How do media lawyers at Bauer Media balance the scale of legal work with the technology shift? We caught up with senior legal counsel, Alice Douglas, to find out.
Hi 👋 who are you?
My name’s Alice, I’m Senior Legal Counsel at Bauer Media UK. Bauer Media UK is a network of multi-platform entertainment brands including Grazia, Heat, KISS, Empire, Magic and Absolute Radio. Bauer Media UK is part of the Bauer Media Group, which operates in 15 countries has 11,000 employees worldwide.
Describe the legal team at Bauer - what’s it like?
Our team currently consists of four lawyers (including our GC), a trainee on secondment from one of our panel law firms and a paralegal. Legal teams are often small, regardless of the business size – but ours is always busy! Whilst we may each have particular areas of expertise, we’re encouraged to embrace new projects and skills. We get the full range of commercial work, which makes for an interesting and varied job.
Media law seems like a glamorous environment in comparison to law firms. Does this perception match up to reality?
I used to work in dispute resolution at Ashurst so I have experienced the private practice life in the City as well as in-house life in a number of roles. Having gained invaluable experience in my 6 years at Ashurst, I realised I really wanted to work in media and entertainment. This drive led me to join Paramount, where I became a Director in the Business and Legal Affairs department.
The culture in media companies is very different to that in law firms. I think they each appeal to a different kind of person. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and media certainly isn’t all glamour!
I think it is very important that you care about the product or service you are working with. This has a huge effect on personal motivation in your work. The in-house environment is better suited to me - fast-paced and very commercial but also intellectually challenging. I feel like people in private practice in the City can sometimes feel discouraged from trying to move into media. Changing disciplines can be daunting, and most lawyers feel like in-house is a different world altogether. The environment can change, but as lawyers our skills are transferable. The ability to transfer value of skills across industries is why lawyers are in high demand.
Which parts of the Bauer portfolio do you mainly work on?
My work is wide-ranging. I deal with day-to-day issues: advising on questions from magazines and radio brands. We advise on contracts, copyright, articles going into publication, data protection, privacy… we have thousands of employees in the UK, and my team is the legal function for all of them.
The other side of my job focuses on longer-term strategic projects. Bauer is an ambitious business and corporate projects may be internal or involve third parties. We also advise and support our audio and publishing management teams in the UK.
“The environment can change, but as lawyers our skills are transferable. The ability to transfer value of skills across industries is why lawyers are in high demand”
Is that balance a challenge?
Managing the volume of work is a matter of prioritization. In addition to direct instructions from leaders across our business, we also operate a central legal mailbox.
We have a talented and experienced GC leading the team, which is key to the team’s success. We also seek external legal advice from a trusted panel of law firms and communicate within the team constantly.
How do you collaborate with other teams around the business?
Face-to-face meetings work well for us. Bauer has locations across the UK, but a lot of the teams I collaborate with are close by. It’s important to use face-to-face meetings and video calls to increase the legal team’s visibility and approachability. The legal team is part of the UK central management area and so we sit alongside our executive colleagues which improves the speed of communication and decision-making.
The industry has taken a massive shift to adopt technology - has this shift impacted the legal work at Bauer?
Digital is becoming a core part of everyone’s life, so it’s important to keep adding to your knowledge and understanding. I’ve learned a huge amount about technology working at Bauer - it’s vital for lawyers to understand not only the law, but also how the business works and the impact technology has on this growth. For example, I need to understand how apps work, as Bauer has a range of apps in its portfolio.
One of my legal colleagues is the data protection officer for Bauer in the UK and the Nordics - data is of course a bigger part of our workload now. It’s an on-going challenge for in-house media lawyers to help the business keep pace with the technological shift. We are continuously seeking out ways to educate ourselves, including learning directly from members of the business and our external lawyers.
“It’s vital for lawyers to understand not only the law, but also how the business works and the impact technology has on growth”
Bauer and Paramount are both traditional companies in their sectors. Did you see any similarities between the legal teams and their perception of new tech?
Successful media businesses keep up with the markets in which they want to operate. In film and television, the influence of streaming services and heavy competition in the marketplace all have a role to play. I don’t think any film studio is interested in “fighting back” against technology - going against the grain wouldn’t work for them in the long-run. And it’s the same with Bauer - we’re embracing the opportunities of working with technology and it’s enabled us to expand our business offering in so many ways. It’s important for legal teams to help the business embrace the change like they do at Paramount and Bauer, and that includes exploring legal tech to help improve the way the legal team itself works.
What would an ideal, tech-driven legal team look like?
Attitude is key - our team is positive and revolves around getting things done. We’re not a legal team that enjoys saying no and blocking opportunities - that mentality rarely works well in a fast-paced environment. It’s also important to be open to new and improved ways of working, including make use of new technology.
Approachability is essential - in some businesses, people don’t listen carefully to what the legal team has to say, because they see your process as a box-ticking exercise. The dynamic doesn’t work because there’s no sense of understanding between the two teams; what legal need and what the business is trying to achieve.
It’s also important for a legal team to be as involved in the business as they can. In some companies, legal may not be briefed on new business until the contract negotiation stage, for example. Generally, businesses can always benefit from legal’s input at an earlier stage. It’s not a problem at Bauer, as we are truly integrated with the leaders of our business and a trusted voice at the table - that open communication makes a huge difference.
Visit Bauer to find out more about Bauer Media Group and their portfolio of entertainment brands.