alfway through law school I found myself with an interesting dilemma. The summer after my 1L year I was given the opportunity to intern at Fox Cable Networks, working for the FX network. I spent my summer reading scripts, watching dailies and drafting agreements between the network and various writers, directors and producers. It was an awesome job and I learned so much about the ins and outs of working for a studio. After that summer I was convinced that I should pursue entertainment law. The dilemma I faced was that I was attending law school in Eastern Washington; not exactly the entertainment capital of the world. I grew up in California and always intended to return there to practice law. I just didn’t expect to become so interested in a specialty which is impossible to get into outside of California or New York when I made my decision to attend law school out of state. I was far outside the entertainment community, removed from potential contacts and relevant internships. The entertainment industry is one in which contacts are crucial. It is nearly impossible to get your foot in the door without knowing someone who knows someone. I was sure of the direction I wanted to go professionally, so I really had no interest in sitting back and allowing certain opportunities pass me by. I knew I had to finish law school in California.
It was too late to transfer law schools, so I researched my options and learned that I could visit at another law school for a semester. Law schools do not typically like this scenario because they are basically allowing a student to attend another law school and pay tuition to the visiting school for a semester, while the home institution loses out on tuition for that semester but yet still confers a JD to the student. Losing out on anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 by allowing a student to visit another law school for a semester is not ideal, so some law schools will require some “extreme circumstance” before approving a visiting semester. When I initially approached the Academic Dean about visiting another school, she told me an example of an extreme circumstance would be a dying spouse who required medical treatment out of state, thus requiring the student to move away from the law school. Thankfully my situation was not that extreme, but I eventually convinced her that I made the decision to practice entertainment law and it would be damaging to my career if I did not have a chance to take some specialized entertainment courses and build a network of connections in my chosen area of law.
Getting the Dean’s approval was a huge hurdle I was happy to have behind me. The next issue I had to deal with was figuring out what to do after my visiting semester. I planned to visit during the fall semester of my third year. I only had permission to visit for one semester, and I had no interest in returning to Washington for my final semester of law school, so I had to figure out how I would get the last 12 units I needed to graduate without moving back to Washington for just 3 months. I spoke with some professors about my options and finally it occurred to me that I could get an internship and work full time to earn the 12 units I needed. Internships aren’t limited to the area immediately surrounding the law school, so I would be fine working in California. After making all of the proper arrangements, filling out a ton of paperwork and tying up all of the loose ends in Washington, I was greatly anticipating my return to California for my final year of law school.
I decided to spend my visiting semester at Chapman University, which has an exceptional entertainment law program. I took courses such as Entertainment Law, Moviemaking and the Law and Intellectual Property, all of which provided a strong foundation in the area of entertainment, particularly with regard to copyright law. My favorite course was called Working with Filmmakers, in which the small class of 6 or so students worked with independent filmmakers and provided the free legal work required to get their low-budget projects off the ground. We prepared all the contracts required for the cast and crew and provided legal advice relevant to the project.
As a student at Chapman, I was given access to the school’s list of contacts at film studios, entertainment law firms and the various entertainment guilds. I developed beneficial relationships with several of my entertainment law professors. I am also connected to the school’s job board, which is updated regularly. As an unintended benefit of attending a California school, I was given the chance to attend a few early bar prep classes, which proved to be a huge help considering I was months away from taking the California bar exam without ever learning anything about California law.
I guess the point in sharing this story is that I refused to allow myself to feel stuck in a less than desirable situation. I took control of my education and made the decisions that were best for me, despite being completely unconventional. Once I figured out the direction I wanted to go after law school, I refused to limit my future in the legal profession just because my law school did not have the resources that would allow me to pursue a career in entertainment law, primarily due to its geographic location. Most people have no idea what area of law they may be interested in upon entering law school, or maybe they are just happy entering any general area of law. Law school admissions are so competitive that a lot of people have to go where they get in (at least that was my experience). Transferring can also be really complicated, depending on the first year program at each school. Visiting is a great way to experience a new legal community which may provide you with resources your home school might not have had the same access to.