Power Lawyers 2020: New York's Top 20 Entertainment Attorneys

5:00 AM 12/9/2020

by Ashley Cullins

Broadway may be dark, but for the Big Apple's top attorneys in film, television, fashion and media, the show must go on.

Power Lawyers 2020: New York's Top 20 Entertainment Attorneys Illustration by Abbey Lossing
Illustration by Abbey Lossing

Few places have been as hard hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic as New York City. Broadway is shuttered indefinitely and music acts won’t be filling stadiums anytime soon — but that doesn’t mean there’s been a shortage of work for New York’s Power Lawyers. The Hollywood Reporter is spotlighting 20 attorneys with specialties in theater, fashion, media and music litigation who’ve been tasked with creating new deals in an unsteady landscape (cue the live-capture craze) and fighting cutting-edge courtroom battles via Zoom.

Profiles by Kirsten Chuba, Ashley Cullins, Sharareh Drury, Mia Galuppo, Eriq Gardner, Natalie Jarvey, Katie Kilkenny and Tatiana Siegel.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

  • Lisa Alter

    Alter Kendrick & Baron

    Despite major blows to touring and live performances, “business is booming” for Alter, a prolific dealmaker in the music publishing space. “We are in a golden era of music transaction, and I think that’s going to continue,” says Alter. This year she advised Reservoir Media Management in its acquisition of 16,000 copyrights from music publisher Shapiro Bernstein, as well as Primary Wave Music Publishing in its acquisition of various interests of the catalogs of Whitney Houston, Air Supply and Sublime.

    This year I’m thankful for: "Having an amazing team in our office. The majority of them happen to be women who — despite everything that each of us has been handling and juggling in our personal lives, from literal newborns to college kids to grown children to parents to pets — still have been super, super professional and pulling together as a team."

  • Andy Bart

    Jenner & Block

    Bart recently secured a win for the Recording Industry Association of America in a copyright battle with hip-hop streamer Spinrilla, with the court finding the site liable for its users’ actions, and he’s prepping for trial on behalf of the labels in another file-sharing dispute in 2021 (after multiple pandemic delays). “There’s a good healthy workload but, ultimately, I view myself as a trial lawyer,” says Bart, who also reps Disney and Endeavor. “When you get to a courtroom, there’s a different level of adrenaline, focus and excitement that makes the whole career make sense.”

    Remote work strategy/attitude I'll keep even after the pandemic ends: "To find a way to be outside a couple of hours every day — even if that results in days that don’t end until after 10 p.m."

  • David Berlin

    Schreck Rose Dapello Adams Berlin & Dunham

    "With the success of the Hamilton live capture on Disney+ combined with the need for high-level content on all of the streamers, live-capture rights are more in demand than ever,” says Berlin. So are his theater clients — like Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson, whose Dear Evan Hansen musical is being made into a film. Levenson is also writing a screenplay for a Fiddler on the Roof remake (to be helmed by Hamilton’s Thomas Kail), and the Tony-winning duo of Pasek and Paul is writing music for Disney’s upcoming live-action version of Snow White. Meanwhile, writer client Stephen Karam is adapting his Tony-winning play The Humans into a feature film — which will also mark his directorial debut — starring Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein and Steven Yeun.

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "I don’t own a car, which I love."

  • Marc Chamlin

    Loeb & Loeb

    After protests against racial injustice erupted this summer, Chamlin’s client Oprah Winfrey responded in real time with timely project announcements. Chamlin negotiated her Harpo Productions banner’s partnership with Lionsgate to develop The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project into a portfolio of content and led the production legal work on The Oprah Conversation, an Apple TV+ series whose first episodes were dedicated to race in America. Chamlin also repped longtime client Glenn Close in her deal for Netflix’s Hillbilly Elegy and negotiated multiyear pacts for Ree Drummond and Mike Rowe with Discovery. "The breadth of my practice really makes it interesting," Chamlin says. “It’s not just your customary entertainment transactional work. I also do publishing and magazines and books and corporate work.”

    What’s the most New York thing about your life? "I am still not moving to L.A."

  • Gray Coleman

    Davis Wright Tremaine

    With the Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and Annapurna Theatre Company among his top clients, 2020 has been “particularly challenging,” says Coleman, who adds that development has continued even as theaters have closed: “For many of my producers, every new show is a startup venture.” A dealmaker with 25 years of experience across theater, music, publishing, film and TV, he specializes in helping companies expand beyond their core businesses and navigate new entertainment sectors. He quips, “Sometimes you feel a little bit like a well-paid U.N. translator.”

    Legal trend to watch next year: "Further acceleration of the realization that audio-visual adaptations of theatrical works are supplemental, and do not materially cannibalize a strong stage play, whether it’s Hamilton on Disney+ or the continuation of live-streaming as the new pre-Broadway
    tryout."

  • Sy Damle

    Latham & Watkins

    Damle spent 13 years at the DOJ and Copyright Office, gaining an advanced understanding of how the government regulated the interests of rights owners. These days, he’s using that knowledge to represent clients including Spotify, Live Nation and the National Association of Broadcasters. He remains instrumental in helping the Copyright Office implement the Music Modernization Act, which updated licensing protocols for the digital age, and he helped draft a provision in the CARES Act that provided relief for those struggling to comply with copyright obligations amid the pandemic. 

  • Lisa Davis

    Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

    A highlight of Davis’ year was negotiating Kamilah Forbes’ deal to direct the HBO special Between the World and Me, an adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ nonfiction book, while also representing diverse media and technology execu-tives “who may not look like other people in [a company’s] senior leadership teams,” she says. That focus on bringing fresh leaders to the industry included a deal for Nadja Bellan-White’s new role as Vice Media’s first-ever global CMO. Davis also reps writers Susan Fales-Hill, Keli Goff and Michael Harriot.

    This year, I'm thankful for: "My family’s health and a dedicated home office."

  • Tamar Duvdevani

    DLA Piper

    A trademark expert in the fashion space, Duvdevani is the lawyer Nike calls when its IP is challenged. This year she won judgment on the pleadings in a logo dispute brought by NBA star Kawhi Leonard — which she argued via phone from a cabin in the Catskills while her toddler was napping. She expects an uptick in such trademark work after the U.S. Supreme Court found that willfulness isn’t required for an award of profits. Says Duvdevani, “For Nike, nine times out of 10, they’re the defendant against a smaller party who’s claiming reverse confusion and looking for a payday.”

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "My daily walk through Central Park from my prewar condo on the Upper West Side."

  • Rob Freeman

    Proskauer

    As the outside counsel to Discovery for more than a decade, Freeman has seen the company through a period of major transition for cable TV, most recently advising it on its investment in direct-to-consumer digital products and the late-2019 acquisition of Latin American Golf. He also helped client The Stars Group team up with Fox Sports to launch sports betting platform Fox Bet, and works with cable clients like Cox Communications and Spectrum Networks.

    Remote work strategy/attitude I'll keep even after the pandemic ends: "With pretty much every call and meeting being scheduled via Zoom, WebEx etc., I plan to stick to my strategy of not always using the video function. Sometimes just audio is OK!"

  • Keisha-Ann Gray

    Proskauer

    Amid widespread social justice movements in 2020, Gray has been on the front lines of investigating misconduct complaints for major industry employers. While she remains tight-lipped about many of her clients, Gray publicly led Proskauer’s investigation into anonymous claims of sexual harassment at Essence, finding they were “not substantiated.” Gray, who also reps Prada and CBS, says she’s been gratified to “speak with those who have had concerns or complaints and to have them feel as though the person that they’re speaking to ... has lived experiences like they have.”

    Legal trend to watch next year: "Movement away from traditional/overt discrimination/harassment lawsuits to lawsuits alleging more nuanced claims grounded on microaggressions and unconscious biases."

  • Jim Janowitz

    Pryor Cashman

    Janowitz is a veteran whose practice stretches back to the landmark copyright lawsuit he won against George Harrison in the early 1970s over “My Sweet Lord.” Now he’s one of only a few attorneys doing transactional work as well as litigation. As the acquisition of song publishing rights continues to be hot, he represented Shamrock Capital Advisors in a deal to buy a catalog from songwriter-producers Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen (Stargate) that included Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” He’s also representing music publishers in rate-setting proceedings.

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "My view from the 41st floor."

  • Gil Karson

    Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks

    While the lights over Broadway remain out, Karson is still busy brokering deals for his theater-focused clientele. Two years of work for David Byrne culminated in the Spike Lee-directed live capture of Byrne’s stage musical American Utopia heading to HBO. Having previously helped David Bowie and Bono with their theatrical ambitions, Karson is now advising Elton John, who’s composing music for the Devil Wears Prada adaptation. “From the start of my career in theater, there was a cry that theater was over,” notes Karson. “But there is this creative energy of people wait-ing to burst out of the gates.”

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "NYC born and bred; lifelong subway rider, neighborhood explorer and Yankee Stadium regular; raising three street-smart and incredibly capable kids educated for 13 years each in the NYC public schools; having a career full of days and nights spent in the glow of the brilliant artists and lights of Broadway."

  • Christine Lepera

    Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

    Lepera scored a big win this year as lead defense counsel in a copyright infringement case involving Katy Perry’s hit “Dark Horse,” which saw a jury verdict overturned on the grounds that the plaintiff couldn’t prove substantial similarity to Perry’s hit. She has also represented Drake, Timbaland and Post Malone, and reps Dr. Luke in his defamation case against Kesha.

    Legal trend to watch next year: "Increased focus on agreements to bring a greater volume and variety to virtual and on-demand platforms."

  • Michael Mahan

    Peikoff Mahan

    Amid a pandemic that has frozen New York’s theater scene, Mahan is most proud of his work for Cynthia Erivo. “I helped her start her production company and negotiated a first-look producing deal at MRC, and closed a really impressive slate of acting and producing deals,” he says. “She is creating an empire, and I am honored to be at her side.” Other prominent clients are Robert Lopez (Frozen, The Book of Mormon), Ben Daniels (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and David Harbour (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Mahan found the most challenging aspect of his work this year to be guiding many clients through COVID-related crises at the same time. Even with multiple potential vaccines on the horizon, Mahan foresees difficulty in convincing audiences and tourists to return to live theater. “The margins are so tight in theater that it is just not economically feasible to run a half-empty house," he says. "But I am hopeful that through a combination of in-person and live streaming the important work of theater can continue."

    Remote work strategy/attitude I'll keep even after the pandemic: "We really can do this job
    effectively from anywhere."

  • Elizabeth McNamara

    Davis Wright Tremaine

    A First Amendment guru, McNamara scored big when a judge ruled that her client Simon & Schuster could publish a book by Mary Trump despite a confidentiality agreement that Donald Trump’s niece had signed. This past year, she also won summary judgment for Gizmodo Media Group in a defamation suit brought by Trump adviser Jason Miller. She’s now defending Sacha Baron Cohen and Showtime in a lawsuit by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who claims he was “falsely and fraudulently” induced to appear on Who Is America?

    Legal trend to watch next year: "A downturn in Trump-related lawsuits."

  • Adrian Perry

    Covington & Burling

    “I get to work on the hard stuff and the new stuff,” says Perry, whose practice spans the digital entertainment, sports and music sectors. This year, that meant advising American Airlines on an in-flight entertainment partnership with Apple TV+, an extension of an earlier deal that brought Apple Music to the skies; and also helping Monumental Sports & Entertainment set up a sportsbook inside Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena, the first legal betting location inside a U.S. pro sports venue. Perry, who co-chairs his firm’s music practice, also reps Universal Music Group and Sony Music.

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "I am still getting Italian sausage delivered from my favorite place on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Trying to keep supporting the local businesses."

  • Stefan Schick

    Loeb & Loeb

    When Broadway shut down in March, the stage-centric dealmaker figured he was about to hit an idle stretch. “It ended up quite the opposite,” says Schick. “There was a lot more activity in acquiring rights, both to turn films and books into plays and musicals, and to turn plays and musicals into films or TV specials.” Not to mention that Schick’s practice is diversified well beyond Broadway, representing such studios as Warner Bros. (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Paramount (Mean Girls) as they mine their film properties for the stage. He’s doing the same for client Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which is sitting on a goldmine of music just as the jukebox musical genre is exploding. As for his digital world footprint, the Massachusetts native is also helping new client Audible grow its live stage business.

    This year, I'm thankful for: "The health and company and (meltdowns notwithstanding) joy of my family; my home office on the (blissfully quiet) attic level of our house in Queens; my mother-in-law’s cooking; the abbreviated but existent Major League Baseball season; and the sun."

  • Alli Stillman

    Latham & Watkins

    Stillman is defending Spotify in a high-profile suit from Eminem’s publisher, Eight Mile Style, that challenges the constitutionality of the Music Modernization Act. She also has been “in the trenches” helping music services prepare to acquire blanket licenses under MMA, which become available in January, and helping clients adjust to business amid the pandemic. "Forcing everybody inside has really changed a lot for people," says Stillman. "Out of necessity, people have been trying to find creative ways to engage with fans. Digital media platforms are playing a big role in that. ... Working with clients who are involved in navigating these kinds of upheavals has been really interesting."

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "I was born and raised in Manhattan, and now I am raising my kids in the same neighborhood. And I’m a bad driver."

  • Kenneth Weinrib

    Franklin Weinrib Rudell & Vassallo

    Weinrib can’t really talk about recent work for Broadway clients like Idina Menzel and Joshua Henry — but he swears fans will be excited. “We have a bunch of musicals being developed based on movies, but they haven’t been announced,” says Weinrib, adding that he's seeing a lot of new players enter the theater biz. "There are a bunch of folks that have not previously been producing who are acquiring rights and making an effort to do so. That’s been really interesting to see." He also reps Harry Connick Jr., Macaulay Culkin, Frank Miller, Michael Moore and the documentary arm of Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment (Rebuilding Paradise, On Pointe).

    This year I'm thankful for: "My family's good health."

  • Michael Williams

    Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

    With clients like Marchesa supermodel Miranda Kerr and photographer Tyler Mitchell (who made history as the first Black photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover), Williams has been focused on helping fashion’s top talent wade through months without shoots and shows. But, he says, “working with very creative people means they find ways of dealing with these challenges.” One such client is Prodject, the production company that mid-pandemic produced Rihanna’s latest Savage x Fenty fashion show, which debuted on Amazon Prime.

    What's the most New York thing about your life? "I'm still a Jets fan even though they have not been to the Super Bowl in over 50 years. (And still rooting against Tom Brady.)"