Technology, media and telecommunications law (TMT) deals with the movement of communications across various different platforms, whether it’s television, print, the internet or mobile devices.
TMT lawyers are at the fast end of a quickly evolving area of law. If you get your kicks from new technology and the changing world around us, then TMT could offer you a great opportunity.
What does TMT law involve?
Legal services in the TMT sector include: providing advice on the licensing of software and hardware and outsourcing arrangements. A lot of work focuses on new media and technology developments, such as the internet, mobile telephony, data protection and privacy laws, e-commerce issues and fraud prevention.
With the rise of the internet giants, such as Google, Facebook, AllAboutCareers and Youtube, TMT is the area of law that is arguably undergoing the biggest boom. The phenomenal growth of the internet and cutting-edge next-generation technologies means that work is constantly piling in. As the world continues to move onto the internet in ever greater waves, this sector will only continue to expand.
With the development of the mobile phone and broadband internet, governments, institutions and companies are now investing in technology more than ever. This is definitely an exciting area of law to be associated with!
What does a TMT lawyer do?
A typical working week for a TMT solicitor will involve advising and drafting agreements on new business, contractual work for new projects, licensing and rights distribution. They might assist with advertising, marketing plans and commercial launches too.
Outsourcing is not uncommon in TMT, where lawyers will often be tasked with things like completing due diligence checks on the outsourcing partner, preparing and reviewing draft agreements, protection clauses and the rights and obligations of both parties.
The biggest attraction of outsourcing is the movement of I.T. functions and technical support to countries where business costs are lower and a qualified workforce is available at a cheaper rate. Consequently, TMT lawyers need to be familiar with business laws and regulations in several jurisdictions.
A TMT lawyer in e-commerce will focus on providing legal advice for clients that are setting up websites and online payment systems. Data security and the protection of content within the website are of paramount importance for these types of organisation.
What makes a good TMT lawyer?
A TMT lawyer needs to have in-depth knowledge of the technology and media industries and must be up-to-date on the latest developments and innovations. A decent knowledge of industry-specific terminology is also necessary.
Strong communication and negotiation skills are required. Furthermore, they will need to have excellent knowledge of commercial and corporate law. Enthusiasm and an appetite for new challenges is essential.
A 'Day in the Life' of John Enser, partner in TMT law at Olswang.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Often, my day will start with an 8.30 or 8.45 internal meeting – the start of the day is always a good time to do these, before the phone starts ringing. If I don’t have a meeting, the first thing I normally do is get coffee (from our in-house espresso bar) – and then go through the overnight and early morning emails, including from various news sources.
How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?
It is always a juggling act. It is really important to manage client expectations and ensure that it is not always the client that shouts loudest who receives the best service. I keep to do lists – having tried all sorts of different digital organising tools, I still keep them on paper, but it is a rare day when I only do what I plan to do at the start of the day and nothing left-field crops up.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in sports and media law? How does it differ from an associate role?
The main responsibilities are delivering work to a high quality and on time, sourcing and winning new work, nurturing client relationships and managing the financial aspects of the client relationship. We encourage associates to share responsibility for all of these aspects, but they are typically most focused on delivering the work and are likely to be less involved in financial matters such as fee quotes, billing and debt collection.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
These can range from helping Viacom (owners of the MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels, as well as Channel 5) to renegotiation its wide-ranging distribution and advertising sales arrangement with Sky, through to a technical piece of copyright advice for a small charity to advising an internet music service on negotiations with rights owners.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
My clients are mostly corporates, rather than individuals, working in TV production and distribution, the music industry and in all forms of online media. With smaller clients, I am often working directly with the CEO or other senior management; with larger clients, my day-to-day relationships are typically with the General Counsel or Head of Legal, but I will also deal with other members of the in-house legal team and, even with large companies, I sometimes work directly with senior management.
How do you keep up to date with all the developments in the technology sector?
This is one of the biggest challenges of working in such a fast-moving area of business, but my clients absolutely expect me to be fully up to speed with the latest developments; I subscribe to a range of online news sources, from the FT to very niche industry publications, who are pushing information to me throughout the day; I also have the Guardian’s media home page more-or-less constantly open on my PC and am never seen without my smartphone or tablet or both. Word of mouth is also really important – many people in my team are passionate about the areas they work in and will often say “have you seen…” or will come in to show me the latest gadget they have purchased.
Interview with Time Watkins, trainee Solicitor at Olswang.
In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in TMT law?
Olswang has its roots in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications sector, and a majority of the commercial department undertakes is from clients within the sector. We provide a full range of services in this sector, whether that be commercial contracts, outsourcing deals or data protection and privacy policies.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
When I get in to the office, usually after I cycle in to work, I usually head up to the firm's subsidised restaurant Ozone for a virtuous fruit salad or a gluttonous Full English. Both are delicious but sometimes it's hard to resist the latter. It's then down to my desk to get cracking. I typically have made myself a 'to-do' list the previous evening to get organised for the day ahead. In the commercial department, we regularly have departmental meetings where all the Partners, Associates and Trainees get together to discuss what we are doing and if there is any work in the pipeline. It's a great chance to get involved with anything you find interesting. The meetings are free form and reflect the relaxed and collegiate nature of the department.
Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?
It’s cliché, but every day is different. If you are on a large deal, then it is likely it will be take up most of your day. Large outsourcing arrangements, film and TV deals, commercial due diligence – they all require a trainee to be fairly heavily involved, whether that be redrafting contracts in line with client instructions, reviewing drafts received from the other side, document management, or drafting emails - it all takes time. If you are lucky enough to be involved in high-value work, it provides an excellent insight into how these deals are operated and conducted.
At the other end of the spectrum you might be involved in a series of smaller, more discrete tasks, which can range from drafting client research notes, business development work, negotiating smaller day to day commercial contracts, or perhaps some pro-bono work. The benefit of getting involved with the more routine aspects of commercial law is that it provides you with greater flexibility to run your own practice and manage your deadlines, all of which is important for your development as a solicitor.
Why did you choose to take this elective? Is technological development something that interested you outside of law?
Technological development affects every aspect of the business world and it has always been interesting for me to see how technology has shaped the way individuals conduct business. Taking a seat in the commercial department at Olswang is a great opportunity to work with high-profile and interesting clients in sectors where the law and the commercial/competitive environments are constantly changing. Even during my time in the department, the sector continues to grow and develop and that flows down to the work you do in a real and tangible way.
How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?
The old 'open door' maxim doesn’t literally work anymore at Olswang since moving to an open plan office – which has been great for collaborative working. Every member of the team, from the Senior Partners down to the NQs, are always happy to help, and if you have any questions they are always happy to lend a hand. Moving to open plan is a great experience as a trainee, as previously you might only have been privy to the discussions of your roommate, but now I feel more part of the department as a whole and can easily get a feeling for what partners and senior associates are up to. More casually, being in open plan increases the opportunities to get to know your senior colleagues, and have a chat. Partners are people too and often are as happy as anyone just to have a casual chat.
Client contact is mixed as always. Don't expect to be on the phone to the client's CEO or general counsel every day. Having said that, on the smaller deals, you might find yourself communicating with someone in the client's business regularly.
What kind of projects have you been working on so far? Do you tend to take on short-term tasks or work on longer-term projects?
Sometimes one will turn into the other. I've put myself down to work on something which I expected might take several months and for one reason or another the client decides not to take it forward. Conversely, I've drafted something small and discrete such as a heads of terms or a non-disclosure agreement and I have ended up being involved for the entire deal. Trainees in this department don't look for one thing over the other, often you'll find yourself on a mixture of tasks which take varying amounts of time.
How do other areas of law come into this elective?
IP is a big part of your time in the commercial department. Often some of the contracts you are working turn solely on the licensing of technology that has been developed by your client. In this instance knowing your way around intellectual property law becomes paramount.
Being part of a full-service law firm means that you are never far from advising in respect of all areas of the law and in performing my duties in the commercial department I have had to liaise with colleagues in our corporate team, commercial and IP litigation teams and there has even been some real estate cross over.