When Hollywood’s biggest players get into legal spats over their jobs, they turn to Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
The Los Angeles law firm may be best known for representing Hollywood and the recording industry in their piracy battles against Grokster Ltd. and Napster Inc. But a good number of its 128 lawyers these days regularly advise studios, producers, directors, writers and other talent in employment matters.
To that end, the firm launched a labor and employment practice last year in New York by hiring Gerald Hathaway, a former partner at Littler Mendelson and father to actress Anne Hathaway.
"We wanted to capture that market in New York, where there’s not as much entertainment work but a significant amount," said the firm’s managing partner, Thomas Lambert. Mitchell Silberberg’s New York office has about a dozen lawyers primarily focused on the ­theater.
Mitchell Silberberg stepped last year into another new practice: fashion. It has handled intellectual property and immigration work for fashion clients including American Apparel Inc. "They have a lot of similar issues that entertainment and media companies have," Lambert said of the industry. The firm is helping to build the practice with newly hired Ariel Weindling, a former chief executive and president of PSDI USA Inc., manufacturer of Ed Hardy shoes, another lateral from Littler Mendelson.
Still, many of Mitchell Silberberg’s bigger matters involve Hollywood notables. It defended The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and Touchstone Pictures, and Marc Cherry, executive producer of Desperate Housewives, in a highly publicized wrongful-termination case brought by a former star of the show, Nicollette Sheridan. She also had accused Cherry of slapping her.
Partner Adam Levin said his clients had opted not to rehire the actress, killing off her character, Edie Britt. With the other claims dismissed, a Los Angeles jury last year deadlocked on the wrongful-­termination allegation, which an appeals court threw out on August 16. Sheridan has amended her discrimination claim.
From outside counsel’s perspective, it’s about the firm’s price and quality. "They provide cost-effective and thoughtful advice," said Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, whose members include Viacom Inc., CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.