Interested in media and entertainment but want to build your legal skills in a range of practices? Perhaps you'll find your kin with Simkins.
Simkins training contract review 2022
So, you want to be a law superstar and live large? Big cases with big stars? Then we suggest looking at boutique media and entertainment firm Simkins (and maybe don’t badly paraphrase Cypress Hill in your cover letter). This boutique firm is based in London’s Tavistock Square and has just 40lawyers on its books. However, Simkins’ size does not reflect its stature: among the stars in its galaxy, you’ll find a whole host of recognisable names from across the film, TV, publishing, advertising, theatre, music, sport and digital media spaces. The firm picks up three Chambers UKrankings for its mediaand entertainment know-how, as well as a nod for its ability to handle defamation and reputation management cases. Other areas of practice at Simkins include corporate, commercial, employment and property.
“...there are different departments, so you can get broad legal training with a media focus.”
Our interviewees had set their sights on joining a specialised media and entertainment firm when applying, but what stood out about Simkins was “the full range of services on offer – there are different departments, so you can get broad legal training with a media focus.”If all this sounds like your jam, you should know that securing one of the two trainee contracts on offer each year isn’t easy. We perennially mention Simkins’ rigorous vac scheme, which presents its participants with “a different activity each day,” including “a range of exercises.” Vac schemers sit with an associate or a partner throughout the week, and undertake research, legal analysis, drafting and presentation exercises, but also have time to enjoy social events!
Seats at Simkins are allocated depending on “work levels at the firm and where you are needed.” All trainees are likely to complete seats in Simkins’ corporate/commercial, property, employment and disputes departments. We heard that corporate and commercial have recently been merged together into one seat, while employment – which used to come under the banner of disputes – is now its own seat as the department has recently become very busy. A split seat between property and family has also been introduced.
“You know where everything is and are making sure that you stay on top of transactions.”
On the corporate side, “obviously the firm has a media and entertainment focus, but really clients can come from all different types of industries.” That said, a scan through the firm’s clients brings up names like Universal Music, BMG Rights Management, Iron Maiden and Cutting Edge Music (a film, TV and advertising service provider). The team’s recent transactions have had a distinctly musical feel: lawyers here represented BMG as it acquired Dynamic Music and Universal as it entered into a joint venture to establish a new record label, 0207 Def Jam. Sources enthused that they’d been involved in transactions from the beginning until the end: “You learn a lot and get drafting experience as and when the opportunity comes up. It can be a practical seat in terms of the company secretarial work you do – you’re making sure that accounts, confirmations and statements are filed for a number of clients. You know where everything is and are making sure that you stay on top of transactions.”
The commercialworksaw trainees “assisting with music contracts, doing research and putting together presentations for clients.” A source highlighted contributing to a copyright matter as well as taking on many matters in the advertising space. In addition, there was ample work for trainees to do on “updating website terms and conditions, looking at privacy policies and assessing data protection issues.”As with corporate matters, trainees did their fair share of admin tasks that included “double-checking work that’s been done, cross-referencing, emailing clients, and so on.”Recent matters have involved advising Snowed-In Productions on underlying rights agreements and financing documents for new dramas that have been commissioned by ITV and the BBC. The team have also advised Cake Entertainment on the financing aspects of an animated Angry Birdsseries that will be hosted on Netflix. Basically, if it’s commercial and it involves entertainment, Simkins are likely to be in the in the pit conducting the legal orchestra.
The firm’s disputespractice covers commercial litigation and defamation/reputation management cases. On the latter side, clients include JK Rowling and Sir Cliff Richard, who the firm represented throughout the high-profile privacy case against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police. On the former, the group recently defended Iron Maiden and their music publisher (Concord) against a copyright infringement claim that was brought by a former music manager. Other IP-related matters have included advising Rude Health Foods during a trade mark application dispute covering jurisdictions in the UK and the EU. A source told us that they were able to contribute to correspondence with the other side and drafts of skeleton arguments for counsel: “You get more responsibility as you get to grips with court procedures and how things work.”
Simkins’ employment practice, meanwhile, deals with contentious matters like discrimination and unfair dismissal cases, as well as advisory work pertaining to issues like the government’s recent furlough scheme. We heard that trainees’ work is primarily contentious, as “it’s easier to give us discrete tasks on that side of things.” This meant “sending documents over to the other side and keeping clients up to date with what is going on.”There was also plenty of opportunity to attend tribunals and hearings throughout the seat. Sources had dealt with cases that were on both the claimant and defendant side, and highlighted getting a lot of responsibility due to the small teams that typically consist of “two partners, an associate and a trainee.”Non-contentious work gave interviewees the chance to “advise on settlement agreements, but also draft up policies for companies.”
“Property is particularly good for client contact."
The firm’s property department received high praise from our interviewees. As with most real estate departments, “it’s really hands on for trainees,” who typically get to run their own small cases “from opening a file to completion.” Sources said they did “all sorts of things from residential matters to producing leases for much larger commercial transactions.” We heard that the seat “mainly covers commercial property matters for larger companies or people who have investment properties.”Sources felt the that “property is particularly good for client contact – there’s a lot of emailing back and forth as you’re mainly helping to negotiate contracts.” Some matters could have a film and television flavour and involve “a lot of location agreements. You’re taking a template document and coming up with a first draft based on what your client needs and the points that are crucial for them.”
With its boutique dimensions, sources said “you get to know everybody quite quickly at all levels” at Simkins. For trainees, this means that “you’re often working with partners.” However, interviewees added that “there’s not really a lot of hierarchy. Everyone seems friendly irrespective of whether they’re partners, associates or support staff; everyone is really willing to help.” A friendly atmosphere could have something to do with the firm’s reportedly strong commitment to work-life balance. Sources across our interviews and surveys noted mainly starting at 9am and finishing at 6.30pm. Of course, if there’s a trial or deadline coming up then “obviously you’ll have some late nights – because you’re finalising witness statements and bundling, for example – but that’s not a regular occurrence.” The surveyed average of just over 44 hours worked in the last week at Simkins was just below the average of nearly 48 hours registered across the firms we survey. Sources added that one good thing to come out of the pandemic was “a willingness to be flexible, and partners had no issues with that.”
“...when we first joined, the partners would check in with us and set up calls to introduce us to different people.”
Simkins put on a “virtual Christmas quiz and a cocktail hour” during the pandemic, but once normal service resumes, we heard the firm organises several events, including an annual Oktoberfest gathering and a Burns Night celebration, as well as bingo evenings. “There’s a really good and inclusive culture,” one trainee reflected; “when we first joined, the partners would check in with us and set up calls to introduce us to different people. They include you as much as possible.”
With regards to diversity, interviewees pointed to good levels of gender diversity (31.8% of Simkins' partners are women, which is above average in the market), but said that minority ethnic representation was lacking. “There’s been a push recently to do more on this front,”a source informed us, while others highlighted the implementation of D&I training; the circulation of an internal survey “to get our opinions and ideas on how we can improve D&I”; and recent involvement in the Aspiring Solicitors programmes to increase diversity in the profession. Simkins has also partnered up with the charity ReachOut, which provides mentoring services for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Simkins tries to keep people on if they can,” a source commented when asked about the qualification process. Of those surveyed, two thirds felt very confident about their chances of staying. With a small cohort, there’s “no interview or application process, unless you count reviews as an application,” one mused. Instead, “by the mid-point in your last seat you find out whether you’ll be retained.” In 2021, Simkins offered NQ positions to both of its qualifiers and retained one.
“People do tend to stay here,” concluded one interviewee. “Many of the partners trained here or joined as junior associates.” Another added: “This is definitely the sort of place where they invest in you and hope that associates will stay long-term.”
How to get a Simkins training contract
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 May 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)
“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 application form 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.
The 400+ applications received are whittled down to around 30 who are invited for an interview. The interview is with three 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 recent years, 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 4pm. 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 or a party on their roof-top terrace – 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 22
- Associates 17
- Total trainees 4
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruitment consultant: Sally Richardson, HR manager, email@example.com, 020 7874 5600
- Training partner: Euan Lawson, firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 31st May 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: Part of training contract application process — see above
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 31st May 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: Not disclosed
- Second-year salary: Not disclosed
- 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, 2021
- 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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