Monday, August 17, 2009

How I Got My Dream Job Without Being on Law Review or Paris Hilton's BFF

I am something most lawyers believe is as mythical as a unicorn: an beginner level entertainment lawyer. Why is this mythical? Tons of lawyers want to work in entertainment but getting in is about as easy as getting a staring role on Broadway or your own TV show.

There is literally no guidance for new lawyers on how to start in entertainment law. All I heard about it in law school was “It's as competitive as acting”, “Do you know how hard it is to get into it?” and “You should practice real estate law instead.”

The common advice for getting in is “Make good grades.” An established lawyer in sports law who is a member of the NYC Bar Association apparently had no better tips to give aspiring entertainment lawyers than that in an interview I read; a nice aspiration but how does that spurn notice in anyone who could help you?

Well, I had decent grades but hardly what BigLaw would call an impressive transcript. I wasn't on law review, didn't go to a T10 school and had NO contacts in the entertainment field before moving to NYC over 2 years ago. I also come from a lower level background than your typical new lawyer; most of the people I grew up with married straight out of high school and started families. In fact, I'm the first in my immediate family to graduate from college and the first out of my entire family to go to law school.

Before law school, I always had a passion for acting and singing. I was in a number of plays in high school, performing one in a theater competition and got standing ovations for singing performances even though I was hardly well-liked. In law school, I won 3rd place in the yearly talent show one year as the only singer to place. Hearing about the possibility of combining my passion for entertainment & my law school study, I vowed to take Entertainment Law along with as many related classes as I could. I also vowed not to put my creative background in a black box, never to be opened again.

My Entertainment Law professor had quite a background in the field. She was even a PA for Family Ties back in the '80s. Her advice was much more practical & direct: get a PA or internship position at a company in the area you want to work in. She admitted getting in was hard but she never told people to just give up.

After moving to NYC, personal circumstances and prior planning allowed me to take this advice. I applied for 2 internships; plenty of people wondered why this J.D. was sending a resume but others talked to me. I ended up with 2: one with a well-known talent agent and another with an up & coming film production company.

The film production company internship interview was on the same day in 2007 as the great flood. The transit system ground to a halt and traffic was so bad, it took 3 hours for the interviewers to get to Brooklyn from Jersey. Out of ~20 people, only I and a composer showed up since we could walk to the interview site. The CEO was so impressed with this, he said he would help us out.

I was the only J.D. to send in a resume so I was offered the slot of his Executive Assistant as well as given the opportunity to interview and decide who else would get internships + additional opportunities and experience. Seeking potential w/the company, I jumped at this.

Later that year, I got my bar admissions after delays and some hassle. I also took my Executive Assistant position seriously and got to put my legal experience to good use by spurning a slow moving lawyer to send the company some important papers. Around the same time I got admitted, the CEO decided to restructure the company and offered me a partnership interest. Never having owned a business before & still seeing potential with the company, I took it.

So now, the composer I mentioned was an instrumental force on our first feature film “Cookies & Cream”. I handled the more minor legal work and still continue to keep things organized. This film is now on the festival circuit and the official NY premiere was at Anthology Film Archives. You can find out more about it here (

It might sound like things are great but... not so fast. None of my internships were paid & no one's been able to afford to leave their day jobs to work w/the company full time.

You also find that getting a day job is next to impossible in the legal field unless you want to work in document review sweatshops. I did that once & had to leave the assignment due to the draconian work environment combined with the defeated people around me.

Unlike entertainment employers who are generally flexible (especially when someone is working for free), legal employers seem to hate applicants with separate pursuits and want them to give everything up for the firm. I searched for my own clients out of necessity, to enhance my experience & for possible networking. It's been a very bumpy & complex process due to my situation but I'm not about to walk away from my dream job, paid or not. Would you?

My biggest motivators have been passion and belief. Passion for the creative process and belief that my company has a unique voice, produces quality work and that one day, the masses will take notice.

So, what do I hope to impart to readers? For one, don't let the difficulty of doing something stop you from trying. LIFE is difficult but regret will just make you miserable.

Second, it takes a very special motivation to work in entertainment. You have to believe that you can do it and you have to take every opportunity you can to put yourself in the right place. In short, self-fulfilling prophecy rings true & networking is everything.

Finally if you ever have an interview on a day when the transit system shuts down & traffic is in gridlock, show up anyway. It could pay off more than you'll know.

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