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Gender balance in entertainment law

Women achieved parity in the junior ranks, but will it last?

The selection process for picking the lawyers on Variety’s first-ever Hollywood Law: Up Next list took no account of the candidates’ gender. When the final list emerged, virtually half of the attorneys turned out to be women.

That’s an astounding ratio in what has traditionally been a male-dominated business. Perhaps the high representation of women indicates how close they are to breaking the glass ceiling in the law firms serving the entertainment industry.

Or are they?

Still to be determined is whether the 50/50 ratio will remain the same as these young attorneys move ahead and try to balance the demands of career and family.

One line of thinking holds that today such life-equilibrium issues affect both sexes equally. “Gender roles are evolving such that the work-life balance is no more an impediment to women as it is to men,” says Amy Nickin, a partner at entertainment law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz — and who is pregnant. “Neither gender is apologizing for spending time with their kids.”

The first wave of women lawyers freshly graduated from law schools became a force in Hollywood in the 1980s as gender barriers began to erode. Some people believe that their social talents made them well suited for legal work.

Getting talent, content companies and end users like TV channels with competing interests to come together on the same deals “suits my personality because I enjoy putting deals together and building things,” says Lauren McCollester, senior VP of business affairs for NBCUniversal’s Bravo Media & Oxygen Media. “I find it rewarding to help people define and reach their business goals.”

And while women haven’t been heavily represented in some law segments, such as litigation, that too has been changing. “The large law firms recruit directly from law schools, and there are lot of women in school these days,” says Nina Shaw, founding partner of entertainment law firm Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano. “That wasn’t the case when I went to school (in the 1970s), when women were around 15% of the class” vs. roughly 50% today.

But the path that brings women into the mainstream of entertainment law takes twists and turns. For example:

• Some women starting out in their careers get hit up for dates by men they meet both inside their firms and at other companies they do business with. There’s no easy solution for navigating this mine field.

• In a dilemma men don’t face, women who marry after establishing a reputation face a choice with business implications: keep their maiden names, which represent a sort of brand name; take on hyphenated names; or adopt their husband’s last name.

• Occasional knocks on femme lawyers suggest they aren’t adept at bringing in new clients — characterizations women reject with the argument that when the female influx began the first generation was too junior to be rainmakers, and that has now changed.

But there’s still the nagging question whether the proportion of female attorneys in the younger ranks of Hollywood firms will change as the group gets older. Will the family demands take a greater toll on the careers of women than those of men?

“I don’t know, but I hope not,” says Barbara M. Rubin, whose two children are now adults, and who juggled family and career while building entertainment law firm Peter Rubin & Simon. “It wasn’t always easy but it’s been rewarding. Now that I’m an empty nester I’m so glad (I never gave up my career). Now is when I need it the most.”

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