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Law Schools Balance Past With Future to Prep Young Entertainment Lawyers

Changing distribution models and emerging technologies mean students don't know what challenges they'll be faced with upon graduation.

Three years may not seem like a long time but, in the digital age, the face of entire industries can change during the 36 months a student spends in law school.

The breakneck speed at which technology is shaping business is especially apparent in the entertainment world, where new ways to create and share content are born seemingly overnight.

Now law schools are tasked with preparing students for the changing landscape while not forgoing the legal basics that underpin every specialty.

Ken Ziffren donated $5 million last year to UCLA to found The Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law, in part to expand programs and address the changes in what he calls the METS industry.

“It’s not just entertainment,” Ziffren says. “It’s media, technology and sports.”

Ziffren has been teaching at his alma matter since 1998. On the first day of each term, he likes to tell his class to look at the final exams he has given in the past to get an idea of what is involved in his course.

“We may end up having the same question on the final, but the answer will be different,” he says. “I update my course book either once a year, or sometimes twice a year, because rapid development in various areas calls out for updating the students as much as possible in real time.”

He’s now throwing out about a third of his course book each year and says he can’t think of a time before the past two years when that has been necessary. For example, Ziffren says the amount of time he spends on home video has more than doubled while pay-TV has become less of a focus.

Ziffren’s UCLA colleague Doug Lichtman says his courses naturally update through guest speakers and keeping tabs on current events.

“The world will keep changing,” he says. “How to think like a lawyer, how to read like a lawyer and how to sound like a lawyer – if we do that right then you’re ready for anything the world can throw at you.”

Jonathan Barnett, director of the Media, Entertainment and Technology Law program at USC, agrees it’s important to emphasize building block problem solving skills.

“You’ve got to understand the business, the revenue flows and economics in the industry,” he says. “Technology can change, but the laws of economics don’t change.”

Skills are at the center of Southwestern Law School’s program too. Steven G. Krone, director of the Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute and professor Robert Lind say their program is akin to a trade school and the curriculum focuses more on what’s done in the trenches by attorneys than the theory behind it.

“We’re teaching skills, like negotiating and drafting, that can be adapted to changing business paradigms,” Krone says. “We try to make sure the classes are taught by people who aren’t teaching the way it used to be, but the way it is today, and have a vested interest in figuring out where it’s going.”

In addition to hands-on opportunities outside the classroom through externships and pro-bono clinics, professors at each of the schools are working to incorporate what’s going on in the real world into their lessons.

Barnett says USC has increased the number of courses on dealmaking in response to student demand and teaches copyright law through client scenarios.

“‘You have a client who wants to set up a content sharing website. Analyze the legal risks in doing so in light of the law in fair use and the DMCA safe harbor,’ would be an example,” he says.

Lind has taught more than 70 copyright classes at Southwestern since 1981 and says how much courses change in response to industry trends directly relates to how disruptive the new technology is.

For example, Lind says, 3-D technology came with a lot of fanfare but it never really changed distribution patterns.

“That had some practical impacts but the weren’t very great,” he says. “It’s not even on the radar screen anymore. Those sorts of things come and go.”

The more technical he gets, the harder it is to keep students interested, Lind says, adding that his copyright students’ eyes go glossy when he starts talking about technology. He imagines them thinking “this is why I didn’t become an engineer.”

Loyola Law School professor Justin Hughes shares the sentiment. He says most law students were English, economics or political science majors at their undergrad universities.

“They generally know squat about how the technology operates,” he says. “You do need to spend time teaching them about how the Internet works.”

So Loyola undergraduate science and engineering students are going to teach two courses at the law school to help the future lawyers understand how the Internet works from a technical standpoint.

This is an excerpt. Read the full story at The Hollywood Reporter.