Nice to media – London boutique Simkins represents top names in the music, publishing, film and television industries.
“If you’re interested in media, entertainment AND the law, it only takes quick research to find which firms are going to be right for you.”Interviewees at Simkins weren’t wrong – their firm is one of only a handful focused solely on the shining lights of media and entertainment, and it picks up Chambers UKrankings in the sector for publishing, music, film and television. Defamation and reputation management is another Simkins speciality and ranked practice: the firm recently represented Sir Cliff Richard in a ground-breaking privacy case also involving the BBC and South Yorkshire Police.
Given that nearly everyone in the world would count music, film or media in some form among their interests, it’s no surprise that competition is fierce for Simkins’ two or three training contracts each year. Our research suggests that across all firms, applicants have a 2% chance of scoring a training contract; at Simkins, it shrinks to just 0.6%. In order to separate the Tom Cruises from the Tommy Wiseaus, Simkins' application process involves a unique “intense” week-long vacation scheme. “Coinciding with the summer party, it’s a week of exercises, role-plays with partners and reading through case materials,”sources explained. “It’s great because you end up meeting at least 75% of the firm before starting.” Each year, eight or so candidates participate in the vacation scheme, with just two progressing to training contracts. May the odds be ever in your favour.
“…a week of writing exercises, role-plays with partners and reading through case materials.”
Our interviewees stressed that a proven record in the media and entertainment world will do wonders for your application: “We’ve had people who’ve previously worked as an artist’s manager, at Sony as a paralegal, and in-house at a media company,”one insider recalled.Subscribing to a Cineworld annual pass isn’t going to cut the mustard. Among the most recent cohort, “two of the trainees didn’t have any direct media or entertainment experience,”but did arrive with relevant credentials in other areas. It’s also worth highlighting that Simkins is a “full-service outfit, it's not just media and entertainment law.” The firm handles commercial, disputes, property, employment and corporate work.
This broad mix is reflected in the Simkins training contract, which keeps things simple: four mandatory seats in corporate, commercial, property and disputes. “It’s a good system as it removes any potential politics,” trainees agreed. “Commercial is typically the most popular and property the least popular seat; however, all of them provide great experience.” With just 40-odd lawyers under Simkins’ roof (including trainees), you’re likely to have worked with pretty much everyone by qualification season.
Commercial litigation, defamation/reputation management and employment together make up the disputes seat. Many of our interviewees had also spent three months handling contentious matters with the employment team. “Reputation management is a lot more reactive to live events and cases tend to have much more urgency to them, whereas employment law is more procedural,”one trainee explained. They and others enjoyed attending tribunals and hearings: “You’re mainly making notes but also getting direct exposure to a barrister doing their thing, which is great.”Simkins advised FirstGroup on the termination of the CEO’s PA following a period of absence to participate in the Polish Love Island– she hadn’t asked for permission and was sacked for gross misconduct. Who says law is boring? Reputation management comes with chances “to conduct a mix of legal and non-legal research. You might be looking at an individual’s Twitter feeds or digging about into other people’s lives.” IP disputes are another fixture: Simkins recently represented Frank Recruitment in a dispute with Pearson over the ‘Pearson Frank’ trademark that reached the General Court of the CJEU.
“Commercial is the busiest department and the one people look forward to most,” sources reiterated. “You are free to source work from any of the partners and each of them has a specialist client base.” If you’re glued to your Spotify account, for example, you might make a beeline to the partner specialising in advising musicians on record deals, songwriting royalties and other music contracts. In 2019 the firm advised the legendary Cher on all aspects of her European touring arrangements; they also counselled Firecracker Films on the life rights and co-production agreement for West End production Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, based on the Jamie: Drag Queenat 16documentary. “We get great drafting opportunities,” trainees said. “In my time in this seat I’ve helped draft location agreements, director agreements, a producer’s agreement and a book option agreement.”
“Anything the senior associates are doing, you can have a crack at.”
“A lot of thecorporate work is generated from matters in the commercial team that have a corporate element to them,” sources told us. That might mean working on media company share sales, on a film financing or on the acquisition of a music label. “Anything the senior associates are doing, you can have a crack at,” a trainee declared. “I’ve been communicating with clients, drafting board resolutions and conducting legal research on case backgrounds – all under supervision.” The firm advised international music publishing giant BMG Rights Management on its acquisition of the World Circuit record label, which specialises in Cuban and West African artists and bands.
Simkins’ property team predominantly handles commercial property, “though there is a little residential work”that trainees can also sample. Despite the common perception that property is the least popular seat, every one of our interviewees valued their time there: “It’s probably the seat that offers most responsibility because as well as assisting more senior people on larger transactions, you’re having to run your own files early on.” This source elaborated: “You might receive instructions from the client from which you would draft a lease, send that to the tenant and then make appropriate revisions. There can be a lot of back and forth with different versions of the document; once something’s agreed, you would see it through until completion.”
“I haven’t seen much, if anything, in the way of office politics,” a trainee said of Simkins' day-to-day running. “Everyone’s keen to get trainees involved in the business development side of things – there’s a ton of networking events you can attend.” Others opted to talk about (relatively) laid-back relationships with partners: “I’ve had some of them – big names in the industry – casually come into my office to chat, joke and have a good time. There’s no need to feel worried about talking to anyone here, I’m definitely not having anxiety dreams about it.”Simkins keeps morale high with a vibrant social calendar including an annual Oktoberfest event, bingo evenings and a Burns Night celebration complete with haggis, whisky and bagpipes. Do trainees feel comfortable letting their hair down in front of partners? “At this stage, yes,”they agreed.
“I don’t feel guilty waiting to reply to emails on Monday, it feels like I can switch off.”
Most trainees told us they start work at 9.30am and finish around 7pm on a typical day. “There’s not a culture of having to work more for the sake of it, and there are periods where you can leave at 5.30pm and nobody will blink an eyelid,”several reported. There were also periods when trainees had worked later nights, wrapping things up at 10pm or 11pm in the most extreme examples. Weekend work was, however, avoided across the board, and trainees seemed chill about disconnecting: “I don’t feel guilty waiting to reply to emails on Monday, it feels like I can switch off.” Manageable working hours made our sources optimistic about their long-term future with Simkins, suggesting that “you don’t find people qualifying and then leaving for somewhere quieter. The hours here aren’t comparable to hours at other firms in the City and you’re not working yourself to death, so we often have people join from the bigger firms looking for a better culture and work/life balance.”
With very few trainees jostling for position, the Simkins cohort was unfazed by qualification. “It seems pretty informal,”they explained. “Typically, there are no interviews; it’s more of a chat about where you want to go during the mid-set review of your last seat.”Things might only get more structured if multiple trainees apply to the same department. Because Simkins recruits on such a small scale, “retention figures can be quite distorted”if just one person doesn’t stick around. In 2020 the firm retained one of three qualifiers.
Strictly come drafting
Client secondments are available but "very ad hoc,” and it’s highly unlikely you’ll be working directly with Tom Hardy or Gal Gadot. Sorry.
How to get a Simkins training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 May 2021 (opens 1 October 2020)
To apply you'll first need to email [email protected] for an application form. This covers personal details, academic background and practical experience, as well as why you want to work at Simkins and why you think you'd be a good lawyer. There are some competency questions too. For example, you might be asked about a time when you faced a difficult situation and how you overcame it.
“We give applicants the opportunity to personalise the application form,” says training principal Paddy Gardiner. So, you should let your personality shine through but also demonstrate that you have researched the firm, know what work it does and have an interest in being involved in that work. If you want to talk about the areas of law the firm works in you can, but make sure you know what you're on about.
The 300 applications received are whittled down to around 30 who are invited for an interview. The interview is with two partners and HR manager Sally Richardson. “We go through their application,” says Gardiner. “That is the backbone of the interview: we try to have a conversation rather than ask formulaic questions.” The interview lasts 45 to 60 minutes and you can expect to be asked some icebreaker questions about your degree, what stage you are at in your studies, and what other firms you are applying to (Simkins wants people who are aiming for specialist training, rather than those applying to a scattergun range of firms).
Gardiner says that the interview “might get into some legal questions if someone steers the interview in that direction. For example, in recent years we have had discussions with candidates about their dissertations in particular areas of law.” Interviewees are also asked to discuss a topical subject. In 2016 these included the consequences of Brexit and the UK tax regime. “I was asked about controversies at the BBC,” a trainee recalled from their interview, recommending that it's a good idea to have “a general awareness of what's going on in the media sector.”
Work placement week
Six to eight candidates come through the interview process onto a week-long work placement. You “sit with a partner or an associate and are given various small bits of work to do,” and the week is busy with assessments and social activities.
The assessments you'll face include a presentation, written exercise, oral exercise and panel interview. Candidates are paired up and given their presentation topic on the Monday morning – it's usually on a topical issue with a legal angle relevant to Simkins' areas of work. On one day you can expect to be given a piece of legal analysis to write and hand in by 5pm. On another you'll be asked to orally present your views on a scenario you're presented with. Finally, there's a panel interview with three partners (different to those from the first interview). “This interview is more wide-ranging and may include some discussion of legal topics or some questions on experience and motivation, as well as further exploring an applicant's personality,” says Gardiner. There's also a big social during the week – for instance, bowling at Bloomsbury Lanes – which the whole firm attends.
It all sounds like a rather intense week to us, but on the plus side, even if you don't get offered a training contract you've gained a week's work experience.
We've mentioned in our True Pictures over the years that media sector work experience is common among those who successfully gain a training contract at Simkins, but it's not ubiquitous. The reason relevant work experience is valuable is that it gives you knowledge and insight into how the media sector and media personalities operate. If you can gain this knowledge and insight without sector experience – for instance through academic research or volunteering – good for you.
One of our interviewees gave some good advice on this: “I spent a lot of time when I was applying keeping on top of the media news – Simkins' website has some really good articles written by their lawyers on topical issues, and I used these as a springboard to look into different issues and areas in more detail.” In other words: don't just research the firm when you apply. If you're really interested in the work it does, you'll be expanding your knowledge of issues and trends in the media sector all the time.
Gaining legal work experience is important too. “We certainly don't ignore people because they do not have media work experience,” says Gardiner. “If someone looks like they've had good work experience not in media – for instance experience in a law firm or a mini-pupillage – we will look at them further. We are also very open to recruiting career changers as the previous skills they've gained can be very useful.” Finally, picking the right modules on the LLB or LPC is important – media law and IP are the key ones.
7-12 Tavistock Square,
- Partners 20
- Associates 15
- Total trainees 4
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruitment consultant: Sally Richardson, HR manager, [email protected], 020 7874 5600
- Training partner: Euan Lawson, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2
- Applications pa: 400
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: N/A
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract opens: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 31st May 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: Part of training contract application process — see above
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st May 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary:£34,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Post-qualification salary: Not disclosed
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days pre-qualification, 25 days post-qualification
- LPC fees: Yes - we will meet the cost of the LPC at our preferred supplier, BPP
- GDL fees: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 2)
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