Monday, August 24, 2009

A Real Life Guide to Getting into Entertainment Law From the Lawyer's View

I wrote about this topic for my company for the industry professional but I think a few words should be said to lawyers who want to get in the business:

We all hear “Make good grades so you can work in BigLaw & become a solo in a few years” but what if BigLaw isn't for you? Is it impossible to break into entertainment law? Not really.

If you want to work for a major studio or represent mega-stars, you're NOT going to be able to do that as a newer lawyer unless you've got serious friends OR you work for a mega-firm. However....

in my experience, there are plenty of creative professionals and companies who are not big on working with major law firms. For them, these firms are dismissive, charge way too much money and/or confuse them with excess legal jargon. However, individual lawyers are generally respected for their legal ability. Even as a new lawyer, actors and others in the business would tell me how much they respect lawyers and find the fact that I am one impressive. No one asked me about where I went to law school, my GPA or what firms I'd worked in. Nor did anyone behave like a 7th grader shunning a classmate for not wearing designer labels.

This experience isn't even unique to me as another aspiring entertainment attorney told me the same thing happened to her at a party w/people in the business.

Actors, artists, musicians, etc. are a dime a dozen in NYC. The up & comers generally don't have lawyers or even access to a lawyer to check over contracts. So even if you're a brand new lawyer in town, you already have a leg up w/this crowd. If you can speak the language of the business or relate on a personal level, even better. A huge part of this business is forging personal connections & what kind of vibes you give off.

If you're a name dropping, pretentious show off, creative people pick up on it & they will spread the word. If you scream at the mention of a famous person or don't think you can treat someone as any other human being (such as delivering unpleasant news as a lawyer sometimes must), you're not going to have credibility & really shouldn't pursue this area.

So, how can you meet these people? Here's some tips:

1. Do what my Entertainment Law professor told students to do: get an internship or PA for a project. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT grouse over the lack of pay. Most of these are unpaid; this is standard.

2. Go to places where you might meet people in your field. If you want to represent indie musicians, go see some shows. Go to plays in more underground venues if you want to meet actors. Go to industry networking events.

3. If you have the looks, apply for extra or background work; again, don't whine about lack of pay since you never know who might be on top tomorrow.

4. One thing I did to get my contacts was use Craig's List. Introduce yourself to entertainment lawyers or those starting out their businesses. Seek their wisdom and make yourself available for networking. Some will talk to you, some won't but you never know who might be helpful in the future. If you see ads seeking entertainment lawyers that aren't demanding eons of experience, send a message.

5. Volunteer. This could also lead to valuable contacts & is a method used by a lawyer I know.

6. Become a manager. If an actor/musician/whomever isn't in the market for a lawyer, they might let you be a manager. You have to be licensed to be an agent but I've seen a fair amount of lawyers working as managers for actors & musicians. I would personally make sure I thought the actor/musician/whomever I was going to represent had a shot to avoid looking foolish with agents and others but if you can advocate w/out this, go right ahead. You can really stand out if you can get clauses like this one into your clients' contracts (

7. Befriend a talent agent. The person/company might have clients w/limited experience & be glad to have someone else help explain the paperwork.

These are just ideas based on my own experiences + that of others I've talked to. If you've got friends in high places, you're ahead of me & probably most lawyers who wish they were doing this but aren't.

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