Harold Brown was born into a family of powerhouse lawyers. His mother, the late Hermione Brown, was a 50-year partner at venerable Beverly Hills law firm Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown, the same firm at which Harold, named 2017 Beverly Hills Bar Association Entertainment Lawyer of the Year, would eventually become partner. His late father, Louis M. Brown, was a Harvard-educated attorney and law professor at USC.
Ultimately, Brown’s parents were a “huge influence” on his choice of career, and today he’s got a starry roster of clients that includes Steven Spielberg, Heidi Klum, Gwyneth Paltrow and Stephen King (“He’s a really cool guy and not full of himself,” Brown says).
But Brown, whose two older brothers carved out distinguished careers as “academic superstar” professors with degrees from Cornell, Cal Tech and Yale, initially set his sights on becoming a poet.
“In high school I was not a very good student and not very interested in anything intellectual,” says Brown, who will be feted May 3 at an awards dinner
with Craig Ferguson as MC at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel. “I couldn’t be caught dead reading a book — maybe occasionally once a year some science fiction, Isaac Asimov or somebody like that. And then, in the doldrums of my senior year, an English teacher read E.E. Cummings to us. And I fell in love. It was so clever and so witty. It really changed my life.”
Brown began writing incessantly, and wound up majoring in English with a focus on creative writing at Occidental College.
“I didn’t have any particular skills coming out of high school, and I spent the majority of my college education teaching myself and learning from my professors how to write prose,” says Brown. “I took relatively few classes in other subjects — you could get away with that back then. I learned how to write, and it has served me well ever since.”
Bent on becoming a professional wordsmith, when it came time for graduate school Brown applied to five top-tier MFA programs, as well as five high-ranking law schools.
“I got into four of the law schools — I got into none of the MFA programs,” says Brown with a good-natured laugh. “I remember saying, ‘Dad, I get it, you have contacts everywhere.
I know how you got me into the law schools, but how did you get me rejected at all of the MFA programs? That took skill.’ He said, ‘No, son, you did that on your own.’ ”
But as fate would have it, Brown wound up taking to law school — first at UC Berkeley School of Law and then at UCLA — like a duck to water.
“I loved law school from the get-go,” says Brown. “I didn’t think I would. My dad could be a shade on the pompous side. But I loved the law and I got it right away. It fit into my logic set. There were other people in my class who were smarter than I was, but who struggled with it. For me, it’s not that it was easy, but it was fun, and things that are fun tend to be easy.”
Which is not to say that Brown, clinging to his affinity for poetry, didn’t experience a few learning curves along the way.
“I wrote my first law school exam in iambic pentameter, the whole thing, because I was really good at iambic pentameter at the time,” says Brown. “And I remember that when my civil procedure professor, a really nice guy, handed me back the paper, at the top of it was written, ‘Not a good idea.’ It was a stupid freshman trick and I never did it again.”
After law school, there was no question where Brown would end up.
“I only went to law school to come to this firm,” says Brown, who joined Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown in 1976. “My eventual partner at the firm, Stan Gold, was an associate at the time. He became my first adult friend and mentor. [A few years earlier] he did my parents’ bidding by convincing me to go to law school. But he didn’t have to convince me to go to work here, that was easy. It was the only law firm I ever considered.”
One of the brightest perks, says Brown, was working alongside his mother, a star in the field of law.
For 25 years Brown worked with his mom. “It turned out to be the best thing in the world,” he says. “Granted, for the first couple of years it was highly stressful because I had to prove myself not only to my bosses, whom I desperately wanted to please, but also to my parents. When I started, I vowed that I would never talk to my mother when I came to work. That lasted a day. Everybody I went to and asked, ‘can you help me out with this,’ they’d say, ‘go ask your mother.’ Then I’d say, ‘I’m not talking to my mother.’ And they’d say, ‘wait a minute, that means you’re asking me to go talk to your mother. Your mother is the fount of all knowledge. You can’t succeed at this place if you don’t talk to your mother.’”
Succeed Brown did, with a booming practice that has become a nonstop parade of high-profile, award-winning actors, artists and authors. He’s on the board of directors of Amblin Partners and a longtime member of the board of the Geffen Playhouse, founded by close friend Gil Cates, who was a client until his death in 2011. Recently, Brown was named vice chairman of the board of Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif.
“I am super lucky because if you look at that list [of clients] you can see they’re wonderfully focused people, fascinating to work with,” says Brown.
His job is easy, he adds, because he doesn’t have to discuss with his clients the creative aspects of their trade or give them artistic advice. “I aim to be the person who performs the task I’m asked to perform, as well as I can. I’m the guy who advances the ball, and I try not to take up more of their time up than is necessary. Because every minute that Steven Spielberg spends with me he’s not spending doing what the world knows him for.”