Career in comedy for ex-lawyer (and former recruiter)
Simon Lipson started his career as a lawyer, before co-founding Lipson Lloyd-Jones, a legal recruitment business, in 1987. His focus is now on writing and performing and for the last thirteen years he has worked as an actor, writer, comedian, voiceover artist and impressionist, appearing regularly on various British TV and radio shows. In 2005 he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival with Philippa Fordham. Their comedy sketch show, entitled “He Barks She Bites”, was nominated for the prestigious “Dubble Act Award”. They have now been commissioned by Radio 4 to write and perform their own sketch show which will air in the Autumn, and have also recently written a sitcom for BBC TV. We spoke to Simon about his legal origins.
mtl: Hi Simon. Tell us about your legal career.
Simon: I initially planned to study sociology at LSE, but at the last minute decided that law would be a more useful degree. I had no intention of going on to become a lawyer, but I got a 2:1 and decided to do the Law Society Finals which meant that I could put off decision-making for another year. Once I had passed them, I decided that I may as well qualify. As you can see, my legal career was not a particularly structured path! I was just good at exams and it was easier to keep studying than think about what I really wanted to do with my life.
I trained at Howard Kennedy and considered leaving law completely when I qualified. Instead I decided to do a couple of years post-qualification to give it a chance and because it would look good on my CV. I moved to AL Phillips & Co (which later merged with Howard Kennedy) and spent two years doing litigation there. I then moved to Land Rover as a commercial/corporate in-house legal adviser, in an attempt to edge away from law and bridge the gap towards a more commercial role. However, Land Rover then relocated its offices to the Midlands and I didn’t want to go, so I joined a firm in Mayfair where a friend was a partner - this time as a corporate lawyer.
I knew that it was a huge mistake to take the job, because I really didn’t see a long-term future in the law, but the money was good! After three weeks there I decided I had to do something else and so I began setting up my legal recruitment agency. I had been to see an agent the year before and she had suggested doing recruitment as I seemed to have the right temperament for it. The idea had stuck and at the time my sister Marian Lloyd-Jones was working for a young IT recruitment company. We decided to pool her skills with my knowledge of the sector. I spent six months, while still a lawyer, doing the ground work and setting it up and in 1987, when my notice period ended, we started Lipson Lloyd-Jones in serviced offices in Victoria. The business took off quickly and made a profit after a year.
mtl: And how did you go from recruitment to the entertainment business? Were you always a performer at heart?
Simon: Although I had been the lead singer of my own teenage band, I had no ambitions to write or perform until I was 34. I was a big fan of comedy though and had always been a good mimic. In 1993 I went to a comedy show and said to my wife that I thought I could do it myself. She told me to get on and try it… At the end of 1993 I went to a try-out night at the King’s Head in Crouch End, with ten minutes of material. My performance was rather pathetic and I received no laughs whatsoever. At the end of my piece though, I did impressions of Frank Bruno and Sean Connery which went down well. I spent a few months learning some other voices and went to another try-out night at The Comedy Café, which I won. That meant I was offered a paid gig the next night and it went from there.
I did a few open-mike spots to start with, where you perform for free in the hope of being paid the next time. I did well because of my impressions even though my material was sketchy. My seventh gig was at the Hackney Empire “New Act Of The Year” competition in 1993, which is a major annual stand-up comedy talent contest. I got to the final, which was won by Ronni Ancona. I was noticed at this event and was then offered gigs at Jongleurs, The Comedy Store and elsewhere. I began to work on radio and appeared on TV in 1994 for the first time.
Between 1993-2001 I did stand-up comedy 2/3 times a week, while running the recruitment business with my sister during the day. In the mid-90’s I did lots of TV and radio work and because I was self-employed I could sneak away to do it. However, both jobs were very demanding time-wise, so it was difficult to do both. My two daughters were born in 1994 and 1996 and by 2001 I didn’t have much time to do either job properly. I hadn’t been able to pursue my performing career fully until then because the business needed me.
I worked full-time at the agency until 2001, at which point I took some time out to prepare a show for the Edinburgh Festival. The business was doing very well by then and we realised that it didn’t actually need my day-to-day input any longer, with Marian doing a brilliant job of running it, so I was able to concentrate fully on other things from then on.
mtl: What are you up to at the moment?
Law Society Finals
Articles, Howard Kennedy
Assistant, AL Phillips & Company
In-house at Land Rover
Moved to Robert Gore & Company
Founded Lipson Lloyd-Jones
Began performing stand-up comedy
Began to concentrate full-time on writing and performing
Simon: I have written stand-up and radio material for a long time now, but more recently I hooked up with Philippa Fordham in an attempt to get away from impressions-based work. We took a sketch show to the Edinburgh Festival in 2005, which was nominated for “The Dubble Act Award”. We were spotted by BBC1 and Radio 4 as a result.
Radio 4 commissioned us to develop the show for them and BBC1 asked us to write a sitcom. The result is called “Working It” and is based in the London office of an American law firm and looks at how an English lawyer settles into the different culture. It was rejected for being “too sophisticated” by BBC1 and is currently being reviewed by BBC2. Nothing happens very quickly in TV, so it’s a slow process. I have also written the screenplay for a film which is currently being developed by a film production company.
mtl: Do you have any advice for lawyers who are thinking about their careers?
"I think that you need some passion for what you do all day. I never had a great passion or natural flair for law. At parties, if someone asked me for legal advice, I would recommend that they went to see a lawyer! It wasn’t natural for me and I never really thought like a lawyer."
Simon: The first thing is to decide what legal discipline best suits your training, temperament and long term ambitions. This isn’t always an easy choice to make when you have just qualified so by all means consider alternative options while you are still young and flexible. For example, at two years’ pqe I moved from litigation to more commercial work by going into industry. It isn’t always easy, but a good recruiter should be able to match you up with an employer who is prepared to invest the time in reshaping your career. The longer you work in one discipline, the harder it will be to make that change.
To be a brilliant, natural recruiter, you need a flair for understanding people and what they want from any partnership. To make sure everyone’s requirements are properly met, you need to be au fait with each client’s philosophy, culture and practice specialisms and get to know your candidates well by spending time with them. Over nearly 20 years in the business, the vast majority of our consultants have been qualified lawyers, but this is not essential – understanding how the profession works and having the sensitivity to deal with people of all types is.
If you are interested in performing/acting/writing, then the younger you start the better, as it is harder to make your mark if you are older. People are always looking for the next bright young thing. I wish I’d had the urge to do what I do now earlier. However, being a lawyer and a businessman has had its advantages as I approach what I do in a business-like fashion. For example, I turn up to meetings (not something all performers manage!), read contracts and behave professionally, so my legal background has given me a boost in that sense.
Having a legal background also helped me work in recruitment as I already understood the sector. The gift of the gab allied to my professional training meant that I could speak to lawyers and clients at all levels and be taken seriously. We remain committed to working in a professional manner appropriate to the sector we service, so we have always been at pains to select the right candidate for the right job on every occasion.
I think that you need some passion for what you do all day. I never had a great passion or natural flair for law. At parties, if someone asked me for legal advice, I would recommend that they went to see a lawyer! It wasn’t natural for me and I never really thought like a lawyer.
"I wish I’d had the urge to do what I do now earlier. However, being a lawyer and a businessman has had its advantages as I approach what I do in a business-like fashion."
As an articled clerk, I was told that I had a lot of ability but that I was rather abrasive. I don’t think I am very good at working for people, so for me to go into business for myself was the right move. In a practical sense I could do the work, but I felt I was always searching for the holy grail of a legal job that suited me. I tried several different areas and kept thinking something would grab me, but it didn’t and I therefore never got much out of it.
I found it thrilling and exciting to set up a business. I put in all the money that I’d saved from being a lawyer. It was a risk, but one that I was prepared to take. If I hadn’t done it when I did though, I probably wouldn’t have done it at all. I would have been made a partner at some point and would probably then have been trapped by the money, prestige and status...
mtl: Thank you for your time Simon, and good luck with the sitcom and your new Radio 4 show.
To see Simon’s myspace page, click
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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