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Michael R. Morris is a principal at Valensi Rose, PLC in Los Angeles, CA. He has created a unique practice by combining his tax law expertise with a passion for entertainment and music. Mr. Morris' practice areas include tax controversy and transactional issues, entertainment, music, estate planning and general business law.
As a Certified Specialist in Taxation Law and a formal trial lawyer for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Mr. Morris has the practical experience and educational background "that enables him to provide insightful solutions to his clients' complicated" estate, tax and business transaction matters, according to his firm's website.
Mr. Morris has established a niche in the entertainment industry, as well as a solid base of loyal clients in a variety of other businesses. Two of his famous clients are rock singer Alice Cooper and singer-songwriter La Toya Jackson. By representing a variety of music clients, he has been able to integrate a passion for music with his practice of law. He enjoys a strong reputation of providing effective and valuable business solutions in such areas as contractual and copyright matters. Although his core competency is in the entertainment and tax arena, over the past decade Mr. Morris has built up a clientele encompassing a variety of businesses. Mr. Morris's distinct client base includes talent agents and agencies, industry executives of major studios, a post production house, a winery, skin healthcare companies, entertainment payroll companies, recording artists, including Grammy winners, production companies and TV and film composers.
Over the years, Mr. Morris has been awarded with several distinctions. He holds an "AV" (pre-eminent) Martindale-Hubbell rating, which is the highest rating presented to any individual lawyer. Mr. Morris has been named a "Super Lawyer" among Southern California lawyers for 2006 to 2013 by Los Angeles Magazine and Law and Politics Magazine. The Los Angeles Business Journal also designated Mr. Morris as one of "L.A.'s Top 100 Lawyers" in 2009.
He moderates industry seminars, delivers speeches, writes law-related articles and has served as the president of the California Copyright Conference. Mr. Morris also served on the Planning Committee for the annual CalCPA Education Foundation Entertainment Industry Conference, which he co-chaired in 2013.
He was born in New York City and raised in Livingston, NJ. Mr. Morris graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and received his master's degree concurrently in the same field from the University of Pennsylvania. He also earned his J.D. from the University of Arizona College of Law, where wrote for the Arizona Law Review and was awarded the prestigious Order of the Coif.
When the tireless attorney isn't working, he enjoys music events, live theater and working out at the gym five times a week. He has been a self-avowed "gym rat" since law school. Mr. Morris also enjoys a workout with his friends at the Santa Monica steps or "The Stairs." These are made up of two sets of steps, concrete ones that are narrow and wind back and forth like switchbacks on a trail, and wooden ones that are wider across and provide a straight up shot. The stairs are free to the public and are open every day of the year. After Mr. Morris' stairs workout, he joins his friends at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Santa Monica.
He is an avid Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers fan. Mr. Morris is a frequent patron of Los Angeles' Vibrato Grill Jazz restaurant. He is currently reading two books authored by his clients: Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey's The Barefoot Spirit and Susan Bernard's Marilyn: Intimate Exposures. Mr. Morris also enjoys reading newspapers and magazines such as Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and Arizona Highways.
Mr. Morris' Memories and Motivations
Does Mr. Morris have a most memorable law school experience? He recalled meeting regularly with his study group. The law students "dissected cases" to prepare for anticipated questions from their professors. This group also religiously studied for the Arizona Bar examination. Mr. Morris said his study group reminded him of the 1973 film The Paper Chase. He continued to say that he received the second highest score on the Arizona Bar exam while two of his study group partners earned the first and third highest scores, proving the value of academic collaboration. Mr. Morris also said that he was ranked number one in his class after his first year of law school and used the prize money awarded by a local firm to throw a party.
The Super Lawyer was asked if he received any awards or participated in activities that influenced his decision to go into the law. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Morris wrote for two student newspapers, The Daily Pennsylvanian and The Pennsylvanian Voice. He took a constitutional law class and was politically active. Mr. Morris also joked that he joined a "Future Lawyers of America Club" while in junior high school. These factors influenced his decision to go to law school.
Why did Mr. Morris decide to become an attorney? "I thought becoming an attorney was a good way to combine my analytical abilities with my people skills and put them to good use. I like the arts and becoming an attorney enabled me to work with talented individuals in the entertainment field."
So what is the best part of his job? "Resolving problems for my clients and getting complimented and paid for those efforts." Mr. Morris also enjoys acting as a facilitator for his clients. For example, he introduced Mark Steines to La Toya Jackson. Steines hosts a new show with Cristina Ferrare called The Home and Family Show, which airs on the Hallmark Channel. After Mr. Morris spoke with Steines' producer, La Toya Jackson was invited on his show. And Steines and Jackson both really enjoyed the experience.
What is Mr. Morris known for professionally? "Primarily, as a tax lawyer who also has a well- developed expertise in the entertainment industry."
Is there an area of the law he is most passionate about? "I am most passionate about areas that let me be a true consigliore and problem solver! And obviously, I am passionate about music-related matters."
When asked what his strengths and weaknesses were, Mr. Morris acknowledged, "I am persistent and I follow up on all my clients' matters." As for his weakness, the lawyer stated, "I internalize my clients' problems. Sometimes I find myself up at 1:00 o'clock in the morning thinking about their cases. It's good for my clients, but isn't particularly healthy for me."
What does Mr. Morris think about the legal field today? "There are too many lawyers being graduated into a highly competitive field. It's hard for young lawyers to find a job. College students considering law school should think long and hard about why they want to be an attorney. They should literally search their souls and ask 'Is this a career for me?'" Mr. Morris emphasized that being an attorney is not just about the money, it's about embracing a career that can be personally and intellectually challenging and rewarding.
If he weren't a lawyer, what would Mr. Morris probably be doing? "I would probably be a talent agent or personal manager."
Where does he see himself in five years' time? "Probably doing what I am doing today because I really enjoy it."
What motivates Mr. Morris to be an attorney every day? "Challenges that the job presents. I get up in the morning and really appreciate the opportunity to work on La Toya Jackson's TV show, solve a client's tax problem or close a business deal. I pace myself, but I finish in a timely matter."
How does he want to be remembered? Mr. Morris jokingly said, "Fondly, I hope. I want to be remembered as a compassionate and caring person who was devoted to the legal profession."
Training Grounds and Areas of Specialty
Mr. Morris is a formal trial lawyer for the IRS. What did he learn from this experience? "This was my boot camp. I learned how the legal tax system works and how to apply that knowledge to benefit my clients once I left the government. Working for the IRS was a great training ground, and I still have friends who still work for the IRS. It was an excellent segue into my entering private practice."
How did Mr. Morris get involved in the music and entertainment industry? He said he grew up in an artistic environment. Mr. Morris' mother was a member of the Masterwork Chorus that performed at Carnegie Hall, and his sister, Melanie, sang with the Manhattan Light Opera Company. In addition, his great uncle was a producer of such Broadway shows as Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. While writing for the University of Pennsylvania student school newspapers, Mr. Morris had the opportunity to interview musicians like Patti Smith, Ravi Shankar, Freddie Hubbard, Dan Fogelberg and Jackson Browne. He stated, "Even then I knew that I wanted to work with people in the arts."
After Mr. Morris left the IRS, he was hired by a small Century City firm as a tax attorney. He subsequently took a variety of extension classes at the University of Los Angeles, California, which focused on the music industry. Mr. Morris also joined both the California Copyright Conference and the Association of Independent Music Publishers, where he met many industry professionals and began developing his entertainment clientele.
Mr. Morris has a diverse client base. Is there a particular area in the entertainment industry that he enjoys representing over another? "If I had to pick one, it would be the music industry. I always enjoyed working with and can relate to musicians."
The Super Lawyer discussed two of his famous clients that he has represented in the entertainment industry. Mr. Morris has known Alice Cooper for the past sixteen years. As Mr. Cooper's tax counsel, he saved the legendary rocker one million dollars with the IRS. Mr. Morris and his partner, Gary Torrell, enabled La Toya Jackson to recover her copyrights out of bankruptcy. He also negotiated Ms. Jackson's show on Oprah Winfrey Network, "Loving La Toya," as well as other TV appearances, including The Celebrity Apprentice. Mr. Morris has become close friends with Ms. Jackson, who attended his wedding and recently helped celebrate his 60th birthday.
Mr. Morris' Mentor and Mentoring Others, Non Profit Organizations and His Goals
Does Mr. Morris have a mentor? Is he a mentor? Philip S. Magaram, a senior partner at Valensi Rose, has been Mr. Morris' mentor since he joined the firm in 1989. To quote Mr. Morris, "practicing with Phil Magaram is like having the Einstein of estate and tax planning down the hall." Mr. Morris stated, "I am currently mentoring young attorneys at the law firm to help them hone both their professional and business development skills."
Is he involved with any non-profit organizations? Mr. Morris is involved with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and in particular, its Entertainment Division, which is a dynamic group of entertainment and media professionals. They participate in a wide variety of social, educational, and volunteer events to benefit the Jewish community locally as well as internationally.
Does the University of Pennsylvania alumnus have goals? "I have been fortunate to come from a strong family background. I have my wonderful wife, Tresa, great friends and a devoted assistant Janette. I recently celebrated my 60th birthday and had friends at my party who I know for thirty years. I am really fortunate to have that continuity in my life. I will continue to integrate my personal and professional life and hopefully ensure that Valensi Rose is around for another sixty years."
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