How to Become an Entertainment Lawyer

In Collaboration with College Music Major
Published May 2024

Entertainment law is a field that intrigues people who are passionate about culture. There is a growing need for entertainment lawyers due to the evolution of media and creativity. With fast-moving changes such as compensation for movies distributed on streaming platforms and the use of artificial intelligence in media, the field needs to keep up with technology that is driving changes in the industry. However, the field is competitive, and it takes persistence to be able to land a position.

What is Entertainment Law?

Entertainment law is a subset of law that has been gaining more traction. It often encompasses niches such as sports law and art law, but these practices can also be considered separately; and the field also has connections with intellectual property law. Sports law covers representation of athletes, teams, leagues, etc. Meanwhile, art law covers areas representing art and culture and can help address issues such as ownership, authenticity, and preservation.

Entertainment law is more about the entertainment industry itself, which includes areas such as music, television, film, theater, fashion, books and print media, and digital media. You could be representing particular celebrities or talent, or you might be working on behalf of brands or media companies. Like most areas of law, there is a litigation side of resolving disputes and a transactional side involving deals such as mergers and acquisitions. It has some overlap with intellectual property law and can cover areas such as copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and dispute resolution.

Some of the day-to-day work can include tasks such as: determining royalty amounts for an original work, helping distribute creative work, negotiating payment agreements regarding events, and resolving intellectual property disputes such as whether a musician used a copyrighted work without permission.

How to Distinguish Yourself as a JD Applicant

For testing, every law school takes the LSAT; many allow for the GRE; and a handful allow JD-Next. It is helpful to have a strong GPA as well as a clear story for why you want this field and activities to support this endeavor. Perhaps you work for a media company doing advertising, or you are a paralegal at a film company. It is helpful to have taken some classes in college related to this field, such as music contracts or constitutional rights. As an admissions consultant, it is paramount that your story be engaging and that you have a true passion for this industry. Perhaps you are a lifelong musician–winning awards for playing the saxophone. Or you could have traveled on tour with a band during college. Your resume should really demonstrate and make clear how you wish to contribute. In your essays, your diligence and excitement for the field need to shine through and you should convince admissions that this is what you wish to pursue. Of course you do not have to stick with the exact type of law you describe in your application – it is not like college when you need to declare a major – but it is key to tell this story in a way that seems genuine and makes sense this is the next step in your journey.

What We Recommend in Law School

In law school, take classes that are helpful to the practice of entertainment law. These can include intellectual property, negotiations, copyrights, trademarks, contracts, property law, torts, tax, constitutional law, accounting, labor and employment, and corporate law.

In your internships, the industry can be quite small and insular. You have to really take advantage of the opportunity and impress your colleagues. Go above and beyond at work, anticipate what the boss is going to want, show high quality work product, and build relationships. Try to get any entertainment law-related experience possible, including pro bono work.

Networking is key to breaking into a competitive industry. Be knowledgeable about trends and make sure to keep up with the latest news in entertainment. Do your research and pay attention to entertainment news, and make sure to read industry publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Best Markets for Entertainment Law

For obvious reasons, entertainment and intellectual property in the USA are concentrated in the cities of New York and Los Angeles. Miami is a key area for Spanish language entertainment. Nashville is also an important music center, but Tennessee is not a major legal market in the United States.

Law Schools Well Known in Entertainment Law

JD programs that are renowned for entertainment law include Harvard, Columbia, NYU, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, and Georgetown. Other options that often are mentioned include University of Pennsylvania, Southwestern, Cardozo, Loyola Marymount, Brooklyn, and Pepperdine.

How Do You Get into the Industry?

One of the more challenging parts is trying to land your first position out of law school, as entertainment law is a difficult niche to enter. The industry can be very insular and tends to select from within its own ranks. It is important to have your own story to stand out in a crowded market and be very familiar with your cultural references. You need to be able to clearly explain why you are interested in this particular niche and are passionate about this industry. It can also be helpful to build your knowledge in a fast-evolving area of entertainment law that needs more experts, such as protection of creators’ rights in the age of artificial intelligence.

There are several paths you can take in landing your first post-law school role. One is going to a BigLaw firm, which probably has the best odds in terms of landing of a position out of all the options. These firms have the resources to train you, and you have the ability to work with major clients. However, the entertainment law group at the firm might be small and require associates to do other types of work such as business law.

On the other hand, the other two options of boutique firm or in-house counsel are rather difficult pathways to landing a job in entertainment law directly from law school. Boutique firms may be more focused on entertainment law as an industry. You may have more chances to stand out and work with clients right away while getting exposed to high level matters. However, their pay is likely less than at a large law firm, and there are fewer employees available to provide guidance so there may be more pressure to learn things faster and really be a go-getter in finding work.

The last option is as in-house counsel for a company, such as a talent agency or movie studio, is the hardest to get right out of law school. One drawback of this choice is that you may not get as much work experience with outside the company, and it can be helpful to have more exposure to other ways of approaching an issue. It is very helpful to have connections or have worked in the industry before law school in order to have a chance at this most competitive option for pathways to entertainment law. It could even be helpful to start building your connections before law school starts by having a large network in a particular field such as the music industry.

Conclusion

Entertainment law is a niche area, but there is a growing need for attorneys in this field. Entertainment law is in the middle of a major evolution with the rise of streaming services and decline of traditional television broadcasting, and developments with artificial intelligence. It is a close-knit community, but with dedication to networking and showing your commitment and true passion for the field, it is possible to break into this industry.

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