On MyShingle, we celebrate the solo and small firm practitioner, and those at the forefront of innovation in the legal field. Our newest project, 41 Legal Practice Areas That Didn’t Exist 15 Years Ago highlights solo and small firm practitioners who have embraced unconventional and upcoming niche practices from Algorithm Law to eSports Law.
Our profile today is of Mark C. Del Bianco, who practices Drone Law. Drones, also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are aircraft that are operated remotely, without the necessity of a human pilot. The usage of drones has increased exponentially in the last fifteen years, spanning a variety of spheres–commercial, military, scientific, recreational and more. As using drones has become more ubiquitous within these contexts, conflicting federal and state standards have emerged, particularly emphasizing how to regulate the unique data that they are able to collect.
Bianco’s interview touches upon how procedures for drone corporate operations have changed, and how it’s similar to other regulatory work.
Q: What is your name, your law firm’s name and location and website?
A: Law Office of Mark C. Del Bianco, Kensington, MD. www.markdelbianco.com
Q: At what point in your career did you begin to focus on Drone Law, and what was the motivation for choosing Drone Law?
A: I wouldn’t say I focus on drone law because it’s more of an add-on to my existing practice. I have been a DC-based lawyer doing a lot of state and federal regulatory work for over three decades, and have focused on communications and cloud services for the last 20 years. Drones are really just mobile data acquisition devices – whether the data is video, infrared, lidar, etc – that need to be connected to a network. Think of them as flying CCTV cameras.
I got into drone law because a Chicago lawyer I worked with on some copyright matters was a model airplane enthusiast who got into drones. About five years ago, he recruited me to help him with clients that needed to obtain FAA waivers in order to fly drones commercially. At the time, there were no regulations permitting commercial operations, so a waiver was the only option. After the FAA put regulations in place a couple years ago that allowed limited types of commercial operations, the focus of my work shifted to helping small drone services providers put procedures, processes and contractual templates in place so they could operate professionally. It’s similar to commercial work that I do for communications and cloud services startups.
The proliferation of drones has raised a number of other issues with which I was already dealing with in the rest of my practice, such as preemption when you have conflicting state and federal regulations and the interplay of new technologies with property law. Most of these issues had been raised over the last 20 years as fiber networks were built throughout the US, and they are now re-emerging as small cell wireless networks and drones are being rolled out.
Q: Tell us a little about your work in Drone Law. What types of clients do you represent and what are some of the legal issues you encounter?
A: To date, I have mostly represented drone services startups in a variety of industries, including infrastructure inspection and entertainment. See the preceding answer about the legal issues.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Drone Law?
A: The same thing that I enjoy about other areas of my practice – learning new technologies and solving problems they create that at first seem novel, but which often are not.
Q: What kind of background is necessary for Drone Law?
A: It depends on which part you want to focus on. I’d recommend at least some background in technology so you can understand the drones’ operations and in administrative law so that you can understand the complexities of the multi-level regulatory environment. Beyond that, experience in the commercial aspects of any service industry would be useful.
Q: How did you market your practice and gain a reputation in Drone Law?
A: I haven’t really marketed much. The drone community is pretty small and I’ve found Twitter and word of mouth go a long way.
Q: As you know, this practice area really did not exist 15 years ago. How do you address or advise clients on novel or emerging issues for which there is no precedent?
A: Because I have been in communications and cloud services so long, I am used to dealing with novel issues caused by new technologies. The fact that there is no governing precedent is not that important. To solve clients’ problems, you need a historical and multi-industry perspective so that you know what’s been done or what solutions have worked or not worked in situations that are roughly analogous to new issues that are cropping up.
Q: What advice do you have for other attorneys interested in Drone Law?
A: At least in the next few years until commercial drone use greatly expands, don’t make it your primary focus because there isn’t that much legal work. Only a handful of attorneys across the country spend a majority of their time on drone law. It’s definitely a practice area that will grow, but that growth will take time.
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