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Former Senior VP of NBC Shares Advice on Building a Career in Entertainment Law

By Lori Atherton
September 29, 2015

John Berlinski, '99, worked on one entertainment case during the seven years he was a general litigator at a global law firm. That didn't stop him from applying for—and getting—a legal job at NBCUniversal, where he was the senior vice president and head of West Coast television litigation.

When it comes to breaking into entertainment law—or any legal field, for that matter—networking is key, Berlinski told students during a recent talk at Michigan Law. Though Berlinski found the job at NBC through monster.com, it was his connection to a colleague who was already working at the network that helped him get his foot in the door.

John Berlinski, '99"I never would have gotten the job at NBC if I didn't already know someone working there who physically took my resume, walked it to the decision-maker's office, and said, 'you should take a look at this,'" said Berlinski who, from 2006 to 2013, managed NBC's entertainment litigation docket, which included disputes involving profit participation, copyright, idea theft, right to privacy, breach of contract, and labor and employment matters. "Networking is really important for finding that job. Talk to people and send them emails. Invite them to get a cup of coffee or go to lunch. It's something you need to do in general, and certainly what you need to do in the entertainment industry, because it's a close-knit group of people. Having people know that you're looking is valuable."

Most entertainment law jobs, whether on the network side or the talent side, require some type of law firm experience—few, if any, of these jobs can be gotten straight out of law school, Berlinski noted. In particular, those with litigation experience tend to do well as transactional lawyers in the entertainment industry. "Litigation is a good training ground for being a transactional lawyer," said Berlinski, who gained his own litigation experience at O'Melveny & Meyers LLP after graduating from Michigan Law. "A lot of smart transactional lawyers know that hiring litigators is very helpful, because their job is to pick apart contract terms and tell you where there are holes."

Once you've landed a job in entertainment law, you can do well by distinguishing yourself from your peers. "Do something really important that no one else is able to do," Berlinski advised the students. "Develop a niche, something you are an expert in, and make yourself invaluable." He recounted his own experience of being assigned a complex accounting case at NBC that required him to learn about profit participation. He eventually gained enough expertise in the area that he was appointed the head lawyer of NBCUniversal's profit participation group, managing a team of attorneys dedicated to providing advice regarding the negotiation of profit participation contracts, the issuance of accounting statements, audits, and the resolution of audit claims.

Now a partner in the Century City office of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP and chair of the firm's Entertainment Practice Group, Berlinski ended his talk with a final piece of advice: Be nice to those you work with, especially those who are "below you in the hierarchy." He witnessed this lesson firsthand when he worked as a paralegal for a well-known white-collar criminal defense lawyer, who believed that all employees, whether mailroom workers or administrative assistants or higher-ups, be treated fairly and well. "Treating people well pays big dividends," Berlinski said, "and will bring you very, very far. It will also make you happier."

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