Update June, 2017: For a more recent take on LL.M. programs in Media and Entertainment law, read LLM GUIDE's new article How an LL.M. in Media and Entertainment Law Can Improve Your Chances of Breaking Into the Industry
No doubt about it: showbiz looks a lot different than it did even ten years ago. CD and DVD sales are about a quarter of where they were; 300-plus-channel cable TV has usurped the dominance of the main networks; YouTube has opened up video distribution to just about anyone; and Hollywood is reviving a 1950's novelty - 3D glasses - to lure people back into movie theaters.
What's going on?
"Digital. That's the key word," says Robert Lind, who directs the Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
Lind says the digital revolution is just as relevant for lawyers as media moguls, consumers, and artists. Take the music industry: lawyers seldom just negotiate a record deal anymore, but rather the "360 deals" covering everything from the artist's recordings to their placement in video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
"Everytime in my classes we are going over computers or digital rights, the students start to get that glassy look," says Lind. "But I tell them the zeros and ones are your friends."
"It's about who is going to be left standing, and what you can do to help them," says Lind of the changing industry. "And you know whoever is left standing is going to be in the digital domain."
"If you look up Entertainment Law on Wikipedia, there is a long list of industries and it's continually expanding into new areas." says Kathy Z. Heller, who teaches Entertainment Law across town at Chapman University. "It includes film, television, music... Now it includes ringtones and the internet and it will likely continue to grow with the development of new media."
Even with sweeping changes to the industry, Heller says much of an entertainment lawyer's job essentially stays the same.
"The legal principles don't change very much in the different media," says Heller. "How do you protect your client's rights? How do you obtain rights? How do you make money from your intellectual property without losing control of it? What use is allowed? And if someone does use your intellectual property and you don't want them to, what are your choices?"
An LL.M. in Entertainment and Media Law is one way for lawyers to come to terms with these issues and how they relate to a constantly evolving industry. Many of these programs combine theory and hands-on experience. Heller, for example, teaches a clinic where students help real independent filmmakers with contracts and legal issues related to their low-budget films.
Like with Tax Law, an LL.M. in Entertainment Law appeals to both foreign- and US-trained lawyers. That's because not all law schools offer classes in the Entertainment Law for J.D.-level students. So, an LL.M. is often the only chance to get an academic specialization in the field.
A handful of UK and European law programs offer an Entertainment or Media Law specialization, and there are also other European programs covering Technology and IT Law, which increasingly overlaps with Entertainment Law.
For many students, being near the action is a priority.
In the United States, New York offers aspiring lawyers proximity to publishing houses and theater production, as well as some headquarters and financial operations of major companies. Meanwhile Nashville is considered the heart of the music industry.
Los Angeles seems the ideal spot for lawyers interested in working on the creative side of the film, television, and music business. The city also has the most specialized LL.M. programs in one place, including those at UCLA, Southwestern, and Chapman. USC is also planning to launch a certificate program for students interested in specializing in Entertainment Law. Meanwhile some LL.M. students already go to USC to focus on it.
Jon Andion is one of them. He came to USC's LL.M. program with experience working in Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law, and having co-founded a theater production company in his native Spain. After the program, he plans to take the California bar exam, and hopefully find work in the Los Angeles area, but he knows it won't be easy.
"We're talking about the entertainment field, which is extremely closed off," says Andion. "It's very hard to get in."
Certainly it helps to have knowledgeable and well-connected teachers imparting insider knowledge about the industry. Andion notes that several adjunct professors at USC also work at some of the major studios and law firms in town. Beyond the classroom, students will also have access to job fairs, as well as alumni meetings and cocktail parties organized by the school.
"Those things actually end up working somehow," says Andion. "Especially in LA."
Bring more to the party
Indeed, it takes more than just a law degree to break into the industry. Just ask Betty Chen.
A few years ago, Chen was working in an Arizona law firm, and wanted to further her career in the entertainment industry. When she moved to Los Angeles, she knew it would be a difficult climb.
"As an out-of-state attorney, you're not only competing in this really competitive area, but you're also competing against interns, students, and people with connections," says Chen. "My main goal in going there was basically to network. And I realized how hard it is to network when you don't know anybody in the industry."
So Chen decided to pursue the specialized Entertainment and Media Law LL.M. at Southwestern. Through hard work in her classes, faculty and industry contacts, and an internship at Warner Brothers, Chen landed a contract job as an attorney at Lion's Gate after the LL.M., and now works as a legal counsel for Reveille, a successful film and television studio.
"Basically, they made me realize very early on that this may be my passion and what I want to do, but you've got to work at it," says Chen of her professors at Southwestern.
According to David R. Ginsburg, executive director of UCLA's Entertainment and Media Law and Policy Program, getting an LL.M. in Entertainment Law can give lawyers an edge when it comes time to apply for jobs.
"If a job comes up, and they are looking at two candidates, one with the LL.M. from UCLA and one without it, the one with it is going to be the one with superior training," says Ginsburg. "I think it provides a tipping point."
Ginsburg says this is particularly true with foreign lawyers who get an LL.M. in the United States, and return home to practice. That combination of foreign expertise and "profound understanding and solid training in American law" is a distinguishing factor for entertainment lawyers in an increasingly globalized industry.
"I've seen my students placed overseas in jobs where what their employer wanted was that rare combination," says Ginsburg. "I have students now in Mexico City, Paris, Munich, Beijing, and Dublin who have brought back to their home turf an understanding of how Entertainment Law is done in the United States. So whether their clients are local home clients doing business in the US, or US clients doing business in the foreign territory, they bring those skills together in one place."
But Ginsburg admits - as would almost any lawyer working in showbiz today - getting a degree and passing the bar are just a few of the steps to landing a good job; you'll also need contacts, experience, and the energy to create and follow-up on opportunities.
"I dare say that a bare LL.M. from anywhere probably isn't enough on the margin to do the trick," says Ginsburg. "You have to bring more to the party."