Legal food for thought

Breakfast spotlights best in field

Some of the industry's top attorneys were treated to a spirited talk Tuesday with Warner Bros. executive vp and general counsel John Schulman at The Hollywood Reporter and THR, ESQ.'s inaugural Power Lawyers Power Breakfast.

Timed to coincide with the publication of THR, ESQ.'s Power Lawyers 100 list honoring the most influential outside counsel in entertainment, the event gathered honorees as well as studio, network and agency lawyers at the Peninsula Beverly Hills.

"What we do is so in vogue," said Larry Ulman, a Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner who was featured in the Corporate section of the list for his work on complex film finance deals. "Everyone wants to do this now."

The morning's spotlight event was a Q&A session between THR, ESQ. editor Matthew Belloni and Schulman, a 23-year Warner Bros. veteran known for his longevity in the studio's top legal job as well as his sharp wit.

Schulman acknowledged that he had worked with many of the attendees over the years. When he joined Warners in 1984, he told the audience, he oversaw 16 in-house lawyers; today his staff numbers 150. He said that despite the stereotypes of the entertainment industry, the lawyers in attendance should be proud of the way they conduct themselves.

"In an industry that's identified as being full of sideswipers, backturners and backstabbers, I'm very satisfied with what we've accomplished," Schulman said.

Schulman drew laughs by recounting memorable stories from his tenure at the studio, including his reaction whenever people walk into his office saying, "Yeah, we signed this deal, but we don't like it anymore."

Asked about rumors of his impending retirement, Schulman acknowledged that he's scheduled to give up the reins by the end of 2008. But he said: "We'll see, and we have to talk about it. As of now, who knows?"

Schulman's talk drew praise from those in attendance.

"As dean of the studio GCs, John is highly respected by all of us here, even those who find ourselves at the other side of the table," SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said.

Loeb & Loeb music partner John Frankenheimer said that entertainment lawyers often don't stand in the spotlight. But he credited developing technological advancements for an increase in attention of late.

"The complexity of the deals and the growing challenges for these institutions require first-rate representation," Frankenheimer said. "Many of us believe that it's best to be enshrined in the shadows, but it's also nice to be respected by peers."

THR, ESQ. publisher Norah Weinstein said that the strong turnout for the breakfast indicates the influence attorneys have on the entertainment business.

"It shows the growing importance of lawyers as the way that Hollywood lines up financing and distribution deals, secures talent and protects its valuable intellectual property in the emerging digital universe," Weinstein said.

The event was sponsored by BNY Mellon Wealth Management and JAMS.
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