Music is a business, and an attorney who can advise 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.
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.
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 as soon as one passes the bar.
However, that's not to say there aren't alternative paths; many successful entertainment attorneys come to the profession by a more roundabout route, starting out as licensing representatives, music publishers, artist managers, personal business managers, or even artists themselves. For these professionals, their time in the entertainment world helps ground their understanding of the law in personal experience and aids them in connecting and communicating with clients.
Whichever path one takes to become an entertainment attorney, the road forward is clear: expand one's practice by connecting with new and successful clients, and establish a reputation for excellent advice and 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. 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 entertainment law, 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. Entertainment attorneys should also seek to cultivate excellent communication and social skills; 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.
A typical day for an entertainment lawyer involves calling and emailing clients; negotiating the finer points of a deal; and preparing and reviewing large numbers of legal 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, but there are numerous small firms and privately practicing attorneys in smaller, regional markets.