Become an Entertainment Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap
Research the requirements to become an entertainment lawyer. Learn about the job duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in entertainment law.
Do I Want to Be an Entertainment Lawyer?
Entertainment lawyers provide legal counsel on contracts, intellectual property rights, and other legal issues in the film, television, radio, theater, music, publishing, and gaming industries. Most work at law firms or as in-house counsel at entertainment companies. Their duties generally include handling either transactional work or litigation, and they often specialize in a particular entertainment field.
The majority of lawyers of all kinds are employed by legal firms, although some may find positions with governments. Almost all lawyers work on a full-time basis, with the majority working long hours at some points in their careers. Although most work in an office setting, travel may be required and off-site meetings in hospitals, prisons, or personal residences are likely.
The main qualifications for becoming an entertainment lawyer are a law degree and license to practice law (also known as joining the bar). The following table summarizes the requirements for becoming an attorney, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree|
|Degree Field(s)||Law; undergraduate major can vary|
|Licensure||Bar membership required; continuing education mandated in most states|
|Experience||None needed at entry-level; experience typically gained in law school|
|Key Skills||Interpersonal skills; problem-solving skills; strong research, writing, analytical and speaking skills|
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Before they can apply to law school, aspiring lawyers need to complete a bachelor's degree program. The American Bar Association recommends picking whatever major will challenge and inspire future law students to do their best. However, there are particular skills that lawyers need, such as being able to research, analyze, speak and write well. So taking classes that help develop those skills could be especially useful. Relevant fields include English, economics, political science, history, math and public speaking.
- Begin learning about the entertainment industry. Courses in film studies, cultural studies, communications, literature and music departments can provide insight into how the creative industries have evolved and currently function, along with honing appreciation for the arts themselves.
Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test
Many law schools, including most approved by the American Bar Association, require Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores of applicants. The LSAT has five multiple-choice sections plus a writing exercise, each of which must be completed in 35 minutes. The test is designed to measure critical-thinking skills, reading comprehension, capacity to make reasonable inferences and ability to assess others' arguments and reasoning. LSAT scores are not the only credential that law schools consider, but they can be important to one's chances in the highly competitive admissions process. The LSAT can be taken four times a year at various testing centers throughout the nation.
- Study carefully for the LSAT. Test takers should at least become familiar with the test's format, instructions and general types of questions. It is also a good idea to take practice tests under time constraints, to get used to completing all sections - including the written section - on time. The test administrator, the Law School Admission Council, offers free sample tests and questions. For more extensive preparation, students can enroll in a private course or purchase study guides.
Step 3: Get a Law Degree
Earning a J.D. is normally a full-time endeavor over three years. The first year is devoted to required courses that cover essential areas, such as civil procedure, torts, property and contracts. Second- and third-year law students take more electives and begin specializing. Future entertainment lawyers should take courses on such topics as the first amendment, intellectual property, copyright law, negotiations and income tax, plus any industry-specific electives that match their interests, such as music law or film and television law. Several law schools offer certificates in entertainment law that can be earned mostly by completing a set number of relevant courses. For practical experience beyond the classroom, students can participate in school-sponsored legal clinics and moot court competitions, work at an entertainment-themed law review and seek out relevant summer internships.
- Consider attending law school in an industry hub. Entertainment industry hubs, such as California, boast a high concentration of law schools with entertainment law programs and resources for aspiring entertainment lawyers. Being in an industry capital could help in finding work opportunities during and after law school. Gaining local knowledge of how these industries operate, such as state law's and regulations, could also be important for future professional life.
- Consider specialties within entertainment law. Their industry and clients, not a particular body of law, define entertainment lawyers' work. Depending on the type of practice, some may spend a lot of time on such areas as labor and employment, securities, immigration or litigation. Those who work with individual artists may find that along with negotiating TV deals, their clients need the same general services as other people, like divorce filings or estate planning. Law students should consider what kind of entertainment lawyer they want to be and choose classes to help prepare for the less obvious responsibilities.
Step 4: Join the Bar
To become licensed attorneys, law school graduates must become members of their state bar association. Rules and procedures vary by state, but the main qualifications are a law degree and passing the bar exam. The bar exam is actually comprised of several parts. In most states, bar applicants will need to pass the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). Test takers have six hours to complete 200 multiple-choice questions on criminal law, contracts, constitutional law, property, torts and evidence. There is normally a second day of testing that features writing and lawyering skills. Nearly every state requires a general ethics exam, too, which is handled separately. In addition to passing the tests, bar applicants must also submit to screening by state bar examiners for character and fitness to serve the public.
- Prepare for the bar exam According to law schools, studying for the bar exam should be a full-time job for up to two months. They also strongly recommend taking a commercial prep course, even though the cost of some can be high. In addition, law schools often offer their own study aids and advice.
Step 5: Go to Work in Entertainment Law
A new member of the bar is free to begin practicing law. Most entertainment lawyers join law firms and corporate legal departments (known as in-house counsel) and cluster in New York, Los Angeles or Nashville, although other options do exist. Entertainment lawyers may represent clients ranging from huge film studios to individual artists, and may focus on one or more of a wide range of specialty areas, including film, TV, radio, music, performing arts, museums and art, gaming and new media, merchandising/licensing, literary publishing and litigation.
Depending on the type of practice and client, daily work may include such diverse duties as reviewing a celebrity endorsement deal, researching collective bargaining agreements or handling a tax filing. Those who represent artists may need to be especially clear about what services they provide (i.e., not being a talent agent) and whether they will depart from the norm of hourly billing (i.e., accept contingent fees or percentage agreements).
- Start reading trade publications regularly. More than other lawyers, entertainment attorneys need to understand well the business side of their industries. The current multimedia age also requires many to know about multiple entertainment fields. New entertainment lawyers especially should get in the habit of reading leading publications like The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Advertising Age and Television Week.
Step 6: Complete Continuing Education
In most states, lawyers must complete continuing legal education at regular intervals (normally every year or few years). Continuing education is generally available from bar associations and law schools. Attorneys may attend approved courses, seminars or conferences or, in a growing number of states, gain credits for online courses or webcasts.
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