A Supreme Court clerkship is a golden ticket that can open just about any door. However, if there’s one industry where it may actually work against you, it’s Hollywood. Of course. Only in the tiny, insulated world of boutique entertainment law firms can such coveted resume experience not automatically push you over the edge and get you hired. Those firms are different. They don’t hire recent law school graduates. Period. Not even if you went to Harvard. Not even if you clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia.
When we ran across The Hollywood Reporter’s induction of Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown partner Tara Kole into their “Next Gen: Class of 2009” issue that showcases the top 35 entertainment executives under 35, we were intrigued by Kole’s unusual leap straight from a Supreme Court clerkship to representing Hollywood types like actress Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 2) and director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel). We’ve interviewed entertainment lawyers and top Hollywood agents before, but none were at the top of their game by 32 years old like seems to be Kole already.
So we tracked down Kole (Amherst ’98, Harvard Law ’03) to find out exactly what being an A-list entertainment attorney at a firm that represents such heavyweights as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Ben Stiller, Michael Mann, George Miller and Cameron Crowe really entails.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I come in around nine in the morning. Most of my day is spent on the phone. That means talking to clients, agents, and managers. And then on the other side, I’m talking to movie studio lawyers, lawyers for television studios, and lawyers for film financiers about independent movies. It’s really a juggling act because I probably have about 50-60 open deals at any one time. They’re not all happening that day, it’s more like 5-10 issues per day, but any one of the 60 could become an issue at that moment. And sometimes old deals come up out of nowhere, too.
When I have down time, which isn’t real down time, I guess, I’m doing a lot of paperwork, looking over contracts, writing contracts. That’s mostly nights and weekends.
Did you always want to be an entertainment lawyer?
I went to law school to be an entertainment lawyer. When I left college (Amherst), I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I really like movies and TV a lot, so I worked at Lion’s Gate in acquisitions and new media, and I just loved it. I guess I had always thought about being a lawyer to some extent, but after working in Hollywood, I found that I really loved the deal side of the business. That’s why I went to law school.
Ok. So how did you end up with a Supreme Court clerkship?[Laughing]
I think I applied because everyone was doing it. I found that I really liked law school, and while I was there, I flirted with the idea of doing something different. I really liked ConLaw and Fed Courts. And when I was on Law Review, all anyone could talk about was clerking. That was it. So, maybe there was some peer pressure there.
But I just thought… “Well, I’ll apply and see what happens.” You need to clerk for a lower court first, so I picked a lot of really smart, respected judges to clerk for, and I figured that if one of them picked me, I couldn’t say no. As it turned out, Judge [Alex] Kozinski hired me. He tends to feed a lot of clerks to the Supreme Court, and he suggested that I apply. So, I figured why not? I got a call from [Justice Antonin] Scalia, and he ended up hiring me.
When you describe that story to your friends from law school who didn’t get clerkships, do they hate you?[Laughing]
Hate me? I don’t think so. But maybe you have to ask them. I worked hard in law school, and I really killed myself there. But what made me a little different, I guess, is that I didn’t know what the fruit of my labor would be.
When you decided to come back to Hollywood? Did the clerkship make it harder to convince potential employers?
In a way, yes. Entertainment boutiques just don’t hire new lawyers, so I did what most clerks do—interview at big law firms. I tried to focus on firms in Los Angeles that had entertainment practices. Firms like O’Melveny & Myers and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The first question was always, “Are you really interested in entertainment?” I think they thought that I’d run off and do something else. But I think if you talk to me long enough, you realize that I love film and television more than anything.
So how did you make your way into Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown?
Well, like I said, I didn’t think they would hire me off a clerkship. But Judge Kozinski introduced me to Bruce Ramer, one of the senior partners here. This was when I was in the middle of interviewing for a job. He agreed to meet me for drinks, but Bruce made it really clear that they weren’t hiring. So when I came out to Los Angeles, I met Bruce for drinks, and we hit it off. I think it helped that he had an interest in politics and the Supreme Court. That got the ball rolling, and Bruce ended up hiring me.
Do your clients know that you clerked for Justice Scalia? Do some of your more liberal clients ever give you a hard time about that?
Most of my clients know I was a Supreme Court clerk. Scalia hires four clerks a year, and he always hires a more liberal clerk. That was me, and I usually try and make that clear. But honestly, I don’t think people here care that much about politics. Or, at least they don’t care that I worked for someone who had political views that they disagree with. Mostly people just think it’s interesting that I clerked for such a brilliant Justice.
Given what’s going on in BigLaw these days, do you think you dodged a bullet by landing a boutique job?
At the time that I applied to those jobs, I knew it wasn’t for me. And if I had worked there, I knew it wouldn’t be for very long and that I’d always be looking for a place like this. We have 15 lawyers here. I like having personal relationships with my clients. And I like that I represent people, not companies. But mostly, I like that I’m practicing law in a way that is interconnected with an industry that I care about. BigLaw lawyers are really great technicians. That’s kind of the nature of what they do. They come in and they fix a problem or deal with an issue. I guess that’s appealing to some people. But that just wasn’t for me.
Do you want to be a lawyer for the rest of your career? Or, is there a chance that we’ll pick up Daily Variety one day and see that you’re running a studio?
You know, I really don’t know. It would be really hard for me to find a job that’s better than what I have now. This is a really amazing place. It’s a very nice place to work. A lot of people here stay here forever, and I mean that in the best possible way.
That being said, if there was an interesting offer, I suppose I would listen. But right now my plan is to be a partner here for a very long time.
In the Hollywood Reporter blurb that caught our attention, you were named as one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming executives under 35. Do accolades like that matter, or are they just kind nice?
I think they’re just nice. It’s not like someone sees you in a magazine and says, “Be my lawyer.” But I got a lot of congratulatory emails from people I know; that was kind of nice. I also got a lot of Facebook requests from people I don’t know; that was kind of strange.
What’s been your best moment as a lawyer so far?
I don’t know if there’s one that stands out. The best moments are when you work really hard on a deal and it works out, which in my case means you get to see it on film or on TV.
Does one film or TV show stand out?
One of the first deals I worked on was for a film called Forbidden Kingdom with Jet Li and Jackie Chan. I spent crazy amounts of time on that deal. It was an indie film, and those are the ones most likely to fall apart. But when I saw it in the theater, I remembered all those headaches and all those times I thought it wouldn’t happen, and it was really great to see that it worked—and that it was No. 1 at the box office the week it opened. That was a great feeling.
What’s been your worst moment?
I don’t think there’s been one “worst” moment. Mostly there are just bad moments. They usually come in the middle of the night when I wake myself up worrying that I forgot something or thinking that I blew a deal somehow. Usually it tends to be something that I’ve blown out of proportion. But there hasn’t been anything that’s been really bad.
Knock on wood.
Did you really knock on wood?
Any advice for the legions of Bitter Lawyers out there who maybe dream of one day following in your footsteps?
Entertainment law is very specialized because it relies more on custom and practice than on anything you can learn from a book, so the key is to find a way to get a foot in the door. The smaller talent boutiques don’t hire very often, so look at big firms with entertainment practices and in-house opportunities at studios and production companies too. Then try to meet everyone you possibly can.
And watch movies and television. I always find it strange when someone in the entertainment business tells me they don’t own a TV.