With media and technology being a staple in the lives of nearly everyone in the 20th century, Annabel Smith decided interviewing two lawyers from this sector would be both insightful and eye opening to sectors that aren’t traditionally thought of when choosing to where to qualify.
In this week’s article, Annabel Smith interviewed two media and entertainment lawyers; Roch Glowacki from Reed Smith and Matthew Fox from Preiskel & Co. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask any of us.
Over to you two…
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up wanting to become a solicitor?
I came from Poland to the UK 10 years ago to study law with European Legal Studies at King’s College London. Whilst at university, I was active at the KCL Business Club taking part in various student competitions based on the popular TV shows Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice. I won one of these with a pitch for an online marketplace for performers and event organisers, which I then went on to set up with a friend. From then onwards it became very clear that one – I enjoyed working with businesses and helping them navigate commercial and legal realities and two – that I had a knack for media and technology.
I studied Law at Exeter University and joined Preiskel & Co in 2017 having completed my Training Contract with Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) in London.
And so how did you end up at your respective firms?
Reed Smith seemed like the perfect place to start my career. It had a flourishing international entertainment & media practice, a small trainee intake which I knew would guarantee high levels of responsibility, and was already taking the lead on diversity issues (which, given that I am not a native English speaker, was also an important factor). As you can imagine, back in 2013, the proportion of non-native speakers getting training contracts was very small so I felt that the odds were against me. The scope for personal development has also always been a key driver and Reed Smith was a pioneer in providing growth opportunities. I was one of the first intakes to complete the bespoke MA programme at BPP (Legal Practice Course with Business). And so when it came down to choosing between offers, the choice was pretty clear.
I’ve had a long-standing interest in the technology and media sectors so I was initially attracted to the firm owing to its focus as a specialist TMT (technology, media and telecoms) practice based in the heart of legal London: Inner Temple.
Why did you choose to specialise in media and technology?
As I mentioned, given my entrepreneurial experiences, I knew that I wanted to try media. I also did break-dancing for 7 years, my mum is an artist and my dad works in IT so it’s was probably this unusual combination that got me here. However, as a trainee, I went into the process with an open mind and also wanted to try energy and finance – at least I thought I did. Then for my second seat, I applied for a secondment with Bauer Media (which owns radio stations such as Absolute Radio, KISS, Magic and brands such as Grazia or Empire). It was an incredible experience and so for my third seat, I sat with my current team doing advisory and transactional work, and for my final one I did media/IP litigation. Before I knew it, with three media seats under my belt, I was an NQ in the Entertainment and Media team.
I started my newly-qualified career as a Corporate lawyer acting mostly on tech-focussed investments and M&A deals – and this remains part of my practice.
By a turn of fate, the firm’s Film & TV department was created almost simultaneously with my arrival owing to a couple of recent Partner-level hires. Having a transactional law background, I became involved with an increasing number of media and entertainment deals (at first, on film financing transactions), which gradually broadened over time and now involves advising on all aspects of the financing, production and exploitation of filmed content for feature films and TV.
It’s very rewarding being able to view the end product of the film or TV series you have been part of when it has finally been made – that’s my favourite part of working in this area.
Surely, it wasn’t that simple. Sounds like you had plenty of time to explore this area as part of your training contract.
Well, I might have over-simplified this and there’s obviously more to my choice. I quickly realised that by working in the tech & media space, I will have the opportunity to work on matters that feel more tangible because they often relate to consumer brands that we all know very well. At the same time, given the pace of technological developments (think, for example, artificial intelligence), it’s an exciting space for lawyers who want to face novel and challenging legal issues whilst applying commercial pragmatism. I also thought that it’s a future-proof area where I am going to learn an awful lot about business.
What’s a day in the life like for a media and technology lawyer?
The truth is that no two days are the same – you never know in the morning what will have happened by the evening. On the media side, the clients I work with include independent producers, distribution and sales companies, rights acquisition companies and film financiers, and the core of my job involves working with those clients to navigate the legal issues and considerations impacting their projects, and to ensure that things are contractually sound.
When working on a financial closing, this can be fairly all-encompassing and can involve some late nights – particularly as many projects are international and often involve LA in one way or another (who have the benefit of an 8 hour later start!). At other times, we might be working with a producer in the development stage of a new project, or drafting and negotiating talent/producer/director agreements for a feature film.
You’ve probably heard this hundreds of times before but each day is truly different. One day you might be advising a fitness brand on music licensing arrangements for their new service, working on a top secret M&A transaction for a key tech client, negotiating a brand licensing deal or a media buying agreement worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or assisting a client in navigating the plethora of legal issues surrounding the creation of synthetic (computer-generated) voices. Or you might be doing all of this in one day!
What’s the most exciting case you’ve worked on to date?
Do I have to give just one example? I have worked on some crazy cases such as one including a $10m Peruvian cheque that was given as security and bounced, or high-profile such as the Supreme Court appeal over whether internet service providers should bear the costs of blocking infringing sites. But actually, one of my favourite pieces of work that I have done was advising a tech client on the likely future development of the regulatory landscape for artificial intelligence and how it might affect our client’s business. It was some of the most cutting edge work in this space!
Together with a colleague I acted as production counsel on “Blinded by the Light” last year, an independent British film which ended up premiering at Sundance Film Festival and being picked up by Warner Bros and New Line Cinema – a real success story for British filmmaking and everyone involved in the project.
Bruce Springsteen’s music features heavily in the film, which required a lot of work on the legal side and resulted in one of the people working on the film having to battle through a snowstorm in New York to obtain his signature urgently on one of the key agreements needed for the film to be able to happen, having just finished a set on Broadway. Safe to say not every day working in law is that nail-biting!
Typical tasks of a trainee in that department?
This varies from project to project, but in the development stage of a project for example, a trainee might expect to get involved with analysing what is known as the ‘chain of title’ (the sequence of historical transfers of title to certain property – such as the rights to a screenplay or script) to ensure that the rights to a project are where they need to be. If they aren’t, we’ll work out the best way of structuring things and which further agreements might be needed to ensure that they are.
On financial investments into a film or TV series, a trainee’s involvement would include conducting due diligence on the project, participating in conference calls, preparing research notes on certain aspects, and preparing first drafts of board minutes, corporate authorisations and other transaction documents.
The work in our team is incredibly diverse so while there is no typical task per se, there are certainly a few broad buckets such as research, drafting contracts, preparing notes of advice and helping manage projects. You might be asked to research a specific point of law, for example, in relation to a dispute about intellectual property rights. Often, you’ll be involved in helping manage complex due diligence tasks, preparing contract summaries and reports for clients. There’s always plenty of multi-jurisdictional projects that require liaising with foreign lawyers and a fair dose of regulatory advice. You will no doubt also be involved in drafting or advising on a plethora of commercial contracts such as music or content/IP licences.
One bit of advice for students trying to break into the law.
In a time where submitting tens (if not hundreds) of applications has become the norm, my best piece of advice is to try to stay motivated, even when the odds seem stacked against you, and to remember that you only need one break – at which point all the previous setbacks and rejections are irrelevant.
Like many students these days, I finished my studies at university with no training contract or paralegal job secured. With perseverance (and my fair share of rejections), I secured my first legal role as a paralegal at a regional office of a national firm. With some experience under my belt, this opened the door to a similar role at a Magic Circle firm, and ultimately to my training contract with RPC and Associate position at Preiskel & Co.
If you can persevere for long enough to get that first break, that already puts you ahead of most of the pack.
Be purposeful in what you do. Getting a training contract is an important milestone but don’t let that goal blur your vision. I see too many students try to break into just any firm without a sense of purpose and instead, just to tick a checkbox ‘I got a Training Contract’. Don’t pick your extra-curricular activities just on the basis of what will make your CV look better and potentially get you a TC. Think about areas that you’re really keen on exploring or the types of skills you want or need to develop. This often requires long-term thinking that goes beyond the next round of applications.