Power Lawyers 2019: 17 of Hollywood's Legal Legends

6:15 AM 3/28/2019

by THR Staff

Their work is unparallelled and their impact is lasting, from signing a pre-'Chinatown' Jack Nicholson to earning the position of L.A.'s Film Czar.

From left: Bert Fields, Patty Glaser and Ken Ziffren
From left: Bert Fields, Patty Glaser and Ken Ziffren
Getty Images; Courtesy of Subject (2)

This year The Hollywood Reporter is launching a new feature in Power Lawyers to honor attorneys whose career achievements and contributions to the entertainment industry are extraordinary. We’re calling it Legal Legends, and those who are selected retain the title for life. Meet the 17 members of the inaugural group whose impact on Hollywood is so historic and lasting they transcend the Power Lawyers list.

  • Jake Bloom

    Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette Feldman Schenkman & Goodman

    Mark Sullivan/WireImage/Getty Images

    John Hughes' cult hits (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club) and action classic Die Hard defined the '80s, and it was Bloom who cut deals for Hughes and Bruce Willis. The veteran talent lawyer's roster of A-list producers, actors and directors have spawned countless hits and franchises. They include Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun), Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers) and Nicolas Cage (National Treasure).

  • John Branca

    Ziffren Brittenham

    Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

    Branca's roster is a veritable music hall of fame that includes Bob Dylan, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Doors and Michael Jackson. "My first big big deal was a renegotiation for Neal Diamond at Sony in the '70s," says Branca. "It was a megadeal of that day." Another major milestone was helping Jackson make the ultra-expensive and still-iconic music video for "Thriller" and guiding him through his purchase of the Beatles catalog in 1985. (He's currently an executor to Jackson's estate, which is suing HBO over its decision to air Leaving Neverland.) Branca also cites helping Berry Gordy sell his stake in Motown Records and signing the Stones as memorable moments — not to mention the opportunity to represent all of his childhood idols. He has some advice for current artists: "I’d like to see artists start to take a stand and speak up and be leaders again, for social justice, for equality," says Branca, nodding specifically to Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. "It's a very polarized society and I think there’s a generation of artists that got into the business for fame and fortune, probably more so than any other reason. Go back to being leaders and not just out to sell more tickets."

  • John Burke

    Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

    Courtesy of Subject

    Burke's work for Bank of America on Glengarry Glen Ross in the early '90s solidified his status as a go-to for Hollywood bankers. His entertainment work predating that includes representing clients like Disney, Atari, Mattel and (now Treasury Secretary) Steven Mnuchin's Dune Capital. "When I started out, I thought of the practice of law as more of a job," says Burke, whose clients now include Fosun International, Deutsche Bank and Content Partners. "I didn’t expect it to become a lifestyle. I really, thoroughly enjoy it, as opposed to looking at it as something to do for a living." Recently, he represented Lantern Entertainment in its nine-figure purchase of The Weinstein Company's assets out of bankruptcy and the Mnuchin family in its sale of the RatPac-Dune Entertainment film slate to Warner Bros.

  • Melanie Cook

    Ziffren Brittenham

    Courtesy of Alex J. Berliner/Berliner Photography/BEImages

    "Way back in the day I represented Molly Ringwald when she was the absolute 'It' girl," says Cook, who handled the '80s icon's deals for Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, among others. Since then, she's been involved in countless hits onscreen and onstage. They include Breaking Bad (for Mark Johnson), The Matrix (for Keanu Reeves), Wicked (for Winnie Holzman) and The Lion King (for Julie Taymor). Cook inherited her moral compass from her father, a judge, and prides herself on being a straight-shooter. "One thing I always expected out of people was that they would tell the truth," she says. "I learned that that’s not always the case. You can’t last if somebody can’t rely on what you tell them." Her roster also includes Sam Mendes, Stephen Daldry (who's adapting Holzman's Wicked for film), Chadwick Boseman and longtime client Tim Burton, whose live-action Dumbo remake opens March 29.

  • Bert Fields

    Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger

    Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

    Representing The Beatles put Fields on the map, but one of the earliest jobs he recalls is the time he helped actor Edward G. Robinson remove all the paintings from his home in the middle of the night while his wife was in Las Vegas because she didn't want to sell them. "He had the greatest art collection in the world at the time," says Fields, noting Degas among the artists whose works were surreptitiously snuck onto a museum's truck. "It worked. Once the walls were empty, she agreed to sell. That was the first time I got involved with a major star." Since then his docket has been full of them, including Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, George Lucas, James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg — whom Fields repped in an ugly, high-profile lawsuit after Michael Eisner took over Disney and fired him. (It settled.) Fields began his career while serving in the Air Force, where he tried countless courts-martial. That would lead to "literally hundreds of fascinating cases" in Hollywood, although he can't talk about many of them. "One of my cases I liked better than any other was a totally secret case," he says. "We were able to have the case sealed all the way up to the Supreme Court." He's currently finishing his memoir, which will cover dozens of the cases he can talk about.

  • Patty Glaser

    Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro

    Courtesy of Subject

    Glaser's takedown of Kim Basinger after her exit from macabre 1993 flop Boxing Helena made her a household name, and now she's the woman to call in high-stakes fights. "Every once in a while, you’re lucky enough to have a perceived breakout matter," she says, adding that the recognition came long after her first Hollywood court appearance. "I think I was doing pretty well before that case." A decade earlier, she was the lead lawyer in connection with the lawsuits stemming from a deadly 1980 fire at the MGM Grand. "I practically lived in Las Vegas for two years," she recalls. "I’m blessed that people come to me for things other than entertainment. I think it makes me a better lawyer. It helps you with your judgment about people, about businesses." There are only two jobs that could've convinced her to leave the practice of law, an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court or a gig as CEO of an "interesting" company. There were some offers for the latter, but nothing that could lure her from litigation. Says Glaser, "I can’t believe I get paid so much money to have such a good time."

  • Allen Grubman

    Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks

    Getty Images

    "At the very beginning at my career, disco music took off in America," says Grubman, who repped talent including The Village People, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Kool & the Gang. "The only pop act I represented in the '70s was The Police." As his star rose, his clients became more musically diverse, with the addition of artists like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Madonna and U2. Then came execs and record companies. By the mid-1990s, his firm expanded into other areas of entertainment and grew to more than 40 lawyers representing clients across music, film, television, fashion and sports. "I deal with the things I want to deal with," says Grubman, who's still working with several longtime clients. "Because of the size of the firm, I have that freedom to pick and choose."

  • Tom Hansen

    Hansen Jacobson Teller Hoberman Newman Warren Richman Rush Kaller & Gellman

    Courtesy of Subject

    Hansen first grabbed Hollywood's attention in the mid-'80s when he was selling a sought-after spec script that would become The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy. "Virtually every studio in town wanted it," he recalls. "That was the first deal that got me out into the world." An equally important milestone was deciding to open his own firm 32 years ago. "That changed the trajectory of my professional life," he says, adding that he wasn't happy working for someone else (even if that person was his fishing buddy Skip Brittenham.) He thought about leaving law altogether and fielded offers at studios and agencies. Ultimately, "a combination of courage and stupidity" convinced him to leave the town's most powerful firm to strike out on his own. (It worked out pretty well for a self-described "bad kid from the San Fernando Valley.") One of his longest attorney-client relationships is with Robert Downey Jr., whom Hansen has known for more than three decades. "To say that it’s been a journey would be putting it mildly," he says, adding that the Iron Man star is off-the-charts brilliant. "I love the guy." Hansen's clients, who also include Al Pacino, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Mel Gibson, know not to expect scorched-earth tactics. "I try to cajole and charm and logic people into doing what I think is the right thing," says Hansen. "I yell and scream every three years, like Old Faithful."

  • Barry Hirsch

    Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof & Fishman

    Jemal Countess/Getty Images

    Hirsch landed Raquel Welch a multiyear deal at Fox during the 1960s, which led to decades spent repping top-tier talent like Francis Ford Coppola and Julia Roberts. "It's always nice to be representing someone who wins the Academy Award," Hirsch notes. (It's a feeling he's experienced more than once.) "I’ve always loved movies, since I was a kid, so this is like a dream to me." Along the way, Hirsch collected a Master's degree in behavioral science. He practices as a counselor on the side (never to Hollywood legal clients), and says the experience made him a better listener in his legal career. "The best part of my job is helping to solve problems for people," he says. After seeing how the business has changed over the past five decades, he's concerned that the industry might revert to old habits, with big players having enough power to compress salaries and limit creative opportunities. Notes Hirsch, "The streaming companies are putting out so much content and acquiring longterm agreements with talent — just like the studios did in the '30s and '40s."

  • Jim Jackoway

    Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein

    Courtesy of Subject

    The Wonder Years, Arrested Development and Lost are just a few shows Jackoway helped set up for writer-producer clients after leaving Wall Street for Hollywood. He also had a hot streak with talk show talent, including Jenny Jones, Sally Jessy Raphael and David Letterman, and TV movies. "There was a wave," he says, adding that it wouldn't be a stretch to estimate his firm was involved with a hundred of them a year. "The networks liked that form of programming, and tax credits made it attractive at the time." Opportunity still abounds because of streaming, but working outside of the traditional content structures and release windows of yore means deals are less predictable. "It’s important to understand the other side’s business, to have some appreciation for their range of possible in trying to make a deal," says Jackoway, whose clients have also included Levinson and Link (Murder She Wrote), Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) and J.J. Abrams.

  • Ken Kleinberg

    Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo

    Courtesy of Subject

    "I'm lucky enough to have represented a lot of interesting people," says Kleinberg, "Clients who have, in many cases, stayed with me most of my career." One of those longtime clients is Jack Nicholson, whom Kleinberg signed pre-Chinatown. Later in the '70s, he'd add The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger to his roster. He left law to become the director of United Artists in 1986, along with client Jerry Weintraub with whom he'd form Weintraub Entertainment Group before resuming his legal career in 1992. A few years later, he was introduced to author J.K. Rowling and took over her plentiful and profitable Hollywood negotiations. "My clients are constantly coming up with new and exciting adventures," says Kleinberg, nodding to Rowling's popular digital site Pottermore. "That’s what makes it a very exciting kind of law to be involved in."

  • Schuyler Moore

    Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger

    Courtesy of Imagegroupla.com

    Early on, Moore set up "a very small sales company" called Summit Entertainment. Since then, he's witnessed everything from its massive Twilight success to its 2012 sale to Lionsgate. Moore has become a go-to attorney in cross-border transactions, including the $375 million Hunan Group investment in Lionsgate. "Germany, Russia, China, Japan, I’ve lived through almost every wave of financing," says Moore. "It’s interesting to watch the shift. Now the big money is coming from U.S. home offices. Wealthy families are investing in films." So is Netflix, to whom Moore sold the rights for Martin Scorsese's The Irishman — the streamer's biggest-budget film to date. "It is surprising, the pace of change," says Moore. "The structure of financing is always changing, the media is always changing, and the laws are always changing. Every day I have the challenge of reinventing the world."

  • Lee Phillips

    Manatt Phelps & Phillips

    Courtesy Photo

    Phillips signed David Geffen early, sparking work with not only the mogul but also with artists he was signing like Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell. "When he likes you, you become very well-known very quickly," says Phillips, who guided the exec through forming Geffen Records. Then came the work with iconic talent. "There was a moment in time when I represented Michael Jackson, Prince and Axl Rose at the same time," recalls Phillips, who has maintained longterm relationships with legends like Burt Bacharach and Barbra Streisand. "You train as a lawyer and you look at contracts, but the most important thing I've learned over years of doing this is to figure out who you're dealing with," he says. "That's a big lesson. It's as important or more important than any particular contract."

  • Bruce Ramer

    Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown

    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Two of Hollywood's most iconic films were two of Ramer's earliest marquee deals: The Godfather and Jaws. "They were both complicated deals, important deals, and resulted in extraordinary motion pictures," says Ramer, whose clients include Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. "I never thought of my career as grinding because I enjoy it too much," he says, noting that he decided to be a lawyer in third grade and never looked back. "It makes for a very fascinating way to live." His firm makes a point to not discuss clients, but some of Ramer's work still manages to make headlines — like Spielberg's upcoming reboot of West Side Story.

  • Larry Stein

    Russ August & Kabat

    Courtesy of Subject

    Jane Fonda introduced Stein to Hollywood, where he's fought legal battles for stars like Sean Connery, Marlon Brando and Robert Redford. "If I were to just start listing major stars that I’ve represented, it’s really amazing to me," says Stein, whose cases pioneered law in contract renegotiations, vertical integration and the format of reality shows. "People weren’t protecting formats," says Stein, until his client Tokyo Broadcasting sued Disney over Wipeout. "That case got resolved and suddenly formats started being sold. Everyone thought since reality shows aren’t scripted they couldn't be protected, and we proved that they could be." Lately, he's been spending a lot of time working with rappers like Drake and Post Malone and an increasing number of influencers as social media and entertainment converge. "It’s very difficult to draw a line or distinctions," he says. "Now these kids make music in their garage, distribute it on the internet and become famous."

  • Howard Weitzman

    Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert

    Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic

    John DeLorean's sensational 1984 cocaine-trafficking case dubbed "The Trial of the Century" was an early milestone in Weitzman's career handling high-profile matters for clients like Michael Jackson and the Kardashians. It made daily headlines, and Weitzman says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "The case involved famous personalities (DeLorean and his wife, Cristina Ferrare); a plotline invented by the government that included multiple videotapes of alleged drug dealing; and a true-life drama that unfolded in the courtroom in real time by catching the government witnesses lying during the trial," says Weitzman. "The 'shocking' acquittal changed the course of my practice." Over the years, Weitzman has represented clients whom he describes as "remarkable personalities," including Marlon Brando, Magic Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Penn, OJ Simpson, Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez. He's currently representing Michael Jackson's estate in a breach of contract lawsuit against HBO over its decision to air the documentary Leaving Neverland.

  • Ken Ziffren

    Ziffren Brittenham

    Courtesy Photo/Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

    Decades ago, Ziffren was called "The Pope of Hollywood" and now he reigns as L.A.'s Film Czar. He recalls helping Steve Cannell leave Universal to start his own company as one of his earliest major Hollywood deals, at a time when another client, a small outfit called ABC Films, was just getting off the ground. He was also advising the likes of Steve McQueen, Witt-Thomas-Harris (Golden Girls) and Miller-Boyett (Happy Days). In the late '80s, he helped bring the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers Guild together to end a writers' strike. "That was a big to-do for me," he says. "I was just trying to keep peace in the industry." Another major milestone was a defeat. He was working with independent producers and multihyphenates to maintain the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, or "Fin-Syn" as it was known. Until then, networks couldn't own any of their primetime programming or air any syndicated programming that they owned a stake in. "As I look back on it, that really was what gave the impetus to the studios and networks to merge," says Ziffren. "We're now going through a new phase." It's unsurprising that Ziffren never toyed with the idea of leaving Hollywood law. "I've loved every moment of it."

    A version of this story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.