The Long Strange Trip of Janine Small ’91 Entertainment Attorney

  • Alumni

The UC Hastings alumna turned her love of music into a successful legal career as an entertainment attorney. She is also the Chair of the ABA Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries, which is hosting its annual Video Game and Digital Media Conference here at UC Hastings on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

How did you get into the practice of entertainment law?

I’d always loved music and I always liked to converse. When I was younger, my booming voice could be heard all around and my parent’s close friend called me a walking filibuster. He would tell me I was a born attorney and I would repeatedly say, “never in a million, billion, quadrillion years will I become an attorney.”

However, after college and some traveling across the country seeing my favorite band, The Grateful Dead, perform, lawyering became increasingly attractive to me. It is a profession with great opportunities, steady employment and one that would allow me to achieve my goals of supporting myself independently in ways not available to my mother and many other women of her generation.

Why did you choose to attend UC Hastings?

I focused on UC Hastings because music was my love and I wanted to do something in the entertainment field. I was also excited that I could continue to see the Grateful Dead live while undertaking intense studies since the school was located in their hometown of San Francisco. It’s a great school that was one of the few at the time to have focused programming in this field, including top entertainment law professors, an entertainment law club, a dedicated law journal and classes on entertainment and intellectual property law. At the time, they also had professors who previously taught at Ivy League schools through the over-75 program and were the experts in the field that wrote the underlying text books.

My classmates were terrific and I had a really great experience there. I worked with the librarian to create a music bibliography and even helped coordinate a joint event with the American Bar Association on the music industry in my role as symposium editor for the Comm/Ent Law Journal.

UC Hastings also gave me the resources to meet the people that would help me get the job I wanted. I was able to get internships with people that were in my field and also received my first job as a result of second year student interviews on campus.

What was your first job in the music business?

My first job in the music business was as a young lawyer at (now) Carroll, Guido and Groffman. I had to move across the country and take a 75% pay cut, but I was following my dreams. In 23 years at the firm, I achieved partnership and worked on many groundbreaking deals with some of the biggest artists. Then, in 2014, I decided to open my own shop.

Did you have any early influences in your career?

There have been so many amazing people along the way, but fellow music attorney Ed Pierson, had a significant impact on my career. I met Ed when he was chair of the American Bar Association Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries. We put on a legal music symposium at UC Hastings and he invited me to write for their magazine and work on several projects together. I now hold the chairperson position for the organization and preside over our annual seminars, webinars, publications and over 4,000 members.

What’s it like working as an entertainment attorney in practice?

My practice touches on many different areas of the law, but is generally contract law. It’s dealing with contracts for people who are in the industry broadly addressing production, distribution, licensing, employment and performance, including recording agreements, live performance agreements, employment agreements, bandmember and crew agreements, publishing agreements, endorsements, festival production, influencer and service agreements. Legal issues that customarily come into play are copyright and trademark intellectual property, licensing, corporate, advertising and sweepstakes rules and even tort law, when dealing with rights of publicity, privacy, indemnity, insurance and liabilities. It’s almost like being a general practitioner in the field of entertainment.

Ultimately, my job is about protecting the client’s assets, which means getting them the best deal possible, and protecting them against liabilities. The most difficult part is knowing when to push and knowing when to fold, balancing these somewhat divergent goals.

The best part of my job is working in an industry that excites me and assisting my clients in achieving their dreams and goals. Although this is still often a taxing job, it is so fantastic to not have to dread going into work. I’m working on a subject matter that’s enjoyable, that’s interesting, and that I can understand.

How has the music and entertainment law practice changed throughout your career?

The internet and explosion of digital distribution has in changed the entire business. Piracy has increased, distribution is more efficient, and there is less money being made from individual sales. To make up for this loss, the record deals have become more complicated and expansive but without providing the funding to compensate for the time and energy needed to properly negotiate and close the deals. Performers are also bombarded with promotional opportunities which often do not involve financial reward but include overly broad contract rights. Without proper negotiation, these agreements could result in the artist giving up rights to their music without royalties, fees, or approvals. It is more important now than ever to make sure that my clients are properly educated in certain business terms, so they know when they need to seek our counsel.

You used to be the one dancing in the aisles at concerts, but now what do you do at shows?

Generally, I am at shows to visit with clients and their team, and to catch up with colleagues. I want to make sure everything goes smoothly and everyone is taken care of. Once that’s done, I like to dance in the wings and enjoy my friends and the music.

Do you have any great stories from working as a music and entertainment lawyer?

There are so many great moments I am fortunate to be a part of. I am happiest seeing my clients’ dreams become a reality and knowing that I played a small role in helping them. I negotiated O.A.R.’s first producer agreement with a member’s father, a corporate lawyer, who told me “we got our kids to college and we rely on you to get them to the next level”. They eventually sold out their headlining show at Madison Square Garden.

I’ve had many music fangirl moments, like when one of my idols, Bonnie Raitt, gave me a shout out during a Beacon Theatre show; being on stage with my client Ben Harper watching Neil Young at Bonnaroo and looking out at a sea of 80k fans; watching Stevie Wonder from the cabana at the Hangout Music Festival; and last, but definitely not least, hanging with my dead head brethren in Chicago during the Dead’s Fare Thee Well concert.

One of my craziest experiences occurred at the 2011 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. There were hundreds of amazing blue LED lights dropped by parachutists that fell from the sky at the end of the Arcade Fire and Primus sets. As the festival’s attorney, I spent many hours in lock step with the festival’s insurance agent discussing the liability, safety, insurance, and indemnification issues surrounding these falling flashing lights. I was assured that no one was in danger as the parachutists were to land at a field several miles from the festival site. As I was admiring the beautiful display in the sky, I was almost struck down by a parachutist who landed no more than 10 feet in front of me. The parachutist completely missed his mark and almost took me out– the lawyer who was so intent on protecting the audience!

What advice do you have for law students and practicing attorneys that are looking to break into the industry?

Become familiar with the practices of the industry. There is a unique terminology and course of dealings. Not only should you research and read books, but also network in the industry. Find groups that you like that you can join in your area of interest-both legal and non-legal. What is important is to become the best lawyer you can be and by staying involved in networking opportunities you can later achieve your goals. I also suggest to volunteer for lawyers for the creative arts-you can learn and meet people through that, take classes on topics you don’t know about, and make sure to create a network of people who have the resources to help you do the best work possible. Attending the meetings presented by the ABA Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries is one great way to obtain these opportunities.

Why should people attend the upcoming Video Game and Digital Media Conference at UC Hastings?

The video game conference will cover a specific and growing area in the entertainment law field. We’re competing in a world with a lot of gaming activities on the day to day of the entertainment industry, whether it’s online, interactive VR, or even in sports. The conference presenters are the best in the industry and will help the attendees to understand the law and how that affects the future market. I recommend the conference even for people that do not work in this area on a day-to-day basis because it’s good to understand all the background of the type of legal issues that may come up and to establish contacts.

Any last great thoughts?

I am grateful to have made my love of music into my vocation. As you probably expect, many of those who end up practicing in the legal entertainment field were first musicians, fine artists or athletes, which lends to an extremely fun and collegial environment. I don’t know that you’ll find that in a lot of other businesses. Most of my colleagues stayed true to themselves, did not back down to no’s and were kind to those around them. It’s important to be passionate about what you do, do your job with integrity, and believe in the causes we take on behalf of our clients.

Janine will also be a panelist at the Relix Live Music Conference (a conference for professionals in the live music industry, designed to shed light on the fast-paced and ever-changing live music business and bring together the leading figures in the industry today) on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York.