Monday, January 26, 2015
I was kidding when I suggested last fall that drone might be the next big thing after watching this video compilation of drone related mishaps courtesy of the NYT. Well, it turns out that the first BigLaw drone practice group was launched more than a year ago and 2015 looks to be the break-out year for drone law as a speciality practice area. From the National Law Journal:
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For now, the commercial use of drones in the United States is prohibited without special Federal Aviation Administration approval. Hobbyists can fly small drones under certain conditions, but only companies in a handful of industries, like movie making and real estate, have earned one of the 14 highly specific flight exemptions the agency has granted so far. About 200 more requests for exemption await the FAA's judgment.
BUILDING THE PRACTICE
D.C. regulatory lawyers took notice after New York firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in December 2013 unveiled the first drone practice in Big Law. Special counsel Brendan Schulman represented Raphael Pirker, who used a drone to film a university campus for a project and was fined $10,000 by the FAA. Last week, the agency agreed to settle with Pirker by dropping some of the accusations and reducing the fine.
Washington lawyers said they spotted Kramer Levin's news and saw an opportunity for existing clients. Holland & Knight, for instance, realized it could provide media clients with a voice at the FAA and on Capitol Hill, said Charles Tobin, that firm's media practice chairman.
In May 2014, the firm filed an amicus brief backing Pirker on behalf of several national news organizations. The firm has since expanded its drone practice to include lobbying for the National Press Photographers Association and arranging a partnership between the organization and Virginia Tech University to test the use of drones in newsgathering.
Aviation lawyers across town began researching ways their clients could work within existing policy. Cooley's clients earned the first group of exemptions for companies wanting to fly drones. "For these entrepreneurs who want to push a new device or new service, we had to fit the new wine into the old bottle," said Anne Swanson, the Cooley partner who represents the seven film production companies cleared to fly as of May 2014.
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"So the question is: Is there a real business here? We've been pleasantly surprised," said Michael Senkowski, Wiley's telecommunications group leader and a drone hobbyist himself; he owns three. "It was uncertain when we undertook this if it would be productive or not. There were no guarantees at the time."
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Despite the spreading interest, drone work is not the most lucrative of regulatory practices, partly because of its technical nature and partly because of the FAA's recent lack of action."People usually need the prospect of a quick return before they start spending money on a complex application," Swanson said.
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Continue reading here.