Alternative Legal Careers: Site Acquisition

February 24, 2015

coffee phoneIn my experience, one of the greatest strengths a negotiator can have is an air of independence—a perceived neutrality that enables them to create a sense of trust and safety at the negotiating table. The telecommunications industry has benefitted greatly from the growth of a subindustry, that of Site Acquisition, which essentially serves as a middle man between the behemoths of the telecom industry (think AT&T, Sprint, Verizon), the unsophisticated land owner in rural Iowa, and the harried city planner/ditch inspector/director of community development in local towns, cities, and counties throughout the United States. This growing industry of subcontractors is stocked with recovering litigators, recent law school graduates, and former judges who are eager to escape the traditional legal field, and its various barriers to advancement and work-life balance, and to instead bring their legal expertise to the dynamic and growing telecommunications industry. This subcontractor network gives the landowner an accessible point of contact within the large structure of a major telecom industry giant, while also giving the telecom companies the benefit of a humanizing presence at the negotiating table.

A day in the life of a site-acquisition specialist might involve negotiating lease terms with an 88 year old farmer over a cup of coffee at a local diner. This rendezvous could be followed by a quick change out of jeans and a flannel shirt into a suit, to testify on behalf of a wireless company in a public hearing at a county courthouse. At the hearing, you may be presenting findings of fact and making legal arguments in order to justify spot rezoning, or a conditional use permit, or a variance for a cell tower build or equipment change. You will be expected to serve as the counsel, the expert witness, the interested party, and the persuasive salesperson. As in a trial, you will have spent weeks or months working with the jurisdiction, forming relationships, sharing interests and making compromises. When you finish your presentation, you will hurriedly thank the local planner, before you throw on your snow boots and head north. You might have to pull out your GPS because your cell phone network doesn’t cover your territory. You may laugh to yourself, knowing that if you do your job effectively, next time you drive up this way you will have cell coverage (and can leave your clunky GPS at home). You might find yourself meeting the best and the brightest in the radio frequency engineering industry in the middle of nowhere on a frigid January day to walk around a proposed site for a new 300 foot cell tower. You’ll be working with the surveyors, engineers, architects, and local officials to reach the best outcome for all parties. You might find yourself standing in the middle of all of these experts, an expert yourself, and realize that you will never go back to a traditional legal field again.

Site Acquisition Specialists come from many different backgrounds, but the position is often listed as JD preferred. Before entering this field, I worked as a corporate compliance specialist for a multi-family real estate investment and management company, and I have found the transition to be rewarding both professionally and personally. This type of position is a great fit for legal professionals with backgrounds in real estate, land use, oil and gas, and/or contracts law.