How do I become a music lawyer?
December 4, 2012
Dear Music Lawyer,
I'm in my third year of law school and want to practice music law. I haven't found any job postings, and none of the entertainment lawyers I've met are willing to take me on even if I work for free. How do I become a music lawyer?
I get this question quite a lot. The bottom line is that it's generally tough to become a full-time music lawyer, especially if you live outside of a major music industry city (Los Angeles, Nashville, New York).
A few tips:
1) Be willing to work in related fields or jobs.
Many music lawyers start out practicing in other fields while they cultivate a music law practice. Since music law is really an umbrella term that involves a mix of many other general practice areas (labor, contracts, business, copyright, trademark, etc.), a legal job in any of those areas could be helpful.
There are also lots of stories of music lawyers that started off playing music, working for or running a record label, managing bands, etc.
2) Learn about the industry.
Most people don't realize how important it is to understand the music business, and they approach this area of the law as they would any other law job. In order to best represent music clients, you have to know what they're up against...what kind of people they deal with, who is interested in getting what and why.
If you don't have real-world experience in the industry, there are lots of good books out there that can give you an overview such as Donald Passman's "Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business" and the Brabec brothers' "Music, Money, and Success." That said, real-world industry experience is ideal, even it's merely interning with a local music business or volunteering to work at local music events.
3) Network, network, network.
For entertainers, success is often the result of networking (and talent, hopefully). The same is often true for music lawyers. In addition to networking for purposes of finding prospective clients, I've found attending continuing legal education (CLE) programs to be invaluable in getting to know other music lawyers. If you can bond with a more senior attorney and get him/her to view you as a colleague, he/she may be willing to help you when you get clients, hire you to do contract work, or even refer prospective clients your way.
TIP: Setting up informational interviews with music attorneys while a student is often received better than approaching them when you have a bar card and can also take on clients.
Overall, in my experience, the common thread to success as a music lawyer is being proactive and learning as much about the industry as possible. If you're willing to sacrifice a typical lawyer salary, that also helps.
Amy E. Mitchell