Entertainment Lawyer of the Year: Marty Singer

Marty Singer’s life has followed a trajectory that could easily be played in the movies by one of the many A-list actors he has represented as Hollywood’s pre-eminent litigator.

The attorney, who’s being honored today as 2012 Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Assn., rose from struggling law school student to showbiz power lawyer operating at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry, developing a reputation sometimes characterized by canine metaphors — pit bull, terrier, bull dog — a tribute to his legendary ferocity and persistence on behalf of his clients.

It all began in Brooklyn, where Singer was born 60 years ago to parents — one a Holocaust survivor — who had fled the violence of wartime Europe. When he was 19 his father died and Singer, along with his mother, took over the family silkscreen business while also studying at City College.

Then, when attending Brooklyn Law School, he met and fell in love with his wife of 36 years, Deena Young. He graduated in 1977, and a year later the newlyweds moved to Los Angeles, where Singer hoped to build a career as a tax attorney. He never considered getting into entertainment litigation.

Singer knocked on many doors but discovered that L.A. law firms were more eager to fill their ranks with Ivy League-schooled lawyers than with a Brooklyn graduate. Singer finally landed a job at Schiff Hirsch & Schreiber, eventually gaining full-time work at the entertainment firm, which was dissolved in 1980.

Having already made his mark in the community, Singer received other offers, but instead of gravitating to the safety net of another firm he joined his senior colleague, Jay Lavely, and formed Lavely & Singer, embarking on a journey that has seen him litigating in all areas of business, intellectual property, privacy protection, defamation, accounting, and all sorts of entertainment-related issues.

He has repped hundreds of high-profile clients, handled matters for Fortune 500 companies, and tried more than 100 arbitrations and jury trials — in the process becoming one of the most recognized names in the profession. The work has involved Singer in all the varied disputes his clients face — the only exception being divorce.

Singer avoids representing the majors since they’re often adversaries of his clients in many of the cases he handles. “I have so many disputes with studios and networks that I will not rep them,” he says. “For the most part we rep talent and look to protect their rights.”

From his vantage point at the center of the action, Singer has seen the business evolve substantially in the past few years. For one thing, “it’s become more contentious and litigious now,” he says. In part, “that could be because of the economy.”

Another development: “There’s a significant move away from trying cases before a jury. It’s a rarity now to be able to try a dispute before a jury,” with most cases now going into arbitration rather than to court.

On a more fundamental level, Singer is concerned by the negative impact of the Internet on the ability of individuals to protect their rights. “When you were working with print or TV, you used to have a few hours to deal with a potential story about a client before it got published,” he says. But today, stories move into the media instantly, and bloggers are “pretty reckless for the most part; once one website runs something, everybody else picks it up. And it’s not just stories, it could be private nude photos, for example. Once somebody puts it out there, it’s out there forever.”

But whatever problems the Internet has thrown his way, Singer has dealt with them effectively. “There are ways to do it, and we’ve done it,” he says. “You can get things shut down, and ultimately you can find out who the (perpetrator) is. They usually think they’re faceless, but they get scared and they will respond. You have to act quickly to get something off the Internet. That’s what we do.”

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