Click to Print

High-Powered Hollywood Dealmaker

It wasn't an easy road, but would-be rock star Dina LaPolt is now a successful attorney in the entertainment industry.
December 13, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/218013

Dina LaPolt never intended to be a lawyer. She majored in music in college with the goal of becoming a rock star.

Instead, the founder of LaPolt Law PC is an attorney for rock stars and rock star wannabes.

Shortly after graduating from State University of New York, New Paltz, LaPolt moved to the San Francisco area. There she made a living as a musician, concert promoter and booking agent. But life took a new turn after her band was invited to play at a music business conference, and the group got a free pass to one of the day's workshops. Eager for tips on achieving stardom, LaPolt attended a panel discussing how to negotiate a record deal. As she listened to a trio of lawyers expound on the topic--lawyers who sported earrings, long hair and tattoos--she decided, "That's what I want to do."

Today, LaPolt's boutique law firm represents clients in the music, film, TV and book publishing industries. She represents the Tupac Shakur estate, Motley Crue, Latin rapper Baby Bash, the Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes estate and Pop/R&B singer Paula DeAnda.

In addition to superstars, LaPolt's clients include producers, writers, music executives and actors. She also takes on clients with the potential to be stars and helps them through some of the obstacles on the path to success.

LaPolt Law handles recording and publishing agreements and other entertainment industry contracts. It also assists with copyright, licensing and fee negotiations. The firm handles the contractual aspects of concert tours and has negotiated production deals for feature films and made-for-TV movies.

LaPolt's previous experience inside the music industry has fueled her success as an attorney. "I've done all the things [my clients are doing] and can talk about it articulately," she says. She knows what it takes to fill a room with 3,000 people, and she brings that experience to the table.

Small-Town Girl
LaPolt admits to being a little starstruck by her own clients. "I'm that small-town girl from upstate New York," she says, reminiscing about the thrill of working with Motley Crue. "I had their posters on my wall in high school."

The road to success was hardly smooth for LaPolt, who's overcome dyslexia and an addiction to alcohol. In college, she advocated for a degree in arts administration long before such degrees were generally available. When the professor running the music department discouraged her, she convinced another faculty member to help her design her own minor.

Reality hit hard when she moved to Los Angeles with her law degree and couldn't find a job. Other than a brief stint as an intern, she says, "I had no experience drafting, reviewing or negotiating agreements."

However, networking led her to attorney Samuel Fox, where she accepted an unpaid position organizing his files. "I would read all these agreements and take notes, and follow him around the office and ask questions. Finally I started doing it on my own and bringing him things." At the same time, she was working as a waitress to make ends meet.

Her Own Firm
LaPolt worked with Fox for three years before leaving to set up her own firm in 2001. Two clients insisted on leaving with her: Afeni Shakur, Tupac's mother, and the girl group Wild Orchid.

Today, LaPolt has nine employees and more than 200 clients. She's given up her band, Trophy Girl, in favor of speaking at music industry events and conferences nationwide, and teaching the legal side of the industry at UCLA Extension. She credits the UCLA class for helping her stay on top of industry developments. "The music industry changes so drastically," she says. "The class forces me to be up-to-date. That's why I say I get more out of the class than my students."

Given her overcrowded schedule, LaPolt incorporates networking activities into her everyday pursuits. But she doesn't do deals at the golf course--she does them at the yoga studio. She and about 10 music industry representatives gather at the studio each week for yoga, typically followed by a meeting at a Starbucks across the road. "We get so much done," she says.

La Polt's advice to others is, quite naturally, "Never give up. If you want it, don't get discouraged. Stick to your dream [and] hone your skills."

Insisting that her own legal experience isn't unusual, she tells her students, "If you want to be an entertainment lawyer, it's a hard road in the beginning." Her classes often include attorneys who want to change professions. "I tell them, 'You're making six figures now. Save up your money and then quit your job, because you're going to be working for free.' She advises law students to get as much experience as they can before graduating.

LaPolt doesn't regret never making it to rock star status. "You really have to sacrifice a lot to stay competitive: being on the road nine months touring, playing the same songs night after night. It's great at age 25. I can't imagine doing that at 40."

She has a new dream now: "I want to produce a movie and win an Academy Award before I retire," she says.