Areas of Law: How to Become a Media Lawyer
If you’re looking for information on media law – sometimes also referred to as entertainment law – you’ve come to the right place. Take a look at our free guide covering everything from what it is to how to get into it and more.
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What is Media Law?
Media law governs what can be published and broadcast. Some of the matters media law includes are censorship and the tort of defamation, as well as privacy.
This area of law also relates to intellectual property law (i.e. issues such as copyright).
Consequently, media law is a broad area of law which covers:
- Broadcasting – public service broadcasting (e.g. BBC) and commercial broadcasting (e.g. ITV)
- Publishing – e.g. books, newspapers, print magazines
- Music – includes working with talent, producers and managers
- Film & television
- Digital media – includes gaming and social media, such as tweets and Facebook campaigns
- Advertising and marketing
- Theatre – includes working across ballet, opera, dance and circus, with producers, theatre owners, not-for-profit companies, venues, drama schools, industry bodies, agents and creative talent
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What Might a Media Lawyer Do on a Day-to-Day Basis?
Day-to-day responsibilities differ depending on whether you are a solicitor or barrister.
Media solicitors work on both contentious and non-contentious matters.
Contentious work includes litigation around issues such as:
- Copyright disputes
Litigation teams will typically include around three to five lawyers, for example: partner, senior associate, associate and trainee, or paralegal.
Non-contentious work includes:
- Drafting and advising on contracts
- Talent agreements and advertising agency agreements
- Providing ‘clearance’ advice for a client on usage of images or music tracks
Moreover, part of working in this area involves socialising with clients, occasional overseas travel and giving legal training workshops to clients.
On a day-to-day basis, media barristers will:
- Give advice
- Draft statements of case and skeleton arguments
- Appear in court
- Work on urgent applications for injunctions
More generally, frequent developments in digital media mean the law is always racing to catch up with it. As such, clients expect media lawyers to continually keep up with:
- Relevant case law
- Adjudications to new (and proposed) legislation
How to Become a Media Lawyer: How Does a Media Law Solicitor Differ From a Media Law Barrister?
Beyond the differences in day-to-day responsibilities, whether you’re a media law solicitor or a barrister, the types of law you are likely to practise and where you are likely to practise differ.
A media law solicitor will work in a law firm or in-house, for a variety of companies and organisations, such as:
- Major broadcasters
- Film studios
- Talent (e.g. actors and musicians)
- Advertising agencies
- Major brands who advertise
The types of law solicitors will tend to practise are contract law, litigation and intellectual property.
By contrast, a media law barrister can work in chambers, law firms or in-house, for clients from all sides of media industries, such as: newspapers, broadcasters and people who are reported on.
The types of law media law barristers practise include:
- Breach of confidence
- Contract law
- European law
- Human rights law
- Intellectual property law
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What are Some of the Benefits of a Career in Media Law?
The benefits of a career in media law include how topical it is. As the world of media moves so fast, you can expect to see the things you work on in the news and all around you, from advertising billboards to shops and even TV.
Not to mention that, because media is constantly changing, the law that goes along with it is constantly being adapted. You’ll be at the forefront of cutting edge points of law.
Also, it’s likely that even as a trainee you’ll be in contact with clients early on (with guidance). The industry is very young and constantly growing so you’ll have a chance to work with lesser-known clients and deal with the legal side as they grow.
However, one downside of media law is that the world it belongs to doesn’t really sleep. Associates and partners are often ‘on call’ outside of office hours (usually evenings and weekends) to respond to queries from clients. On the bright side, it’s unlikely these will involve staying late at the office unless you’re a barrister working on urgent applications for injunctions.
How to Become a Media Lawyer: Where Can I Practise as a Media Lawyer?
As media and entertainment law encompass so many industries within media, it’s difficult to summarise the top UK law firms which specialise in media law. Some of the top UK law firms include:
- Bird & Bird LLP
- Bristows LLP
- DLA Piper LLP
- Reed Smith
- Baker McKenzie
You may also consider becoming a barrister that specialises in media law. A selection of the top chambers for this include:
- Blackstone Chambers
- 8 New Square
- Hogarth Chambers
And, of course, you can practise in-house for a variety of corporations and organisations – depending on where your interests lie!
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What Sort of Person Would Suit a Career in Media Law?
As you might have guessed by now, media law is very fast-paced and, because of the nature of the industry, is heavily client-focused.
An ideal candidate will have a genuine interest in and understanding of media industries. Obviously, this will stand within reason; if your interests lie in a particular sector of media, for instance TV, it makes sense to focus on that and how the law might apply. Though, you will probably find that concepts such as how royalties are applied are relevant across a few sectors.
In addition to this, other key attributes include:
- Analytical and research skills
- The confidence to engage with and build rapport with clients
- Ability to socialise with clients (beyond work requirements)
Alongside your degree, you could consider getting involved with media societies or starting your own blog to demonstrate an interest and build your knowledge.
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What Are Some Different Routes into Becoming a Media Lawyer?
Media lawyers either work for law firms, in-house or chambers – as such, you should expect to follow the usual path to becoming a solicitor or barrister.
How to Become a Media Lawyer: What Work Experience Looks Good for a Career in Media Law?
Work experience with student societies which demonstrate an interest in media or media companies (whether gaming, journalism, theatre or other forms), is important if you wish to follow this career path. This is because it allows you to develop commercial awareness, which is vital for getting a foot in the door.
You might also want to start a blog where you keep track of developments in your sector of interest, or take some work experience in that sector so that you understand both the legal and practical sides. For example, if you’re interested in working on publishing as a lawyer, you might want to work for a publisher.
In order to gain some legal experience as a solicitor, it’s a good idea to pursue vacation schemes or training contracts with media law firms. If you wish to become a barrister, apply for mini-pupillages and pupillages with chambers which specialise in media law.
How to Become a Media Lawyer: Some Topical Issues
Some current issues you may like to consider and discuss in applications/interviews are:
- Brexit poses a number of problems to media and entertainment, including the question of funding. Currently, EU subsidiaries are available to support content production in the UK but, in the wake of Brexit, this is unlikely to continue.
- Since the election of Donald Trump and allegations that Russian media played a hand in it with the spread of false information, tackling fake news on social media has been a high priority. French President, Emmanuel Macron, recently proposed a new media law to target the spread of ‘fake news’ during election periods, which could have far-reaching effects.
- Stand-up comedian, Louise Reay, is being sued by her estranged husband in a ‘test case’ for allegedly defaming him – this calls into question the degree to which personal material can be used in shows.
- In 2017, ‘loot boxes’ (purchasable boxes with randomly generated cosmetic items) came under fire. As a consequence, debates have ensued regarding whether loot boxes can be considered gambling and a manipulation of children. If they are, this holds implications for how the video game industry use them in the future.
Written by Halimah Manan.