Vic's internal investigation prompted by the revelations about Kevin Spacey. Sources spoke about “a lot of tribunal work, advisory stuff, then some policy review too, or drafting new policies.” It took trainees some time to build up responsibility, but “nearer the end of the seat I was able to be in direct contact with clients, calling and emailing.”
Under CMI, trainees might also do a stint in the firm’s corporate group. “As corporate departments go, it’s probably one of the tightest-knit. There are only seven or eight partners, and normally only one trainee.” It has a strong specialism in the advertising and marketing sectors, and recently advised the Be Heard Group, a digital marketing services company, on three acquisitions valued between £2.1 million and £12 million. Trainees “start with routine things that need to be done on every transaction, like bundling. Then gradually you step up to drafting ancillary documents and reviewing purchase agreements. That led all the way up to me handling a small share sale by myself.”
The Silkin kin
Trainees suggested the small intake benefited their ability to build responsibility: “We have the opportunity to shine quickly because people know who you are. The flip-side is that the spotlight is on you and there’s no chance to be anonymous.” Trainees recalled that, compared to Lewis Silkin, other firms they interviewed at “felt a bit lonely, like nobody wanted to get to know you. After I was offered a place here, about three partners emailed me to say they’d be delighted for me to accept.” Couple that personal touch with a “culture where you wake up in the morning and want to go to work,” and the Lewis Silkin picture looks pretty rosy: “I’d say it’s a place that prides itself on having quite a flat hierarchy. It’s not like I have to brace myself for a conversation with a partner. It’s a reassuring environment to learn in.”
“We have the opportunity to shine quickly.”
And on the learning front, “a couple of times a month trainees are invited to lunchtime seminars run by different practice groups – whether we can make them is another matter!” Our interviewees were certainly kept busy, but overall the hours are “friendly for a law firm.” Less fortunate sources could recount tales of the odd post-midnight finish here and there, but working days in London typically ended between 6pm and 7pm. “Still, I’d strike a note of caution – it is a commercial law firm. At busy periods everyone is expected to muck in.”
A social committee handles firm-wide events: there’s the annual Christmas and summer parties, and at the time of our calls, interviewees were looking forward to a quiz. Trainees also get their own social budget to let loose: “It’s important that we get to let off some steam without worrying.” It must be working – trainees were united in their desire to stay on. “Ever since starting I’ve known it’s the firm I want to build my career at.” In 2018, all four qualifiers were retained.
Talk of a Spice Girls reunion isn’t the only sign that girl power is alive and well. Lewis Silkin’s 2017 trainee group was an all-woman ensemble.
How to get a Lewis Silkin training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): mid-June 2019 (opens mid-March 2019)
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 two three-day workshops at the beginning of April in its London office. These involve 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 56
- Associates 87
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London, Cardiff, Oxford
- Overseas offices Hong Kong
- Contacts Human resources officer, Juliette Drummond, [email protected]
- Training partner: 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: mid-June 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 applications open: mid-December 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31st January 2019
- Open day 2019 deadline: 31st January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,250
- Second-year salary: £41,500
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London (and sometimes Cardiff)
- Overseas seats: No
- Client secondments: Business-need dependent
Main areas of work
Lewis Silkin’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 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Data Protection & Information Law Recognised Practitioner
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 3)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 4)
- Employment (Band 3)