How To Become an Entertainment Attorney
Entertainment Attorneys help their clients to understand legal agreements, ensuring that the terms are in their clients’ best interests. They work with Recording Groups, Record Producers, Songwriters, Music Publishers, Record Label Executives, Music Producers, and Composers. They negotiate recording, merchandising, touring and publishing contracts, as well as Producer agreements.
They can also help new businesses (such as record labels) to correctly set themselves up as a business entity, which involves limiting potential liabilities and dealing with tax issues.
Los Angeles-based Entertainment Attorney and Manager Kamal Moo focuses on indie artists and labels, having worked with a wide range of clients from Grammy-nominated hip-hop violinist Josh Vietti to Warped Tour and ex-Epitaph Records band I Set My Friends on Fire.
He says his job “is just taking care of things as they happen — so some days are jam-packed. The most common thing I do for clients is they’ll come to me with a contract and say ‘I got offered a recording or publishing deal. Can you tell me what it says?’ I’ll review the contract and draft a plain English memo breaking it down, saying ‘here are some issues I see.’
For people who want to start an indie label, I’ll help them set up an LLC and help them draft record deals.”
The average annual salary for an Entertainment Attorney is approximately $117,600. Entertainment Attorney salaries can range from $77,000 to $186,000.
Moo says “there are a couple different ways” Entertainment Attorneys are paid. “The flat fee for reviewing contracts is the most common because it’s the most affordable, especially for newer musicians. If I have a client who needs ongoing work and ongoing negotiations, they’ll have to sign a retainer agreement and I’ll put it [the fee] in a trust account and as I do work I’ll withdraw that money.“
When most people think of Entertainment Attorneys they envision a flashy, high-powered office and an intense workload. While this is certainly the case at many big-name firms, other Attorneys find this type of corporate environment doesn’t sit well with their creative clients.
Moo says, “I had an office but I don’t anymore because people were always wanting to meet up for lunch or coffee. I find people are more comfortable with that than when they’re at your office. If we’re doing traditional business law you need something like that [an office] but I think it turns off a lot of creative types.”
Most entertainment law firms have set business hours, yet at the same time Attorneys have to be willing to put in the work whenever it’s necessary, whether that means studying contracts over the weekend or meeting clients for dinner. “I do stuff when I need to do stuff,” Moo says. “Sunday night I was drafting a contract. There are really no 9-5 hours for me.”
Attorneys usually start their careers by interning while in law school, with many working as Law Clerks after graduation.
Since entertainment law is a very specialized field, many aspiring Entertainment Attorneys will actually work for several years in other types of law before finding an opportunity at a firm specializing in music, film, or gaming. After getting hired by an entertainment law firm, advancement would mean working with better-known, higher paying clients and perhaps eventually opening his or her own law firm.
Moo says “internships are really the most valuable way” to get your foot in the door when launching a career in law. He adds, “When I was in undergrad I interned at a bunch of labels, at Arista and BMG Music Publishing. If you can intern for school credits just being around that environment and meeting those people [is helpful].
“It’s about meeting people really. Or intern for a Manager, a Booking Agent or a Producer and work in the studio. It’s really not that hard to get those positions. Just be resourceful. Just call up and say, ‘Hey I go to this school and I’m looking for an internship.’”
“That’s how I got mine. Who doesn’t want free labor? Don’t be afraid. In law school I got an internship at a firm that did strictly entertainment law and my friend was like, ‘You’re so lucky! I feel weird cold calling.’ I was like, ‘That’s how I got mine!’”
“The entertainment business respects people who are go-getters and are entrepreneurial. No one’s really going to hand you anything. You have to go out and do it yourself, and then you have value in the entertainment industry. That’s creating value.”
“Don’t wait for someone to hand you something. When you’re in school you should try to get internships to learn how the industry is set up. You’re only going to do well if you’re not afraid to try things and make opportunities for yourself.”
- #1 thing is network. Meet people in the industry whenever you can. The sooner you start networking the better off you’ll be.
- Start to think about what you want to do and if being an Entertainment Attorney is really for you. Law school is very expensive and you have to consider this before getting into that much debt.
- Try to learn. There are lots of books and blogs out there, lots of ways to learn about the industry. There’s a great book called All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman. That’s a terrific book to read because it gives a real overview of how the industry is.
- Figure out what kind of music you like. If you can find great music and bring it to a company or develop it yourself that’s super valuable. If you can find the next Drake or Katy Perry and help them along, find a way to bring them to their marketplace. It’s hard to find good music and develop and nurture it and turn it into something. You’ve got to be on top of it and get out there. Once you find it, it’s like lightning in a bottle.
Experience & Skills
Of the experience and skills necessary to become successful, Moo says, “it goes back to just being good with people. A lot of clients have said to me, ‘You’re so easy to talk to; the last Entertainment Attorney I talked to was a real jerk and made me feel stupid.’ It’s not brain surgery. Anything in law can be made simple. My goal is to explain a lot of things so people understand.
Building relationships and being good with people—that’s the vital thing. As long as you’re a relatively intelligent person you can figure out the law behind music and become an Attorney. The most crucial thing is being able to talk to creative people and being a Manager helped me a lot in this. That skill can be honed.”
“Definitely it helps to be outgoing and really good with people,” Moo says, describing the personality traits that a successful Entertainment Attorney should possess.
“That doesn’t mean you have to go and be the life of the party, but you have to know how to talk to people and connect to people. Sometimes you have to be pushy — personally, I am not the kind of person who loves to be pushy and confrontational — but sometimes it has to happen.”
Education & Training
A graduate law degree is essential for Entertainment Attorneys. In the US, the three main types are the JD (Juris Doctor), the LLM (Master of Laws) and the JDS (Doctor of Juridical Science).
As an undergraduate, aspiring Attorneys often choose to work towards a BS in Legal Studies, but a bachelor’s in law isn’t a requirement for application to graduate school and many Lawyers major in subjects that will inform their practice in other ways.
Moo said, “It’s funny because I majored in Music Industry at USC and I wish I would’ve just majored in Business in general. I took Accounting and Business Law, but I wish I’d done more.” His advice? “Don’t try and pigeonhole yourself. Get a degree in something that’s more applicable in different areas because you might not want to work in the music industry your whole life.
“The best class I ever took in law school was Federal Income Tax because it was super helpful; I’m not an expert in tax law but I understand how the system works with all these clients. I know it’s not a sexy class, but it’ll definitely help in a more practical sense. I’ve used it quite a bit.”
“Try and take things that are more down-to-earth. I took an Artist Management class in college and it didn’t really help me at all honestly because managing is an on-the-job thing. You can’t really learn it from a book. The best way is if you have a close friend or relative who will trust you and give you a chance.”
“If you want to be in the music industry you’ve got to network like crazy, be good with everybody and don’t be a jerk. Stay humble. I try to be really nice and talk to everybody who wants to talk to me. Because once you get a big head it’s kind of game over.”
When choosing a law school, it makes sense to study at a school with a curriculum dedicated to entertainment law or to attend a school located in a major entertainment industry hub where you’ll have access to relevant internship opportunities.
Moo recommends, “If you live in LA there is USC or UCLA; pretty much any school in LA has entertainment law. I went to Southwestern because they have a whole entertainment law program and a lot of their alumni come back to teach classes. It’s not the most highly ranked but the entertainment program is very solid and a lot of their grads end up working in the entertainment business.”
Entertainment Attorneys and students of entertainment law can join the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers. Moo also suggests networking locally with fellow Attorneys as well as other music industry folk by searching for relevant groups on Meetup.com. “You meet people who have the same mindset who are trying to get things done,” he says.
How do Music Lawyers get paid?
Music Lawyers on staff at law firms receive a regular salary. On the other hand, Music Lawyers who work for themselves (aka freelancers) charge a set fee for certain services and longer-term project, an hourly rate for shorter-term projects, and a retainer for regular, ongoing projects.
What should I major in for entertainment law?
Many Entertainment Lawyers majored in Legal Studies or Music Industry Studies as undergraduates. A degree in Music Industry Studies or something similar can give the future Lawyer an understanding of the many areas of the music business before they hunker down and dive deep into the law at law school.
Look for law schools that have a focus on entertainment law when you’re applying at the graduate-level.
What does a Lawyer do in the music industry?
Music Industry Lawyers handle many different aspects of their clients’ business. They draft and review touring, music distribution, music publishing and recording contracts for artists. Sometimes they handle intellectual property disputes, such as when one artist accuses another of sampling their work without licensing it or of ripping off their melody or lyrics.
For superstar level clients, the Music Lawyer may also assist in licensing their image for merchandising purposes or handling the paperwork on sponsorship/endorsement deals. They may even get involved in non-business legal matters, such as prenuptial agreements or divorce settlements.
For more info on the lifestyle and work of a Music Lawyer, check out this blog where we talked with bicoastal entertainment attorney Paul Rothenberg, who works with artists like Trey Songz, Logic, Charlie Puth, D’Angelo, Andra Day, and ASAP Ferg.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Try and have more of a broad set of classes you take. For example, learning tax law was really helpful for me but I also wish I would’ve learned litigation. Broaden your horizons. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a Litigation Attorney and going on trial, knowing that stuff is very valuable because it’ll make you more effective as an Attorney.
Learn personal injury [law] because it’s not like you’re going to graduate and become an Entertainment Attorney right away. You can open your own practice and can pay your bills by doing personal injury or immigration law.
Don’t think you’re going to want to do entertainment fifteen years from now because you might change your mind.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“It’s great to have drive and focus and I respect that. It’s great to be passionate but the reality is that the entertainment industry is only so big and not everyone who wants to be in it can be in it and earn a living.
That’s why it’s good to do things that are more broadly applicable. Even if you have to do something besides entertainment you can make a living. If you only study Artist Management that’s a very narrow skill set and you’re not doing yourself any favors.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“The thing they should ask themselves beforehand is ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ They should really investigate and learn what it means to be an Attorney, with the debt involved and the responsibilities.
“I’ve always had a good aptitude for school and been a strong writer, but I had a friend, for example, who’s more of a numbers guy and after practicing for a few years he was a miserable wreck. He’s not involved in law at all now because his mind isn’t wired to work that way.
“If numbers are your thing, maybe law school isn’t for you and you should get an MBA. But if you’re good with words, communicating and writing…maybe law is better for you.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Perseverance. Honestly, there’s going to be a lot of stuff that goes wrong along the way and that’s just life in general. There have definitely been times along the way when I’ve thought ‘I should go do something else in my life that has nothing to do with entertainment’ because some deals fell apart or something.
“Luckily my wife has been super supportive. What has served me well is my perseverance and not getting too down in the dumps if a deal falls apart or something didn’t go my way. If you look at anyone in entertainment they’ve had ups and downs. It’s not going to be a smooth straight line from beginning to end.”
Born in Jamaica and raised in Miami, Kamal Moo is a Los Angeles-based Entertainment Attorney specializing in independent music. He earned his BS in Music Industry at the University of Southern California, his JD from Southwestern Law School and was admitted to the State Bar of California in 2006. Over the course of his career he has also worked with Arista Records, BMG Music Publishing, Universal Music Group, and heavy-hitting entertainment law firm Carroll, Guido & Groffman.
He is an Adjunct Professor of Law at his alma mater, Southwestern Law School and has been a guest speaker to UCLA’s Entertainment Business program. Read more about Moo in this profile by Voyage LA.
- 1Multiple. "Entertainment Attorney Salaries in United States". Glassdoor. published: . retrieved on: Dec 17, 2019