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The Need for Telecommunications Lawyers is Growing

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 clients' workplaces.

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 additional considerations.

"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 career opportunities.

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," he says.

"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.


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