10 Things to Know About Being an Entertainment Attorney

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Summary: Do you want to practice law but within the heights of creativity and talent? Then you should consider entertainment law.
10 Things to Know About Being an Entertainment Attorney
  • Entertainment law is one the more exciting practice areas within the plethora of legal specialties.
  • This practice area can put a lawyer into the thick of the creation process that can range from movies to television, radio, music and literature.
  • If you have an interest in this type of law, here are 10 things you should know about practicing entertainment law.
Almost all hits of any type – a hit movie, a hit song or even a hit novel, will need at one point some sort of legal representation.

How that representation comes about and when depends upon the type of entertainment that is focused on.
For instance, if a filmmaker wants to remake a classic Hollywood movie, he or she will need permission first from the original owners of the film that is to be remade, whether that comes from a production studio or private party.
Other types of entertainment (or in this case art), such as novels and paintings may need legal representation after they are created, unless of course with novels, the writer is fortunate enough to have a first-look deal with a publisher or production studio.
Regardless of this, entertainment law remains one of the more popular types of law practices within the legal landscape.
If you have an interest in entertainment law, you should first familiarize yourself with exactly what an entertainment lawyer does to make certain this is the practice area for your legal talent.
  1. The entertainment attorney’s typical day.
According to Above the Law.com a typical day in the life of an entertainment law attorney can involve a variety of tasks in which the lawyer interacts with various individuals. Those tasks might include:
  • Drafting contracts that touch on the negotiation, development and production of a project. These contracts can include writer agreements, talent agreements, and recording agreements.
  • Facilitating and negotiating distribution deals for an entertainment project.
  • Working on financing agreements for sponsorships, bank loans, co-production investments, grants, and other types of investments.
  • Preparing form agreements for clients, such as appearance releases, location releases, and license agreements.
  • Reviewing contracts and other legal documents to analyze rights issues or other business or legal questions.

Part of an entertainment lawyer’s job involves the analysis of legal concepts across multiple subject areas, including intellectual property, contracts, business associations, securities law, and labor and employment law.
In addition to these areas of law, entertainment attorneys help clients with projects that are not necessarily considered traditional legal work, but have legal and business implications.
In cases like this, an entertainment attorney reviews and comments on pitches and budgets for television series, films, mobile apps, or other entertainment vehicles and projects.
Although entertainment law encompasses all of the sectors of the entertainment industry, entertainment transactional attorneys tend to focus on one or two entertainment sectors, as each sector has its own industry norms.
For example, it can be safely said that attorneys serving music industry clients often specialize in that sector. At the same point, other attorneys focus on television or film industry clients.
In fact, attorneys touch a wide sector of any genre within the entertainment world that can include the development, financing, production, and distribution phases of an entertainment project.
  1. Who do entertainment attorneys work with?
Junior entertainment attorneys generally work with senior associates or with partners.
That’s not to say though that junior associates can’t gain responsibility quickly for some deals, including drafting and negotiating simpler production agreements such as releases, talent agreements and independent contractor agreements.
Entertainment attorneys also consult with specialists within the firm, including labor and employment, trademark, and copyright counsel, as well as entertainment practitioners that are specialized in other industry sectors.
Then there are other entertainment attorneys who work directly with celebrity clients as their personal attorneys.
These clients, particularly the A-list celebrities often have a team of business and legal advisers, including agents, managers, and attorneys.
Many more entertainment attorneys work with other entertainment industry clients, including studio and network executives, producers, financiers, and, of course, other lawyers.
  1. What is the common career for an entertainment attorney?
Entertainment attorneys can migrate between a law firm to in-house then back to a law firm.
As the lion’s share of the entertainment industry resides in Los Angeles or New York, both cities of which have ironically the highest concentration of law firms, it is almost a given that a large number of those firms specialize in entertainment law.
The same is true of entertainment companies with in-house legal departments.
Outside of those cities, it’s not uncommon for attorneys to start practicing in another area of law, such as general corporate, mergers and acquisitions, or securities work, and then move into entertainment law, usually in-house but sometimes in a firm.
A general transactional practice, especially if it involves some securities or other finance work, or IP licensing experience can be a useful background for practicing entertainment law.
Major entertainment companies, such as motion picture studios and television networks, have significant in-house legal departments and hire relatively young attorneys who can cope with the workload.
These associates usually have two or more years of experience in their legal and business affairs departments.
In-house attorneys also tend to move back to a law firm seeking a more diverse practice.
  1. How popular is this practice area?
Many attorneys are attracted to the variety of entertainment law.
At a law firm, an entertainment practice can be quite varied, with clients simultaneously at all stages of development, production, and distribution of entertainment projects.
In-house attorneys may be more specialized and have less variety in their work.
In-house business affairs attorneys may work primarily on a large volume of just a couple of types of agreements. But of course that is not always the case, especially in smaller companies, where attorneys may need to be able to handle any type of legal work the company needs.
  1. What’s the practice’s pace like?
Because entertainment law is a transactional practice, the pace and expectations are similar to other transactional practices, which in and of themselves are largely deal driven.
Long-lead projects can proceed at a more leisurely pace, while short-term projects, say with an airdate or principal photography start date in the near future, proceed at a very fast pace.
Expectations are high not only because money and reputations are at stake, but also because creators and others can be very passionate about a project.
  1. Is there anyone who really hates entertainment law?
Most people practicing entertainment law are in the field because they like the substantive work as well as the clients.
It is unusual to find entertainment transactional attorneys who hate the actual work. However, time pressure and tight budgets, and clients under pressure from those factors, can create significant stress for attorneys.
  1. Is there anyone who really loves entertainment law?
Many entertainment attorneys have a personal interest in the industry, such as a love for music, television, theater or film, or may themselves be musicians or artists.
These types of attorneys enjoy helping creators, financiers and distributors, as well as other artists. They, in fact, enjoy helping to bring projects to life and to an audience.
Although the day-to-day work is not nearly as glamorous, nonetheless, many attorneys like being an essential part of a creative or meaningful project.
  1. What are the common avenues out of this practice area?
It is quite common for mid-level associates to move in-house to studios, networks, and other distributors or content providers.
Additionally, entertainment lawyers are sometimes called on to evaluate financial plans, production budgets, business plans, and creative pitches.
This experience can be valuable for moving from legal work to a business development or a business/legal role, such as in the business affairs department of a studio or network.
  1. What market trends can have influence over this practice area?
Technology has a definite foothold within every aspect of entertainment. From movies heavily leveraged with CGI, to the overhead lighting during poetry readings, high tech and the digital revolution have changed nearly every aspect of the entertainment world.
While these changes have dramatically impacted the entertainment business, particularly with the development of streaming music and video as distribution platforms, these changes have also in turn affected legal practice and industry norms.
  1. What qualities should a budding attorney have to ensure success in this practice area?
Successful attorneys take the good with the bad; though it’s really interest that keeps a lid on things.
Having an interest into the not-so-glamorous side of entertainment law, but understanding that your understanding of both the glitz and gut come in equal parts will help ensure you belong in this type of law.
As an entertainment attorney you will also learn how to handle many matters simultaneously, while also being efficient, thorough, and mindful of legal budgets.
Finally, attorneys involved in entertainment law should have curiosity and interest in keeping up with and understanding developments in technology and business practices in the entertainment industry.
The beauty of law is that it has such an unmitigated importance in our society that at times it seems almost transparent, or at least an afterthought that we are governed by a body of laws.
And as entertainment law proves, the practice of law doesn’t always have to be stodgy and boring. It can be entertaining as entertainment lawyers will tell you. And to have an entertaining profession – well, that is as “gold” as winning an Oscar.

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