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Entertainment Law

Presented by Franklin Graves and Molly Shehan

Note: This is not for CLE.  Live webinars are free and open to the public. The recorded program and materials are exclusively for ABA members.

The Career Choice Series is designed to help you choose your career path. Whether you’re a law student, young lawyer, or transitioning attorney, find out what it’s like to work in various practice areas and the best way to position yourself to get there.


In this segment, our speakers will explore entertainment law. Entertainment law focuses on providing legal services to companies or individuals in the entertainment business which often entails contracts and intellectual property (most often trademarks and copyright for brand protection). Franklin Graves works in-house for a music company and Molly Shehan is outside counsel for clients in the music industry. They both attended Belmont University College of Law in Nashville which offers a Certificate Program in Entertainment and Music Business. Our speakers will share with you their career paths, provide invaluable insight into what skills you’ll need to break into this area, what drew them to it, the pros and cons, and what a typical day in their practice entails.

Possible perks of working with music artists.

Possible perks of working with music artists.


Franklin Graves, General Counsel, Naxos Music Group, Nashville, TN
Molly Shehan, Attorney, Milom Horsnell Crow Rose Kelley PLC, Nashville, TN

Kathy Morris, Founder, Under Advisement, Ltd, Chicago, IL and New York, NY

Sponsored by ABA Career CenterYoung Lawyers DivisionLaw Student Division, and Forum on the Entertainment & Sports Industries

Video, Materials, and Q&A

Download the PowerPoint


Would you say this industry is geared toward younger lawyers?

Yes! There are many opportunities for young lawyers. Just as with any practice area, there are certain locations where it’s easiest to find jobs. However, there are many young lawyers practicing in the industry. You can check out the Section of Intellectual Property Law’s Young Lawyer Action Group for an extremely active community of young lawyers in the IP field. The Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries recently launched a Law Student Caucus, and is working on the launch of a Young Lawyers Caucus. You should check out opportunities in both the Section and Forum!

How much immigration law do you partake in? For instance, securing work visas for foreign entertainers or athletes and subsequently filing for more permanent residency, etc.? Do you dabble in any immigration work with your firms? Or do you work with immigration law firms to do this?

Very little. It’s not our specialty and we both would work with immigration attorneys that can properly fill out forms necessary for entertainment or sports clients. Immigration law is an important part of the entertainment industry, especially for non-U.S. clients; however, it’s not worth messing something up. There may be some projects or matters that can be handled ourselves, but it’s a delicate balance of our ethical duties.

My law school doesn’t have an entertainment program. How do you recommend I learn the material? How do I make connections without that support from career services?

Join bar associations, such as the ABA, and get involved in substantive committees. This will help you overcome the lack of opportunities in the classroom with practical, real-world experience. There are many committees you can join in both the Forum on Entertainment and Sports Industries or the Section of Intellectual Property Law. The IP Section has the Law Student Action Group where you can get plugged into opportunities immediately and build your resume.

I’m considering going to music conferences, the A3C Conference in general as I am a hip-hop enthusiast. If I attend, how would I network? How do I start these conversations?

First, check the calendar and attend any open networking events. Reach out and plan to meet up if you have connections to anyone, and we mean anyone, that is attending. It can simply be someone you find on LinkedIn or follow on Twitter. Just tweet or message them and ask if they’re attending and if you can meet up with them. It’s always awkward going to events solo and not having a plan. There are some people that thrive in those environments, but for those of us not wired that way, it’s best to have a plan. One pro tip: put away your phone and don’t take it out no matter how nervous you may be. It screams “Don’t talk to me.”

Regarding conversations, if you’re familiar with the industry and keep up with news, that’s the easiest thing to talk about. What’s happening at the conference? Learn anything exciting? Share it and ask other people those questions. Learn about their jobs, how they got their positions, where they plan to be in the future. Treat it like a first date by doing research and having a couple go-to questions in your back pocket.

Some conferences will provide an attendee list or online community to interact with other attendees. Use that and seek out people you want to meet ahead of time. If possible, reach out to them and schedule a time to meet or grab a coffee.

What books/news subscriptions do you suggest for law students trying to get into the entertainment law industry?

Franklin put together a blog post that covers this topic. You can check it out here:

Additionally, it’s worth checking out and subscribing to newsletters from Music Business WorldwideComplete Music Update, and TubeFilter.

What advice would you have for someone working in a litigation-heavy copyright and trademark practice who is looking to branch over into working in the music industry?

Your experience sounds excellent! A lot of major record labels and even some of the indies have opportunities for in-house litigation teams. Typically, they handle the initial contact, such as sending C&D letters or negotiating settlements for infringement and pass along the actual litigation work to outside counsel. However, your gaining this experience is an excellent marketing point you can use in pitching yourself in applications/cover letters sent to any openings at music industry companies. You may also consider music teams within the film and television or technology industries. Organizations in those industries often need in-house counselors or litigation teams that have an understanding of IP litigation.

Coming at it from a different direction, having a background in litigation can strengthen your transactional work. It’s important to approach contract drafting and deal-making with an understanding of any potential issues language may cause in the future. This could be a wonderful way to use your experience to transition into a non-litigation role.

If you don’t live in a large entertainment hub, is it crucial to move to one?

Not necessarily. There are typically more opportunities in major cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Atlanta, Miami, or Orlando. However, there are most definitely artist and creator communities in cities all across the world. Try to tap into those local communities through volunteer work at any events that are happening, such as a local film festival or art crawl. Do research on legal professionals in your area. If a law student, you may even have free access to attorney directories from Westlaw or LexisNexis that contains searchable data points, like practice area.

As someone who recently graduated and only had a short time with IP how do you break into the industry with a paid job? What is the best way to go about that so you can both gain experience while having some income?

It’s hard to get a deep understanding of IP laws and policy while a law student. We both went to Belmont University College of Law and were able to take many entertainment and music business related course; however, that still doesn’t fully prepare you for being in the practice of law. There are so many nuances and experiences available in the industry, that you can be practicing for a decade and still learn something every day. That’s also what makes it exciting! All of that to say, don’t discount your “short time with IP,” but instead use that as a foundation for your next step into the profession.

If you’re trying to get a paid job, you’ll largely encounter non-legal or contract manager positions that only require a Bachelor’s degree. It’s the reality of the entertainment industry that so many contractual and legal matters are handled by non-attorneys. That’s your competition. Franklin was told multiple times that it might involve taking a non-legal position and working his way up within an organization, and that’s honestly the reality of the industry. It’s difficult to find an organization, law firm or individual that is willing to train you and give you the chance to gain the experience.  That being said, it’s going to be easier to supplement paid experience with volunteer experience. Whether it’s a legal arts clinic on the weekend, researching or writing an article with an experienced attorney in the practice area, or spending time as an active member of a bar association group. That’s going to open the most doors to making the connections and getting exposure to prove you have an understanding of the industry when it comes to interviewing.

Do you think you learn more in private practice than in-house? What path would you suggest and what would you say are the advantages/disadvantages to both?

Both have extremely valuable learning opportunities and you can’t go wrong with either direction. This isn’t the best answer, but it honestly depends. If you’re in-house, you may be expected to handle more than just IP/entertainment law issues, such as HR/employment law or finance and accounting or insurance. If you’re at a law firm, it can be the same way as a young associate since you can often get tossed any and every assignment from various departments. But, the answer can change if you are in a large in-house legal department that allows individual attorneys to focus on a specific area of the business (such as trademark clearances, litigation/protection, or back catalog contract issues). The answer can also change if you are in a boutique law firm that only handles entertainment and/or IP issues. There isn’t a ‘wrong’ path to take and its best to consider any and all opportunities you may have available.

What helped you secure your in-house/law firm job, right out of college?

Networking and internships! Both Franklin and Molly were heavily and actively involved in the local Nashville entertainment industry scene. They both utilized their connections and internship experiences to secure their jobs after law school.

Do you feel that the practice area lends itself well to a virtual lawyering environment, or do you feel it’s necessary to be physically located in an ‘entertainment oriented’ city, like Los Angeles or Nashville?

It depends. From a law firm perspective, it’s difficult to build a client base “virtually” without having some physical means of connecting with them and this is especially true when it comes to attending a client’s event (like a concert, launch party, or exhibit). Travel would be necessary and costly over time. From a corporate perspective, it’s definitely possible and there are some openings that match this setup in the technology industry. However, without a strong connection, or the company looking to hire someone remotely, it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince someone you’d be a valuable asset without being physically present in the office. The best option would be to start out working at the company’s headquarters and then positioning yourself to work remotely.

I currently work in-house (work for a manufacturing company) what are some things that can be done to make a move from in-house manufacturing to entertainment law?

Network. It’s going to be important to meet and interact with people already in the industry. Do this through in-person events, like ABA conferences or local bar association events or industry conferences (MusicBiz is one that happens here in Nashville, but you can easily find them happening all over). Also, if you are a member of the Forum on Entertainment and Sports Industries or the Section of Intellectual Property Law, you can join (for free!) committees that are always looking for volunteers to research and write articles or studies and put together CLEs.

Publishing and speaking. Start authoring articles, blog posts, or moderating/paneling CLE events, to establish yourself as an authority within the field. It’s going to be important to fill your resume with IP and/or entertainment law related content. Without transitioning into a job immediately, the only way to do this will be to write or speak at conferences or local bar association events.

Build a practice on the side. If your current employer allows you to moonlight, you can utilize the networking connections you make to build up a practice on the side. It will take a lot of time and require a lot of work, but it’s been done before and is a common way for attorneys to transition into a full-time entertainment law practice.

I plan to move to Nashville after graduation and will take the Tennessee bar exam. What’s the best way to break into the Nashville legal market and how can I get involved in the arts community when I move to town?

A great organization to get started with is the Volunteer Lawyers and Professionals for the Arts (“VLPA”) here in Nashville. It is a program run by the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville (“ABC Nashville). You can find out more information here: There are regular weekend legal clinics, arts events, and networking opportunities the organization hosts. Specifically, look into their annual Arts Immersion event.

Join the Tennessee Bar Association and Nashville Bar Association. Both organizations have active entertainment/sports law and IP committee groups that meet on a monthly basis in the Nashville area.  You can also check out the upcoming TBA Entertainment & Sports Forum 2017 at which both Molly and Franklin will be speakers on a panel. They’d be more than happy to meet with you and introduce you to people, so reach out to them and let them know if you’ll be there!