Harbottle & Lewis: Sound advice

Harbottle & Lewis: Sound advice” />Even in today’s ultra-mobile legal market, there are few roles that have developed a reputation as a revolving door as that of head of music at Harbottle & Lewis.

Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and into the current decade, a succession of music partners have joined and then left the media and entertainment firm, often for high-profile opportunities.

Previous incumbents include Jim Beach, who left to manage rock band Queen; James Wylie, who left to manage Eurythmics; and Andy Stinson, who set up his own practice and works closely with Simon Fuller’s 19 group.

Such destinations are attractive for music lawyers. But certainly, the job has a reputation in legal music circles as one that is almost by definition short term.

Last October the latest in the long line of Harbottles music heads, Paul Jones, joined from media boutique Smiths. He was the third lawyer in 12 months to hold the role following the exit of Antony Bebawi, who joined EMI Music Publishing as head of legal affairs, and his successor James Sully just over six months later who quit to become a partner at rival Sheridans.

Staying power
There is really only one question to ask: what makes Jones think that he’s going to stick around?”I’m quite different from some of the previous incumbents,” says a relaxed Jones, speaking to The Lawyer in January, four months into his new role. “One of my referees [for the Harbottles job] described me as ‘a lawyer who works in the music business, not an A&R guy who happens to be a lawyer’. I think that’s pretty accurate.”

In other words, Jones is a business lawyer first and foremost, with a client base focused predominantly on servicing corporates rather than talent. Certainly, a number of his predecessors have favoured artist-heavy practices, an area that is now rarely remunerative enough to justify inclusion in an all-equity, pure lockstep practice such as Harbottles’.

Mr Universal
Jones’s focus comes primarily from the years he spent in-house at Universal as a protégé of chairman Lucian Grainge.

In 1997, while working at rival Lee & Thompson, Jones got a call from Grainge. “‘Do you know who I am?’ he asked,” remembers Jones. “‘No,’ I said.”

Momentary embarrassment aside, Jones was offered a job as business affairs director at Universal subsidiary Polydor.

“I had a great time at Polydor,” says Jones. “It was launching innovations like Popstars, the first of The X Factor-style shows, with Simon Fuller.”

Jones stayed at Universal for almost five years, despite making a diary note on his first day to leave after two.

“I thought that might be my sell-by date,” he says, “but when the two years were up I kept deferring the decision until four and a half years had passed.”

It was enough to build a healthy client base of corporates, primarily Universal labels, including Polydor, Mercury, Island and classical label Decca. Jones also acts for Pathé Pictures and a gaggle of independent television and music production companies, while his roster of artists is headed by jazz pianist Jamie Cullum.

“Maybe because of my in-house background I enjoy working with companies and entrepreneurs,” he says. “What I’m not doing is churning out lots of record deals.”

It is a focus that Harbottles clearly trusts will help restore its underperforming music team with the profile it last enjoyed in the early to mid-1990s.

“Nobody can deny Harbottles’ music team has been in a state of flux,” agrees Jones. “It’s definitely been punching well below its weight. It won’t for much longer.”

Despite his bullish statements, in person Jones is anything but the stereotypical music business rainmaker. As another music lawyer who has worked with him puts it: “He’s an excellent technical lawyer, a good guy and very modest.”

Nobody has a bad word to say about Jones, although some in the business question whether he has the ‘in-your-face’ qualities necessary to build – or rather rebuild – Harbottles’ fragile music team and reputation. It is too early to pass judgement, as the results will need to speak for themselves, but Jones is well aware of the task that lies ahead.

“I did have some concerns when I first got the call,” he says. “But not anymore.”

Jones claims that all of his clients moved with him from Smiths, while he also had his first child, “now a five-month-old boy,” says Jones. “I’ve been living on a lot of adrenaline and wits.”

Jones claims to have already had several new instructions, “including some that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have used me at Smiths – or [used] Harbottles if I wasn’t here,” he adds.

The team, comprising just Jones plus two assistants and a couple of part-time consultants, is small, but Harbottles has pencilled in the team for future growth and it is now down to Jones to deliver. Four months in and there is little sign of stagefright.

“A bit of pressure’s a good thing,” insists Jones.