Going to work on an ego
28 January 1997
Lawyers working in the media and entertainment field come in all shapes and sizes - just like the clients they represent.
But, in the same way that all actors are "luvvies", all TV execs are "flamboyant", all authors have "fragile egos", and musicians are "creative but difficult", lawyers in the media sector enjoy a reputation of being a breed apart.
Are they? Some interest or involvement in the showbiz or media world is a big plus for lawyers working in the these areas, according to John Cohen, partner in the entertainment department of Clintons. He has worked for major music clients including U2, The Who and The Cure.
"We are looking for staff who are willing to go to gigs and meet A&R men and network. In City terms, it's macho to work in the office all night. With us, it's different. We want people to go out and get involved in the industry itself."
Another key quality in lawyers working the media and intellectual property fields is having the right attitude towards creative clients - however awkward, arrogant, temp- eramental and unpunctual they might be, allegedly.
"You must have protective instincts for the client," says Michael Henry of Michael Henry and Co, which specialises in the media and intellectual property areas.
Nigel Bennett, partner in the media and entertainment department of The Simkins Partnership, agrees that demonstrating this protective role is essential for any solicitor working in the sector. "We have a different relationship with clients than the majority of City firms," he says. "A lot of City firms' clients are sophisticated businessmen in their own right. We may be dealing with people who are good at having ideas, but are not necessarily adept at making those ideas pay."
Music is one of the UK's major export earners, British talent in front of, and behind, the camera has won a third of the Oscars in recent years, and the fluctuating share prices of British media companies now vie with manufacturing industry for attention in the business pages.
"It should not pay any less that any other City or West End firm," says Cohen. "It is perceived as a relatively sexy area. But first and foremost we need first-class lawyers who are also interested in the field."
But let us put aside the requisite hand-holding abilities and legal astuteness that legal practice in the sector demands. Within many lawyers in the sector, there is a budding musician, author or impresario itching to get out. And sometimes they do.
Henry admits that an aborted career in the arts provided the impulse to head for the entertainment field in his legal career. "Originally I wanted to run an orchestra," confides Henry. "I was offered the job of orchestral administrator in the 1970s, but I learnt the hard way the difference between a gentleman's and a contractual agreement."
Cohen accepts that his love of music and theatre continues to shape his area of practice.
"I am able to work in an area where I see the end product," he says. "In theatre or music, you go to the first night. It is that which makes entertainment lawyers a breed apart. I am not sure whether [legal] people working in the oil leasing field get the same thrill."
But Cohen admits that his interest in the latest pop acts - a key factor which drew him into the field - is waning. "We all grow old with our clients, and I have grown old with The Who and The Cure," says Cohen. "I am now in my mid-40s, and five years ago I found I no longer loved the product - the generation gap had arrived. The main loves I had have been theatre and music, so I tried to move my practice more towards theatre."
His interest in the theatre has even prompted him to act as producer for a musical, Lonely Hearts, which hit the stage in Oxford in 1995.
Bennett, meanwhile, manages to fit in regular Friday night performances on jazz guitar. "I keep it pretty quiet, but you can find details of Friday gigs in Time Out." he says. And no, he has no plans to give up the day job.
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