The Law: TMT
15 March 2007
Whats it all about?
If you are involved in IT or telecoms at a law firm, you will probably be part of the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) group, although at some firms you could be in the communications, media and telecoms (CMT) group.
Law firms lumped these three practice areas together at the end of the 1990s during the dotcom boom, but nowadays nobody talks about TMT except lawyers, and the reality is that these are three fairly distinct practice areas.
The current vogue among technology lawyers is outsourcing. This is when companies take their IT departments and sell them to an IT services company, such as Electronic Data Systems or IBM, and ask them to run it for them. This is supposedly more efficient because such companies are experts at running IT systems, whereas, say, an insurance company is not. This trend has spread to companies outsourcing a whole load of functions that are not core to their businesses.This is known as business process outsourcing (BPO), and it has stretched quite some way. Cheque processing, for example, is considered a non-core business at many banks and has subsequently been outsourced.
More controversial still is offshore outsourcing, where everybody is sacked (as opposed to being transferred to IBM) and the company runs the operations remotely from a cheap location, such as India.
Telecoms lawyers are a different beast. In the biggest firms they tend to provide the regulatory input to large deals, such as a merger or takeover. There are people who do pure regulatory work, but these tend to be specialist (niche) players.
The working culture
TMT departments are fairly collegiate because everybody tends to work together to provide their input on whichever parts of the law they are most familiar with. There are few old duffers around because the IT industry is relatively young.
Telecoms lawyers will often travel a lot, working with companies investing in obscure countries. They will work a great deal with economists and politicians, because often governments will be selling state-run telecoms companies to their clients.
Why is this interesting?
IT law is evolving constantly, in line with the evolution of technology.
Personal and legal skills required
You dont have to be a gadget freak, says Baker & McKenzie head of TMT Harry Small. But you should have an interest and a general knowledge of the technology industry. You should also be a good communicator, capable of explaining complex technologies to non-techies.