Christina Michalos: Media, Entertainment and IP Barrister
Christina Michalos is a leading specialist in a plethora of interesting legal sectors: copyright, trade marks & intellectual property, privacy, media & entertainment, and sports law.
Her recent high profile work has included acting for the Met Police in the Leveson Inquiry and regular appearances on national TV and radio as a legal expert. Known as a foremost practitioner in image rights work, she is also the author of The Law of Photography and Digital Images (Sweet & Maxwell, 2004). Topically, she has a particular interest and expertise in issues arising from internet user generated content and social networking sites. In addition to all this she somehow finds the time to be a Trustee of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, a volunteer for the Radio Lollipop charity at Great Ormond Street Hospital and, until very recently, chair of the organisation’s London branch. “How?!”, I hear you cry. Well read on for your dose of womenspiration…
My Little Black Book: Christina, what attracted you to the law as a career?
Christina Michalos: I was more attracted to the Bar rather than law in the abstract. It was advocacy and the work of a barrister that really interested me.
MyLBB: Is it what you hoped or expected it would be?
CM: I am very lucky in that it turned out that I love my job! I think in most cases, this is a bit of a roulette wheel, because you can never truly know what it is like to work in a profession until you actually do it. You may be able to get a rough idea from work experience or reading about it but actual practice is very different from just watching.
Being self-employed (as most barristers practicing in chambers are) isn’t for everyone, nor is the exhilaration of trial work. But if it suits you, it is really the best job in the world. It has everything – intellectual challenge, the buzz of advocacy, responsibility, a true collegiate profession and interesting and varied work.
I also developed a really unhealthy interest in law which always helps!
MyLBB: Why did you choose media and entertainment law?
CM: I studied intellectual property law at university and found it fascinating. I started to develop that area of my practice and ended up moving to 5RB which specialises in media law. It’s a great area to work in because the subject matter is usually interesting (books, art, newspapers etc) and it has been at the cutting edge of topical legal developments. The Google “right to be forgotten” is the latest issue and I already have a few cases on this and related subjects.
MyLBB: Your work often involves you being called upon by broadcasters such as Sky and the BBC to comment on topical stories and issues. Is this something you enjoy?
CM: Yes, it’s normally a lot of fun because it’s very different to my normal working environment. I’m usually there to give more detail about the law or a topical case. So, unlike most guests, I have no agenda such as a book or product that I’m desperate to promote on air.
A side benefit is that you often meet interesting people in the Green Room waiting to be interviewed and have fascinating conversations about all kinds of areas. I’ve met actors, authors and even a bagpipe expert.
MyLBB: When you’re involved in higher profile cases, such as the Leveson Inquiry, do you find that friends suddenly take more of an interest in your work?
CM: Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of friends who are lawyers so there is a natural tendency to discuss familiar ground anyway – ie. work. That’s no different from any job; doctors talk about medicine and journalists talk about journalism. In terms of profile, the Leveson Inquiry was completely exceptional though.
The subject matter (the media itself) and the large number of celebrity witnesses meant that the media were more interested than in a typical public inquiry. It was broadcast live and I spoke to some people who were literally watching it all day, every day. I was often in shot because I sat behind Counsel to the Inquiry and at the start I had friends texting me in a very mature “I-can-see-you” way; but the novelty soon wore off for them!
MyLBB: How level a playing field is the law as a profession now when it comes to gender equality? Or, in 2014, is that no longer a relevant question?
CM: At the entry point it is very equal, but the Bar certainly has a high drop off rate for women as they progress towards seniority. Conventionally, this is attributed to motherhood and the difficulties of combining childcare with self employed practice. However, although that is a factor, it is only one and I think it’s more complex than that.
Traditionally, the definition of good advocacy has been a very male definition – probably because of the predominance of male judges. As Mary Beard observed in her fantastic and inspiring lecture, “The Public Voice of Women” (which I’d really recommend if you missed it), society and literature repeatedly emphasise the authority of the deep male voice. And there are certainly some people who, although they may not say it publicly, would prefer to have a male barrister because they are perceived to be more aggressive or authoritative. This kind of insidious discrimination is difficult to track or prevent.
Overall, things are improving, but it is slow; you only have to look at the judiciary for proof of this. It’s 2014 and there has still been only one female Supreme Court Judge, Brenda Hale. There are 38 Court of Appeal Judges and with the recent appointment of Mrs Justice King, now eight women.
My own chambers has 22 barristers, of whom eight are women. But, of those, five are under ten years call. If you shoot forward another ten years, they will all probably be taking silk and at the top of the profession.
MyLBB: Speaking of silk, we often see the legal profession portrayed in glossy TV dramas, such as the sorely missed Silk itself. Were you a fan or do you find TV dramatisations of the law cringe-worthy?
CM: A guilty pleasure, I’m afraid. I also loved Kavanagh QC, Judge John Deed and This Life. The down side is that dramatisations sometimes take it a step too far and show barristers doing unethical things they would never do – which can damage public perception. But ultimately, it’s drama, so you can’t take it too seriously. Water-cooler complaining about “how some outrageous event would never happen” is part of the fun.
MyLBB: In addition to your legal career, you are heavily involved in children’s hospitals, with your work for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and as a volunteer for Radio Lollipop at Great Ormond Street. Why has it been particularly important to you to be so involved with children’s charities and, specifically, hospitals?
CM: I initially became involved because I wanted to give something back (I hate that phrase but it is a fairly accurate description!) as I had the time and resources to do some form of regular community service. Children in hospital, particularly long stay patients, can be so isolated and vulnerable, away from school, home and their friends. An adult approaching them is usually a doctor or nurse with unpleasant medicine or bad news. So it’s great to be the fun person bringing distraction.
In terms of charity, the NHS generally just funds a basic functioning hospital: grey lino, white walls and no fun stuff for children. The charities provide the extras that improve the environment for children, ranging from accommodation for parents to be able to stay to games and toys and little things, like brightly coloured walls and murals. It is great to be part of anything that contributes to improving life for children in hospital.
MyLBB: What exactly does Radio Lollipop do? It’s a very inviting name! Is it as fun as it sounds?
CM: Absolutely! It’s like a cross between Blue Peter and Art Attack (Take Hart for the earlier generation!) in hospital. Volunteers play with children – often using arts and craft materials – and there is a radio broadcast at the same time. The children can call in and request songs and enter competitions.
Playing with children, making them laugh and making stuff together – what is there not to like about that!
MyLBB: How do you find the time to volunteer with such a demanding job?
CM: Broadly speaking, I think that you make time for what you want to make time for. Having said that, my job does vary in intensity; if you are in trial, then you are often working from 6am to 11pm or longer sometimes – but that isn’t a permanent state. One of the benefits of being self-employed is that if you’re not in court your time is your own to organise. I suppose the real answer is I quite often work at the weekend!
MyLBB: Who are the female role models within the law in this generation for aspiring women lawyers to look up to? Or do we look to trailblazers of the past for that?
CM: Obviously, Lady Hale in the Supreme Court and any of the Court of Appeal and High Court female judges. At the Bar, Clare Montgomery QC and Dinah Rose QC are both stellar advocates.
I also think it’s important to remember that for younger women sometimes a role model maybe not be the headline grabber but just someone you see every day doing their job brilliantly. A role model by stealth if you like – who you may not even appreciate is a role model. There is a massive value in new entrants to any profession simply seeing other women succeeding on a path they aspire to emulate.
MyLBB: At My Little Black Book, we’re supporting the Britain’s Top Real Role Model Campaign. Who would you nominate?
CM: Too many to chose from but I think I would make a posthumous nomination.
When I first started at the Bar, I was in Chambers with Jane Belson. She was married to the author Douglas Adams and had just returned to practice after the birth of their daughter. She was managing a successful career and a baby. Jane also always looked fabulously glamorous in an era when trying to appear masculine was not uncommon. Tragically, she died from cancer in 2011 but she was a real role model for me in my very early years of practice, probably when it matters most, although I never realised it at the time. It was only with the benefit of many years hindsight I fully appreciated it and I regret that I never told her.