Twenty years ago the mention of a media lawyer conjured up images of shiny suits and one-sided contracts. Now, expertise in intellectual property (IP) law is a fundamental component of the staple of the 21st century lawyer's diet: the corporate-media deal.
It was in the early 1980s that the potential for wealth creation of businesses whose stock in trade was the creation and exploitation of IP was first realised. Those financiers who had hitherto failed to appreciate the value of an investment which did not have tangible assets upon which to secure lending began to learn about the value of IP. Their lawyers began to appreciate that copyright was no longer to be dismissed as a soft option to pad out degrees.
At the other end of the spectrum, those law firms which operated at the serious end of the media industries appreciated that their clients needed something more.
As activity increased in the sector, the requirements of media clients became more sophisticated. Media firms hired guns from the City to provide the required expertise. In addition to the service which these corporate departments provided to media clients, it became important for them to develop their own client bases.
With the explosion in e-commerce the clients have been there in spades.
Dotcom financings, IPOs, AIM listings and the like have become the staple diet of media led niche law firms. Undertaking significant corporate finance deals is no longer the sole preserve of the larger City firms.
The practical application of IP within contemporary business practice means that at least a basic understanding of the principles of IP rights is an important piece of ammunition in the corporate lawyer's armoury.
More important is the teamwork between corporate and IP lawyers. Fee generation in this sector has overtaken that in many of the traditional areas of media law.
While niche firms that specialise in areas such as music and film may continue to provide an excellent service, those which are unable to support the corporate aspirations of their clients may soon find they will be unable to provide the service that is expected of them during this time of profound change for the profession.
Tony Morris is managing partner at Marriott Harrison.