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IT & communications law: area of practice

There are lots of specialists within the technology area of law, says Sarah Bell from DLA Piper LLP – in social media, IT and hardware, and telecoms.
Although 50–60 hour weeks are common, weekend working isn’t a regular part of the job.

IT and communications (ITC) law is a very broad area – it refers to all contracts that deal with how we communicate with people, either on a personal or corporate level. Lawyers in this area might work on cases that deal with the supply and maintenance of IT infrastructure, how people buy IT services and the implications of cloud computing – it’s a massive topic.

The types of clients that lawyers in this field work with is varied – from technology firms to the government, banks and private companies. Everyone needs IT: it builds the infrastructure of all major global corporations, so anyone could be a client.

Within this area of law there are lots of specialists – eg in social media, IT and hardware, and telecoms – so the nature of each case will depend on whether the lawyer is a specialist or whether they have a more general practice area that might take on more general types of IT agreements. Lawyers in this practice area typically work on five or six cases at a time – a small transaction in which a company wants to review their social media terms might last a couple of days, but you could work on a major IT replacement programme for six to twelve months.

How many lawyers will I be working with as a technology specialist or trainee?

The number of lawyers working on a case depends on how large and complex it is – one junior lawyer with a few hours of supervision from a partner might work on a single IT agreement, but up to 15 lawyers from various departments may be required for others. It is likely that lawyers from specialisms other than IT are involved on larger cases – such as property lawyers if the case involves a company changing premises, for example.

Although 50–60 hour weeks are common, weekend working isn’t a regular part of the job. Towards the end stages of a complex deal or a large project there may be pinch points at which weekend or all-night working might be required, but generally you can expect to work only one weekend every month or two – but it’s rare to work all weekend.

Solicitors in this area are sometimes seconded to the firm’s overseas offices or to a client’s offices. Domestic and international travel can be required for client meetings. We are finding now that there can be less travel than there used to be due to ever-improving technology – especially on larger transactions and across time-zones as services such as video conferencing and tele-presence allow a lot to be done remotely.

Is this area of law recession-proof?

As with most areas of the legal profession it has been adversely affected by the economic climate because clients have thought more carefully about the work that they give to law firms. For example, some clients have augmented their internal teams of in-house lawyers to save money. However, given the nature of the work and clients, we were less affected than other firms.

What is it like being a trainee solicitor in an IT and communications department?

IT and communications is the future and is only becoming more in demand and more sophisticated. For this reason, the ever-changing sector is popular with trainees. Initially, they are assigned a supervisor as their first port of call, but quickly go on to work with all members of the team. The work may involve tasks such as drafting contracts and conducting research.

What skills does an IT and communications solicitor need to do the job?

  • Good written and oral communication skills.
  • A sense of humour.
  • The ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
  • Commercial awareness.

Types of law practised

  • Contract.
  • Tort. 

Sarah Bell is a partner in the intellectual property and technology group at DLA Piper LLP. She graduated from the University of Sheffield with a law degree in 1995.

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