After analyzing every possible legal niche in the universe, Bitter Lawyer has determined that, hands down, the best law gig in the world is… Entertainment lawyer. As our interviews with top entertainment attorneys Carlos Goodman and Tara Kole attest, if you have to be a lawyer, practicing in Hollywood is where it’s at. (If you can break in.) And here are five simple reasons why:
1. MONEY—BIG MONEY
The top players in the field make $5-10 million per year. “Successful” players make $1-5 million. Back in 2001, Forbes listed the highest paid lawyers, and three entertainment attorneys made the list. Allen Grubman: A cool $10 million for a year’s work. Harry (Skip) Brittenham: An honest $6.5 million. John Branca: $6.5 million—which is before you even factor him becoming the administrator of Michael Jackson’s estate last year, which may result in a continuous 10% of all thinks MJ. Tough to argue with numbers like that.
2. BILLABLE HOURS DON’T EXIST
The reason these cats make so much money is because they charge clients 5% of the transaction. First off, that means entertainment lawyers aren’t slaves to the clock. If they can get something done in ten minutes, they do. If they want to take a few days off, they do. Second, that means if Tom Cruise makes $40 million on a movie, his lawyers pockets $2 million! If you think about it, the economics are staggering.
For example sake, let’s say it takes 40 hours to negotiate and draft a “movie” contract. (For the record, I’d be shocked if it took 10 hours). At $500/hour, that would be $20,000—as opposed to 5% of 40 million, or $2 million. Ask me, that’s a hell of a business model.
Anyone care to wager what entertainment contracts lawyer Leigh Brecheen pulled in for a week’s worth of work that ended with Conan O’Brien walking around Los Angeles with $32.5 million in his pocket?
3. IT’S KINDA EASY
For the most part, entertainment lawyers negotiate and draft contracts between studios (Warner Bros., Paramount, etc.) and talent (actors, directors, writers, etc.), which means they argue about how much money Leonardo makes for the movie, the sequel, the prequel, etc… They also argue about how to define things like “net profit” and “overhead.” The contracts—and the negotiations—are intense and sophisticated, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re hard. They’re certainly not as involved and complex as a public company merger transaction or patent infringement trials.
Moreover, entertainment transactions are essentially unregulated. There’s no prevailing statutory body, such as the SEC or Federal Reserve Bank, breathing down your neck. That means there are no filing deadlines or disclosure obligations. In other words, it makes life a lot easier.
Inside Hollywood, entertainment lawyers are treated more like rock stars than fungible deal processors. The studios fear them; the agents depend on them; their clients revere them. That means these folks actually walk around feeling good about themselves.
Good luck finding that in BigLaw.
5. Love, Actually.
Entertainment lawyers marry movie stars. BigLaw litigators don’t. End of story.
Read more from Mr. Bitter on Bitter Lawyer.
Check out other lists, tallies and scores to settle in Bitter by Numbers.