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Whats it all about?
Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) are increasingly distinct and nowadays you are unlikely to specialise in more than one of these areas. However, if you are involved in IT or telecoms at a law firm, you may find yourself referred to as a TMT lawyer.
A technology group will advise its clients on a vast array of matters including technology licensing, outsourcing projects, procurement, systems development, distribution arrangements and consulting agreements. A large team might also demonstrate strengths in related legal and regulatory issues such as e-commerce, telecommunications and privacy. Depending on the size of the firm, TMT lawyers may provide a corporate support function or may have a standalone role. In larger firms, TMT lawyers will usually advise on both public and private sector transactions, often adopting a project management role on matters that require inputs from several practice areas.
The trend towards outsourcing call centres is a key source of work for any technology lawyer. Simply described, outsourcing occurs when, rather than keeping an in-house IT function, a large organisation asks an IT services company to provide it instead. Depending on the deal, the IT provider will install and maintain equipment and then provide support services such as a helpdesk and on-site technicians. A number of these services can be provided overseas and you will be exposed to multi-jurisdictional challenges. Many of the first generation of outsourcing agreements will soon come up for restructuring or renewal. The challenge for technology lawyers is to ensure that these second-generation agreements cater for the risks and commercial potential likely to arise over the next decade.
Media companies are exploiting new channels to market. Web innovations such as broadband and WiFi have enabled content to be delivered any time, anywhere, and Web 2.0 has catalysed new forms of user-generated content. This is really the area where technology and media law converge and clients will require their lawyers to keep up to date with industry developments such as music and film downloads, virtual worlds, use of provided content and other convergence phenomena.
E-commerce is commercial activity carried out electronically, over the internet and other computer systems. Lawyers advise on issues in setting up web infrastructure and website development, hosting and support through to consumer terms, data protection and online liability issues.
The working culture
One day you might be working for an enormous public sector body, the next advising a small digital media start-up. Given the broad range of transactional experience, a technology team will have constant contact with other departments within a firm.
An excellent working knowledge of contractual principles together with strong drafting and negotiating skills are important in this field. However, you will not be closeted in a dusty back room. A good technology lawyer is a client facing, commercially engaged animal, who should be ready to roll with unexpected innovations or developments.
You will be expected to acquire a real understanding of the technology industry. Many technology lawyers have backgrounds in the industry and many will be seconded to clients in the sector for extended periods of time. You should not be surprised to be seconded as a trainee and you might end up anywhere from a media company to a government agency.
You can expect to act for both suppliers and customers and this will equip you with a unique insight into the issues affecting both sides. A trusted legal advisor in this field will therefore be relied upon for his technical, legal and commercial expertise.
Technology is moving faster than ever before. Some of the latest developments in this area include Web 2.0 (virtual worlds; social networking; user generated content), VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and second-generation outsourcing.