There’s a line at the beginning of Roxy Music’s first ever single Virginia Plain, where Bryan Ferry sings, “show me a dealâ€¦ I’ll take it to Robert Lee”.
And Bryan Ferry still does take his deals to Robert Lee, senior partner of media and entertainment firm Lee & Thompson. So do Queen, Simply Red, the Spice Girls, the Beckhams and several of the UK’s leading independent television and film production companies.
When the Roxy Music line was penned, Lee was a partner at Harbottle & Lewis. He left there in 1983 along with Andrew Thompson and the two set up Lee & Thompson.
In 1985, they were joined by Theodore Goddards’ music specialist Robert Horsfall. Now the firm has 10 partners. It celebrates its twentieth anniversary this month.
There is no managing partner at Lee & Thompson. The firm is managed
by a committee comprising Lee, Horsfall and partner Reno Antoniades. Horsfall, however, is increasingly the firm’s spokesman.
Although the firm was originally a music practice, Horsfall says that very early on they decided to expand into television and film. “There are obvious synergies and the two worlds do collide fairly frequently,” he says. “Our practice now encompasses film, television and music, but it does spin into other areas of entertainment as well, such as musicals, theatre, video deals, DVD and technology.”
The film and television team now has four partners, the music team has four, and there are two litigation partners – Gordon Williams and Mike Brookes. Like the firm’s founding partners, Brookes and Williams have City backgrounds. Horsfall suggests that their exit to a niche practice was not a surprise, as it was the failure of City firms to properly service the media and entertainment market that promoted the establishment of Lee & Thompson in the first place.
“The City has always struggled with the world of media,” he says. “The larger firms don’t handle it so well. It’s mystified me as to why. It can certainly be very lucrative. A lot of the City firms do it to a certain level. They may act for the corporations, but not really the talent. The talent firms tend to be the smaller niche firms such as ourselves.”
The firm’s growth has been steady and unspectacular. It has 14 solicitors in all, 10 of whom are partners. There are not that many firms with such a high partner-to-fee-earner ratio, but Horsfall says it is very much a deliberate strategy. “It’s what our clients want,” he says. “When I worked in the City I was aware that a lot of clients had a problem with the way they tended to be passed around among the junior lawyers as they climbed up the ladder. Clients in the music industry like longevity and consistency.” True to form, Andrew Thompson has looked after Simply Red since 1985 and still personally does their work. “That’s the sort of consistency that clients need and appreciate,” concludes Horsfall.
Senior partner: Robert Lee
Total number of partners: 10
No of equity partners: Six
Total solicitors: 14
Main practice areas: media and entertainment (music, film & television, litigation)
Main clients: Queen, Simply Red, Spice Girls, David and Victoria Beckham, Tom Jones, Red Productions, Kudos Productions, Revolution Films
No of offices: One