New technologies and the way they mesh together are transforming the
way people live, play, work and shop. This is creating a surge in demand for
lawyers who specialize in telecommunications.
Telecommunications refers to radio, television, cable, satellite systems,
telephony (meaning voice telephone technology), multimedia and the Internet.
Telecommunications lawyers are communications law experts. For example,
they help companies understand complex and changing rules and regulations
relating to telecommunications.
What is Behind the Growth of This Career?
Dave Bilinski is a lawyer. He describes the impact of the Internet on the
demand for telecommunications lawyers as explosive. "There's the issues that
arise out of the Internet, such as hosting Internet-based discussions. There's
privacy and copyright legal issues that arise from that. There's libel and
slander issues," explains Bilinski.
"Or, for example, somebody hosts a web page on your server and posts hate
mail. What are the legal responsibilities of the owner of the page?"
These are exactly the sorts of situations that telecommunications lawyers
grapple with in their daily jobs.
The other theme behind increased opportunities for telecommunications lawyers
has to do with changes in government regulations. At one time, the U.S. and
Canadian governments regulated the telecommunications industry quite heavily.
That meant that there were only a handful of companies who provided telephone
and cable services, for example.
In the 1990s, deregulation occurred. Now, hundreds of companies compete
for long distance, cable and satellite television customers. Telecommunications
lawyers have stepped in to help with the legal issues that resulted from deregulation.
Where are the Jobs?
"There will be an increasing demand for telecommunications lawyers in private
firms, in government and in private industry," says Paul Glist. He is a telecommunications
lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Glist notes the link between government regulation issues and the demand
for telecommunications lawyers. "Public policy practice is involved in almost
all cases," he says. "The practice brings the lawyer into many levels of law
beyond the courtroom, such as Congress, state legislatures, city councils
and federal agencies."
Bilinski points out that part of the growth in the demand for telecommunications
lawyers is occurring because of the growth of telecommunications companies
themselves and their own legal needs.
What's It Like to Do This Work?
The working conditions for telecommunications lawyers are similar to those
of lawyers. They typically work in salaried positions in offices in law firms
or are self-employed.
There is a certain amount of travel required. Lawyers may need to go to
Salaries can vary, depending on where you practice and whether
you have a graduate degree in addition to your law degree.
Experience pays significantly in the law field. According to one study,
telecommunications lawyers were the second highest paid group of lawyers.
They were second only to those with administrative specialties.
What Kind of Education Do I Need?
You have to become qualified as a lawyer. That involves getting an undergraduate
degree, passing the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), getting a law degree
and then passing a bar exam. Depending on where you live, you may also require
a period of articling, a bar admission course and a license.
It's going to take at least six or seven years after high school before
you'll be done the educational requirements to work as a lawyer.
There is stiff competition to get into many law schools. In general, there
are far more people who apply than can be admitted.
Working your way into the telecommunications specialty as a lawyer requires
"There are several career paths," says Glist. "With a law degree, you can
take a government position...start in a private firm with a large telecom
practice, or work in the legal or policy department of a telecom company."
You are going to need knowledge of regulations in the field, such as computer
and business laws.
Telecommunications law is quite connected with intellectual property law,
says Bilinski. Gaining experience or exposure to intellectual property law
would be helpful.
"You know, what's becoming interesting these days is the dual educational
areas people are taking," says Bilinski.
He explains that many lawyers are combining two educational areas, such
as law with nursing or law with business. That increases your options for
Bilinski suggests that anyone who may be interested in telecommunications
law consider combining legal training with education in engineering, business
or computer science. You could, for example, first earn a degree in engineering,
gain some experience and then pursue the law education and training, maybe
even while you're working.
Anthony Keenleyside is a telecommunications lawyer. "The best two ways
are to work inside the regulator [Federal Communications Commission] as legal
counsel or in a firm that already has this specialty and can provide a mentor,"
"So much of the existing telecom regulatory framework is in lawyers' heads
that it is difficult to learn by reading up on it alone. Another option is
to go in-house with a telecom firm."
Educational institutions are responding to the need for telecommunications
lawyers. Indiana University's school of law, for example, offers a joint program
that combines a doctorate in law with a master's degree in telecommunications.
American Bar Association
Resources for lawyers
National Association for Law Placement
A source of information for legal career planning