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Legal: Attorney • Lawyer • Legal Counsel • Legal Affairs


Lawyers in the music industry provide legal counsel, negotiate contracts and other agreements, and defend the rights of music clients. Many attorneys are involved in the overall strategic planning of their artist, writer, producer, and other clients. “Our goal is to get them a team to put together and structure their management, record, publishing, merchandising, and other agreements,” says Debra Wagnon.


In this field, you need a law degree and experience in the music industry.


“Entertainment is changing drastically with the advent of new technology; it's a great time to be practicing [law].” Wagnon advises those interested in the music industry to “gain experience in the entertainment field long before they're in law school. If you're genuinely excited about the industry, you'll work in the mail room or do a summer undergraduate internship and be passionate about it. Be willing to work for free, delivering paper clips or whatever it takes to get inside the entertainment field. Get the best solid law education you can. If you have a choice between one of the best law schools, versus one devoted to entertainment matters, I would choose the former, because your education is with you forever and is the structure for your entire career. It's not what you learn in law school that will make you a great entertainment attorney; it is what you learn in the field. In the summer get an internship at a record label, a music publisher, a management company, with a promoter, a radio station, or an Internet company. If you have hands-on experience, it is the very thing that will advertise and advise people about you. The second year of law school I would advise they do an internship as a paralegal or a legal secretary in a law firm that specializes in the area you want. Work on a pro bono basis for an artist. Volunteer to work for an organization. Gain some experience beyond just having a law degree.”


“I believe the best entertainment lawyers are those who have experience in the arts,” says Debra Wagnon. “You cannot treat the business the same as a civil litigator or criminal attorney would. As an attorney for an artist, you may need to say some negative things in order to get your client on the straight and narrow road to success. It may set them back emotionally and hurt their work product, unless you can word the message in such a way that it doesn't deliver an arrow to their heart.”

“You've got to make a decision on what you are willing to accept and be prepared to walk if you don't get it. If you're not, you're not that good a negotiator.”

Gain international experience. “You will not have a career if your whole focus is the United States market. You can't survive.”

“You have to be content to work alone. You'll see people before you start, after you finish, and to have discussions in the process, but you're alone with your work.”


“What I love most is making friends and forming relationships. I love closure.”


“Driven” is the only word to describe Deborah Wagnon. With the idea of using a law degree to empower her planned entertainment career, she entered law school at Stanford University, sang three shows a night—every night—from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, built up 100 hours of studio production time, and competed in the Miss California Pageant. Following graduation, she worked a year at a large Los Angeles legal firm, hated it, and decided to return to music as a singer/songwriter. She put together a band, went to Tokyo, Japan, spent her nights performing and her days making contacts within the Asian music industry. After six months, Wagnon returned to Los Angeles. The day of her arrival in 1988, she saw an ad in The Hollywood Reporter for a producer's position with Landmark Entertainment Group for a project at Universal Studios Japan. Without mentioning her legal degree, she landed the job within 24 hours, based solely upon her musical ability, studio experience, and Asian contacts.

Wagnon lined up some valuable male mentors and quickly filled in the gaps in her skills. Within a month, she was back in Tokyo producing recording sessions for the project. More projects followed until in 1991, she decided it was time for a new challenge. She revealed her law degree and put together a proposal to become senior vice president of music business affairs at Landmark. Once hired, she set about establishing a publishing company and moved the company into the recording industry. Soon she was promoted to corporate general legal counsel.

In 1994, Wagnon felt she had drifted too far from her love of music and made a move to Nashville. She took a professorship in the music program at Middle Tennessee State University, and within months partnered with John Mason in opening John Mason Partners Ltd., a private practice specializing in music industry law. She began teaching one day a week at the music school of Georgia State University at Atlanta in 1999, and early in 2000, joined the prestigious Greenberg, Traurig firm as the first female partner.

Wagnon returned to Nashville in 2001 to serve as counsel for the firm of Cornelius & Collins, which specializes in litigation and corporate law. Her primary duty was to act as counsel to the firm in all matters relating to entertainment law. She was offered a partnership and to be head of the entertainment practice at Hunter Maclean Exley & Dunn, P.C., which took her to Savannah, Georgia. Missing Nashville, she returned and opened her own international entertainment representation firm, Portia Entertainment Group LLC. In 2007, Wagnon's historical novel Great and Wide Sea was published. www.portiaentertainment.com and www.deborahwagnon.com

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessPROFESSIONAL - Legal: Attorney • Lawyer • Legal Counsel • Legal Affairs, Business Management: Certified Public Accountant (cpa) • Business Manager • Director Of Entertainment Services