“People come from all walks of life. Diversity runs through the firm.” This forward-thinking, creative firm offers the legal market something a little different.
“I was previously a journalist.” “I used to work in theatre.” “I was originally going to take a music gig.” – These were typical career stories of the trainees we interviewed, finding their thirst for creative input and industry expertise both satisfied at Lewis Silkin. The founder, coincidentally also called Lewis Silkin, was born into a family of Jewish Lithuanian refugees, and although disadvantaged, Silkin relied on grit and innovation to build his firm. This is a dynamic, forward-thinking firm famous for its work in immigration and employment, and for the media clients it draws in.
The firm has offices in London, Cardiff and Oxford, and overseas bases in Dublin and Hong Kong. At the time of our calls nearly all trainees were based in the London office and just one was in Cardiff. Lewis Silkin focuses on two areas of practice: Employment, Immigration and Reward (EIR); and Creators, Makers and Innovators (CMI). Under both these umbrella terms lay the firm's 12 legal practice groups; CMI includes sectors like advertising, music, digital and social media, publishing and fashion. Under the EIR blanket hides sectors like equality and diversity, workplace investigations and sports.
“The actual interview was obviously terrifying, but they made it as relaxed as it could be.”
Chambers UK grants Lewis Silkin high honours in employment in London, Oxford and Cardiff. London also earns good rankings in corporate, immigration, and IP; and UK-wide media & entertainment, advertising, retail, and sport are also noteworthy. The firm looks for around six trainees to join each September. Much of the interview process is pretty standard, consisting of a video interview, psychometric testing and an in-person interview, but… wait for it… no suits allowed. Applicants are encouraged to dress smart-casual to help ease the stress of the big day: “The actual interview was obviously terrifying, but they made it as relaxed as it could be.”
There are now seven permanent seat options, and immigration and real estate seats are available on an ad hoc basis. One noted: “You’ll pretty much do everything anyway, there is no need for a formal structure.” The one rule? Trainees must complete at least one seat in the London office due to Cardiff maintaining only two seat options. The training contract is typically 4x6 month seats, one being a client secondment, but it was also common for sources to complete split seats.
Employment being the biggest department at Lewis Silkin meant trainees received a wide variety of work, from working on abuse allegations concerning Tibetan Buddhists to so-so contract and policy review. The group maintains specialist teams, focusing on High Court litigation, trade unions, data protection and international work. Recent growth has led to a focus on investigations, which is where most trainees we spoke to received work. The #MeToo movement has propelled much of this focus: “It can be both fascinating and harrowing. You may find yourself in a small room for eight hours frantically typing about chilling allegations.” Clients come to the firm seeking investigation work in areas like gender or race discrimination, and allegations of fraud and sexual misconduct. Lawyers go into these situations acting as independent investigators, conducting interviews with the subjects: “We watch their body language to try to decipher if they are a credible witness, like a judge would do in court.”
“You may find yourself in a small room for eight hours frantically typing about chilling allegations.”
Other sources in the seat listed tasks like attending preliminary hearings, drafting settlement agreements and subject access requests, and submitting defence claims. “It was a steep learning curve, but I felt protected while doing it.” The client pool has big fish in it like Sainsbury’s, Airbnb and LinkedIn. Silkin previously advised HPE on relocating its European Works Council arrangements from the UK to Ireland following the Brexit referendum.
Trainees in commercial brands and IP werekept busy with “advising clients on advertising regulatory issues,” and worked in patent, trademark and design portfolio management. Following the recent launch of The Collective, the firm has been at the forefront of business advisory for those in the luxury and lifestyle space, like the one and only Jean-Paul Gaultier. Lewis Silkin was involved in Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show; work included advising on music clearance issues in Italy, Russia, the UK and Spain. Other clients on the team’s VIP guestlist include Mercedes-Benz, Hermès and Liberty. Back down to earth for a second: trainees on these clients were heavily involved with ad clearance work. “We inform clients on the level of risk to their advert, for example, car adverts that promote reckless speeding. If the client has released the advert and received a complaint, it’s a case of defending them to the ASA.” Typical trainee tasks include “contract review, working on venue hire agreements, attending client counsel conferences and researching ASA rulings.”
“It was just me and my supervisor on the case. I was involved in everything.”
Dispute resolution covers a full house of litigation, arbitration and mediation. Trainees often worked on trials in the High Court: “It was just me and my supervisor on the case. I was involved in everything.” On such trials, trainees are tasked with preparing trial bundles, helping with witness statements, reviewing evidence in the discovery process and creating the pre-trial checklist. A certain resilience is called for: “You’ll get pulled into litigations from all corners of the firm.” For example, a source worked closely with the employment team, acting for Secarma (a cybersecurity company) in the Court of Appeal: “The defendant had arranged a team move by taking Secarma’s employees to set up a competing business. We were trying to stop them from taking advantage of the expertise of the people who had left their place of work.” Other clients include House of Fraser, Ford and Deliveroo.
“Most trainees have done a client secondment” at Lewis Silkin. Sources spoke of doing client secondments in employment, commercial and litigation. Like seat allocation, the secondment structure is not set in stone; “it depends on how long the client wants you or how long you want to go.” One source went to Mercedes-Benz for six weeks: “I worked alongside my supervisor – it was a useful experience.” Another secondee found themselves helping an organisation through the Covid-19 crisis: “I was helping the commercial team keep up to date with the coronavirus regulations that had changed overnight, like travel bans. As the situation progressed, I worked with the HR director to pull together their policies, like furloughing and working from home.”
The theme of the firm’s practice area strengths trickles down into the culture. Sources mused that “senior staff are aware of best practice when it comes to treating trainees.” Our interviewees thought this unique insight into staff wellbeing benefited them too. The diversity and inclusion committee put on an initiative called #ThisPlaceMinds, where “people share their own personal struggles with mental health.” The firm also has a counsellor who provides confidential sessions. Lewis Silkin has always been one of the stronger performers in our diversity survey, which has been achieved through multiple measures large and small, like removing the gendered terms from their email signatures. The very reasonable working hours also contribute to a positive firm culture – the majority of interviewees worked from 9am to 6pm, and “it’s rare you would have to log on in the evening or work weekends.”
“The partners hosted a Lewis Silkin MTV Cribs and showed us all around their houses on webcam.”
“People don’t have a rigid idea of roles here” – starting with the employment department in London, the place is being refurbished to encourage a non-hierarchical structure. “The walls were removed from around us, people can chat freely now, and I don’t think any partner has their own office.” The firm’s efforts seem to be working: “Most partners I wouldn’t mind making a cup of tea with.” During the pandemic, partners have kept their metaphorical doors open, with virtual coffee breaks and catch-ups. Even the qualification process is a “relaxed and open conversation.” Lewis Silkin retained all four qualifiers in 2020.
A lot of sources came to Lewis Silkin in search of a career change, with most coming from untraditional routes to legal practice. This means some vibrant personalities and spirited socials. When asked to define the culture, “innovative,”“kind” and “ethical” were the trainees’ buzzwords. A pandemic isn’t enough to stop Silkins from having a knees-up either; recent ‘events’ have included video pub quizzes: “It was absolutely hilarious, the partners hosted a Lewis Silkin MTV Cribs and showed us around their houses on webcam.” Other recent socials included a Harry Potter-themed Christmas party and summer boat party, all gossiped about in detail on the “active WatsApp chat.”
Pot it like it’s hot
Trainees from the Oxford, Cardiff and London offices get together during CSR initiatives, one being the gardening challenge. Lawyers can volunteer at St Mary’s Secret Garden to offer ecotherapy activities to people with support needs.
How to get a Lewis Silkin training contract
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.
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 57
- Associates 155
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices London, Cardiff, Oxford
- Overseas offices Dublin, Hong Kong
- Graduate recruiter: Katie Deering, Human Resources Officer
- [email protected]
- 020 7074 8000
- Training Partner: Shalina Crossley
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Approx. 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-December 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 15 March 2021
- 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: N/A
- Client secondments: Various (Business-need dependent)
We aspire to be the leading legal and related services firm for creative, innovative and tech-focused businesses. We don’t try to do everything, but what we do, we do well. We offer market leading practice areas including our pre-eminent employment & immigration, commercial, IP, data and dispute resolution groups as well as a deep cross-firm market expertise in our chosen sectors.
Our clients range from large multinational corporations and FTSE 100 companies, to household name high growth startups and small owner managed business and entrepreneurs.
People are at the heart of our firm, united by a passion for creativity, technology and innovation. Our firm’s culture is encapsulated by an ethos of bravery and kindness and guided by our values of Integrity, Clarity, Unity and Excellence (our I-CUE). We support each other, our clients and our community, we embrace diversity and we are all able to bring our full selves to work.
Main areas of work
We provide services through key sectors including advertising and marketing; financial services; media and entertainment; professional services; retail, fashion and hospitality; sports business; and technology.
Trainees will enjoy responsibility from day one and will gain a broad range of contentious and noncontentious experience. We aim to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds; we don’t mind if you’re fresh out of law school or someone with previous experience in another industry.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Diversity, inclusion & wellbeing
We recognise that a more inclusive workplace allows for a plethora of ideas and thoughts, a variety of points of view that can trigger discussions or deliver innovative results, as well as a wide scope of versatile skills and expertise. We are proud of the diverse range of people within Lewis Silkin and culture of bravery and kindness that allows individuals to be themselves at work, ensuring we provide the best possible service to our clients.
We have long supported a gender diverse partnership. Over the past eight years there have been three years where partner promotions were 100% female, including this year in which three female associates made partner. As part of our 2020 ‘Awareness to Action’ campaign we have taken proactive steps to move towards gender balance and play our role in creating a more equal profession for all.
This involved launching our Women in Law Pledge targets including no less than 45% female partners by 2027, gender balance in leadership and other fee earning roles and reducing our gender pay gap by no less than 40% by 2027. Partner appraisals have also been updated to include assessment against how they have promoted the firm’s culture and values, steps they have taken to advance D&I and the setting of a diversity related objective for the coming year.
Our firm’s history is one of social mobility. Lewis Silkin (the man) was born to a poor family of refugees, but his determination and hard work led him to qualify as a solicitor (going on to represent Deptford in the House of Commons and sit in the House of Lords). This history is at the core of our culture and our values and it drives our commitment to ensure that access to the legal profession is open, fair and socially inclusive.
We promote social mobility through our work experience and employment offerings. This year we have launched our Solicitor Apprenticeship scheme, as part of our commitment to creating alternative routes into the legal profession for young people. As part of our PRIME commitment, we offer work experience placements for students from less privileged backgrounds who might otherwise not have the opportunity to access careers in the legal world. Social mobility is also a major part of our CSR programme, and we work with schools and charities including XLP, one of our firm charity partners, to offer mentoring and virtual careers opportunities.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- 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)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Immigration: Business (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)
- Employment (Band 2)