Media law: area of practice

The law is racing to catch up with the digital media explosion, says Paul Jordan, partner and head of the advertising and marketing department at Bristows.

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Everything we do is topical: the ad campaign you review one day appears on a website or in the press the next.

Unlike many areas of practice, media law is a very broad church and covers broadcasting, publishing, music, film, television, digital media, advertising and marketing.

Solicitors work on many matters at any one time and will get involved in contentious work, such as litigation around copyright disputes, libel or defamation issues. A hefty copyright dispute may last a few years from start to finish, meaning cases rarely reach trial unless they are business critical. Litigation teams usually include three to five lawyers: a partner; senior associate; associate; and trainee or paralegal.

Lawyers juggle contentious work with non-contentious matters: such as drafting and advising on contracts, talent agreements and advertising agency agreements; and providing ‘clearance’ advice for a client who wants to know if they can use, say, a particular image or a music track.

Media low solicitors work with sociable and dynamic clients

Solicitors typically act for major broadcasters, publishers, film studios, investors, banks, talent (eg actors and musicians), advertising agencies and major brands engaging in advertising. Clients in this sector tend to be young and dynamic: as such, socialising with clients, occasional overseas travel and running legal training workshops for clients is an important part of the job.

The best part about being a media lawyer is the fact that everything we do is topical: the ad campaign you review one day appears on a website or in the press the next. On the downside, the media world doesn’t stop in the evenings or weekends so experienced associates and partners are often ‘on call’ out of office hours for quick-response queries from clients. These are usually discreet tasks, however, and are more likely to involve a ten-minute phone conversation at home than staying late at the office. Typical hours in the office are 9.00 pm to 8.00 pm.

Keeping up with the pace

The explosion of digital media has had a huge impact on this area of practice and the law itself has been racing to catch up. Media law practitioners need to keep up with relevant case law, adjudications and new (and proposed) legislation – clients expect this. Those lawyers who enjoy being fully up-to-date on all legal developments should find this practice area particularly stimulating.

The type of work carried out by media lawyers has changed. Five years ago, much of my time was spent reviewing storyboards or radio scripts. Now, clients ask my advice on a proposed Facebook campaign or whether they can tweet something. This means that this practice area is full of opportunity for young and enthusiastic lawyers.


Fortunately, media law is such a broad discipline that any potential peaks and troughs in workload are largely avoided. Clients may tighten their belts in some areas – fewer contentious cases continue to trial and less money is spend on traditional advertising – but advice is sought on other matters, such as policing the misuse of client’s content or using viral campaigns on social media websites.

As a trainee

There are plenty of opportunities for early client contact, under supervision. Much is expected of trainees because, a lot of the time, they will work with creative clients who don’t have much legal knowledge or experience. It’s a comfortable place for trainees to make a name for themselves. You’ll deal with clients on the phone and in meetings and draft agreements, such as licence agreements or talent agreements.

Types of law practised

  • Contract law.
  • Litigation.
  • Intellectual property.

Good media solicitors have…

  • Good analytical and research skills.
  • An engaging personality: a bit of character and confidence, without arrogance.

PAUL JORDAN is a partner and head of the advertising and marketing department within the media practice at BRISTOWS . He graduated from Brunel University with a law degree in 1999.

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