Now what if you want to be the next John Grisham but you don’t possess a legal degree. No problem. Before you publish your Great American Thriller or your song lyrics, submit your first courtroom drama script to Hollywood, consult Legal Fiction, where Stacy Grossman can tell you whether your jurisprudence patois would make a real lawyer cringe.
Grossman started Legal Fiction in 1998 in order to deliver accurate research to freelancers operating on shoestring budgets. Most high-powered lawyers will charge $450 to $600 an hour, Grossman says. Her prices start at $25 per hour. Communicating with writers through the Web, Grossman – who practiced literary law at New York-based Kenneth David Burrows – reads the material and provides a report that includes a writing critique and relevant research.
So far, the 1995 graduate of Boston University School of Law has helped more than 20 writers and assisted with a script from ABC TV’s The Practice. “There is a real fascination with courtroom drama,” Grossman says. “Take a look at all the shows, from Ally McBeal to Judging Amy. Law and literature have always gone hand in hand, so it’s natural that [that relationship] is reflected in our entertainment.”
Grossman, who started the service for pennies and has yet to see a profit, offers assistance on everything from legal terminology to plotlines, even suggesting real-life court cases for use as models.
She draws the line, however, at the utterly ridiculous. “I had an author submit a science fiction manuscript once,” she says, “where the character had two heads: one head masterminded a crime; the other head was innocent. The author wanted advice on how the justice system might deal with this.” Hard to imagine the sober attorneys featured on Law and Order, for instance, taking on such a case. “I told him I couldn’t help him,” Grossman says.
Disney and AOL
The following dates back a couple of years, but is a clear indication of things work:
Much of the story surrounding the hookup has focused on the content issue, thanks primarily to Disney’s complaints that AOL, with its 23 million subscribers, coupled with Time Warner’s awesome content machine, could freeze Disney’s offerings out of the burgeoning broadband marketplace. But the more important development stemming from the merger has to do with access to the pipes that deliver that content, namely, Time Warner’s extensive cable network, which serves 12.5 million customers, some 15 percent of the national cable TV market. In fact, as a result of the AOL-Time Warner deal, for the first time, the federal government is beginning to pressure cable operators to offer consumers a choice among competing broadband Internet service providers on their networks.
According to Sims, Washington’s scrutiny centers on ways the combination will affect competition in the content and conduit markets. The FTC, which has statutory oversight over antitrust matters, focused primarily on whether the combined company would violate antitrust laws by unfairly hampering competition in the broadband Internet service provider business. As soon as it became clear that the FTC would take a long, hard look at the deal, AOL senior vice president for global and strategic policy George Vradenburg got on the horn to Sims, a veteran of the 1999 $10 billion AOL acquisition of Netscape. “Joe is a good strategic thinker,” Vradenburg says, “and he has a long history of dealing with these agencies.”
The FCC, meanwhile, had to approve the transfer of operating licenses from Time Warner’s various units to the new combined entity of AOL Time Warner. The FCC has the authority to determine whether such transfers serve the public good, and this July it held rare public hearings that highlighted many of the content issues.
The most intriguing development to come out of the government’s review concerned the matter of “open access.” For some time now, consumer groups have been pushing municipalities – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore., among others – to force cable operators to lease carriage on their networks to competing ISPs eager to offer customers their own broadband service. But now, because of the merger, the Feds are preparing to take up open access – a groundbreaking development in the evolution of this issue. “This merger is a catalytic event in speeding the open-access issue in Washington,” says Sims.
Before the merger, AOL supported open access because it was intent on penetrating the cable-delivered broadband market itself. Cable operators such as Time Warner and AT&T (now the largest cable provider in the land thanks to its acquisitions of TCI and MediaOne) strongly opposed open access because they have invested billions to build out their cable networks and because they want their own broadband providers to ply their cable customers with service unhindered by competitors. Time Warner owns a 38 percent stake in Road Runner, a broadband service provider that uses cable lines to connect users to the Net, and AT&T owns a controlling interest in Excite@Home, another high-speed ISP that runs on cable.