Music is a business, and an attorney who can advise and advocate on behalf of a creative artist in the complex arena of contracts and negotiations is a vital part of any musician's team. In addition to working with individual artists, entertainment lawyers also represent companies and corporations in the entertainment industry, many of which have in-house lawyers representing their interests.
The entertainment industry thrives on relationships, and attorneys working in the field will need to network as enthusiastically as they attend to the rule of law.
While some entertainment attorneys specialize in litigation—defending their clients against lawsuits and pursuing court cases on their clients' behalf, typically concerning copyright infringement or contract disputes—most perform transaction-based work: making deals; drafting contracts for recording, touring, merchandising, and publishing; and ensuring that all parties honor their obligations. Entertainment attorneys are widely called upon to translate the dense language of contracts into plain English and determine whether an offer or agreement is in a client's best interest. Among the many tasks they attend to for musicians are trademark registration, formation of a publishing company, song licensing, formalizing and dissolving internal band agreements, and getting out of bad deals. Entertainment lawyers also help fledgling businesses, such as indie labels, properly establish themselves as LLCs and navigate accompanying tax issues.
Entertainment Attorney at a Glance
Being an entertainment attorney—or any kind of attorney, for that matter—means passing the LSATs, attending law school, and passing the bar. That's a lot of education to get through, so it's no surprise that most would recommend starting early: entering law school shortly after graduating college and starting a career in standard law before switching over to entertainment law.
However, just as many successful entertainment attorneys come to the profession by taking a slightly more roundabout route: working professionally as artists or entertainers before beginning their study of law. Their time in the entertainment both helps ground their understanding of the law in personal experience and aids them in connecting and communicating with clients. Whichever route one takes to become an entertainment attorney, the path from that point on is clear: expand one's practice by connecting with new and more successful clients, and establish a reputation for excellent representation.
Since entertainment law is fairly specialized, an internship or apprenticeship with an entertainment law firm is the ideal introduction to the particularities of the industry. It also means getting a foot in the door. Another good way to begin learning about the entertainment business is to read industry trade publications, such as Billboard or Pollstar, and to attend seminars pertaining to the entertainment industry, which are offered by many bar and legal-education associations.
- Copyright law
- Music licensing
- Contract law
- Written and verbal communication
- Critical thinking
Wise people have said that the entertainment industry is all about who you know. Attorneys working in the field would do well to heed this advice, and network just as enthusiastically as they attend to the rule of law. In general, entertainment attorneys should seek to cultivate excellent communication skills wherever possible. If two attorneys are equal in their ability to represent clients, the more communicative and likable one will often win out. While it can be difficult and sometimes maddening to try to predict exactly what kind of manner will win over clients, this exact skill—the ability to suss out what people need to feel at ease in their representation—is more important than any other for maintaining and growing a clientele.
Entertainment lawyers do essentially the same job as any other lawyer—and in an exceptionally fast-paced industry. A typical day involves calling and emailing clients, colleagues, and adversaries; negotiating the finer points of a deal; and preparing and reviewing copious quantities of documents. Meals and evenings are often spent networking with current and potential clients. It is a demanding lifestyle, to be sure, but for many the rewards greatly outweigh the challenges. Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville are the major centers for entertainment law, although there are numerous small firms and privately practicing attorneys in smaller, regional markets.