Become an Entertainment Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 22, 2022

Research the requirements to become an entertainment lawyer. Learn about the job duties and discover the step-by-step process to start a career in entertainment law.

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Should I Become an Entertainment Lawyer?

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree
Degree Field Law; undergraduate major can vary
Experience Experience typically gained in law school
Licensure and Certification Bar membership required; continuing education mandated in most states
Key Skills Interpersonal, problem-solving, research, writing, analytical, and speaking skills
Mean Salary (2020)* $148,910 (for lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Entertainment lawyers provide legal counsel on contracts, intellectual property rights, and other legal issues in the film, television, music, 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.

These duties require a skill set including interpersonal, problem-solving skills, research, writing, analytical and speaking skills. Almost all lawyers work on a full-time basis, with the majority working long hours and overtime. Although most work in an office setting, travel may be required and off-site meetings are likely. The requirements for becoming a lawyer are very strict, but the payout is rewarding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers earned an average salary of $148,910 as of May 2020. Now let's take a look at the steps an aspiring entertainment lawyer can take to enter this career field.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Before applying 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. 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 of study include English, economics, political science, history, math and public speaking.

During college you may also prepare for this career by beginning to learning about the entertainment industry. Students may take entertainment-related courses in film studies, cultural studies, communications, literature and music, which can provide insight into how the creative industries have evolved and function. Such coursework also allows students to gain an 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 applicants to submit scores from the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). 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 the 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.

Before sitting for the test, be sure to study carefully for the LSAT. Test takers should at least become familiar with the test's format, instructions and types of questions. It is also a good idea to take practice tests under time constraints, which can help you get used to completing all sections on time. The test administrator, the Law School Admission Council, offer free sample tests and questions. For more extensive preparation, students can enroll in a private course or purchase study guides.

Step 3: Obtain a Law Degree

Students must obtain a law degree to become lawyers. The Juris Doctor degree program generally takes three years of full-time study. The first year is devoted to basic law topics, such as civil procedure, torts, property and contracts. The second and third years allow students to take more electives and begin specializing. Future entertainment lawyers should take electives 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.

Law students also gain practical experience beyond the classroom, by participating in school-sponsored legal clinics, internships and moot court competitions. Some law schools also offer certificates in entertainment law, which can be earned in addition to a law degree and allow students to specialize their studies. These programs give you deeper insights into the industry, clients and types of issues entertainment lawyers handle, such as labor and employment, securities, litigation and contract negotiation. Law students should consider what kind of entertainment lawyer they want to be and choose classes to help prepare for their responsibilities.

Here's a tip for success: consider attending law school in an industry hub. Entertainment industry hubs, such as Los Angeles, New York City, Las Vegas and Nashville tend to boast a higher concentration of law schools with entertainment law programs and resources. These industry hubs offer greater opportunities for work during and after law school. Gaining local knowledge of how these industry hubs operate, such as state laws and regulations, could also be important for future professional life.

Step 4: Join the Bar

To practice law, lawyers must become members of their state bar association. Rules and procedures vary by state, but the main qualifications are a law degree and passage of the Bar exam. Most states use the Multistate Bar Examination, a national exam that consists of a 6-hour, 200-question multiple-choice test on criminal law, contracts, constitutional law, property, torts and evidence. There is normally a second day of testing that assesses writing and lawyering skills. Each state also administers a general ethics exam and screens lawyers for character and fitness to serve the public.

Before sitting for your state's Bar exam, be sure to properly prepare for the test. In fact, for many aspiring lawyers, studying for the Bar is a full-time job for up to two months prior to the exam. Law schools typically offer study aids and advice to those preparing to take the Bar, and you can increase your chances of passing the Bar by taking a bar exam prep course.

Step 5: Go to Work in Entertainment Law

A new member of the Bar is free to begin practicing law. Common entry-level positions for entertainment lawyers include associates at law firms and in-house counsel for corporate legal departments. They often cluster in the entertainment hubs, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Nashville, though they may find employment across the nation. 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 and 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 (such as not being a talent agent) and whether they will depart from the norm of hourly billing (like accepting contingent fees or percentage agreements).

Step 6: Continue Your Education

In most states, lawyers must complete continuing legal education at regular intervals in order to maintain licensure, enhance knowledge and advance their career. Continuing education is generally available from bar associations and law schools. Attorneys may attend approved courses, seminars or conferences and, in a growing number of states, they may gain credits for online courses or webcasts.

Here's one last tip for success: read trade publications regularly. Perhaps more so than other lawyers, entertainment attorneys need to understand the business side of their industries. They can stay informed by reading leading industry publication, like The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Advertising Age.

To become an entertainment lawyer, you need a bachelor's degree, take the LSAT, attend law school and pass the Bar exam before finding employment as an associate at a law firm or in-house counsel for a corporate legal department.

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