Media law boutique Simkins acts for rich and famous clients like Sir Cliff Richard, J.K. Rowling and P!nk.
Let Media Law Entertain You
The world of media and entertainment may be all about glitzy award ceremonies, getting papped and the rock and roll lifestyle, but behind the scenes there are always lawyers standing by for stars who find themselves in a contractual conundrum, a defamation debacle or a proprietary pickle. London-based Simkins specialises in commercial and disputes work for media and entertainment clients, and also covers property, employment and corporate law. The firm has under 50 lawyers, and trainees were drawn to its “family feel” and the fact rookies can “muck in on all areas” during their training contract.
Simkins is ranked by Chambers UK for its work for the music, publishing, film and television industries, as well as its defamation/reputation management practice. There are just four seat options and trainees usually undertake all four; client secondment opportunities pop up every so often, although “it’s not something you can bank on.” On the firm’s seat allocation system trainees reasoned: “There’s no stress or politics because everyone will do everything at some point.”
“There’s no stress or politics because everyone will do everything at some point.”
It's common for a firm as specialised as this to seek trainees with relevant industry experience. It's certainly true, said one trainee, that if you're applying to Simkins “having industry experience really shows your intention,” though another added: “Don’t be put off if you don’t have a media background. They’ll consider you if you have some legal experience and have valid reasons for wanting to join the firm.” Overall sources reported that “everyone has an interest in the media side of things, but beyond that we're a broad mix.”
The application process involves a week-long vac scheme, which garnered unanimous praise from trainees – “it's a full-on week including writing exercises, interviews, presentations and role-play tasks.” The firm recruits just two trainees a year, but has eight places on its vac scheme, leading one trainee to reason: “If I hadn’t ended up getting a traineeship I’d still have had a really valuable week of experience under my belt.”
They see me Rowling
The commercial team deals with “non-contentious media work like publishing agreements, film financing and advertising agreements.” The group recently advised production company Filmwave on its Netflix-commissioned series The Letter for the King (based on a children's fantasy book from the 1960s by Dutch author Tonke Dragt). Other clients include Iron Maiden, J.K. Rowling and P!nk, as well as Universal Music, TV production company Knickerbockerglory and music talent agency ATC Management. The firm also acts for lots of other famous names, but we can't name them for, uhm, legal reasons. Trainees cut their teeth on typical tasks like research, drafting contracts and taking minutes during meetings. We also heard trainees are “expected to get involved in business development, for instance by bringing in artists yourself and constantly looking at new ways to promote the firm. We have regular business development meetings and I think that’s a pretty cool part of working here.”
“...bringing in artists yourself and constantly looking at new ways to promote the firm.”
Corporate work comprises media company share sales, film finance and the acquisition of music labels. For example, the firm recently advised Berlin-based music publisher BMG Rights Management on its acquisition of the World Circuit record label, which specialises in Cuban and West African artists and bands, including the Buena Vista Social Club and Orchestra Baobab. The workload for trainees includes things like “helping out with share purchase agreements, drafting ancillary documents, and drafting company sale and purchase agreements.” This is accompanied by typical tasks like bibling, assisting with post-completion and “a lot of research.” One trainee reflected: “I’ve found that things are explained really well, and there’s always the chance to ask questions.”
Commercial litigation and defamation/reputation management together make up the disputes seat. The team most notably represented Sir Cliff Richard in his highly publicised case against the BBC that ended in 2018 when he received damages of £210,000. The team has also advised lots of other famous names, as well as businesses and public sector organisations, on libel and reputational matters. Since these clients bring in Simkins precisely to keep their names out of the press, we can tell you no more than that. We can tell you though that the firm recently helped a Greek ship owner and minor politician win an apology from the Daily Mail after it falsely claimed he had abused the referee during a UEFA match between Burnley and a Greek team. One trainee who'd worked in the team excitedly told us about “jumping in and helping out if there’s an urgent reputation damage case,” and how the simple act of attending a meeting can become “quite exciting with all the media clients.” In addition to all this we heard trainees who do this seat have recently started to get involved in employment work, which “adds another string to your bow.”
Simkins’ property practice was described as “the most standalone seat” in the training contract, as it's the only part of the firm which does non-media work. Work consists chiefly of commercial and residential sales and purchases for “established media clients and larger property investment companies,” as well as some private client wills and probate work. The seat is “quite hands-on – you’re expected to do everything from start to finish on smaller purchases or sales.” On larger matters trainees “handle things like lease reports, which are very tricky and intricate.” Interviewees described a system of “constant support” throughout the seat.
Trainees described Simkins as having “a very flat hierarchy – I can crack a joke with stalwart partners in the hallway, and everyone generally takes time out of their day to help you out.” The praise continued: “Nothing feels overly stressful. You know when things need to happen, but it’s not a pressure cooker.” Trainees enjoy a busy social calendar, including an Oktoberfest event, bingo night and a Burns Night celebration complete with haggis, whisky and bagpipes. One trainee had excellent priorities when it came to these events, we think, joking: “There's some really good food! If you get in with the right people you can take leftovers home.”
“You know when things need to happen, but it’s not a pressure cooker.”
When it comes to training, a source explained: “Everyone at the firm is invited to monthly reporting sessions in corporate, commercial and litigation. We’ll go through updates in the law, legislation know-how and relevant recent cases. An external person comes in and trainees have to prepare something each time, which is really good for your presentation skills.” There’s also a ‘music business development forum’ every month in the commercial practice, “where we’ll all meet and talk about how to get the firm’s profile out there. They ask trainees if we’ve been to any gigs lately and we help organise firm events; last November we put on an informal event with a number of up-and-coming artists.”
Trainees are assigned two mentors: one newly qualified solicitor and one more experienced associate. There are mid and end-of-seat reviews, which interviewees described as “constructive and honest. As we go along we keep a record of different matters, skills you’ve employed and talking points. It’s pretty informal and you get a chance to say what you think as well.” Supervision was described as “consistent,” with one interviewee commenting: “You’re always in contact with people so you’re very much in the know.”
Trainees described fairly civilised working hours, with an average day of 9am to 7pm. One told us: “I’ve been in this seat for five months and I’ve had three 9pm finishes, and besides that I’ve finished by 7pm at the latest.” With such a small trainee intake, the qualification process is understandably “pretty informal. They just ask you whether you want to stay on and which area you’d like to work in.” In 2019 one of two qualifiers were retained.
Simkins doesn't offer a separate vac scheme, but the training contract application process includes a week-long vacation scheme with eight places on it. Essentially this is a firm which recruits only through its vac scheme.
How to get a Simkins training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 May 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
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 mentioned in the True Picture 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 19
- Total trainees 5
- 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: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: N/A
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract opens: 1st October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st May 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: Part of training contract application process — see above
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st May 2020
- 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
- Maintenance grant pa: N/A
- 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, 2019
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 2)