Mixing law (on demand) with film production
Darren Heath trained at Lovells and worked there for almost nine years. After a stint as a film and TV lawyer with a small West End firm, he began writing and presenting for Legal Network Television. This experience led to him setting up his own film production company. Since 2007, he has combined running his business with practising law through the award-winning Lawyers on Demand programme, set up by Berwin Leighton Paisner. Working in this way allows him to use his legal skills to provide an income to help fund his company, while also giving him the time to work on creative projects and develop the company.
mtl: Hi Darren, please can you tell us about how you got into law and your time in private practice.
Darren: I left university with an MA in philosophy and, like many graduates, I wasn’t sure what to do next. Quite a few of my friends had done law degrees and many of them were going off to the College of Law to become solicitors. My Masters had included a course on Jurisprudence which made me think about law and I persuaded myself that a conversion was a good idea, particularly as it meant two more years of studying.
I was offered a training contract by Lovells, which was known to have a laid-back atmosphere for a City firm and for being a bit less stuffy than some of them. That reputation was right; it was a great place to work and I enjoyed it there. I qualified into the commercial property department which was fun and I had great colleagues. I found that many of them had chosen the department because they had other things going on, e.g. they were musicians outside of work, and the hours were a bit more forgiving than in other areas.
At 3yrs PQE I realised that I couldn’t see myself doing property in the long-term. I spoke to my boss about leaving, as I had a vague idea of moving to a West End entertainment firm as a property lawyer and then trying to switch areas when I got there. However he suggested that I speak to other departments within Lovells before resigning. He introduced me to an IP partner and I was fortunate to be able to transfer internally at that stage of my career.
BA (Hons) Philosophy, UEA
MA Philosophy, University of
Law school (Chester College of
Training contract, Lovells
Commerical property, Lovells
Film and TV lawyer, The Simkins
Legal Network Television
PSL, SJ Berwin
Set up First Born Films
Set up JurisProductions
Joined Lawyers on Demand
Assignment through LOD at Orange,
3 days a week
Assignment through LOD at The
Financial Times, 4 days a week
I stayed in IP at Lovells for a further three years. Although I’d moved into areas that were more intrinsically interesting to me than property, such as music, television and publishing (for example I did some interesting defamation work for The Guardian and the Observer, and became fascinated by the human rights debate of freedom of expression versus privacy), I eventually came to the realisation that I didn’t see my career there in the long-term either.
What I really wanted to do at that point was to be a film lawyer, so I moved to a West End entertainment firm called The Simkins Partnership. I did some interesting film and TV work and the role moved my career forwards because it gave me some useful exposure to interesting clients and the industry in general. However, culturally it wasn’t a good fit and I left after a year.
mtl: Tell us about your next moves.
Darren: After leaving private practice, I started working for Legal Network Television, which is part of The College of Law. I’d seen the role advertised in The Lawyer and it involved writing and presenting TV programmes on legal subjects that lawyers watch to get CPD points. I was there for two years and it was great fun. I really enjoyed it and felt that making things was what I should be doing.
I left Legal Network Television as I was offered a PSL role in the media department of SJ Berwin, which paid a lot more. I learnt a lot and picked up some useful contacts, but after a year decided to leave and get back into production. In fact one of my colleagues there, the head of training, suggested that given my experience at LNTV, I make my own training films.
mtl: How did you turn that suggestion into reality?
Darren: I’d been taking writing classes with Bernard Kops in West Hampstead for a few years, initially as I’d enjoyed writing scripts for Christmas shows and office parties at Lovells. As a film and TV lawyer, I’d wanted to be doing what our clients were doing.
I have a business partner (Carey Born) whom I had helped out with a UK Film Council-funded short film called “Shadowman” while at The Simkins Partnership. I did the contracts and financing work for her and at the end of the project I showed her a short screenplay that I’d written. She liked it and helped produce it and so in 2005 we decided to set up a film company that would make “proper” films, but that also had a corporate side which would make training films.
Since then we made our first short film, “Compartment”, from that screenplay of mine, in 2005 and then “Love for Sale” (directed by Carey) in 2007. Both of them have done pretty well, having played at film festivals all over the world, been commended in competitions, and been picked up for distribution by Shorts International (after we screened them at the Cannes Film Festival) who sell them worldwide. Right now, we’ve just finished producing a film for the Royal Society in conjunction with the V&A about neuroscience. Again, this was directed by Carey, and we’ll be taking it to Cannes for the festival in a few weeks.
On the corporate side, under the brand name JurisProductions, we’ve made three full-length training films on financial markets and securities regulation, private equity funds and private equity transactions. I worked with experts from law firms, in-house teams and Chambers as contributors and initially we sold the films directly to law firms. Now the private equity films are available on the PLC website.
We’ve also produced the promotional film for Lawyers on Demand; and we’ve recently been asked by PLC to make podcasts for them. So far we’ve produced three and we’re currently discussing whether to make more.
mtl: Tell us about Lawyers on Demand…
Darren: I came across Lawyers on Demand in 2007 when I saw an advert in The Lawyer for freelance lawyers who were looking to work in a flexible way. At the time I had just finished editing the private equity legal training films and had some time while waiting for the DVDs to be mastered. I was put through to an interview and despite the fact that I hadn’t practised for a while, I was offered a place on the programme. This started off with an induction course of two weeks so that I could get to know the firm and brush up on the law.
The way that the Lawyers on Demand programme works is that the firm finds you a placement with one of its clients. The client pays BLP and BLP pays each Lawyer on Demand. You become embedded in the client’s legal team, but you also have the firm to support you, whether it’s when you need to ask a technical question, get some training or whatever. The firm also arranges get-togethers at its offices once a quarter so that there’s a sense of community.
The LOD lawyers are usually people with a significant interest outside of their legal career that they need to devote time to e.g. like me they may also run their own businesses, or they may have a sporting, musical or acting interest on the side, or young children, meaning that they want some flexibility. The projects vary enormously in time and length and have increased in scope recently from only general commercial work to litigation, tax, employment and other areas too. There are about eighty lawyers in the team at the moment and they tend to be of a fairly senior level.
I started my induction at BLP in May 2007 and shared an office with the client partner for Orange. He happened to know that the Director of Legal there was looking for a lawyer for three months for a specific project, rather than a long-term commitment. In June 2007 I began my assignment at Orange and have only just left, nearly four years later. I had a couple of weeks of breathing space to devote to my business but have now just started a new LOD assignment at the Financial Times.
My role at Orange was senior legal counsel in the operational legal affairs department. Initially I’d been brought in because they were setting up a digital TV service. It had been running for a while and they had people doing deals for content and broadcasters, but no dedicated lawyer. I worked on the project for two years but, although it trialled successfully, Orange decided that the market wasn’t right and didn’t launch it. However by then the legal department had started putting me on other work.
I was contracted to work three days a week, though occasionally I did four or five days if it suited me. It was wonderfully flexible, the hours were good and the people were fantastic. My motivation for working like this was the flexibility; being able to make use of my legal career while also being able to run my own company. I’ve also found practising law more enjoyable the second time around. Working in-house requires a different mentality and I think I’m more suited to being an in-house lawyer than I was to private practice.
mtl: As you’ve moved several times in your career, do you have any advice for our readers?
Darren: Don’t stick with something that you know isn’t working and don’t do a job just for the money. At the same time though, you can always look for the positives in each experience because you always learn something and progress as a result (although you may only realise that later on).
I don’t think I’d change anything about my own career and doing law has certainly helped my film career. I’m confident about the contractual side of the business, and do all my own drafting. Through my role at Legal Network Television, I had a valuable insight into running a production business before doing it for myself – though having a partner who has a background in production has obviously helped too!
If you want to see one of Darren’s short films, then look out for them on the Shorts International TV channel ShortsTV (though this isn’t currently available in the UK). .
If you are a PLC subscriber, you can see the JurisProductions private equity films here and listen to the podcasts here. The first three podcasts are on privilege, the public procurement process and staff mutuals.
"Lawyers on Demand (LOD) is a multi-award winning legal resourcing service from Berwin Leighton Paisner. We look for excellent lawyers who want the flexibility and autonomy of freelance work.
LOD already has a team of more than 80 lawyers and our clients include some of the biggest names in most sectors, from media to financial services to infrastructure. We’ve won multiple awards for innovation and client service and think our fresh approach is good for both our lawyers and our clients.
We are currently seeking lawyers with the following expertise;
Commercial (Including IT/IP lawyers)
Our service is unique and with the backing of a major law firm you won’t be on your own.
For more information take a look at our website at www.lod.co.uk or call us on 020 3400 4200"
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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