Jonathan Berger was featured in the Hot 100 back in 2004 when he had just joined legacy Salans’ media and entertainment practice from legacy firm Theodore Goddard.
Since then, Berger has moved into a number of other private practice roles, joining legacy Richards Butler in the year of its merger – 2006 – and then moving to London-headquartered Harbottle & Lewis in 2010.
But Berger is at Harbottle & Lewis to stay, he says, maintaining that his sole objective was always to find what he terms a “niche firm” that was focused on technology, media and entertainment (TME).
“I wanted to join a firm that was comfortable in its skin as a TME firm, and that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my career,” he explains.
Following a two-year stint at Salans, Berger’s move to legacy Richards Butler came at the same time as the firm was sealing a merger deal with Reed Smith.
Clients come too
Although Berger refuses to go into too many details about his moves between various firms, he says legacy Richards Butler “has fantastic areas of work, but I think I can make a more important contribution here [at Harbottle]”.
Berger has taken his clients with him from firm to firm during the past 12 years.
“The market has changed since 2010,” he says, “but I’m still essentially a content lawyer.”
Despite having experienced a range of firms and partnerships, Berger struggles to explain the effect (or lack thereof) of these transitions on his practice.
“How have I changed? I don’t think there’s been any dynamic change in me – I’ve just developed as my industries have developed,” he claims.
“As a lawyer you always follow but you also have to anticipate the direction in which the market is going to evolve – I think I have developed in that regard.”
In the box seat
A drop-off in large-scale film productions has caused Harbottle to focus more on television work.
Last year the firm launched a business and commercial affairs consultancy called the Television Affairs Consultancy (TVA) alongside Industry Media founder Simon Vyvyan.
The venture is intended to link clients up with cost-effective commercial and business affairs advice while giving them the opportunity to access corporate and legal affairs advice from Harbottle.
Berger was closely involved in the development of this joint venture and is one of the two directors working to “invest the time to make sure the relationship works”.
“There’s much more television around now and we’re doing much more television work,” he says. “In fact, at the moment we’re incredibly busy.”
His TVA responsibilities do not take up time that would otherwise be spent on fee-earning projects, Berger adds.
“I’d say that, for the first time in my career, I’m working with like-minded lawyers who have a real collaborative approach to managing our clients, he explains. “There’s a fantastic culture of cross-referral within the firm.”
Although unwilling to talk about many of his clients for reasons of confidentiality, Berger barely hesitates when asked to choose a standout piece of work he has undertaken in the past decade. His definitive highlight is working on the Monty Python Live (Mostly) event ahead of its launch at the O2 in July 2014.
“You always like to do something that’s high-profile but this was intellectually stimulating too,” Berger explains. “There were a lot of issues to go over covering a lot of content over a long period of time.”
He had to review all the content produced by Monty Python because some of the contracts signed decades ago did not have technology or the internet in mind.
“Obviously, the show generated a lot of interest and we wanted to make sure the rights issue was all as it should be while exploiting the contract,” he says.
Berger is currently working on the legal aspects of the sequel to the film Kingsman: The Secret Service, representing Matthew Vaughn’s production studio Marv.
Jonathan Berger, partner, Harbottle & Lewis
The ever-growing Salans made its first foray into the world of entertainment this year, with the dual hire of Jonathan Berger and Peter Armstrong from pre-merger Theodore Goddard (now Addleshaw Goddard). By all accounts, both partners have settled quickly into their new home. The double act, which stretches back to their Mishcon de Reya days in 1995, is a major strength.
Both partners are known for their ability to work well in a team, and so far it has been Berger – head of media at his new firm – who has stolen the biggest headlines. In September, Berger advised longstanding client film production company DNA Films on its $50m (£28.3m joint venture with Fox Searchlight Pictures, a division of Twentieth Century Fox.
Berger’s representation of DNA is not particularly newsworthy – he has advised the company since its inception in 1997– but the faith the client showed in moving with him to the media-unknown Salans for one of its highest profile deals ever is.
As Peter McInerney, a fellow media mover who joined the Simkins Partnership from SJ Berwin this year, quipped: “Berger might not have discovered DNA, but he proved he could be trusted to deliver, wherever he was based”.
The Lawyer Hot 100 2004