Alumnus Larry Shire says an attorney also has to provide general advice to clients like LeBron James, Robert DeNiro and Madonna.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Larry Shire has negotiated an unprecedented “lifetime” endorsement deal with Nike for LeBron James. Though not a criminal lawyer, he went to court “every day” to advise embattled client Martha Stewart as she underwent her trial in 2004. And as head of the motion picture, television, theatre, publishing, new media and sports practice group at media firm Grubman Shire & Meiselas, his client list also includes Robert DeNiro, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna.
But as a law student at the George Washington University, being an entertainment lawyer was the last thing on his mind. In fact Mr. Shire, J.D. ’82, was barely aware at the time that entertainment law existed as a field, he said in a conversation with GW Law Dean Blake D. Morant Wednesday afternoon.
“I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, and none of you should worry about that one ounce,” Mr. Shire said.
After graduating with highest honors from GW Law, where he also was an editor of the law review, Mr. Shire took a yearlong clerkship with fellow GW Law alumnus Oliver Gasch, L.L.B. ’32, U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia. Mr. Shire then moved to private practice and after a few years transitioned into his firm’s entertainment group because he “thought it might be a more fun and interesting context in which to practice law.”
It has been, he says. It has also been challenging.
“My clients are demanding, and they’re all brilliant creatively,” Mr. Shire told the audience of GW Law students. “But many understand they don't have much of a business sense, and that’s what they’re going to need you for.”
An artist’s lawyer, Mr. Shire said, is a kind of “quarterback:” A trusted, dependable advisor who negotiates business deals, protects a client’s image and intellectual property, and counsels them on almost everything.
Mr. Shire admitted that lawyers sometimes have to provide emotional support to creative clients, though he laughingly declined to dish on any scandalous Hollywood stories.
“You have to be a hand holder and you have to be a shrink [as well as] a smart businessperson,” Mr. Shire said.
As they reach the higher echelons of their careers and take on a wider variety of clients, Mr. Shire said, entertainment lawyers also have to inform themselves about industry norms within different artistic fields. Someone writing a play or musical for live performance, he said, like Grubman Shire client Andrew Lloyd Webber, will require a “totally different deal” from a screenwriter, who in turn will require something different than would a football player, a movie director or a musician.
“You really have to learn all these different businesses,” he said.
Mr. Shire said the landscape of his profession has also changed in recent years, as “new media”—meaning everything from streaming video to Twitter—becomes a major player in the entertainment arena. Performers and writers have jobs opening in nontraditional media outlets like Netflix and Hulu, he said, and social media has provided celebrities of all kinds with new moneymaking opportunities.
“Someone like [pop star] Selena Gomez, who has 100 million Instagram followers, can put up one [sponsored] Instagram post and live off that for the rest of the year,” he said.
Mr. Shire advised students wanting to be entertainment lawyers not to worry too much about taking a prescribed slate of classes, but instead to work hard and get as much expertise as possible through their first and second jobs. Hiring at Grubman Shire, he said, is “almost like a sports draft.” They look for the most qualified candidates regardless of their field, then “train them how to be an entertainment lawyer.”
“We want people to graduate and go work at a great firm for three years,” Mr. Shire said. “That doesn’t mean a big firm or even one I’ve necessarily heard of—just one where you’ll get great experience, and they’ll teach you how to be a lawyer. As much as you learn in law school, when you go to work it’ll be different. “