The Unique Role of the Entertainment Lawyer

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Some law specialties are extremely specific. Litigators typically argue cases in court and negotiate settlements for their clients or for the state, while tax lawyers help their clients resolve state and national tax matters. Entertainment lawyers, however, often enjoy varied responsibilities.

Writing for the American Bar Association, Kirk T. Schroder noted, “No body of case law per se constitutes ‘entertainment law.'” According to Schroder, entertainment lawyers may protect their clients’ intellectual property rights, represent them in court over disputes, negotiate contracts, show them ways to maximize earnings, and help them manage their taxes, among other tasks.

A meeting between an entertainment lawyer and a client.
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What Does an Entertainment Lawyer Do?

After you earn your Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree, you may pursue one of many career paths. If you choose to become an entertainment lawyer, you may have several responsibilities as reported by Schroder:

  • Facilitating negotiations: Talent agents and entertainment lawyers often work together on behalf of their clients. They secure talent releases, advise their clients on jobs and contracts, and negotiate fee arrangements.
  • Connecting clients with other service providers: An entertainment lawyer can serve as a liaison between the talent and other professionals, from agents and tax preparers to networks and venues.
  • Protecting intellectual property: When entertainment attorneys represent creative professionals, they may defend their clients’ rights to intellectual property, such as song lyrics for singers or routines for comedians.
  • Overseeing union and guild membership: An entertainment lawyer may help clients join unions, guilds, and other professional associations. These attorneys can also work for professional organizations to organize programs and vet potential members.

Who Do Entertainment Lawyers Represent?

Once you understand your job responsibilities as an entertainment lawyer, you must decide which clients to represent. Entertainment attorneys can work with many types of talent in the following industries:

  • Film and television
  • Music
  • Comedy
  • Print and electronic media

Creative professionals often hire entertainment lawyers for specific purposes. For example, Schroder lists several situations that may require a creative professional to hire an entertainment attorney:

  • Negotiating or re-negotiating contracts
  • Researching relevant case law
  • Determining who owns parts of collaborative intellectual property
  • Initiating legal action against people who have stolen intellectual property or breached contracts
  • Helping clients secure distribution rights for creative properties

Where Do Entertainment Lawyers Work?

In his article for the American Bar Association, Schroder mentioned that New York City, New York, and Los Angeles, California, often attract the most professionals in the entertainment industry and may offer the best base for an entertainment lawyer in private practice. However, you do not necessarily have to live on the East or West Coast to work in this field.

In fact, many studios in the film industry have begun to exit Hollywood and the rest of Southern California because of increasing costs, according to Rory Carroll and Robina Gibb of The Guardian. Carroll and Gibb reported that studios set some of the most famous television shows in the United States outside California and New York, including towns in New Mexico and North Carolina.

Additionally, you do not have to live in a specific city or state to become an entertainment lawyer. If you already have a law degree and have gained some work experience in the legal field, you may pursue your Master of Laws degree to advance your career prospects. If you combine this degree with an Entertainment Law and Industry Certificate, you may enjoy a potential advantage in the entertainment industry.

What Challenges Do Entertainment Lawyers Face?

In an article for Above The Law, Frank H. Wu offered insights into employment law that he gleaned from interviews with recent law graduates who worked at Century City. According to Wu, his interviewees agreed that networking remains paramount for entertainment lawyers at all stages of their careers.

Entertainment attorneys may need connections in industries such as music and film so that they can secure the best contracts for their clients. Other types of lawyers may focus on marketing to potential clients. Although Wu acknowledged that entertainment lawyers need marketing skills, he also stated that attorneys in the entertainment industry must work with professionals other than their clients.

Additionally, Wu pointed out that the entertainment industry experiences more ups and downs than other industries. When work becomes scarce for their clients, entertainment lawyers must find ways to compensate — both for themselves and for their clients. As a result, Wu’s interviewees emphasized that they have had to develop excellent business development skills.

How Do You Become an Entertainment Lawyer?

If you’re considering a career path in entertainment law, the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law offers an LL.M. Online degree program. You do not have to take the LSAT to gain admission into the program; however, you first need a law degree to be eligible for consideration.

An LL.M. Online degree program can offer valuable networking opportunities and industry-specific education. A program with Entertainment and Industry certification requires approximately two years to complete and covers several aspects of law that apply to the entertainment industry, from guilds and professional organizations to entertainment entities and intellectual property rights organizations like BMI.

The University of Southern California Online Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree program includes both academic and practical coursework that may help you start your entertainment law career with more preparation. An LL.M. degree program also often covers specific legal issues that you may encounter in your career, such as those on trademark law and governmental regulations.

If you have the necessary prerequisites, you could discover that an Online LL.M. degree program may offer you the educational preparation you need to begin a successful career in the entertainment industry.

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