27 March 2000
The most striking thing about Billy Hinshelwood, head of film production law at Marriott Harrison, is his charm.
It appears that Hinshelwood, who is retiring at just 43 after his practice Frank Bloom & Co was acquired by Marriott Harrison, is able to charm the birds from the trees.
Which is why no other lawyer working for the film industry is willing to say a bad word about him.
Michael Maxtone-Smith, film partner at Richards Butler, says: "He is known as being extremely good at what he does and he is a good bloke.
"Everyone in the industry has a high opinion of him. If you hear that he is on the other side of a transaction you look forward to seeing him."
One lawyer even discloses that Hinshelwood is known as "chocolate voice" by his contemporaries because he is such a "smoothie". "He would have a perfect voice for radio. He could read bedtime stories," he says in tones full of admiration.
But perhaps his most attractive attribute is his honesty.
He does not glamorise his career from the time he sat his first legal exams to the present day. "I did my law exams in Alexander Palace. It was grotesque. Pigeons shat on my exam papers," he quips.
And he makes it clear that he hopes his two sons do not become lawyers. "I would hope they would try to do something more interesting than becoming lawyers. There is nothing wrong with being a lawyer, but I would rather they became rock stars, novelists or brain surgeons," he says.
But maybe Hinshelwood is in a better position than most to see good and bad points of joining the profession.
Hinshelwood trained at Denton Hall between 1981 and 1983 before moving to Frank Bloom & Co where, after just nine months as an associate, he became the firm's second partner specialising in film law.
Then came along Marriott Harrison and he became head of film law in 1995.
It seems a lot to turn his back on and Hinshelwood understands that he is taking a leap in the dark.
Mark Devereux, head of film law at Olswang, says: "He is a first-class practitioner who is going out at the top of the tree."
Hinshelwood even admits he has not thought through exactly what he is going to do in his so-called retirement.
It remains to be seen how he will sustain his lifestyle after leaving his job at such a young age. Hinshelwood says: "I will not be one of the idle rich, although I wish I could be."
But he says: "I just feel it is now or never, and I will have to see what happens."
It is likely he will work as a film law consultant from home for his clients which include the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill Working Title Films, Lucas Film and Universal Studios.
Or he will continue to work for several firms including Marriott Harrison.
But he estimates that if he does this he will only work about five hours a week.
Another reason for leaving, he says, is because he is fed up with commuting from Suffolk to London, staying in his Soho flat away from his family for most of the week and working 13-hour days so he can advise clients in the different time zones of the US and UK.
"I have missed out on my children growing up to a great extent," says Hinshelwood.
His dedication to his family is evident on walking into his office as is his fascination for film.
Colourful childish scrawls adorn almost as much of his wall space as his client files with names of top actors, producers and directors labelling them.
He has a huge television right next to his desk and videos and science fiction novels fill his bookshelf.
The television and videos can be said to be only loosely connected to his work but they seem to take pride of place. His obsession with film and cinema also extends to his home.
"We have cinema seats at home," he says. "But we have not set up a cinema yet, although it is something I am thinking about doing. It would be good if people could come round for dinner and then watch a movie."
But despite not venerating the law, he does like the fact that the career path he has chosen crosses over with his love of the film industry.
He says: "I am essentially a film fan. That is what makes this job the only interesting area of law to do. Other areas of law are totally boring."
He adds: "Management buyouts and things may mean going to ball-bearings factories. I am sure these lawyers enjoy what they do."
While his colleague Phil Rymer, a film partner, is leaving Marriott Harrison to pursue his legal career as in-house counsel at independent movie producer and
distributor Intermedia, Hinshelwood maintains this route is not for him.
But one thing he can be sure about is that if he decides to return full-time to private practice, firms will be queuing up to employ him.
As one rival says: "Lawyers with the ability of Billy do not come around often. We would offer him a job like a shot."
But they will have to watch and see if retirement suits him.
Head of film production law