One of the most enviable fields in the legal world, entertainment law, sparks almost as much attention among law students as the celebrities who comprise the client base. Reputably a near-impossible industry to enter, it may be wise to take a few steps to test-drive the industry before you sign up for that entertainment concentration. Like Hollywood, entertainment law is not always what it seems.
Be In The Know, But Don’t Be A Fan
Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer, Nicholas La Terza who teaches entertainment law at UCLA, UC Irvine and the University of Miami tells his students to be in the know about the industry. For example, if you want to work with film producers, he says you must be able to name your five favorite producers.
If you have an interest in becoming an entertainment lawyer, chances are you can already list the Oscar winners for the past decade, but keeping abreast of industry trends also involves knowledge of a technical language. If you work as in-house counsel, for example, your client is your record company who will speak in industry terminology that goes beyond the legal lexicon.
Professors warn against having an idolatry admiration for the stars, as being too much of a fan can get in the way of the cold decisions entertainment lawyers must make.
While we tend to avoid reading more books then assigned, an industry guide is a refreshing and inspiring break from casebooks. Wandering through the entertainment section of your law library may reveal little jewels that breathe an inspiring perspective on career paths in ways you may not have considered. Legal books that give law student advice is such as Entertainment Careers for Lawyers is useful, as is a quick browse at non-legal books that give an overview of what it’s like to enter the industry.
For example, the acclaimed book All You Need to Know about the Music Industry is written by a music attorney, but it gives general industry knowledge that paints a wider picture of the work arena.
Networking can entail more than just going to legal events. For example, there may be music conferences or film festival workshops where you can meet executives and learn from non-lawyers. Your own school’s music and communication school bulletin board is one place to start for local events. Once there, it may be as simple as asking for help.
Networking nowadays also takes place online, such as participating in webinars and forums. The ABA Forum on the Entertainment & Sports Industries has a law student caucus that invites students to write articles or edit for the caucus newsletter or volunteer on the committee.
Some organizations may seem only tangentially related but the members are also entertainment lawyers, making events a valuable relationship-building opportunity, such as the Copyright Society of the USA, which offers student membership for $25.
As law students, we may not always have the money or the time to go to conferences in person, but thankfully materials from conferences are often posted online after the conference or available with an email request to the organization. The ABA posts materials from conferences to their website which are available to view and download with a free student account. While some of the PowerPoint presentations and white papers can veer towards the overly technical, even just reading the headlines gives an overview of what challenges the industry currently faces. These tidbits could lead to interesting discussions for that internship interview.
Many ex-entertainment attorneys say they were originally drawn by the flash of the industry but the initial excitement quickly subsided upon realizing it entails reading contracts and drafting memos much like any other law job.
Securing an internship early can help you realize whether you like the field to begin with, as well as provide further networking opportunities.
Because location is important for this industry, as most job opportunities are concentrated in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Nashville, an internship is also a way to try out the waters in a new city, before deciding to permanently relocate.
Writing for the Law Review on a subject related to the field of interest is another way to show prospective lawyers your interest. A friend who wrote on a Netflix case for his Business Law Review then landed an internship with NBC.
If Law Review sounds appealing, you may wish to read what you need to know about getting onto Law Review. But you could also volunteer to be a research assistant for a copyright, media or entertainment law professor, or work on an independent research paper that tackles a topic of interest.
As a back-up plan, in case the field is not what you expect, it always helps to have a broad array of courses taken. Also, practitioners recommend a strong foundation in related areas such as tax law, immigration, intellectual property, and contracts. Some schools offer courses specifically geared towards these areas for entertainers, but the general, introductory course may be just as, if not more, useful as they give a deeper understanding of the material in a broader context.
If you have already tried a few entertainment law related class, and feel this is your calling, then consider enrolling in a dual degree program if your law school offers a joint program with its business school, music school or communication school.
While an MBA, for example, can be especially useful for in-house counseling, doing the other steps first helps confirm your passion for entertainment law, as there are also a few downsides to consider when determining whether to pursue an MBA.
For a podcast on how to network in law school, setting yourself up for success in your legal career, tune in to podcast episode 61: Making the Most of Your 2L and 3L Years of Law School: https://lawschooltoolbox.com/podcast-episode-61-making-the-most-of-your-2l-and-3l-years-of-law-school/
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