Lately, I seem to be getting a lot of e-mails from law school students asking how they can get a job as an entertainment lawyer. Rather than answer all of these e-mails individually, I thought I would put some tips together on my blog that might help some graduates as they search for that elusive entertainment law job.
Now keep in mind that the last time I applied for a job was in 1992. I worked at a boutique entertainment firm for nine years and opened up my own firm in July 2000 so take this advice with as many grains of salt as you think applies. But if I were just graduating from law school today and looking to work in the entertainment industry, this is the advice I would tell myself.
By the way, I’m assuming that you’re not an Ivy League graduate who was in the top 10% of their class. Those people should not have a problem getting a job anywhere they want. This advice is for those of us who didn’t graduate from the top tier law schools and weren’t first in our class.
MOVE TO LOS ANGELES OR NEW YORK
If you haven’t done so already. ‘Nuff said.”
ASK PEOPLE YOU KNOW
More than just about any other field of law, the entertainment field is built on relationships. Therefore, it really helps to know someone. Now I know many of you don’t know any entertainment lawyer personally. But if you live in Los Angeles, you almost certainly know someone who works in the entertainment industry, and they have a lawyer. Make calls, do lunches, get introductions, but do what you can to meet people who work in the industry. The more people you know, the more chances you’ll have to make that connection with the person who can give you the job you want.
BE INTERESTED IN THE SUBJECT MATTER
If you’re going to be an entertainment lawyer, you better know what’s going on in the industry. While many law schools now have classes in entertainment law, there is no way those classes can cover all the issues that an entertainment lawyer needs to know. So while you’re waiting to get that job, keep learning about the subject matter. Download lectures from iTunes U about copyright law. Read blogs that discuss developments and recent cases in the entertainment industry. Two of my favorites are THR ESQ and Techdirt. Read about and have an opinion on important industry issues such as CISPA and Copyright Termination. If you hear about an interesting conference involving entertainment law, contact the organizers and see if you could work the door in exchange for a ticket. Not only will you learn a great deal, but you’ll meet a lot of people (see above).
20 years on, I still enjoy reading about and discussing the developments in copyright and entertainment law. So do most of the other good entertainment lawyers. If it’s not something hat interests you, you won’t be good at it.
HELP OUT YOUR FRIENDS
I know of some very well respected and experienced entertainment lawyers who got their start because a friend of theirs needed legal help when they were hired as an actor and had no one else to turn to. Now I know that you probably don’t know enough to fully negotiate a television or movie deal, but your friends don’t have any money to pay you anyway. So that makes things even. Do the best you can, read some form books, and dig into it. Who knows? If your friend becomes the next Brad Pitt, you can ride his coattails all the way to a nice job. In the meantime, you’ll get some much-needed experience.
DON’T GET CAUGHT IN A HELL HOLE
I know that in these uncertain times, with the job market as tough as it is, it is simpler (and sometimes necessary) to take whatever job that comes along, even if it is not your dream job. The problem is that you can get caught in a bad situation and end up spending a lot of time doing work you don’t want to do for people you don’t want to work for. In 1991, even before I had passed the bar, I got a job at a small firm based on a recommendation from my copyright law professor. The problem was that the two partners were completely insane. Screaming at everyone, they clearly both had deep emotional issues that they were working out on the other lawyers and their staff. I spent four months there and finally had enough and gave notice. They told me that they really like me and wanted me to stay but the atmosphere at the firm was so toxic that I knew I had to get away, even though I did not have another job lined up. Six weeks later I got a great job at a small entertainment firm working for two great guys and stayed for nine years before going out on my own. I know that I was very lucky and that this story could have had many different endings. But I also know that if I stayed at that original firm there was no chance of a happy ending. The moral is that sometimes no job is better than a horrible job.
You have to keep your eye on the ball. It may take a year or three but if you persevere, you can get there.
Good luck to all the graduates of the class of 2012.