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Media, Entertainment, & Sports

Overview

Lawyers practicing in media, entertainment, and sports represent artists, entertainers and athletes, movie studios and record labels, sports leagues and teams, and other associated parties. On the transactional side, the day-to-day work is often similar to the work of any other corporate attorney, with perhaps more IP issues involved, including drafting agreements, negotiating, counseling clients, and researching IP questions. Entertainment lawyers also handle disputes relating to the field, including everything from contracts to defamation to IP issues to licensing to first amendment, and more. Media, entertainment, and sports law is seen as glamorous and can be hard to break into, especially outside of LA and NY. Entertainment and Sports lawyers who represent creatives and athletes will have to deal with big egos and sometimes unrealistic expectations and lawyers who represent studios, teams, labels, and other companies are essentially doing corporate generalist work for more interesting clients. Large law firms will often fold these clients into their general corporate practices. Lawyers who wants to specialize in these areas often practice at media and entertainment boutiques.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Media, Entertainment, & Sports from real lawyers in the practice area.
James Taylor, Chair—Advanced Media and Technology
Loeb & Loeb LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I am the chair of Loeb & Loeb’s Advanced Media and Technology (“AMT”) department, which is one of the largest teams of advertising, media, technology, intellectual property, and privacy lawyers in the country.

We are a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and cross-functional team, handling transactions, litigation, and counseling across traditional and technology-driven advertising and media. Specific areas of focus for AMT include advertising, marketing, and promotions; advertising disputes, regulatory, and class action defense; sponsorships, endorsements, and brand integrations; privacy, security, and data innovations; intellectual property and brand protection; technology and outsourcing transactions; payments technology; and connected devices and mobility.

What types of clients do you represent?

My clients range from Fortune 100 and 500 companies to middle-market and emerging-growth enterprises. I advise com-
panies across a wide range of industries. On the brand side, this includes financial services, automotive, packaged and consumer goods, retail, imaging and computer technology, health care, entertainment, and telecommunications clients. I also advise the major advertising agencies, public relations/promotion agencies, and media companies that provide services to clients in the above industries (as well as others).

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

My practice is diverse, and I advise clients on all aspects of advertising and marketing law, agency and media agreements, guild and union issues in advertising, as well as the data privacy implications of new and technology-driven advertising. Most recently, I have advised a number of Fortune 500 brands and leading advertising agencies on how to address and manage the impact on their business resulting from new data privacy legislation in the U.S. and abroad, particularly around the implications of GDPR and CCPA to advertising and marketing initiatives.

In addition, I led a team of lawyers to help guide a client through a major reorganization and advised on the legal, regulatory, and business implications across not only the client’s customer base, but also its vendor and supplier base.

How did you choose this practice area?

After college, I went to work as a production manager and producer for a small production company that created training and sales films for pharmaceutical companies. Then, while attending law school in the evening, I worked in the business affairs department of a major advertising agency. I fell in love with advertising and marketing. I enjoyed navigating the legal issues and finding creative, solution-oriented approaches. When I graduated from law school, armed with a solid understanding of the business side, I wanted to bring that lens to the practice of law with a focus on advertising and marketing. I knew it was a field that would change dramatically in the coming years. And it has!

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

My day-to-day schedule varies greatly and can range from being deep in a negotiation on an ad-tech transaction to counseling a client on a complex privacy issue to navigating the intricacies of a talent negotiation or sponsorship agreement. I try to plan for my day, but I never know what might hit my desk. I like the unexpected and the challenges it sometimes brings and seem to thrive on it and the fast pace. I particularly love and pride myself on maintaining close relationships with my clients. I try to be their consigliere and listen to them, understand their problems or issues, and try to help them find a solution. That is the most rewarding part of my job.

A good part of my day is also spent serving as the chair of the firm’s Advanced Media & Entertainment (AMT) department. Our department is only as good as the people in it, and we have the very best people who bring talent, passion, creativity, and diverse perspectives to their work. I feel that a key part of my job as a department chair is to listen to our members, understand and support what they want, and find ways to help guide them to their goals. When I do, we each find success. It’s sometimes hard, but I continue to grow and learn from them every day.

I am also privileged to serve as co-chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a position which allows me to help spearhead firmwide diversity and inclusion initiatives, including reviewing firm policies, training (including unconscious bias and other training), and hosting forums that bring people together to have open and honest discussions to help effect change and growth. As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, this is something that’s especially important to me and that I’ve found incredibly rewarding.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

It’s helpful to take classes on advertising and marketing, privacy, technology, and intellectual property law. However, I do think that sometimes too much emphasis is placed on putting these classes on a ‘must-take’ list. Classes and experiences that focus on writing, problem-solving, and learning how to work collaboratively are just as critical, if not more so. Being a good writer means that you are a good and creative thinker, and that’s what clients want and need. Reading and understanding how businesses work are also critical, so I recommend that people interested in this area read the trades and journals that our clients in this area read. Finally, keeping abreast of new laws and regulations, particularly those that cover privacy and technology, is critical. Writing on these subjects and interviewing people in the business community who are facing these issues on a daily basis is a great way to start building the “muscle” for this work.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

One of the most challenging aspects of this practice is also the most exciting and rewarding—advertising has become technology- and data-driven, and it’s a continuously evolving and heavily regulated industry. I have to navigate federal, state, and local laws and regulations, as well as standards imposed by self-regulatory organizations. Then, I have to help clients navigate these laws to help their businesses evolve and grow. This is nuanced and requires knowing each client’s priorities, risk profile, values, and culture.

What do you like best about your practice area?

That it is constantly changing! You can’t be bored, and there are always new things to learn and challenges to undertake. I also enjoy the cross-functional nature of our practice, which allows me to build relationships with so many different colleagues and a diverse array of clients.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

I think two things make us unique. First, the multidisciplinary nature of Loeb’s AMT department sets us apart in the marketplace. The attorneys in our group have fluency in, and an understanding of, the interrelationship of advertising, digital marketing, promotions, technology, privacy/data security, entertainment, and intellectual property.

Second, the people in our group make us unique, not just because of the talent they bring but also because of the diversity of the people in our group. This allows us to get to better and richer decisions for clients and allows for growth and opportunities for our team members.

Our client base is also unique. We represent major brands as well as dozens of advertising, public relations, digital, and other agencies serving advertisers nationwide. We are exposed, on a daily basis, to every issue imaginable. No two problems are the same, but this is what makes it fun.

Lastly, AMT strives to stay ahead of the curve with respect to changes in advertising, media, and privacy law. We are always asking each other these questions: What’s next? What problems will our clients face tomorrow? How do we be there to help support and solve for these problems? We were among the first to address the legal issues surrounding ad networks and emerging channels for the delivery of advertising and the use of data and to help advertisers identify more relevant audiences for their products and services. We’ve also been a part of the social media and mobile marketing explosion since its beginning and have been at the forefront navigating the intellectual property, rights of publicity, and data and privacy issues that come with these kinds of disruptive innovations. We have become recognized as leaders in the privacy and data space, especially with regard to the CCPA and other proposed privacy regulations. We were active participants during the California Attorney General’s rulemaking forums, submitting proposed rules and regulations as well as testifying before the California Senate Judiciary Hearing on the CCPA. Our guidance on the accompanying legal considerations of these trends and regulations has helped our clients evolve their businesses, practices, and policies.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

I think that the media and privacy landscapes will continue to evolve as new technologies develop and media channels evolve. Robotic process automation (“RPA”), artificial intelligence, and other technologies will present opportunities as well as challenges to the industry. I think our practice will continue to focus on a number of industries, and particular specialization and deep knowledge of these sectors (and sub-sectors) will be critical. Partnering with our clients will continue to be critical, and we will look for opportunities to become even more embedded in their businesses. It is, and will continue to be, very exciting to be a part of this industry.

James Taylor, Chair—Advanced Media and Technology; Co-Chair—Loeb & Loeb Diversity Committee

James (“Jim”) Taylor has more than 30 years of experience assisting brands, advertising agencies, and media and technology companies with the full spectrum of issues and transactions related to advertising, media, and content and how they are increasingly informed by technology, data, and new and progressively complex laws and regulations both in the U.S. and internationally.

Jim is known for his pragmatic, business-oriented approach. An area of particular focus for him includes working with clients to navigate complex legal and business issues relating to innovative ad-tech and technology-enabled transactions, media-related agreements, and privacy and data protection, including those related to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). He also provides counsel on integrated marketing, social media, and other content initiatives; agency services agreements; sponsorships and brand integration deals; talent and music agreements; guild issues; and intellectual property and brand protection concerns.

Silvia Vannini, Partner
O'Melveny & Myers LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I help clients—many of which invest in, or compete in, the entertainment industry—execute strategic transactions, while protecting and advancing their interests. Their goals might include financing a project, forming or structuring a company, completing an acquisition, forming a partnership or joint venture, or working through a disposition.

What types of clients do you represent?

Advising clients in the media and entertainment space provides an opportunity to work with not only motion picture studios, television networks, and other content creators and distributors, but also their investors, such as private equity funds.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

A few representative examples include ViacomCBS’s acquisition of a stake in MIRAMAX, FilmDistrict’s sale to Content Partners, 20th Century Fox TV’s purchase of Dan Fogelman’s participation in the show This Is Us, Starz Play’s strategic alliance with E-Vision, and Lionsgate’s sale of its stake in EPIX to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

How did you choose this practice area?

I started my career focusing on general corporate work and M&A in particular. I was fortunate to be able to apply my legal practice specialty to a subject matter that I have always been passionate about: entertainment and media. My practice now focuses on M&A and other corporate matters in the entertainment and media industries.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I spend most of my time communicating with clients, negotiating with opposing counsel, coordinating with internal teams, and reviewing and commenting on work product.   

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

A solid foundation in corporate law (including M&A and financing) as well as a basic understanding of film and television content creation and distribution are useful, and core concepts in intellectual property law are also quite important.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I love that we get the opportunity to advise our clients in pivotal moments, to enhance value for them, and—at times—to help them resolve crises.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

The most challenging aspect is also one of the most rewarding—you need to stay on top of changes in the market, such as the impact of technological changes on the industry. The shift from traditional film distribution to streaming platforms is just one example. 

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Lawyers in my practice area who leave the firm often go in-house at a studio or other entertainment company.  

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

The practice of entertainment law is constantly evolving to adapt to the changes in the industry. One emerging trend that is likely to continue is the way content is consumed and the evolving format of that content. 

Silvia Vannini, Partner—Corporate & Transactional

Silvia Vannini represents companies in mergers and acquisitions, securities, and general corporate matters, including corporate governance, both in and out of the entertainment industry. She regularly represents private equity funds, domestic and foreign companies, motion picture studios, and television networks as well as entrepreneurial clients on a wide range of corporate transactions, including company formation and structuring, acquisitions, partnerships, joint ventures, strategic alliances, financings, and dispositions. Silvia was named to Variety’s 2020 Dealmakers Impact Report, highlighting the “top negotiators who have kept Hollywood humming.”

Matthew C. Thompson, Partner
Sidley Austin LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I serve as the global leader of the Media and Entertainment group at Sidley, coordinating all media and entertainment representations firmwide. I have a transactional-focused practice, representing buyers and sellers of media and entertainment companies and assets, as well as representing parties to complex joint venture and other commercial arrangements in the industry.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent strategic and financial buyers and sellers of media and entertainment assets, equity and debt investors in media and entertainment assets, and parties engaged in complex commercial transactions involving such assets. Current personal representative clients that can be mentioned publicly include Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, The Raine Group, Shamrock Capital Advisors, TPG Growth, Access Industries, Dwayne Johnson and his affiliates, Mark Burnett and his affiliates, eOne, ITV, Neon, Pilgrim, 44 Blue, IPC, and Johnson/Bergman/T-Street.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I work on M&A and financing transactions, general corporate matters, as well as other media- and entertainment-focused commercial transactions. A brief sampling of some recent deals includes representing:

  • Dwayne Johnson and his business partner Dany Garcia in their partnership with RedBird Capital in their acquisition of the XFL. The deal represented a significant milestone in the sports world, with Garcia becoming the first female owner of a sports league.
  • Warner Music Group and its affiliate Atlantic in a significant recorded music transaction with Artist Partner Group.
  • The Raine Group and affiliates in the launch of Thrill One Sports & Entertainment, now the world’s largest independent action sports operator and media company.
  • Entertainment One (eOne) management, including CEO Darren Throop, in connection with toy maker Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne, including the negotiation of long-term, post-acquisition employment arrangements.
  • Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and affiliates in the launch of Johnson’s new tequila brand, Teremana Tequila.
  • Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman, the team behind “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Knives Out,” in launching film and TV production company T-Street and entering into a joint venture arrangement with Valence Media’s MRC Studio.
  • Tom Quinn and Tim League in the formation of Neon Rated (“Parasite,” “I, Tonya”), including an eight-figure equity raise led by 30West and an eight-figure revolving credit facility led by MUFG Union Bank.

How did you choose this practice area?

I was always focused on transactional work. Early in my career, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a handful of media- and entertainment-focused transactions. I quickly fell in love with the work. Not because I, like everyone else, am a consumer of the industry’s main products (e.g., movies, television, music, digital, games, etc.), but because I found the industry to be a bit more chaotic than others, and I liked being asked to bring order to that chaos. I also found that I was oftentimes asked to weigh in and provide guidance on business issues (as much as legal), and I enjoy that aspect of my practice most of all.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

My day starts early—usually with non-U.S.-related phone calls. This is followed by making my way through my bloated email inbox and triaging what needs to be handled. The balance of the so-called business hours in the day are spent on calls and in meetings (these days via Zoom). Evening hours are for the actual nitty gritty of deal work that I am unable to get through during the day, including drafting and revising deal docs.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Immerse yourself in the industry. Read all the trades daily. Read all the legal publication updates daily. Create a network of people you know in the industry (especially on the non-legal side of things) and nurture it. Figure out what is important to your clients and get involved. Get to know your clients’ businesses as well as they do, and understand what their short-, medium-, and long-term goals are. Be available. Be proactive. Admit your mistakes. Share credit with others. And remember, there is a very small community of practitioners who do this work at the highest level, and—as such—reputation and honesty are critical because you will see the same people over and over, deal after deal.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

When people hear I am an “entertainment lawyer,” two things come to mind: I go to swanky premieres all the time, and I can get their cousin’s script read by the head of a studio. The reality really couldn’t be further from the truth. I am a corporate transactional lawyer who happens to focus on the coolest possible widget out there—the entertainment industry. At the end of the day, however, what I do as a lawyer day in and day out isn’t that different from what other corporate transactional lawyers do. But it is pretty cool when you get to help Dwayne Johnson launch his tequila company, Teremana, and you get to celebrate with him over a bottle.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?

We try hard to expose all of our summer associates to the broadest possible array of practices and practitioners. This allows them to make an informed decision regarding the future of their legal careers. Every summer, there are one or more summer associates who want to focus on and gain experience in the media and entertainment industry, and we try doubly hard to make that available to them. However, we caution them to be careful for what they wish for. The work is not make work, and they are full junior members of any given deal team with meaningful, substantive, time-pressured work to be done. They all purport to “love it,” but it truly is a working summer.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

We all have been impacted by COVID-19. I am heartsick for those who have lost loved ones, are dealing with illness themselves or in their families, are struggling with job disruption, are managing jobs while helping their children navigate this crisis while attending school remotely, etc. We as a firm and as a practice area have been unbelievably fortunate during these terrible times. While, like all businesses, we have experienced some disruption, our practices remain strong, and the Media and Entertainment group has been exceptionally busy. Part of this has been due to COVID-related issues (including distressed deals); part of this has been normal course work; and part of this has been the industry’s belief that we will come through this in the not too distant future, so positioning for the return to some semblance of normalcy means doing business now (sometimes at a substantial premium to market). Personally, I deeply miss my daily in-person interactions with my colleagues (we are a close-knit group at Sidley), but I find myself very fortunate to work near seamlessly on a remote basis. The firm was well ahead of the game from a remote-work standpoint, and the shift to all remote was accomplished over a 24-to-48 hour period, with little to no disruption.

Media, Entertainment, & Sports can span many areas of law—from constitutional law and contract law to intel-lectual property and privacy, and so much more. How do you juggle wearing so many hats?

In addition to bringing order to the chaos and being asked to provide business advice (both as noted above), the broadness of the practice is the other thing that makes media and entertainment law so great. In this era of BigLaw specialization, media and entertainment law is one of the few areas where you have to be a bit of a generalist. On any given day, corporate, finance, tax, labor/employment, IP, M&A, distribution, financing, litigation, etc., issues cross my desk, and I have to be knowledgeable enough on all of them to be able to provide advice where warranted and to know when I have to involve Sidley specialists. I love the smorgasbord of issues and expertise required to do what I do day in and day out.

Matthew C. Thompson, Partner, Global Leader of the Media and Entertainment Group

Matthew (“Matt”) Thompson is a partner and co-founder of Sidley’s office in Century City, CA, and global leader of the firm’s Media and Entertainment practice. He represents entertainment companies and sources of capital in complex M&A and financing transactions, as well as general corporate matters and other industry-focused commercial transactions. Matt’s clients include boldface names, such as Dwayne Johnson, Conan O’Brien, and Mark Burnett; film/TV powerhouses, such as Neon, ITV, and eOne; music companies like Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group; and sources of capital, such as The Raine Group, TPG, and Shamrock.

Matt holds numerous leadership positions at Sidley, including several committee memberships (Greater LA Practice Development Committee co-chair; Firmwide Counsel Committee; Greater LA Recruiting Committee; Greater LA Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women). Matt also serves as co-chair of the UCLA Entertainment Symposium Advisory Committee and is a member of UCLA’s Ziffren Institute Board and the USC-BHBA Entertainment Institute Advisory Board.

Widely acknowledged as one of the most influential entertainment lawyers, Matt is repeatedly recognized by notable industry publications, including Variety (Variety500; Legal/Dealmakers Impact Reports), The Hollywood Reporter (Top 100 Power Lawyer; Top Dealmaker), Chambers USA, Daily Journal (Top 100 Lawyers), Best Lawyers, and The Deal.

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