I think there are a lot of people out there who have a preconceived notion that most lawyers are soulless, corporate entities, only out to earn the highest bidder in court. Full disclosure…when I was young I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I would be like Tom Cruise in the movie A Few Good Men. You know the scene, “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” However, a lot of what a lawyer does is done in an office, going over legal precedents and past court decisions, not taking down the bad guy in court. That’s not to say that there aren’t lawyers out there fighting the good fight and trying to protect the little guy from vicious corporations.
Ironically, one of the biggest legal battlegrounds in that respect is intellectual property. Famous examples in recent memory are Martin Garrix’s battle with Spinnin’ Records over ownership of his songs and the lawsuit that Marvin Gaye’s family brought against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the song “Blurred Lines.” One lawyer out there fighting the good fight is New York-based entertainment attorney, Justin Jacobson.
Justin earned his law degree in 2011 from Touro Law Center in New York and he was an active member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity during his undergrad at George Washington University. While there, he served as the Social and Formal Chair of his fraternity and this helped form the basis for his organizational skills. Growing up as the son of a lawyer, Justin always had his sights set on the business side of the music industry.
“I’ve always dreamed of being one of those guys that are in the back of the club. You ever see the Doors movie? They were playing at Whiskey-a-Go-Go and the producer is like hey, you’re great, I want to work with you, and now they’re the Doors. The dream was to find unknown artists, help bring them up the ranks, and to see them play at the Garden. I’ve made strides toward it. I have the law firm. I’m working with a lot of independent artists in general, so I’m excited to help them on their way, and it’s interesting to see them perform at Webster Hall and other venues around the City. You get to see their progress over the years and that is the best part of the journey. I always saw myself as a behind-the-scenes guy. I always felt like if I wanted to be a DJ I could be a DJ; but, I’d rather manage, train, and guide them than actually be them.”
For Justin, one of the toughest professional challenges he’s faced has been getting out of his father’s shadow. Everyone already knew him when he was coming into the legal world; however, he sought to make his own name. Now Justin has done that and more as he has established his own successful law firm, The Jacobson Firm, with his father with his own clients that he has cultivated himself.
“It’s tough. I would say a lot of internships throughout my career, and my relationships with people at the likes of MTV, ASCAP, and various labels has really helped me to do well and to make my own name. My relationship with some people is far beyond that of my father’s relationship with them. Just because you’re someone’s son doesn’t mean you’re going to be competent or be on point and get the job done. So you have to figure out what you’re best at and capitalize on those strengths. I find a lot of new artists and contacts at various industry events, cultivate the relationship, then I become their point of contact, and they hopefully become clients. Obviously it’s nice to have my dad as a backup, but I still put in the time and work.”
Justin cites one of the greatest joys of his career as helping to see a young DJ get signed to Chuckie’s Dirty Dutch label. He watched the performance from backstage and says it was magical. Not only does he have his law firm; but, Justin also has branched out into entertainment marketing and consulting with Label 55. It is not just musicians he has helped either. In fact, he helped New York Giants’ running back, Rashad Jennings, launch a successful charity event, as well as working with other professional athletes.
“When I was in law school I was managing this DJ. He got signed to Dirty Dutch management and even performed at Ultra. It must have been Labor Day a couple of years ago during a show at Governor’s Island, sponsored by Pacha. I’m standing on stage watching my client rock out with thousands of people, like wow, this kid was sleeping on a couch in my basement and now he’s rocking out to a substantial crowd doing what he loves. It was so monumental for me because I had been with him so early on in his career and helped to build him up to this point. Then last year, I hosted a big charity event for NFL player, Rashad Jennings. We raised around $5,000 and received some really amazing coverage and street cred as a result of the event’s success. Bringing that from nothing to the finished product was really amazing.”
That’s not to say that all of Justin’s relationships have been successful ones. You hear the phrase that industries are relationship-based and it’s true. You don’t truly realize how important relationships are until you get a little older and you see how working relationships make the world go round. Look at electronic music – guys are constantly working with their friends and people they are familiar with. Because reputation precedes him as a lawyer, Justin says it’s best to be a straight shooter. However, even he’s been burned in the past.
“There was this really talented client that I took under my wing and started to manage. From that we developed a pretty friendly relationship. I ended up getting him some really good placements and even acquired a big investor who opened up several doors. Over time, I could see the client’s attitude changing and out of nowhere he just blows up on me. I still save his text messages as fuel, it’s a lesson learned. This is what you get for being too nice, not solely focused on your business, and letting somebody take advantage of you.
It was stressful because it was someone I invested so much passion and energy in and I got burned. Ultimately, since this world is so reputation-based, you always have to worry about some random person going on a social media rant to 150,000+ followers; and even if the statements are completely false, the damage is more than done. That’s why I try to avoid those situations by always being a straight shooter, a man of my word, and doing the best I can always because that’s the best anybody can do.”
As I said before, there are definitely some good lawyers out there, and agents and managers as well. Justin cited another famous fictional legal figure, Jeremy Piven’s character, Ari Gold from Entourage. Whenever the guys got into some messy situations, they called Ari, and Ari got them out of it. He kept the team on the straight and narrow; that’s the role Justin sees for himself. He wants the creators of content to be able to reap the benefits, not the bundlers of product like a Verizon or Netflix. As Justin points out…ultimately it’s the little guys who get taken advantage of so make sure you hire good counsel to protect against this.
“I’d like to be known as the guy who’s not your typical attorney. I want to be part of the solution. I want to help artists and be pro-artist rights. I very much believe in copyright protection and ensuring that artists are compensated. The piracy, even Netflix and DVR, all it does is hurt the creative people. It de-incentivizes major labels like the Warners and Sonys to invest in new talent and new genres, because they’re not making their money back and they’re not going to invest a lot of money into someone who’s not going to make them an abundance in return, which becomes a huge disservice to aspiring artists. If they’re not protected and compensated, if they can’t put food on their table, how are they going to find creativity to write a song? I want to innovate ways to more adequately compensate the creators. In a recent article, Aloe Blacc had mentioned that while he had the most streamed song ever at one time, he only received around $5,000 for it. The real question is…how much did Spotify make off of it?”
Justin also has such a logical perspective and his advice to people is to remember that all great things take time. Few people reach stratospheric heights overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Things take time, including rising to the top. The Chainsmokers have a Best New Artist Grammy nomination three years after their debut single (not to mention they were making music and playing New York City clubs for a few years leading up to that point too); you can’t rush greatness. That being said…do you and shoot straight, eventually good things will happen.
“Keep at it and make sure you get your paperwork in order. They call it the music business for a reason. You have to approach it like a career, like this is going to be your job. I think it can be hard for a creative person to think about numbers and contracts, but you know what? You must, or at least until you get to the point where someone like me, a lawyer or manager, is going to handle those matters for you.”