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When it comes to entertainment law, the big legal players have traditionally emerged from firms that sprung up in Los Angeles, the entertainment industry’s home town. But increased lateral movement, coupled with a widening emphasis on technology, has out-of-town firms like Milwaukee-rooted Foley & Lardner grabbing an opportunity to carve out their own entertainment niche. A decade after opening its Los Angeles office, Foley is breaking into the region’s signature � and lucrative � industry, seeking to build a top-notch entertainment practice from the ground up. Since its official launch a little more than a year ago, the firm has attracted top talent and is relying on those key lateral hires to lead the way. “The entertainment industry is very relationship-oriented and there’s a lot to developing those relationships over time,” says Miriam Beezy, who co-chairs Foley’s entertainment team. “Some of my clients were surprised because they hadn’t thought of Foley in entertainment.” Beezy acknowledges that it was an adjustment for her when she joined the firm in 2004. She had previously worked at firms that included Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger and Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, two smaller, L.A.-based firms with strong entertainment reputations. “When [Foley partner James Nguyen] and I were talking about this, we realized there was no reason we couldn’t have that here,” she says. “We had all the parts, and if we put that all together, we could offer something quite unique.” Foley at first hired laterals who already had key client relationships and built a practice that would parlay its established technology expertise. In 2005, billing rates in the entertainment practice jumped 14 percent, according to Beezy, and its existence alone is helping Foley boost its reputation in the L.A. market. Recruiting well-known names such as Carole Handler and M. Kenneth Suddleson, both of whom have joined Foley within the past year, is a smart strategy, say industry observers. “I know Suddleson and Handler so I am not sure it matters if the firm is known,” says Mark Litwak, a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer and law professor. “They’re going to start out with a bunch of clients in the business. It’s not like they’re starting from scratch.” “Traditionally, larger law firms have represented studios, networks or corporate sides of the entertainment industry,” says Howard Weitzman, an entertainment partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump and Aldisert. “The smaller boutique firms more often work with talent business because they more readily agree to a percentage billing arrangement rather then the traditional hourly fee.” It’s not unprecedented, meanwhile, for a nonindigenous Los Angeles firm to nose into the insular area of entertainment law. Large, out-of-town firms such as Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom have made a relatively successful entertainment push in Los Angeles, says legal consultant Peter Zeughauser. At the same time, large L.A.-based firms like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have found work on the corporate and transactional sides of the entertainment industry, he adds. The increasing convergence of technology and entertainment, says Zeughauser, has opened the door for firms that have a strong intellectual property practice and want to use that expertise to edge into entertainment. Nguyen, the IP partner at Foley who hatched the entertainment law idea with Beezy, says the firm offers entertainment laterals the freedom to create their own practice with the backing of well-established technology expertise. One of Handler’s recent cases stemmed from her representation of Marvel Enterprises in a copyright suit against the makers of the computer game “City of Heroes.” While the game allowed players to create their own superheroes, Marvel claimed the characters could be too similar to its copyrighted “Hulk,” “X-Men” and other comic book characters. The case, which settled last year on undisclosed terms, underscored the importance of merging an IP practice with a traditional entertainment one, says Nguyen. Other clients that demonstrate that convergence are Major League Baseball, with its various Internet properties, and Legacy Interactive, a game developer. Suddleson, for his part, says he was attracted to Foley because its 950 lawyers in offices across the globe allow it to fully service a company’s legal needs. Another draw, he says, was the chance to further build his practice and client base. Suddleson was most recently co-chairman of Morrison & Foerster’s entertainment group and also has worked at Irell & Manella, Loeb & Loeb and as an in-house attorney at Paramount Pictures. After 30 years of practicing, Suddleson’s clients range from major motion picture studios to Internet-based entertainment ventures. “Virtually all my clients have gone with me to Foley,” he says. “A few had to be convinced that their needs could be satisfied, and that was easy to do.” It wasn’t a tough decision for Emergent Game Technologies to follow Suddleson, says Geoffrey Selzer, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. While it is important that a firm be well respected, Selzer says it does not have to be viewed as a top entertainment firm, Instead, relationships are the most important selling point. “I am a firm believer that the single most important criteria is the care a senior partner gives to your company on an ongoing basis,” he says. “You’re going to get good work anywhere so it’s really about how they manage the relationships.” It is becoming increasingly more common for seasoned Los Angeles entertainment lawyers to move around. Similarly, clients will often follow attorneys to other new firms, says Handler, who left Proskauer Rose to join Foley. “Well-known people are leaving the established California circuit and going to firms that originated elsewhere,” she says. “There’s so much movement from firm to firm that it’s the individual that gets you in the door.” But despite the movement within the industry, there is still a relatively small circle of entertainment clients, most of whom tend to stick with well-known legal names, says Robert Fortunato, a Southern California law firm consultant. That’s partially because they look for specialized knowledge of the nuances involved in the entertainment business. “There are a lot of conflict issues in that space, and knowing how to navigate them is in everyone’s best interest,” says Fortunato. When big names are poached, it is usually due to promises of a bigger leadership role or a greater convergence between practice areas that a certain firm may offer, says Fredric Bernstein, a longtime entertainment lawyer who recently left Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and went to Proskauer Rose to help beef up that firm’s transactional entertainment practice. Foley expects to continue building its own entertainment practice. Beezy says she would like to see more transactional expertise, along with a copyright litigator in the firm’s New York office. In the meantime, Beezy and Nguyen say the early reviews for the firm’s fledgling practice group have been positive. One of Nguyen’s clients sent him a complimentary e-mail after learning about the firm’s new entertainment-related services. Another senior in-house counsel at a motion picture studio told the two partners that he had researched their entertainment practice and was impressed with the offerings. Says Beezy: “We’re placing a growing stamp on L.A.”

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