Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
So you wanna be in pictures? As vice president-general counsel of Cinemark Inc., Michael Cavalier is, in a way. Although he’s met a few show biz folks at industry conventions, the drama in his life comes behind the scenes through his legal work for the Plano, Texas-based movie theater company. “I have none of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood,” Cavalier says, adding that he doesn’t get involved in movie distribution. Instead, his days are filled with real estate deals, financial filings and the myriad legal details connected to running one of the nation’s largest theater companies. In his nine years at the company, Cavalier says, the variety in his job has meant that there’s no such thing as a typical day. “You have to have a working knowledge of a lot of areas,” he says. And the ability to stay on top of a growing company that brought in revenues of $853.7 million in the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2001. Cinemark operates 278 theaters with 3,014 screens, more than two-thirds of them built since 1996; the majority feature stadium seating. Of those, 2,215 screens are in 33 U.S. states and one Canadian province and the rest are in major metropolitan areas in Latin America. Five of them are IMAX theaters. Cavalier works with about 200 other employees at the Plano headquarters, which sits next door to the Tinseltown USA Theater. Overall, the company has more than 8,300 employees in the United States and 4,300 outside the country, a lot of them seasonal employees. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lee Roy Mitchell owns the majority of stock in Cinemark, and most of the rest is owned by the Cypress Group, a New York City equity firm. The company had planned an initial public offering of 11.1 million shares of stock in July, but postponed the transaction because of the downturn in the economy. Cavalier usually begins his morning by responding to e-mails, some of them from Latin America. During the rest of the day, which can stretch into the evening, his work covers financial and corporate records; securities filings; real estate transactions and leases involving movie theaters; and suits ranging from slip-and-falls to claims of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. There is one other attorney in Cinemark’s legal department, Gabriel Garcia-Angeli, and lawyers from several Texas firms — including Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; Haynes and Boone; Fulbright & Jaworski; and Gardere Wynne Sewell — also do work for the company. “He creates a very challenging environment,” Garcia-Angeli, associate general counsel-international, says. “He expects you to cover the basics but also go the extra mile. He’s a hard-driven attorney and makes it a point to excel at everything he does.” The legal department is always busy: “I’m not ever looking for anything to do,” Cavalier says. Much of his time for the past five years, and that of Cinemark’s outside attorneys, have been taken up with ADA suits. One of the most prominent was Lara v. Cinemark, a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas by two advocacy groups and a number of individuals with disabilities over Tinseltown in El Paso, Cinemark’s new 20-screen theater complex that features stadium-style seating in which each row is one step above the previous row for better viewing. The plaintiffs alleged that 18 screens in the complex violated the ADA because Cinemark put the wheelchair-accessible areas too near the screen and too far below screen level for comfortable viewing. This violated the ADA provision that people with disabilities have lines of sight comparable to those of the general public, the plaintiffs alleged. The district court entered an order for the plaintiffs requiring Cinemark to modify those 18 theaters by moving the wheelchair seating location farther back from the screen and higher off the floor and by lowering the screen. However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April 2000 that the phrase “lines of sight” means an unobstructed view and reversed the lower court. Cinemark also fought a similar case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, United States v. Cinemark USA Inc., in which the Department of Justice alleged that stadium seating denied equal access to patrons unable to maneuver their wheelchairs or to walk up the steps to the seats. Cavalier says that Cinemark was in compliance with the ADA. The court earlier this year entered summary judgment in favor of the company. FAMILY FUN Cavalier came to Cinemark in 1993, when he was hired as its associate general counsel. He then was doing corporate and securities work as an associate with Akin Gump, in Dallas, where he had worked since earning his J.D. in 1991 from the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens. As part of his job at the firm, he handled work for Cinemark. M. Brett Burns, who started at Akin Gump with Cavalier in 1991, says his former colleague is talented and always was well liked by clients. “Mike’s ability to deal with and make friends with and work effectively with business people played a big part in his being the first in a class of 19 attorneys to leave the firm for a general counsel position,” says Burns, now an Akin Gump partner who does outside work for Cinemark. In addition to superior legal work, Cavalier demonstrated outstanding skill on the softball field and was a star player for the firm team, Burns says. The future general counsel played shortstop and third base. Cavalier, 36, was promoted to Cinemark general counsel in 1997 when his predecessor retired. He describes the move in-house as a quality-of-life shift. He estimates that he works more hours in-house, but likes that he doesn’t have to worry about billable hours and can set his own schedule for the most part. “I appropriate my time as needed,” he says. “By far, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is the ability to control my time.” Terry Schpok, a partner in Akin Gump who does work for Cinemark, says Cavalier is dedicated to his job. “I’ve seen him work until 3 or 4 in the morning and be back at 8,” Schpok says. “He’ll work whatever the hours are needed to get something accomplished.” Schpok, who was an in-house lawyer himself in the 1970s, says Cavalier has the three qualities that make a good company attorney, including a solid overall legal knowledge of the various areas that could affect his work and a strong background in the issues that specifically affect the movie exhibition business. “The third thing is that he has a very pragmatic approach to problem-solving,” Schpok says. “He understands the business objections of management.” Another partner in Akin Gump, Laura Franze, says she’s especially impressed with Cavalier’s negotiating skills. “He’s very good at defusing emotion and getting people to focus on the bottom line, and very tenacious in representing his client,” she says. “What really sets him apart is his ability to figure out what is the question behind the question and respond to a situation that provides the right result for his client, but, if possible, also in a way that results in a win-win for everyone at the table.” Cavalier says he concentrates on the legal side of operations, although there is always an overlap with the business workings of the company. Cavalier often meets with officers to advise on risk and to help make business decisions. Robert Copple, chief financial officer of Cinemark, values the depth of Cavalier’s knowledge and his ability to explain how the legal issues fit in with the business goals. “He’ll walk through an issue with us and help find solutions,” Copple says. Cavalier also is active in the National Association of Theater Owners and serves as vice president of a committee that deals with legal issues affecting the industry, such as the ADA and video game ordinances. Violence in movies has topped the list recently. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report saying it found evidence that the entertainment industry was marketing violence to kids. At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing that year, Hollywood executives with several movie studios admitted that R-rated films had been test-marketed before audiences that included children. To help address that problem, theater owners are complying with a voluntary program set up by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to keep underage moviegoers out of R and NC-17 films, Cavalier says. “We work closely with the motion picture side of the business to make sure kids don’t sneak in,” Cavalier says. “It’s a battle to make sure that kids aren’t in the wrong theaters.” Despite the slump in the economy, kids and adults continue to flock to the movies. U.S. motion picture box office revenues hit $8.4 billion in 2001, its highest income ever, according to the MPAA. “People are doing more things with the family,” Cavalier says. Cavalier and his wife, who live in McKinney with their two daughters, are among those moviegoers, and their favorite theaters are Tinseltown and Legacy in Plano. Both are Cinemark properties, naturally.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.