Friday, February 21, 2014
KEYNOTE SPEAKER – David Otunga, WWE Superstar, attorney, actor, bodybuilder
Mr. David Otunga kicked off the 2014 Symposium with an empowering and inspiring discussion of the unusual career path he has pursued since graduating from Harvard Law School in 2006. As a child, Mr. Otunga’s love for action movies sparked an interest in becoming both a movie star and professional wrestler. While his childhood years included bouts as the victim of bullying, making him shy and introverted, he never let go of the passion that he had developed for the entertainment business. The O.J. Simpson trial further rekindled Mr. Otunga’s interest in the legal field. Thanks to his father’s influence, he decided to apply to law school. Three weeks after losing his father, Mr. Otunga was admitted. His time at HLS was largely spent in the library or the gym. He credits his time at HLS for the confidence and self-assurance that has enabled him to succeed in his career thus far.
Though it was not easy to leave behind the secure lifestyle of an attorney at Chicago powerhouse law firm Sidley Austin, Mr. Otunga knew he was destined for other things. With the support of his family, he left a job he liked for the possibility of a job he loved. He spoke about the necessity of loving what you do for a living, and the ways in which law, wrestling, and acting surprisingly do intersect. T he ability to think critically, think on your feet, and perform a role – be it that of a lawyer or a wrestling “heel” – are all necessary his many endeavors. While Mr. Otunga may play a bad guy on television, his off-screen persona is the complete opposite. His relatively soft-spoken and warm demeanor charmed the audience as they were captivated by the story of his journey.
PANEL #1 – The Intersection of Business and Law in the Sports & Entertainment Industries
Michael McCann (moderator), Professor of Law and Director of the Sports & Entertainment Law Institute, University of New Hampshire School of Law; Writer and Legal Analyst, Sports Illustrated; On-Air Legal Analyst, NBA TV
Rick Buchanan, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, National Basketball Association
Jason Cohen, General Counsel, Dallas Cowboys
Cooper Campbell Jackson, Business Affairs, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Andy Kim, Chief Financial Officer, The Weinstein Company
This panel addressed the overlap between law and business in the entertainment and sports worlds. All panelists agreed that there are certainly areas of the law that are more prone to business overtones, such as questions about antitrust law. The emergence of internet broadcasting was also a hot topic, as panelists spoke about the impact that Netflix has had on the future of television programming. With the huge success of internet original programming, could television studios be in direct competition with Netflix and similar sites? While the panelists agreed that this is certainly possible, they also noted that Netflix is beneficial to the market because it introduces competition for the aggressive buyer.
Panelists also spoke about handling an industry trend of business advancements outpacing legal ones. The general consensus was that, because this has become an industry norm, the fact that the business pace accelerates faster than the legal pace has no significant effect on the outcome of a deal. Business executives have come to expect that the legal departments will work out the fine details at some point after the general terms are agreed upon. Finally, panelists discussed league expansion, and specifically the possibility of bringing an NBA team back to Seattle or moving an NFL team to Los Angeles.
PANEL #2 – Representing Clients in Trouble with the Law
Gabe Feldman (moderator), Director, Tulane Sports Law Program; Associate Provost for NCAA Compliance, Tulane University
Tamar Arminak, Founding Partner, Arminak Law, APC
Michael Fee, Partner, Latham & Watkins LLP
Jay Reisinger, Partner, Farrell & Reisinger, LLC
While the panelists shared the task of representing individuals who are prominently in the public eye, they each brought a unique perspective on the task to the panel. Whereas Mr. Fee is predominately a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, Ms. Arminak deals primarily with civil litigation involving celebrities in Hollywood, and Mr. Reisinger navigates both worlds while also dealing with leagues and players’ unions. These differences were apparent in the panelists’ thoughts on preventative measures.
For example, while Ms. Arminak views preventative measures as important, particularly for clients who are repeat offenders, both Mr. Fee and Mr. Reisinger see themselves in more of a firefighter role, where their job is to be reactive rather than proactive. Mr. Fee emphasizes that regardless of false or misleading information being leaked out regarding the client, a lawyer must abide by a code of ethics and resist the urge to make a statement, particularly because hopes of turning the press are tempting, but ultimately unrealistic. Ms. Arminak generally agreed with Mr. Fee, but pointed out that from a civil perspective, she is often in a better position to make comments. Her belief is that occasionally there is a need to fight back to show the client that work is being done on their behalf. In contrast, Mr. Reisinger advocated for silence, for it is better to “deny the fire oxygen” and remain vague while saying little. Ironically, despite being based out of the location with the heaviest media scrutiny, Ms. Arminak was alone in claiming that she does not actively pay attention to the media coverage that her cases receive.
The panelists were unanimous, however, in agreeing that the biggest challenges from working with a celebrity client are the media coverage and the other people who have clients’ ears, such as agents, friends, and family members. In particular, the difficulty in controlling the celebrity’s posse creates problems in terms of remaining in control of all aspects of the trial. Ms. Arminak points out, however, that the media attention may cut both ways, as sympathetic media attention can cause a case to proceed more smoothly. In addition, none of the panelists favored using a PR company to deal with the publicity for a case. Mr. Reisinger was adamant that any statements that should be put out could be handled internally, without resorting to using such firms.
PANEL #3 – Social Media: Blessing or Curse?
Jerrold Neeff (moderator), Principal, Bostonian Law Group; member of the Adjunct Faculty at Boston University School of Law
Joe Rosen, President of Baseball & Media Divisions, Orpheus Sports & Entertainment; Co-Founder of Brown & Rosen LLC
Holly Bright, In-House Counsel, Bento Box Entertainment
Dean Bahat, Director of Business Affairs, Funny or Die
To begin the panel, Mr. Bahat enlightened the crowd as to Funny Or Die’s social media model, which involves building itself up to be the number one comedy brand on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram through creating a specific voice for the company. Ms. Bright spoke to the idea that advertisements, or information about products, can be directed at specific groups of people on Twitter. For example, “mommy bloggers” will host Twitter parties to talk about products they use, thus disseminating information about products that Bento Box seeks to promote. Regarding Bento Box’s television operations, the key has been using the second screen to engage audiences, through live tweeting for example, while the show is on. Due to the heavy influence of social media, executives have come to realize that the online and social media fan base of a show can provide an alternative means for measuring show status, relative to traditional viewership ratings.
Mr. Rosen resides at the opposite end of the spectrum with regards to social media, as he claims that he does not use it at all. While he understands the benefits of Twitter and other social media in increasing the popularity and marketability of players, thus improving their brands, social media can be problematic in that it is necessary for him to constantly monitor his clients’ social media activity. Although it is not necessarily possible or desirable to control his clients’ behavior, monitoring becomes a constant issue; if a mistake is caught immediately, he has a duty to mitigate the repercussions. Monitoring becomes especially crucial
Summary by Bianca Harlow and Matthew Lee, Harvard Law School Class of 2016.