The law is constantly changing, adapting to the needs of an evolving world. Perhaps no niche in legal practice better illustrates this point than communications law, where technological advancements and the creation of new sectors of the economy have drastically altered the dynamics of the industry over the past century.
To address the changing face of communications law and provide students with perspectives on how to enter the field, Miami Law hosted a panel discussion this week with leading practitioners in communications law. The panel – hosted by the Federal Communications Bar Association, Ask Us, and the Intellectual Property Law Society – included Jaime Bianchi, a partner at White & Case; Matthew Leibowitz, founder and principal of Leibowitz & Associates; Dana McElroy, partner at Thomas & LoCicero; Gary Resnick, shareholder at GrayRobinson and mayor of Wilton Manors, Florida; and Osvaldo Torres, principal at Torres Law, P.A.
Communications law traces its roots to the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Congress created the Federal Communications Commission in 1934 with the purpose of regulating the radio industry. Over time, television supplanted radio as the primary means by which American families consumed news and entertainment content in their homes. As a result, the scope of the Commission's authority was forced to broaden to keep pace with the evolving technology. With each successive technological innovation – whether cable and satellite television, cellular phones or the Internet – the Commission has had to reassess its mission and regulatory purpose. As such, the ever-changing regulatory climate has created an equally busy area of legal practice.
"The technology, the law, and social policy are never in balance," said Leibowitz, a Miami Law alumnus. He noted that there is a "constant dynamic" that arises from that imbalance, whether in wireless, cable franchising or other fields. "It's constantly moving," he said.
A direct result of the constant fluctuation in the communications industry has been the need for ever-diverse legal services. Whereas communications law used to bend heavily towards First Amendment and defamation issues in print journalism, the rise of cable, Internet and telecommunications companies has created myriad other legal issues, many of which the panelists deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Resnick's entry into communications law coincided with a watershed moment in the telephone industry, the breakup of AT&T. After attending Rutgers Law School, Resnick moved to Washington D.C. and went to work for Sidley Austin, a firm that was working on the breakup of the telecommunication giant. Through his experience at Sidley Austin, Resnick learned much about the technologies of the day, which, when compared with technologies now in use, are largely obsolete.
Nevertheless, his experience with the AT&T breakup helped forge his next career move. After leaving Sidley Austin, Resnick went to work for the D.C. office of a Los Angeles law firm. One of his new clients owned a radio station in California, so Resnick became intimately involved with FCC licensing and regulatory procedures. From radio, he then went on to represent large cable companies in complex litigation matters, experience that would ultimately help him secure a position as in-house counsel for Continental Cablevision. Ultimately, when Continental (then known as MediaOne) came to be acquired by AT&T, Resnick, not wanting to work for the company he once helped break up, decided it was time to move on.
Like Resnick, Bianchi's entry into the field of communications law was largely a matter of happenstance. "I came into the industry as a litigator," Bianchi said. After graduating law school in 1991, he went to work at a boutique litigation firm in Miami, where one of the biggest clients was a large cable company. There, he specialized in a sector of litigation that dealt largely with the consumer side of the cable industry. Although now a partner at White & Case, Bianchi did not start his career with a "big law" position. Rather, he worked for a small practice that had "a lot of interesting clients" in the communications industry, he said. Those clients wound up taking Bianchi's career into "a lot of very interesting, and profitable, places."
Bianchi encouraged students who wish to practice in communications not to focus immediately after graduating on the jobs that pay the highest salary. "Rather than seeking top dollar, pick the good job, even if it means very little up front, because if you're in the right place, you're going to do a lot better than at the place that merely pays you more," he advised. "From those contacts and experiences, your career will grow," he added, a sentiment in which all the panelists concurred.
A third-year law student, Kara Romagnino, came up with the idea of the panel and "worked extremely hard with us on the event," said Greg Levy, Director of Miami Law's Post-Graduate Student Service Fellow program, who noted that Romagnino "even got all the attorneys" to participate. Romagnino is involved with the Federal Communications Bar Association and hopes to practice in communications law.