How does New York inspire you?
It's the energy that you get from the people in the city, specifically young people. Everybody is moving at a competitive pace and that alone is inspiring and encouraging. When you have a down day, you don't have to look far to find motivation.
Why did you want to become a lawyer? What led you into entertainment law?
I always was interested in practicing law, but I was more into working on the financial services side. I majored in finance in undergrad and started working as a financial analyst for a Music World Entertainment after graduation. I worked closely with Matthew Knowles and other great folks there who encouraged me to go to law school. I saw how the attorneys representing clients there solved problems and wanted to do the same, but I wasn't quite sold on the idea of practicing entertainment law. Choosing my first internship brought me to a crossroad. It was between interning at the FCC or at Viacom. I went with my gut and chose Viacom. That was a great decision. It's been a rewarding pursuit.
What was your experience like attending law school in D.C. with its emphasis on politics?
American University Washington College of Law is a big public interest and international law school. So for me, forging a path in entertainment law was difficult. There was not an abundance of resources or known alum in the field. Once I knew this was going to be my path, it took a lot of reaching out and networking on my own. I leveraged the contacts I had from my brief introduction to entertainment. That's actually how my first internship came along. There used to be a competition series on BET called Sunday Best and at that time, the winner would get signed to Music World Entertainment, so I was in correspondence with all these folks at Viacom. I went to an entertainment law panel event and spoke with Damien Alexander, an SVP at BET handling litigation work. He connected me with the internship coordinator bringing everything full circle.
The Alchemist is one of my favorite books. I always revisit it because it mentions maktub, which means "it is written." There's a quote in the book that says "if you really want something, all the universe will conspire to help you achieve it" and I really believe that. Once you confess that thing, your eyes are open to opportunities and you're much more susceptible to taking those opportunities.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about being an entertainment lawyer?
There are so many but number one, people think it's all glitz, glam and fun when in reality it is hard work no matter if you're in-house or at a firm. When law students come to me saying they are interested in entertainment law, they often don't realize it's a lot of transactional drafting, negotiating deal points for your client and fully understanding the big picture of a deal. You have to be a zealous advocate because there are large amounts of money on the table.
What is a skill that you think makes someone a good entertainment lawyer?
I'm a bit biased because I have a background in business having worked in finance, but having a general understanding of business affairs is advantageous. I always recommend taking a few courses to law students. Especially working in-house, meaning my client is the entertainment company, I'm not just making decisions from a purely legal standpoint. I have to keep in mind what the business intentions and goals are. You're not there to spell out the black letter law. You're there to help them meet their creative and business goals while still being legally compliant. We aren't the gatekeepers, making creative decisions and bringing in money for the company. The last thing you want to do is become the lawyer known for saying "no." You want to find a creative way to get to "yes."
How does your job fulfill you?
I've always been into creative mediums and art. I have a twin brother and he is the super artistic one. And what I mean by super artistic, he draws, paints, builds really cool furniture pieces. He does it all. And my sister played instruments when we were younger. I never did any of that, but I was drawn to it. Working in entertainment law allows me to fulfill that interest being a part of the process that allows for a successful musical production and being a big part of making sure it goes off without a hitch.
What is the most demanding project you've worked on?
Talent deals are generally demanding, especially when you work with high-level talent. It's sometimes a battle of leverage because they know they are stars and what they want to be treated as such. You sometimes have to creatively figure out what is the real ask. For instance, if the request is a private dressing room but the facility does not have any, how about I provide a private dressing area.
What advice would you give to content creators and influencers on protecting their brands?
My number one piece of advice, and that most attorneys would give, is to protect your intellectual property. It's easier to do so from the outset than to recover if someone has infringed upon it. If you don't have the resources to access a lawyer, follow your gut. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Maybe get a lawyer to review that specific matter and confirm your feeling. There are also organizations that provide legal services to artists for a minimized fee. I've worked with Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts here in New York and you shouldn't have too much difficulty finding others in cities with a large arts scene. You'll be able to work with reputable and competent attorneys in the field that are usually fulfilling pro bono hours or because of a genuine interest in helping content creators.
At what point would you suggest someone secure representation?
The risk-averse side of me says anytime there is a deal on the table, but I recognize that may not be an option for many. So, certainly when there is a deal of high monetary value or extensive rights to your image or content being given to an entity. You don't want to hurt yourself in the long-term.
What was your biggest failure? How did you overcome it?
The first academic piece I wrote did not get published. It was 45 pages about the intersection of technology, public policy and intellectual property, and I put a lot of hard work into it. So, I was disappointed and upset but shopped it around some more. It ended up getting published in a Chinese journal and the cool thing was that as I made edits, I got to work with someone who became a mentor to me. His name was Perry Wallace and he was the first Black scholarship athlete admitted into the SEC and a professor at my law school. He passed two years ago, but he was super inspiring. It's only because of failing the first time that I was able to create that relationship as well as be published internationally.
When do you feel most confident?
In the work context, after executing a deal. There's nothing like the adrenaline of negotiating a deal, but the signatures make the process feel even better. Especially if it's a good deal, that moment redeems all of the stress. You do have to pat yourself on the back and take it in. In the personal context, after speaking to my grandmother. She is one of my biggest supporters and hypes me up.
What would you consider to be your passion in life? How do you pursue it?
My passion in life is helping people, both professionally and outside of work. I'm a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and one of the things that drew me to the organization in college was finding a platform to serve and affect the lives of others. Whenever I can do that now, I take the opportunity.
Do you have a word for 2019?
I have to attribute this to my friend George. He said this is the year of energy and it's layered. It's focusing on the energy you possess - pacing so you have enough for yourself and the energy you exhibit - determining what amount is required to a particular pursuit.
How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?
I lean onto my tribe. It's so important to find yours. We have conversations when I'm feeling a sense of lack, audit one another and continue to check-in.