The Law Office of Judith C. Dornstein
Years in the record business
Entertainment and Intellectual Property Attorney, CEO/President of The Law Office of Judith C. Dornstein
Q & A with Judith Dornstein
How did you get started in your current line of work?
After graduating from NYU law school and passing the New York and California bar exams, I got my first job at Region #31 of the National Labor Relations Board, and tried to work on cases involving the Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America (WGA, SAG & DGA). Then a friend told me about an opening in the legal department of a record company, so I applied and pursued it, and got the job. After 3 ½ years there, I was invited to join a prestigious entertainment law firm, Kaplan, Livingston, where I worked on television and motion picture projects as well as music projects. From there I joined a new firm, Bushkin, Kopelson, Gaims & Gaines, and became a partner in the entertainment department after one year. While at the Bushkin firm I started to represent a new heavy metal band, RATT, and suddenly I seemed to represent a whole host of heavy metal bands in the ‘80s! When that law firm broke up after 13 years, I was part of several smaller partnerships, and in 2005 formed my own current boutique entertainment firm representing clients (individuals and smaller companies) in music, motion pictures, television and the internet. A fuller description of my services is at www.dornsteinlaw.com
Describe your job, a typical day.
As my own boss now, I start almost every day by either going to the gym or, on the weekend, hiking with my dogs! That seems to increase my endorphins, and gets me ready to meet the challenges of the day at my best! The remainder of the day depends on the deals I am then working on and/or the contracts I am drafting or commenting on – which could be in the music area (records, songwriting, music publishing, merchandising, management, tour, agency agreements, etc.), television (above-the-line talent or production/legal contracts, merchandising, management, agency agreement, etc. ), motion pictures (above-the-line talent or production/legal contract, merchandising, management, agency agreement, etc.) or the internet (development/hosting deals, talent deals, writer deals, etc.). Occasionally, I even have time to meet with clients for lunch!
It’s always a challenge dealing with other attorneys when trying to make a deal and/or negotiate and/or finalize a contract, because rarely, if ever, does one attorney accept the deal or contract offered or drafted by the other! But I pride myself on having a lot of patience and a sense of humor to get me through even the toughest negotiations, and look upon myself as a “deal maker” rather than a “deal breaker”.
Favorite part of your job?
The best part of my job is getting to know some of my clients better, and socializing with them, and of course the perks of going to screenings and parties – like going to the private screening and premiere of “The Blues Brothers” original movie, as Belushi and Ackroyd’s attorney , since I negotiated their contract for the movie and made their record deal and all the deals for their music tour. Or going to Grammy parties!
Hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is dealing with other lawyers who just won’t ever give up on a point, which I’ve already rejected or who think their “beginner” client should be getting the same deal points that a “star” client got! And for music clients in particular, trying to make them understand the economics and reality of the music business and music deals today – which are so different than when I started in the ‘70s.
What would make your job easier?
Having 6 associates to do all the work. Ha ha. Probably not though, because I’ve always been a hands-on kind of attorney, who likes to negotiate and draft her own deals and contracts, since it’s just faster that way, given my many years of experience as a music and entertainment attorney.
How has the landscape changed in this sector in the last 5 years?
The record business has become much harder for new artists in one way – it is much harder to get a record deal with a major label, as there are now so few major labels left, and those that are still standing want proof that the artist or band already has a huge following on the internet, YouTube and Twitter. But in another way, it is easier for recording artists and songwriters to promote themselves now, without a major label, via videos on YouTube and through all the on-line distribution centers like Itunes, CD Baby, etc., and through their own websites, as well as through social networking—although that does take an enormous amount of time to really be effective.
Which companies or people do you admire in this business?
I admire Tess Taylor for her foresight and perseverance in developing NARIP and for all she does to educate people in the music industry with NARIP seminars, and introducing people to one another through mixers and individually. I also admire the “old school” A&R people and executives who came up in this industry through the ranks, were usually musicians themselves, and actually went out to clubs and signed artists they believed in!
Where do you see opportunities in this sector? Threats?
I think musicians, songwriters, managers and agents have to make their own opportunities these days by educating themselves as much as possible about the music business, and by networking, and by the use of Web sites and social media. The threats are the same threats to originality and infringement that have always been there- only now, with the advent of the Internet, such infringements are worldwide and spread virally in a matter of minutes, hours and days. So it is much more difficult and costly to pursue and locate copyright infringers. The biggest hurdle is convincing a whole generation that is used to getting “free” music, to actually pay for that music, and to set the price at a reasonable rate so that people will not hesitate to actually buy or rent the music.
What advice would you give to someone entering this area today?
My advice is to follow your passion, and if you are really passionate about music, do everything you can possibly do to make music your career, and don’t listen to those who say you can’t! It will take a lot of work, self-education (books, seminars, music magazines, music sites on-line, etc.), perseverance, social networking, networking among people already in the industry, and perhaps interning to gain experience in the beginning.
How has NARIP helped you and what more can we do?
I have enjoyed meeting many new people through the informal Saturday “mixers”, and attending some of the “mock negotiation” seminars. I would only suggest that you keep on doing what you are doing!
Any final thoughts?
I ‘m really glad to see that NARIP has set up its own Linkedin group, and would encourage everyone in NARIP to join this new Linkedin group, and to use it as a way to communicate with one another, to ask questions about the music business and to post articles on the music business that would be of interest to everyone.
E-mail: judith AT dornsteinlaw DOT com