If video killed the radio star, how come film, TV and music get on so well at media and entertainment firm Simkins?
Wish you were here
The stage is set. The cameras are rolling. All eyes are on you, the star of the show, as you stride purposefully into the scene... and get to work on one of the many contracts behind the latest television hit, blockbuster film or bestselling album. A Simkins training contract won't propel you to superstardom, but it will provide a smooth route to a career in media and entertainment law. Trainees found that “Simkins came up as one of the top firms in the field with some of the coolest clients,” but noted: “It's also a full-service firm so you can keep your options open while training.”
The firm's ranked by Chambers UK for its work for the music, publishing, theatre, film and television industries, as well as its defamation/reputation practice – keeping media eyes off famous faces. “The recent historic sexual abuse allegations and the Paradise Papers have thrown up a lot of work for the group,” managing partner Euan Lawson reveals. Showbiz business certainly seems to be booming. “We've recruited three trainees rather than the previous two for September 2018,” Lawson says, “and over the next couple of years we plan to have five overall.” It's easy to guess why working for star names like Pink Floyd, Cliff Richard, J.K. Rowling and Iron Maiden would appeal, but Lawson stresses: “Coming to a media firm isn't a barrel of laughs; you're still a lawyer and it's hard work. The expectation might not match reality and we do get applicants who just fancy doing the type of work we do because they like movies or music.”
“Simkins came up as one of the top firms in the field with some of the coolest clients.”
Trainees we spoke to said: “Everyone here is a likeable character, but nobody is shy and retiring.” Most of the cohort we interviewed had some experience in media before joining the firm. “You're definitely a stronger candidate if you have that,” one suggested, “but it doesn't have to be anything formal, you could have been a DJ or run club nights.” More important than specific experience is passion for and general knowledge about the firm's specialist industries.
There are just four seat options and trainees usually undertake all four; client secondment opportunities pop up every so often. The rotation follows a set pattern which trainees have no say in, but they “weren't really fussed, as logistically it's easier for the firm.” Towards the beginning of seat four, each trainee discusses which department they'd like to qualify into with management. “It seems qualification is relatively relaxed,” interviewees noted. “There's certainly enough work for the firm to expand.” Retention has indeed been solid recently: in 2017 and 2018 both qualifiers were retained.
Any colour you like
The commercial team is the heart of the firm's non-contentious media work: film finance, advertising contracts, online compliance and music publishing agreements all make a showing. Trainees “can steer their path where they want to go,” we heard. “It's about finding what you have a flair for – your workload is based on your interests as well as what happens to be on at the time.” Simkins recently advised pop megastar Pink on production and promoter agreements for various live shows. “The high points have been some of the clients I've met," one interviewee gushed. "I've worked for at least one of my heroes.” Turning to the silver screen, the firm acted for production company Filmwave as it negotiated a deal with MGM Studios for the adaptation of David Levithan's Every Day. Within an ensemble cast of everyday tasks, drafting contracts is the star: trainees typically take a first crack that's then “reviewed by the line manager.” A commercial seat also offers the opportunity to run the show yourself by “going about as an ambassador for Simkins to generate business.” Trainees “often have friends in the industry” and so are uniquely placed to introduce new clients to the firm, “a responsibility you might not get at a larger firm until you were several years qualified.”
Corporate work comprises media company share sales, film finance and the acquisition of music labels. Recent highlights include acting for Universal Music in acquiring the rights to 80s legend Trevor Horn's recorded music and publishing assets. A spell here provides trainees with “a good understanding of company takeovers, as there's been a lot of M&A going on recently.” The practice mostly sticks to media and entertainment-related work but a corporate deal is a corporate deal so trainees enjoyed a pretty standard diet of “due diligence, company secretarial work and drafting shareholder forms and agreements.” Responsibility-wise, they felt “happy not to be thrown into the deep end immediately – as the seat goes on you get more autonomy.”
“The high points have been some of the clients I've met – I've worked for at least one of my heroes.”
Commercial litigation and defamation/reputation management together make up the disputes seat. The latter involves “a mix of client management and trying to nip issues in the bud before they're published or released.” Most of the department's clientele understandably want to remain incognito, but one matter that has hit headlines is long-time Simkins client Cliff Richard's clash with the BBC following a police raid on his home – Sir Cliff was awarded damages of £210,000 by the High Court in summer 2018. “Just under half the disputes team focuses on defamation full-time,” according to insiders, “but if there's a big case it's all hands on deck.” Trainees mostly spend their time assisting with research and letter writing. “It's definitely a different working methodology, as the level of detail you need to drill down into can be a little overwhelming.” On the commercial litigation side, cases include “some copyright and trade mark disputes” and in one recent case Simkins worked for PRS for Music in a dispute with the BBC, ITV and Sky over royalty payments.
The odd seat out is property, where most work is for non-media clients – property investors and some private individuals employ Simkins' services. The firm focuses more on commercial property than residential, acting for developers and investors on projects like shopping centres. “From day one I was handling ten or 15 client matters on my own,” one source told us – pretty standard fare for a commercial property seat. Trainees found the experience “very beneficial even if you don't want to be a property lawyer as it's the seat where you get most responsibility.” Across every seat, some also dipped into private client and tax work, drafting wills and handling probate.
The happiest days of our lives
Departments each run their own training sessions, and trainees get “lots of external training” at barristers' chambers and legal forums – “they were quite frequent in my first seat and I found those very helpful,” one source said. Simkins also hosts monthly 9am 'reporter' training sessions which all lawyers can attend covering the latest developments in key sectors – trainees sometimes give a short presentation on a topical issue, and also often pen current affairs pieces for the firm's website. That may sound like an early start for getting your brain in gear, but at least days don't tend to run too late. One source reported: “I've never done crazy hours and the latest I've worked is 9.30pm a couple of times,” concurring with other trainees who hit the road by 7pm most days.
“I'm technically at the bottom of the ladder, but I don't feel a hierarchy.”
Every so often some postpone their journey home for a quick stop at the nearby Resting Hare pub, although “it's not an obligation to go out for drinks.” Between Christmas, spring and summer events “there's just enough socialising to get to know everybody.” That's less of a struggle when you have fewer colleagues to get to know. Interviewees reported that “there are no big egos here even though we have highly specialised lawyers at the top of their game.” Another noted: “I'm technically at the bottom of the ladder, but don't feel a hierarchy.” This smaller firm offers a correspondingly slimmed-down salary compared to many London outfits, but trainees appreciated that “we're not paid City money but the trade-off is closer supervision, shorter hours and the more niche work we do.”
Simkins' Bloomsbury office is located on one floor and has a rotating art exhibition. “It's a different feel to the typical pristine, imposing law firm.”
How to get a training contract at Simkins
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 Paddy 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 Paddy 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.
Interview with managing partner Euan Lawson
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at Simkins?
Euan Lawson: We've continued on much the same path. We’ve grown and took on both trainees who qualified in September 2017. There's also of course been a lot of interesting work – we've acted for J.K. Rowling's production company for the Strike series that's aired on BBC and assisted Universal Music in buying Trevor Horn's recorded music and publishing assets. We've done quite a few corporate deals lately. PRS is a big client, and we've been handling their copyright tribunal with the BBC. We've also handled a lot of cases for BMG Rights Management. It's also worth noting that we expanded our employment group with the hire of Susan Thompson, and brought in trademarks lawyer Jim Dennis.
CS: What trends are currently affecting the media and entertainment sector and how have they affected the firm's practice?
EL: The shift to digital has obviously been huge, and everything's moving towards that one way or another. Within the music industry the shift towards streaming has changed things enormously – it wasn't that long ago that downloads were the exciting new thing. The City is predicting a lot of expansion there and record company profitability has recently shot up for the first time in many years. Digital rights in that sphere are very important; contracts deal more with digital aspects than ever before and lawyers need to get their head around these new distribution methods.
There's been a reasonable flow of corporate transactions and digital advertising has been a big area. Brexit hasn't been so much of an issue for us, though we're always aware of the potential effects it could have on the economy as a whole. On the litigation side, the Paradise papers and historical sexual assault allegations have thrown up a lot of work for our Reputation group. We've also seen more copyright claims than previously, most of which settle out of court.
CS: How do you see the firm growing in future – will trainee numbers grow?
EL: We've recruited three trainees rather than the previous two for September 2018, and over the next couple of years plan to have five overall. Really good people have come through our training programme, and we get a lot of excellent applications.
CS: So what sort of person thrives at Simkins?
EL: We're looking for bright, motivated people as most firms are – people who are prepared to work hard and get their hands dirty. It's also important to have an interest in the different areas of our practice while still being flexible and demonstrating a good range of skills. There's also a cultural fit within the firm to be considered - our people like working here and that's a very important part of Simkins.
There's no cookie cutter mould we stick to; we like having a broad range of different types of people here. The trainees we've taken on have each brought different skills to the firm. We often recruit candidates with prior work experience, but not exclusively so – however, we like to recruit people who have a realistic view of entertainment law in practice.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
EL: You've got to find out as much as possible about any firm you're interested in joining, and it's important to have a realistic view of what's involved. Coming to a media firm isn't a barrel of laughs; you're still a lawyer and it's hard work. The expectation might not match reality and we do get applicants who just fancy doing the type of work we do because they like movies or music. A good sense of reality is important, do the research to find out what we do; ask questions and try to understand from the people who interview you what it's like to work at Simkins.
Other advice I'd give to all candidates is be positive, make a lot of applications and don't get trapped in negativity. Try and think of the interview in terms of the candidate choosing the firm rather than vice versa. Simply have a good conversation with your interviewers and you'll do so much better.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?
EL: Simkins is a small firm so you get access to people at every level – I have an associate and trainee sitting with me. People here are open and you learn a lot from partners because they're open to questions. We also run a lot of internal training to get trainees up-to-speed with the specialist issues we handle.
7-12 Tavistock Square,
- Partners 20
- Associates 19
- 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: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: N/A
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract opens: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 May 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: Part of training contract application process - see above
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 May 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary:£32,000
- Second-year salary:£35,000
- 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
We are best known for our work in the media and entertainment sector, but we also act for entrepreneurs and businesses in many other industries, including property, retail, professional services and finance.
We pride ourselves on really getting to understand our clients’ businesses so that we can provide the best practical advice, specifically tailored to our clients’ needs.
Our clients range from individual entertainers and entrepreneurs, through small and medium sized enterprises, to the largest multi-national corporations.
Main areas of work
Our specialist areas include intellectual property, contract law, defamation and privacy.
Our entertainment industry expertise covers all industry sectors including music, film, television, theatre, book publishing, advertising and digital media.
We will discuss seat allocation with you but, given the size and nature of our practice, we are limited in the extent to which we can take individual preferences into account.
There will be one work placement week in 2019 — it will take place in the week beginning Monday 5 August 2019. Following the work placement, if you are successful, an offer of a training contract to start in September 2021 will be made at some time shortly after your attendance on the work placement.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 3)