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London may lack the glamor of Hollywood, but that’s not stopping London media firms from taking on U.S. clients. U.K. lawyers say most of their American media work is generated by U.S. media companies coming to them when they have business in Britain. Amber Melville-Brown, a Finers Stephens Innocent partner, says Hollywood invariably uses London firms when it films in Britain. “They prefer us to their own firms in international work, too, especially in Europe and the Commonwealth. We have a more international outlook. In the U.S., it’s state to state work that’s important,” says Melville-Brown. S.J. Berwin & Co. partner Tim Johnson says European film subsidies help explain why U.S. studios prefer dealing with U.K. firms. Britain and other European countries use complex systems of government subsidies, sales and leasebacks, and tax incentives to finance films. “We have the clear edge over U.S. firms in our ability to understand the relationship between the public and private sectors in funding movies,” says Johnson. “American lawyers aren’t very familiar with subsidies because they don’t really exist in their country,” he adds. Daniel Sandelson, a Clifford Chance partner, says: “The last time I had to pitch against an American firm was more than three years ago.” He says U.S. lawyers lack the industry experience to satisfy European corporate and regulatory requirements. “U.S. firms that work in Europe don’t focus on the traditional media, but on high-tech clients and e-commerce,” adds Sandelson. But just because U.S. firms are not active in the European media does not mean British lawyers can ignore their stateside counterparts. Good relations with U.S. firms can generate more media work in London. Johnson says, “In film law, British lawyers talk to California every day. If you’re not recognized there, you’re not going to make it. “Our media lawyers just have to invest time in getting to know the industry over there. I go at least once a year and try to see as many people as I possibly can.” REFERRALS Theodore Goddard partner Jonathan Blair says Britain picks up more referrals work from U.S. media firms than the rest of Europe. “Law firms reap the benefit of the U.K.’s strong entertainment sector, and U.S. firms often refer work on to them if clients want lawyers in Europe,” says Blair. “We speak the same language as the Americans and our films, TV and music are more popular than those from other European countries,” he adds. Johnson says while British firms need a strong profile in Hollywood, setting up shop there can mean they risk losing U.S. clients. “Having a strong referrals network is more effective. If you have an office on the ground, then you stop getting the lucrative referral work from American firms because they see you as a direct competitor,” says Johnson. But Sandelson says Clifford Chance’s merger with New York firm Rogers & Wells has boosted the amount of media work coming into the firm’s London office. “They’re strong in media law on the East Coast, so we get work from them. But West Coast firms don’t see us as a threat because we’re not in their market,” says Sandelson. He says having a media capacity on both sides of the Atlantic boosts a firm’s chances of clinching global deals. “UPC is one of our major American media clients. They’re pushing into Europe and chose us because we can advise them on media, telecoms and securities here and over there.” MERGERS Sandelson believes medium-sized London media firms will be the next to attempt US mergers. “Bird & Bird’s merger talks with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe failed earlier this year, but I think it and others will try again soon,” says Sandelson. He says the city of a U.S. firm is crucial to any merger. A U.K. firm must look at how its business matches its potential partner’s hometown. “San Francisco and Northern California are making a name in new technology, and most broadcasting work is done in New York because the big TV networks are there,” says Sandelson. “LA and Southern California obviously still dominate the movie business,” he adds. Nigel Bennett, a partner at the Simkins Partnership, says U.S. actors’ planned strike next year could draw legal work away from California because American producers will film more in Britain. Johnson adds: “The strike will be beneficial for us, but it doesn’t mean we’ve won new clients by competing against U.S. firms. It’s more that we’ve got lucky.” Blair says new technology will boost the number of independent U.S./U.K. co-productions. “Digital technology and the Internet mean films are becoming cheaper to make and it’s easier for people in different countries to work together. In the future, more of our work could come from smaller producers,” he says. But despite the Internet, referrals networks, mergers and more filming in Britain, there are still some clear differences between media work done by U.S. and U.K. lawyers. Peter Dally, a Bird & Bird partner, says: “There are often stories in the press about actors negotiating huge percentages with studios. But the fact is that when English actors get big they go to the States, and law firms there act for them.” Johnson agrees: “That’s why there aren’t many talent lawyers in this country. There’s just not the demand for them as there is in the U.S. As far as film work is concerned, distribution, production and finance, are much more important.” Jennifer McDermott, a Lovells partner, says U.S. and U.K. libel lawyers rarely work with each other. “It’s not like corporate law where you have a lot of cross-border transactions. Libel rules are too different for lawyers to advise in different jurisdictions,” says McDermott. Such distinctions should not overshadow the fact that the U.S. ways of doing legal business are colonizing the U.K., says Johnson. “To use the example of film, American lawyers have had decades of experience to iron out problems between actors and the big studios. “Their contacts cover just about every eventuality and these clauses are now common in the U.K. too. I don’t think anyone can ignore the influence of America on our media law.”

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