Chuck Tobin is another dear friend from decades on Litigation Magazine. He is also a leading media attorney. He knows well the benefits and the challenges raised by media today. And he shares some thoughts . . .
Middle-Aged Lawyers, Renaissance Media, Modern Kids
The firm should put my teenage son Ben on retainer. Seriously.
I am now solidly rooted in my middle-ages. My practice as a media lawyer developed in the pre-digital world. I honed my skills by defending news and entertainment claims in the “legacy media” era.
As I came up, each medium we represented had its own production chain. It was pretty easy to learn their businesses while I learned the law.
For example, we visited our newspaper clients’ offices. We watched news managers plan the day’s coverage, reporters compose stories, editors reshape drafts, copy desks wordsmith, printing presses crank newsprint, drivers grab stacks of papers from loading docks, and carriers drop the day’s edition at our neighbors’ doorsteps.
Magazines, broadcasters, movie studios — each of those clients had analogous production chains. To learn their businesses, you could literally, physically, follow their work from initial concept to final product and ask questions along the way.
Through the advent of the internet, wireless communications, mobile hardware, apps, and social media, the basic underpinnings of news and entertainment production have remained the same. Others may disagree with me about that — The Internet is killing journalism, blogs are dumbing us down — but to me, that’s the same type of nonsense my grandparents said about television.
Whether we are talking about print, the movies, a blog, or streaming video, someone expresses their idea in a tangible form at one end of the production. You and I experience that expression on the other end.
What has changed are the distances, the phases, and the technologies involved before that product reaches us. The assembly line for an internet publication now may be split among vastly remote offices, countries, continents, timezones, languages, servers, and companies.
And whenever a Twitter, Pinterest, or Snapchat emerges from our wonderfully creative computer culture, the media lawyers who serve them have to learn an entirely new business structure — without being able to wander around the client’s office to watch them work and ask questions.
Applying the law to the digital world isn’t really that hard. It’s figuring out what your client is creating, how they are creating it, and who they are creating it for, that are the Renaissance media lawyer’s greatest challenges.
Which is where my son comes in. Like most modern teenagers, the kid’s brain instantly and eagerly absorbs new media and new devices. It is unbelievable.
Ben has become my secret associate, and is my most patient teacher, for the stuff that I need to learn to remain effective in my practice. And he knows from my tone just when I’m struggling to learn a new media environment or a new device. My familiar, plaintive wail brings him into the room, shaking his head from side-to-side.
Hey Ben. Hey, Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!
The firm should seriously put Ben on retainer.
Chuck Tobin chairs the National Media Practice Team at Holland & Knight LLP in Washington D.C.