You may naturally think of Hollywood, New York, or some other glitzy locale when imagining entertainment lawyers, but they exist in Texas, too! What does this practice area look like far from places typically associated with entertainment? State Bar of Texas Podcast host Rocky Dhir welcomes attorney Tamera Bennett to discuss how her passion for the music industry led her to grow an entertainment law practice right here in Texas.
Tamera H. Bennett helps clients protect what they create by practicing trademark, copyright, entertainment law, and mediation in Texas and Tennessee.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
- How to Be an Entertainment Lawyer in Texas
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. February is always a unique month, it usually has only 28 days but sometimes 29 days, like this year, it’s the home of Valentine’s Day, which for people like me usually entails a doghouse of some kind.
February is also the month when the Oscars are awarded in Hollywood. I don’t know about you, but to me, Hollywood seems like an entire planet away from where we are in the Lone Star State. And the closest that most Texas lawyers could come to Hollywood would entail becoming entertainment lawyers, but that would mean moving to Hollywood, New York, you know the Home of Broadway and several studios or Nashville, home base for country music fans. There is no way to be an entertainment lawyer in Texas, right? Right?
Well no, that’s wrong actually. My guest Tamera Bennett is Exhibit A, living proof that you can be an entertainment lawyer and practice in the great state of Texas.
Tamera has practiced entertainment law since 2001 and get this, her practice is located in Louisville, Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Now granted, Tamera’s first love has always been music. She had plans since the age of five to become a rock star and actually she has become a rock star in the legal field at least.
She co-hosts the Entertainment Law Podcast and is more than 110 episodes under her belt. She has written for Texas Lawyer and for Billboard Magazine and has served on the Texas Chapter of the Grammy Association including two terms on as Board of Governors. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d like me to stop talking so that you can hear from Tamera herself.
Welcome Tamera. Thanks for being here.
Tamera H. Bennett: Hey Rocky, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. It’s a treat and delight to be able to talk with you today.
Rocky Dhir: Well, and you are a fellow podcaster. So I better be careful, because you’d be able to critique me. This is — I am on hot seat today.
Tamera H. Bennett: I think you’re probably not.
So, so I have had the great pleasure of — we’re in our 11th year of hosting, I am co-hosting Entertainment Law Update Podcast with Gordon Firemark who is an entertainment attorney in LA. He is the technical one, so I just plug and play which I’m so glad. This is how it works with your podcast as well.
I just show up and do what I do best, which is talk.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. Well, I have to give a shout out to the good folks at Legal Talk Network, they make my job very easy, they make it plug-and-play. So they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting on our end. So thank you Legal Talk Network.
So, Tamera let’s start with the elephant in the room. All right, so you are an entertainment lawyer which is great, but why Texas?
Tamera H. Bennett: Well, amazing question because you alluded to the fact in the intro. I have always had a passion for the music business in kindergarten where I lived in Mount Juliet, Tennessee which is very close to Nashville. I stood up in kindergarten, played air guitar and said that was, I was going to grew up and be a rock star. That was my career choice.
Fast forward, I did end up getting a degree in recording industry studies, worked in Nashville in the music business, figured out I didn’t want to be a rock star, probably not qualified to be a rock star, but I loved the business side of the music business.
Fast forward a little bit more, my wonderful delightful husband who we will be married 30 years in April, his job brings into Texas. So there you go. That’s it.
Rocky Dhir: Okay.
Tamera H. Bennett: That’s how we, very unplanned at the time, never thought we would move to Texas, but we have been here 25 years. So in the same area right here in the Dallas Metroplex.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, so actually Louisville, Texas. So is that for family reasons or was Louisville a strategic decision for you?
Tamera H. Bennett: Oh well, yes again, this is all tied to my husband. Strategic decision, Louisville Flower Mound area is very close to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
Rocky Dhir: Sure, absolutely.
Tamera H. Bennett: When we moved here 25 years ago, I thought it would be to both — convenient to both Dallas and Fort Worth. If anybody lives in this area, it is not convenient.
Rocky Dhir: It is not convenient to Fort Worth.
Tamera H. Bennett: Or Dallas. And I have worked in both. So I will be honest with you, I live in the community. My office has been in — I have actually been practicing since ’98. My office has been in Louisville since 2001 because it’s very close to my home.
And that is the strategic positioning right there. Most of my clients, I actually work with and even way back in 2001 I worked with them remotely, very few of them actually do I get to meet in person.
So location was not as big a deal as one might think for me.
Rocky Dhir: Well, now have you always been an entertainment lawyer or was that, because I know you graduated ’98 and you have been entertainment law since 2001, so were you a more mainstream practitioner in that ’98 to 2001 era?
Tamera H. Bennett: You know that’s a great question. So like I said my background was in the music business. I worked in the music publishing industry and music production industry from the time I got out of college until I moved to Texas in ’95-’96 and I have always even ’98 to 2001, I was with a law firm in Fort Worth. I was practicing some amount of entertainment law and then also just everything you can imagine what that firm.
It was a 25 lawyer firm, great place. I love that firm, but I was the youngest associate and so I did everything. I did 05:36 depositions, I did hearings, I did corporate work, just a little bit of everything and that’s part of the reason I decided to leave, what was a great firm so that I could spend more time focusing on what areas of law were really my passion, which has developed into entertainment law and I hope we can kind of talk about the niches in entertainment law, but then also trademark and copyright law, which for me kind of weaved together nicely.
Rocky Dhir: So do you think it’s possible to do full-time entertainment work in Texas as a lawyer or do you have to kind of sprinkle it in with other practice areas?
Tamera H. Bennett: It’s a sprinkle, ever how that works for people and that’s something that I think is really important to understand. There may be one or two lawyers in Texas who can truly say 90% of their business is entertainment law ever how we want to define that, but most of my colleagues I work with and that’s not just in Texas, I would even say this goes to the big what we would consider music and film centers, many of those lawyers are not practicing 100% entertainment law.
Practice areas meshed together based on our skill sets. So I don’t want people thinking, oh I have to get in with a firm in one of these big cities to have any exposure to entertainment law, because it’s just not true.
You can build it and they will come. So –
Rocky Dhir: Well, okay, so now let’s talk a little bit, you’ve used I think every lawyer’s favorite word which is define, we like to define things, and so you said something to the effect of entertainment law as we might define it. How would you define an Entertainment Law practice? What does that look like?
Tamera H. Bennett: Well, I would define it in subsets, and say that entertainment law is the umbrella, because in fact, there is many things that you could — someone could refer to me or call me about helping them on a legal issue, that is “entertainment law” that I’m not the expert on that.
So most of my entertainment law practice is actually focused around music. So it’s licensing of music, copyrights on music, protecting music. I will say from the outset here I don’t do any litigation. I am a solely transactional practice.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Tamera H. Bennett: So if someone called because they have a new film production company, I actually would refer to that work to my colleague who is in Dallas who does film work, she also does commercial litigation unrelated to film. That’s how she’s combined those two practice areas.
If someone called me because they’ve just been offered a huge book deal, I would’ve called my friend Mike Fairs who you’ve interviewed on this podcast.
Rocky Dhir: Mike is fantastic.
Tamera H. Bennett: Mike is fantastic. Mike is retired.
Rocky Dhir: Right.
Tamera H. Bennett: Because not only did he do literary work, he is also an author and he as well did commercial litigation, so –
Rocky Dhir: He is a full-time author, he is living the dream.
Tamera H. Bennett: He is living the dream, and so let’s say somebody called me and they specifically needed to raise money for a film project or a TV project or even a music project, I wouldn’t do that because it needs a securities lawyer.
Rocky Dhir: I see, okay.
Tamera H. Bennett: So, so that goes to my buddy who is in Austin who does securities law. So I really think it’s important for either people thinking about going to law school, law students, attorneys who maybe or are wanting to transition their career to say which part of this am I really passionate about, because it’s really hard to learn at all and be good at it.
Rocky Dhir: Well, now, look, I am going to play, I am going to play devil’s advocate for a second. So you mentioned all these different – all these different practice areas, you have got licensing, you have got litigation, securities, I mean there is a whole panoply out there and I say that because I like the word panoply, it’s just a good word, but let’s — going into all that, do you really have to be an entertainment lawyer then to do entertainment law or do you simply have to know something about licensing or securities work or litigation and then you can kind of do this type of work but it’s really not your bread-and-butter as it were.
I mean is entertainment law really a subset or is that just regular law for lack of a better term that’s aimed at a particular industry, if you will?
Tamera H. Bennett: That is a great question and really a great summary because one of the things that I think is so important is one, you need to be a good lawyer, there we go, that’s the bottom line. Be a good lawyer, understand what you are doing.
Rocky Dhir: Well them I am out, I am done.
Tamera H. Bennett: Yeah I know, I might be out most in the week as well, but you’ve raised the perfect point that I think people get caught up with is to say well I can’t do this because I’m a realistic lawyer. I can’t do this because I’m a probate lawyer. If you’re an oil and gas lawyer, you should be all over this because you already understand how royalties and licensing works.
So it would be a really easy transition. So that is key is don’t forget what you already know but you need to learn the industry. It would be – I mean I am a lawyer, I understand the law, I remember what I learned in real property class in law school, I office with a real estate attorney. I’m not a real estate lawyer but if I learned her business, I could be.
So to me, really a factor that people need to takeaway is you need to understand the business, that’s the part that’s hard to teach people. It’s is easy to teach them the law because a non-entertainment lawyer who reads and reviews contracts all the time, they are going to catch a lot of the contractual issues but they’re not going to catch the business issues that are off point.
Rocky Dhir: Can you give us an example or may be a couple of examples of some of the business points that most of us non-entertainment folks may not fully appreciate. So if I get, not that I do licensing work, but if I get a licensing contract that comes into my office and if I have never done entertainment work, what might I be missing out on?
Tamera H. Bennett: Well I mean part of it is right, whether that might be something that falls between X and Y is what the right should be. The term for how long the deal should last so is it someone wants to use your song, is it going to be for a commercial that’s just played in Austin or a commercial that’s played in the whole state of Texas or a commercial that’s played in the whole US, is it going to be on YouTube, is it going to be international, is it going to be for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, five years or life time.
Those are all industry questions that as a lawyer who may not be exposed to this part of the business may not know they need to ask; whereas, the clause related to statute of limitations, arbitration, mediation all of this, I hate to use the term boilerplate but boilerplate, those things you might feel more comfortable with because you are used to reviewing contracts or you’re litigation attorney. I know this is where people get sued but you may not understand what performance requirements there are.
So that to me is one issue. Another is I have had the pleasure of working on a film and TV project with cocaine sling with another lawyer and while I knew part of how the business worked, it was amazing to hear what she had to say related to when actuality, we can draft it this way but they can’t – they the other side, production company, they can’t fulfill it because it’s going to take 30 days for A, B and C to happen.
So actually knowing how the business runs itself is really key to being able to advice your clients on expectations of even putting together a contract for people to fulfill their end of the bargain.
Rocky Dhir: So where does one go to kind of learn a bit about the business? Do you just of shadow a more experienced entertainment lawyer, is there – are there other resources, how do you start piecing that together? I am trying to put that in my head like if I want to do this, where would I go? I don’t suppose there is a YouTube channel that tells you how to be an entertainment lawyer. So how do you –
Tamera H. Bennett: So there probably is.
Rocky Dhir: There might be. As I say that there might be.
Tamera H. Bennett: So I would say there is one really good podcast I would say, come check out mine, Gordon and I podcast entertainment law, daily podcast, not that we’re necessarily telling you how to practice but it is a resource for keeping you up-to-date on legal issues that are popping up and we try and include practice pointers there.
So that’s yes I am unplugging it but I do think it’s a good, good resource as well.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Tamera H. Bennett: I would actually start. I don’t know how many non-lawyers listen to the podcast but maybe we start there and work our way up. If you were an undergrad and you have a passion whether its film production, music, video, I don’t know what it is, art, you love actual visual arts of some kind.
Take all the classes you can about how that industry works, most colleges offer cool things like that now. Even if you’re not in a program that’s specific to teaching you that industry, internships that works for both college and undergrad is if it’s at all possible with your financial situation, your time whatever that is you need to be taking internships externships as early and as often and as many as you can.
And don’t just think you have to go and turn in a law office. I actually think that might be the worst place to intern ever. Go work in an industry, go work in a corporation, go work in the business section of that industry. So you actually see the contracts and the business terms and the deals that are coming through to have a better understanding of how the pieces fit together.
That is a challenge here in this area is trying to intern or shadow an entertainment attorney is because of the nature of most of our businesses, many of us in the Texas area are solos or small firms, we are not really set up for that, just the nature of the beast.
I actually don’t have a place in my office for someone to come sit. If that were to be the case, and I had a longtime friend say, oh I just wish I can come shadow you, I am like it’s pretty boring, I talk on the phone and send e-mails. So if you can get in with some type of entity, business and like I said, even into the business arm of it, which in corporations and at least in the entertainment industry, it’s business affairs which is the legal side of things business and legal affairs, I think that’s a great place to start.
As an already licensed attorney that that may not work, you have got to still be working and putting food on the table and meeting billable hours, CLE is a great thing to do. We have a two day CLE through the State Bar of Texas, Texas Bar CLE every year on entertainment law, covers a wide range of topics, come join us.
Dallas Bar has monthly CLEs presentations. I think Austin and Houston do the same thing. So get involved there. Networking is huge with other lawyers more important than networking and you might have things to add on this is building relationships.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Tamera H. Bennett: So there’s a difference between the two. So the more relationships you can build with people is fantastic to know that we are welcoming bunch of “entertainment lawyers” in Texas. I had a colleague e-mail me and say can I call and ask you a question on this. I am like of course and the reverse happens when I have a question on something that might be a little bit outside of what I’ve seen before.
Rocky Dhir: Now you have talked for a while about the business of entertainment, but let’s maybe shift gears slightly and talk about the business of an entertainment law practice. I mean how do you go about establishing that? Is it the same as you would any law practice?
I mean in the sense you talked about – talking about relationships which I would think kind of is common to non-entertainment law practices both entertainment law practices but what are some of the unique aspects of establishing an entertainment law practice? How did you get your name out there? How do you build business? How do you do all the things you need to do to kind of get up and running?
Tamera H. Bennett: I will tell you everything I’m going to suggest or what I’ve done, it’s my path, it’s my story. I think it applies to any practice area out there. Like I said I was with this 15-20 person firm when I first started my law practice and then I have been a solo since 2001.
Rocky Dhir: Sure.
Tamera H. Bennett: I have always had a very distinct path to say that I became a lawyer so that I could be an entertainment lawyer, be a music lawyer that’s the reason I went to law school. At that time, I lived in Nashville, it made a whole lot more sense to me. Now I am like when we move to Dallas, I kind of had to re-think and say can I do that and yes, I can.
I have been able to build that. I have worked really, really hard at name recognition, that’s not tooting my own horn, that’s just saying that’s what I’ve done and have done for 25 years. As soon as I moved to Texas while in law school, I got involved with the entertainment law section of the Dallas Bar and got to know those other lawyers who were practicing entertainment law before I ever got out law school. If I thought somebody even had a sniff of entertainment law related to what their law practice was in this area, I introduced myself.
So there is a level of shaking hands and kissing babies that everybody needs to do and again, that’s networking, that’s different from relationships, what needed to come from that was building those relationships over the years and then it is somewhat of a joke that I am a little bit technically challenged but I was an early adopter of blogging. I have been blogging 2007-2008.
Rocky Dhir: Oh wow, those were the early days of blogging.
Tamera H. Bennett: Yeah that was in the early days, very early in understanding or thinking I understood or I just needed a creative outlet. So that’s what I did also with podcasting, Gordon and I are one of the longest running legal podcasts out there, 11 years, yeah at least 11 years we’ve been doing the podcasts. So —
Rocky Dhir: Do you think location matters? I mean from what you’re talking about you are talking about lot of things that it maybe doesn’t matter where you’re sitting, I mean in this day and age in 2020, do you think you necessarily have any advantages being in places like LA or Nashville and New York or can you start an entertainment law practice from virtually anywhere given technology and the way things are all remote and mobile now?
Tamera H. Bennett: You can start one virtually anywhere. I think the question becomes what do you want tell people where you’re located and now isn’t that interesting concept. So let’s say you are licensed in both, well maybe you are only licensed in Texas, I don’t think you can tell people that you have an address in California because you’re probably violating the California Rules of Practice if you were doing that.
So be mindful of that. I am licensed in both Texas and Tennessee, if I wanted to, I could tell the world my office was in Nashville, even though I am not there, I could. I actually choose not to do that because I really love my connection to Texas, I love my connection to sitting in a 120-year-old building right now and we were doing sound test and that’s why you could hear the people downstairs because I am in a 120-year-old building and it’s a really cool place to be and live my life and raise my family.
But you can be virtually anywhere. I have a colleague who practices game law and when I say game law that means videogames, boardgames, he does some cool stuff. He is licensed in California and has a law practice address in California. He lives most of the year in Thailand.
Rocky Dhir: Oh wow, okay.
Tamera H. Bennett: So it is very doable. I don’t want people to let geography make you think you can’t do it, there is this very large entertainment firm actually in Minneapolis, there’s a law firm there that’s one of the top entertainment firms and it’s because they had a group of people who came together and that’s what they do.
So I also want people to understand that there are plenty of entertainment lawyers in the major metropolitan areas that we consider LA, New York, Nashville who are struggling to have a 100% entertainment law practice. So grass is not always greener.
Now I think community-wise, it would be really cool to be practicing in one of those cities where you are interacting on a more regular basis with other people who do what you do. I think there is a certain amount of community that I do believe I miss out in but yet, we have a very tight knit community and Texas is where most of us know each other and rely on each other and are free to call each other and ask questions when it’s just something we have never seen before or something that’s different.
Rocky Dhir: Sure. Now I wonder, let’s say you go back to 2001 when you started this entertainment law journey. So you’re going on 19-years now, right, so if you could go back to 2001 with the 19 years of knowledge and experience you now have, would you do anything differently and if so, what is it?
Tamera H. Bennett: So this is funny, hire an account firm. We laugh —
Rocky Dhir: Well it goes back to the business of it, right?
Tamera H. Bennett: It is the business of it because I think what you need to understand is not only if you’re a solo or small firm, are you trying to build your business, you are also small business owner and so a lot of time is spent on what non-billable work in operating your business and then again networking and building relationships and non-billable work.
So it is the balance of those things and that also goes to someone who is at a 500 person law firm, if you want to build your practice whatever that practice is, you are going to have to spend time doing things that don’t make money today.
So really the things I would have done different is one, I would have done a little bit of business infrastructure differently that would have made my life easier down the road. I don’t know from a practice development, I will tell you from a practice development. My office is in Denton County, Texas. I am really right on the line of Denton and Dallas County on just the very southern point of Denton County right at I-35 for anybody who is in the Metroplex area.
Rocky Dhir: Sure. Absolutely.
Tamera H. Bennett: I did identify as soon as I went out on my own that I should get involved with the Denton County Bar Association. I didn’t do it and once I finally did, it was a game changer for referrals.
Rocky Dhir: That’s interesting. Okay.
Tamera H. Bennett: Because I am really only person in Denton County that does what I do not only from an entertainment music law perspective but from a trademark and copyright perspective.
So it then lead to referrals for business almost all of my clients are creative, they just may not be in an industry that falls under the — again whatever or however we define entertainment law. They might be educators who write teaching materials, well that’s copyright, that’s literary they sell that are under a brand-name, that’s trademark, it’s all contracts.
So get involved even if you’re out in the small town, get involved with your local bar association and let people know what you do. You’ll be surprised, tell everybody at your place of worship, hey this is what I do, you will be surprised, at Boy Scouts, all of the — again networking kinds of things because a lot of the referral I get actually I can’t help not because maybe they’re film issue but maybe it’s a patent issue and I don’t do those but people know if they can’t figure out what it is, they will just refer it to me because I can figure out what it is and then refer on to somebody else.
Rocky Dhir: Sure. Now one last question but this is a non-substantive question. This is — maybe this is one of the most important questions I could ask you and that is if a Texas lawyer finds themselves in Nashville, what’s good to see and where do they go? Tell us about Nashville because you have spent some time there.
Tamera H. Bennett: That is a great question and I hate to say I moved from Nashville 25 years ago and while I still go home to see my mom and my family in the suburbs. Nashville has changed so much that the things that I probably would’ve told you to do then are very different now. Of course you need to go, drive down Music Row, go to the Grand Ole Opry not only the one that’s at the new Opry House, but go to the Ryman and if you can see a show at the Ryman, which was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry that would be amazing to do.
So, it’s so hip and trendy now it wasn’t so much when I was there but lots of good things to do there.
Rocky Dhir: Still lots of good old memories. I am sure the old places are still there so we can probably enjoy all of it, the old and the new and the hip and the venerable. So —
Tamera H. Bennett: That’s right, I am going share one resource that I didn’t share when you asked me that before we can just plug it in here, for folks who are wanting to get involved and get some experience, check out TALA, it’s the Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, nonprofit that provides legal and accounting services for clients in the arts industries. So instead of it being legal aid of West Texas, this is the specific organization that if a nonprofit arts company, a record producer, whoever it might be if they qualifying for reduced or free legal services they go through this nonprofit and then network is assigned out to lawyers to take on his pro bono. Great way to learn.
Rocky Dhir: Interesting. Well this is fascinating I could talk to you about this all day, but unfortunately that is all the time we have for today. So I want to thank you Tamera for joining us. It’s been great having you.
Tamera H. Bennett: Well thank you so much. I have enjoyed it.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely and of course I want to thank you, the listeners, for tuning in. If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple podcasts, Google podcast or your favorite podcasting app. Until next time, remember life is a journey folks. I am Rocky Dhir, signing off.
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