Welcome back to Beyond the Docket! This week's interview is with Corey Field. Corey is an entertainment lawyer with a background in music publishing. We talk about Corey's experience teaching CEOs in China about US entertainment law, his new book on the subject, and his transition from big law to his own law firm.
Tell us about your legal practice. How long have you had your own practice? What type of work do you focus on?
I have a slightly unusual background for a lawyer, having worked in the international music publishing industry for over 10 years before going to law school. I wanted to become a copyright law expert and use that knowledge in my music publishing career. However, despite having been a music major in college and even having a Ph.D. in music composition, and attending law school while I continued to work full time, I did well in law school and had the somewhat unexpected opportunity for a career change from music publisher to intellectual property lawyer, starting at Ballard Spahr LLP’s headquarters in Philadelphia. At a medium to large size firm like Ballard Spahr (about 600 lawyers), I was expected to learn how to be an IP lawyer including transactional, litigation, and copyright and trademark counseling and registration, all very new skills in addition to the many years of first-hand entertainment industry contract negotiation experience I had as a former music publisher.
My practice has ever since combined traditional entertainment law deal-making with rigorous intellectual property skills. Although my first clients tended to be in the music industry, my practice broadened to include virtually all areas of the entertainment industry, including film, television, publishing, media, branding, software, etc. My clients include large international music publishers, film and television and technology industry companies and individuals everything from composers and songwriters to novelists, screenwriters, social media influencers, athletes, and others. I am also Outside Counsel for the Sundance Film Festival. I eventually relocated to my home town, Los Angeles, then in March 2016, opened my own boutique law firm, Corey Field Law Group, P.C.
Looking back, I had to be a self-starter as I began at a law firm that was wonderful in IP but did not have an entertainment practice, and I was given the luxury of developing that practice without any boundaries. My colleagues tell me my practice crosses a lot of borders and I love that. I also love helping entertainment clients with sophisticated copyright and trademark intellectual property matters. I have heard that some entertainment boutiques send clients elsewhere for IP work. To me, it’s important to integrate IP into a company and individual’s entertainment profile. Trademarks are no longer a “sideshow” in the entertainment world, they are of paramount importance. So are copyright registrations, recordations, and these days terminations. I represent several estates of composers and writers and handle copyright terminations for underlying novels that were used as the basis for motion pictures and music publishing matters in the area of copyright terminations.
What’s your law firm technology stack? Do you use practice management software? Docketing software?
When I decided to start my own firm, I was absolutely amazed and delighted to discover that there are entire industries built on helping new companies find high-tech solutions to traditionally complex technology needs. Fortunately, from my days as an executive in the music publishing industry, I was accustomed to the needs of running a business including budgets, accounting, payments, technology, databases and data storage. But in those days a company needed large departments and contractors and hardware investments for even a basic system.
Today, I am able to use technology such as Alt Legal for my trademark docketing, Clio for time entry and client invoicing, Intuit for payroll, online banking, Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, etc. It’s wonderful and makes starting and running a new law firm almost fun. Alt Legal just amazes me. At the large firm I had the luxury of the finest IP and trademark paralegals using the best software systems, truly a top-notch support system. With my own boutique firm, Alt Legal provides so many of those important services so seamlessly. I am truly amazed at the email reminders and links directly to the USPTO, and especially at the quality of customer support. I feel like I am offering my trademark clients a service and docket that covers everything it should.
If there were one piece of advice you could give to clients or potential clients, what would it be?
You have to remember that when I was a music publisher, I was the “client” not the lawyer. So I feel I understand what they need and want in a way that is informed by that background. When they put their faith in my firm to assist them, I take it personally to live up to that trust. So the only “advice” I can think of is that all clients should continue to seek legal representation that they believe is the perfect fit for them. As long as my firm is the perfect fit we are all happy.
You just released a book Entertainment Law Fundamentals and Practice: can you tell a little bit about why you decided to write a book and what it covers? What was your favorite part of working on this project?
As I mentioned briefly, I have a Ph.D. in Music Composition and apparently, have a scholarly streak. When I started law school, I loved the fact that the law honors and respects and needs great scholarship, facts, analysis, and writing. I felt at home and even in law school, I had several law review articles published. Legal writing is truly a love of mine. Word leaked out and I was asked by a leading law publishing company to write a treatise on entertainment law, which took several years. The treatise can be found on the shelves of law school and big firm libraries nationwide. But a treatise is expensive and not easy to purchase.
When I started teaching entertainment law as an adjunct at USC Gould School of Law, I, of course, wanted to teach entertainment law using my own treatise as the assigned textbook. I sought a publisher who would take my treatise and repurpose it as a “normal” law school textbook at a normal price. Cognella Academic Publishing turned out to be that wonderful publisher. In a short time (and thanks to the publisher of the treatise who returned the copyright to me), Cognella’s incredible staff worked with me to refine and shorten the treatise so it would be a suitable law school textbook, and also a unique practice guide for lawyers. A Preliminary Edition came out this August, in time for my USC class, and the official First Edition will appear sometime later this year, with some nice up to the minute updates and finalized layout. It is about 400 pages, and the chapters cover the entire entertainment industry including Film, Television, Book and Magazine Publishing, Music, Live Theater, Radio, Celebrity Rights of Publicity and Privacy, and Cyber law. Every description of the applicable business model includes citations to the legal support. In the entertainment industry, the legal support comes from so many areas, including case precedent, statutes, union and guild agreements, and contracts that establish custom and practice. One of the most important aspects of the First Edition is that it will come with online access to over 225 legal forms.
So, in summary, the Preliminary Edition is available right now but the ordering process is geared towards my USC Gould School of Law students. The First Edition comes out in a couple months and will be easily and widely available, either from Cognella’s own website or vendors such as Amazon. I truly hope that the book will be adopted as a textbook for entertainment law courses in law schools nationwide, and will be used by practitioners who need a quick yet thorough “how to do it” on almost any topic.
And to answer your question, my favorite part of working on this project has been seeing how much it helps my clients to have a lawyer with a wide range of legal knowledge. I don’t have to retrain myself if the topic turns from streaming mechanical music licenses on digital radio to the California Talent Agencies Act, as writing the book and my own practice required me to be conversant in all areas to the best of my ability, or at least to know how to find the answer and convey it to others in the book.
As an adjunct professor at USC you are in contact with future lawyers. What advice do give them for pursuing a career in entertainment law? For opening up a solo practice?
Human creativity is the greatest force ever known. That includes individuals who create beautiful and meaningful things and companies that create technology and distribution and fund entertainment. As entertainment lawyers of the future they have the wonderful opportunity to work with some of the finest creative minds in the world, including in business matters, and to assist that process and be part of it. My advice on day one is to respect and be in awe of the creativity that entertainment law allows you to help bring into being.
As for pursuing careers, I emphasize leadership. That means being capable and knowing either what to do, or knowing how to find out what to do. My goal is that all my students enter the legal profession with leadership skills that come from confidence knowing the global entertainment law business and legal models and the legal support for those models.
In addition to my entertainment law lecture course which is called just “Entertainment Law,” I also teach two practical courses. One is “Entertainment Law in Practice” which was offered the last two years, but next year will morph into “Music Law in Practice.” In those smaller courses, I really treat the students like lawyers in a firm: they must decipher client data, decide what needs to be done, and acquire the skills to get it done. Leadership. Those students draft short contracts, know how to redline and negotiate a contract, and know what to do next in every situation. I have had absolutely stellar reports about my students from entertainment companies and law firms who seem to be impressed at their maturity as entertainment lawyers right out of law school. At least those are the positive comments. So far no negative ones!
As for opening up a solo practice, while that is one possible path, I am more interested in the students learning to collaborate and create and benefit from the “virtual mind” that a good law firm represents. I didn’t start my own firm (which is growing) until I had been in a big law firm for 14 years, and I benefited from that path and experience.
By the way, you did not ask whether my extremely intelligent and mature and motivated USC students have a good sense of humor. They do. And it’s essential to being a good lawyer.
What was it like teaching the U.S. perspective on film law, entertainment law, and U.S. copyright law to CEOs in China? Was there anything unexpected or interesting that came from the experience?
Last year the USC School of Cinematic Arts, one of the world’s great film schools, asked me and another lawyer to teach film and copyright law in Beijing for a week, at the prestigious Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. CKGSB is very well known in China, as its “students” are more like what we would call “Executive MBAs,” experienced executives who take courses for a week with their peers from across China, the leaders of the industry. So our classroom had about 80 leading Chinese producers, financiers, software and tech giants, and television producers. We had a live translation using earphones. These were high-level professionals who had an intense interest in specific areas at a high level. One area that was of great interest was completion bonds in the film industry, as that is a mechanism that can protect an investment in a film. Other areas of enormous interest involved how deal negotiations work in the United States. We did a mock negotiation for a book option for a film, and it was incredible how all the students were so engaged, offering lots of comments and shout-outs as the negotiations proceeded. I think that was a highlight, we turned the classroom into a live real-time negotiation experience. And not surprisingly the “students” (CEOs in fact) were absolutely brilliant. I thought we had a valuable international moment of revelation especially in the way every detail of the deal points affected all the others, and how an American entertainment attorney approaches such a negotiation. To the extent anyone in the course was concerned about what they might encounter negotiating with Americans, I believe we answered that question and had a lot of fun and laughter in the process.
Yes, we also covered lots of other business basics, and as a result, I created a visual aid for the main steps in independent film production which I call the “Film Production Pyramid.” I use it in my teaching at USC and it is reproduced as an Appendix to the Film Chapter of the book.
By the way, USC Gould School of Law has a very active international program and lots of LLM students from China. I have maintained my connections and enjoy teaching LLM students from all over the world, including the Chinese contingent in my classes at USC. I also have a film production company client in China and have become very interested in modern Chinese cinema.
Before becoming an attorney, you were a music publisher; how did you make the transition? What inspired you to become an entertainment lawyer?
As described above, I started out wanting to be an expert in copyright law and went to law school for that sole reason. Everything else grew out of that organically in unexpected ways. Sometimes people comment that I made such a “huge change” going from the music industry to the law, but to me, they are seamlessly connected, just an expansion, not a turn. I like to tell people that I see learning music form as an ideal preparation for legal writing because a sonata movement is exactly like a good legal argument: first theme, contrasting theme, development, resolution (recapitulation), and summary (coda). And learning how to perform a musical work is great preparation for oral argument, because once you begin you have to keep going until the end without stopping, and have the overall structure and pace in mind. And music publishing simply added to those fundamental skills lots of business acumen. So the transition you refer to was something I was fortunate to experience and perhaps served as the “inspiration” you mention.
If you could create any legal-focused AI technology, what would it be and why?
Bringing the conversation back to trademark law and the Alt Legal docket system, I would have to say that one of the most difficult things to clearly convey to clients is the “risk assessment” in trademark counseling. I like to call it the “risk-o-meter” and I am certain others have used the same metaphor. Perhaps the Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) technology I would like to see would be something that helps clients assess risk and reward and helps them make decisions about what course of action to pursue. Ultimately, that’s where the client must take all the lawyer’s advice and counsel and make their own decision. Perhaps AI would help, but not replace, that process.