The Beverly Hills Bar Assn.’s selection for 2016 Entertainment Lawyer of the Year, Darrell D. Miller, comes to the honor with a pretty unusual slant.
He was once an entertainer.
“An actor-singer-dancer! I was a musical theater guy!” exclaims the Fox Rothschild managing partner, rattling off a series of credits that would make any journeyman gypsy proud: multiple national and international tours; a turn as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wiz” in Washington, D.C.; and the lead in an original Off Broadway jazz opera at New York’s South Street Theater.
All the time, he was living out the classic showbiz story: A kid from America’s heartland, his plan would take him out of the chorus line and into the courtroom — and then on to conference rooms at the industry’s most forward-looking entertainment ventures.
“I didn’t stop being a performer because I decided I couldn’t do it and wanted to become a lawyer,” Miller says. “I stopped as a strategic means to apply my law degree, and parlay my career to another level.”
Miller discovered he had a knack for “contract negotiations and the business side of the entertainment industry” as a result of being a union rep. While performing in Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House in a regional revival of “Carnival!” aiming for Broadway, he would make a 100-mile round-trip to New Haven several times a week for his law school entrance exam prep course.
“Carnival!” fizzled, but Miller’s energy soared. After graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1990 and passing the bar exam on his first try, he was determined to make a mark in Los Angeles. Ruby Keeler in the musical “42nd Street” couldn’t have done it any more bravely.
“I came out here with no friends, no family, no base of connection,” Miller says. “I didn’t have an in to the business. I was not going to be invited into the business. My way in was being ahead of where I thought the business was going — and by the time the business got there, I was there already.”
Miller’s first instinct was to subdue his showmanship, but his thespian skills paid off. As a litigator, “acting meant I could stand on my feet, think through points and make motions with a confidence my colleagues lacked, even though I was shaking in my boots.”
Later, growing weary of the adversarial, zero-sum litigation game, he blossomed in the win-win world of transactional work, where it bothered him when attorneys would chafe to chase the talent out of the room so the grown-ups could get the real work done.
|I’ve been committed to figuring out an alternative way to success, even if I can’t go through the front door.”
Michael Lewis for Variety
Miller knew better. “I could speak persuasively to the business people about why the creative people should be heard. I felt it was a unique skill, and I marketed it.”
Miller now chairs his 108-year-old firm’s entertainment law department, and offers full-service representation to a deep client pool, from established thesps (Courtney B. Vance) to reality stars (NeNe Leakes) to megachurchman T.D. Jakes, whose chat show is due to bow in September.
“For the first time a station group [Tegna Media] is actually underwriting a talk show,” Miller says. “We’re going to change the game of daytime syndication.”
He’s also out to change the game for minorities underrepresented in the legal profession. Miller urges young people to “get committed to learning, building your skill set, and building relationships,” he says. “For people of color it’s very difficult to get invited to the party. You have to make a strategic effort to find out where things are that you can be part of.”
At the same time, those in power “have to step out of their bubble and build bridges of communication,” making the physical effort “to place themselves where they can actually interact with African-Americans, Asians, Latinos outside of their comfort zone.” (There’ll be more walking the walk, he implies, when commercial pressures force the issue.)
A student of Hollywood’s Golden Age moguls — the Disneys, Goldwyns, and Cohns — Miller tries to follow their visionary habit of challenging past paradigms.
“I constantly think beyond where I am, and I try very hard to put a plan in place to get to that next space. I’ve never felt like I was the smartest. I’ve never felt like I was the most connected, and I surely wasn’t the most well-prepared.
But I worked harder than most, and I’ve been more committed to figuring out an alternative way to success, even if I can’t go through the front door.”
It all started with the stage door. But the Beverly Hills Bar Assn.’s Entertainment Lawyer of the Year is decidedly entering the front door now.