Title and Employer?
Partner in Bloom, Hergott, Diemer, Rosenthal, LaViolette & Feldman, LLP, an entertainment firm in Beverly Hills that specializes in motion pictures and television.
So what does a hotshot entertainment lawyer really do?
Complain about “the business” while eating lunch at a fancy Hollywood restaurant. When not busy doing that, an entertainment lawyer is primarily involved with making deals for “talent”—actors, directors, writers, and producers. This means working in tandem with a client’s agent to negotiate the economics and other key points of a deal, typically against the studios’ business affairs lawyers. The lawyer then negotiates the written contract. And in Hollywood, as they say, the finished contract is simply the beginning of the negotiation.
What is fun about entertainment law in Hollywood is that it’s a fairly small community, and it’s very interpersonal. In many instances, you have to use your relationships to accomplish certain things for your clients. You also have lots of opportunities to put together unique, creative deals—whether because you have the leverage with a hot client or because the business is changing as a result of new media—and that can make certain negotiations very dynamic.
Who does your firm represent?
Our firm represents several A-list talents in Hollywood—people like Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and many of the top directors and producers in the business.
What law school did you go to?
What was your first job out of law school?
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in its New York office in the late 1980’s.
Litigation. I worked mainly on the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation, which was an obvious and natural launching pad to get into Hollywood—oily and slick.
How did you make the transition from corporate litigator to entertainment attorney?
Well, what is it they say? Acknowledging the problem is half the struggle. It’s not hard to know something is wrong when you bill 250 hours a month, month after month, on matters where you have no connection to the client or any real stake in the outcome personally.
It’s fine to work hard, but the law, like any business, is more fun when you can be entrepreneurial and have a direct relationship with your clients. And I didn’t get the feeling that I was going to become best friends with any Fortune 500 CEOs anytime soon at the age of 26, especially when my chief social circle was other associates like me eating take-out Chinese food at 10 p.m. every night in the office.
I saw entertainment law as a way of working with individual clients, people who were my age, and with whom I could grow. Looking back on that now, entertainment law gave me that. One of my very first clients was Quentin Tarantino and I worked with him on making “Reservoir Dogs.” Quentin and I have worked together for seventeen years, and I just finished closing the deal for his new movie “Inglorious Bastards.”
As far as making the transition, I had a friend during law school who had become a music lawyer at a Los Angeles firm that also had a motion picture practice group. She introduced me to some of the lawyers at the firm, and I got a job doing motion picture work. I think the fact that I was young and relatively cheap, and working at a top firm, helped me get the opportunity.
Does being a former litigator help you in your current job negotiating deals for movie stars and A-list directors?
Not really. I do think that working at a good firm straight out of law school helped show me quickly what it meant to be a professional. I always tell young lawyers that it’s a good thing to work at the best firm you can, to be exposed for a while to the level of excellence you do find at places like Gibson Dunn. But you have to be careful of the trap at elite firms—they have a way of successfully stroking their good people to distract them from how unfulfilling a lot of that work can be in the long run. And before you know it, you’re too senior (or too bitter!) to make a successful transition to something more entrepreneurial or satisfying.
Any advice for bitter lawyers out there looking to change jobs?
When I decided to leave the “mothership” of a big firm, I felt like I was taking a risk. And I did have to pay my dues in that transition, no question. But I think bitter lawyers need to realize they can be taking a greater risk by avoiding change and waiting too long to try to transition into something different. I think it’s important when you’re in a big firm to look at the people who are four or five years ahead of you and see what their lives are like—and ask yourself, is that the type of career or life you want? Is that pasty-faced, cynical sixth-year associate the type of person you are striving to be? Use those intermediate people as projections of what your future will be. But you don’t need to actually live through those extra four or five years yourself! The evidence is right there in front of you.