It has been said that one has truly arrived as a small-firm superstar when he appears in this column. Who said that? Someone, I am sure. While I simply cannot confer that honor to all small-firm attorneys, there is a second place honor: a feature in the New York Times. Martin Singer — the “guard dog” to Hollywood royalty, and founder of the small firm Lavely & Singer — is one of these superstars.
Singer’s client list includes some major starpower: Charlie Sheen, Jeremy Piven (remember when Ari Gold had mercury poisoning?), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Harry Reid, Quentin Tarantino, and (gasp) Sylvester Stallone. Through these relationships, Singer has developed a niche that anyone would want to scratch: “shielding stars and their adjuncts from annoyance.”
While Singer’s firm specializes in all things entertainment, “[n]othing gets Mr. Singer going like a whiff of defamation.” And when he gets going, he does what has made him famous: “kill, or at least maim, unflattering stories that have yet to surface.” Some attorneys do not believe the hype about Singer’s ability to kill said stories (e.g., noted First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, who described Singer as a “blowhard”). But Hollywood publicists are convinced that Singer is the man to call when a story breaks about their clients’ love child or sex tape.
Do not be fooled by the glitz and glamour associated with representing celebrities. After the jump, see how Lavely & Singer is like many other successful small firms….
Singer got his start like many other small-firm superstars (featured here, here, and here). He spent his first few years of practice at a well-known entertainment firm, Schiff, Hirsch & Schreiber. Then, when the firm folded, Singer went off on his own with Lavely, another lawyer from Schiff.
Because Singer and Lavely specialized in entertainment litigation, which at the time they first started was rare, they received referrals from entertainment deal-lawyers. For example:
Earlier, he successfully represented the photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg in a suit against Mr. Schwarzenegger, who was accused of misappropriating a photo for use in a body-building calendar. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s deal-maker lawyer Jake Bloom was impressed enough to refer both Mr. Schwarzenegger and Mr. Stallone to Mr. Singer for help with bits of trouble.
And, as we know from other small-firm superstars, those referrals kept building, “[c]ases and clients piled up, and a legal street fighter was born.”
Another similarity between Lavely & Singer and other small firms featured in this column is that young associates get hands-on experience from the start. The website offers the following examples:
For example, on behalf of client Brad Pitt, two junior associates participated in preparing the first suit filed under the federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, as discussed in “Cyberpirates Now May Have to Walk the Plank” by Ritchenya A. Shepherd, National Law Journal, December 20, 1999. Additionally, members of the summer 2000 class did extensive work on sensitive privacy and safety issues in planning a high-profile celebrity wedding.
Also, as we have seen — and want to confirm, so please take this survey — like many other small firms, Lavely & Singer does not have lockstep compensation:
Associates are compensated by merit, an increasing trend among law firms. Every associate negotiates his or her own compensation package, which begins at a level competitive with that offered by other comparable firms in Los Angeles. Benefits include medical and dental insurance, life insurance, 401K plan, continuing education, bar dues, parking, and paid vacation time, among other benefits.
Like some other small firms, Lavely & Singer has a summer program. The firm does not believe in imposing an arbitrary grade cut-off, so “[s]tudents who feel that they will thrive in our intensive culture are invited to interview.”
So, while we can all agree that celebrities are better than us, the poor shlubs who represent them are just like us.
P.S. Please make sure to take the small-firm compensation survey, and please encourage all of your friends/colleagues to do the same. The more responses I receive, the more accurate my reporting will be.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.