For the past 30 years, Los Angeles-based law firm Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano has prided itself on its commitment to excellence in the practice of transactional entertainment law. It also has a steadfast dedication to nurturing an inclusive environment both in-house and across its clientele, an eclectic and robust group of entertainment professionals ranging from Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmakers to top network and studio executives.
When it comes to the firm’s inclusiveness, “it’s actually in the air we breathe,” says Nina L. Shaw, a founding partner of the firm and one of the founding organizers of the Time’s Up movement.
Raised in Harlem and the Bronx and a graduate of Columbia Law School, Shaw is often touted as a legend in the entertainment legal field and was named 2013 Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Assn. She has often been featured on Variety’s Legal Impact Report.
“If we were sitting here and this room wasn’t diverse, this wouldn’t be a comfortable room for us; something would be missing,” says Shaw of her colleagues, a core group of 23 lawyers — 13 of them partners — representing myriad cultures, creeds and areas of professional focus, from scripted and non-scripted television to licensing and transmedia.
“You don’t have to implement something if it’s just a part of who you are,” she says. “I’m always not quite understanding when people say they have to search to do those things. How could you search for something that is intrinsically a part you? That’s really the way we look at it. [This] firm was started by myself and Ernie Del and Jean Tanaka, so how could we be anything else?”
“As a culture, we’re really open to new ideas and trying to think outside the box,” Tanaka says. “And once you’re open to that it organically happens that you are open to people who are from different backgrounds … have different ideas and ways of thinking. You’re not looking for people just like you or people who are thinking in a way that the establishment has always thought.”
At Del Shaw, inclusion not only applies to the wide breadth of artists the firm represents, but also the deals it negotiates on their behalf.
Ava DuVernay has been a client of Shaw for the past 15 years, signing with the firm long before she was writing and directing such Oscar- and Emmy-winning projects as “Selma” and “When They See Us.”
DuVernay credits Shaw with providing “the same level of care, service and love in the work” back then as she does today.
“If Nina Shaw was practicing law on a street corner with a desk set up on a cardboard table, she’d be my lawyer,” says DuVernay. “Before I was a filmmaker I had a publicity agency that represented films and filmmakers. Before I could pay her, she was so kind in reaching out to me and giving me pro bono legal help when I was an independent agency and a black woman trying to have my own business in this town.
“When I transitioned into filmmaking and wanted to take steps in that direction, she was my champion, my mentor. This is a black woman-run legal powerhouse firm.”
Together with firm partner Gordon M. Bobb, Shaw has “really nurtured, cultivated and guided me throughout my career both as a publicist and
as a filmmaker,” DuVernay adds.
“The thing that makes [Shaw] so valuable not as a lawyer but as a person is that she creates a relationship that is very grounded in her clients. She’s speaking with you and it feels like you’re the only thing she needs to do all day. She’s into the complexities of our lives and that really colors and creates complexity within the deals that she creates with us. There’s no cookie-cutter deal I’m getting that’s the same [deal] she did for another filmmaker. She understands that these deals are not just paper and money moving around — this is the artist’s life.”
Across the firm’s 30 years in the entertainment arena, it’s difficult for the partners to pinpoint every single standout moment, but there are a few exemplary highlights, says Jonathan Moonves.
“We can all talk about things that we’re personally very proud of,” he says. “I’m very proud of Ray Romano for becoming the highest-paid actor in the history of episodic TV and I think that record still holds for his episodic fee. It’s all part of putting together those creative forces over the generations.
“We’re not independent contractors working for ourselves. The company was built with everyone in it together. We all have specialties and we’re broad in our skillsets and we bring whatever knowledge we have to the table.”
With an eye toward the future, Shaw credits the firm’s younger partners such as Todd J. Weinstein, Lily G. Tillers and Ethan J. Cohan for their ingenuity, creativity and innovative work strategies.
“When I look at all of the partners, these people are the future of our firm, and I look at the newer, younger partners who will be very much carrying on what we started. And they believe in this,” she says. “They became our partners because we believe in them. We’re very proud of what they’ve built in a very short period of time. The thing that makes us different [from other firms] is that we represent our clients to the best of our abilities, but the choices we make about who we want to be in business with are an extension of our beliefs and what we want to see happen in the industry. We see ourselves on a mission. We really believe that if we didn’t build this, who else would have?”