Entertainment Lawyer, a Miami Law Alum, Warns Students Interested in the Field to Never Let Clients Dictate Behavior


 Catharine Skipp/Miami Law)

Richard W. Rappaport, JD '73, Jenna Winchester, and Devang Desai, JD '03. (Photo: Catharine Skipp/Miami Law)

Richard W. Rappaport, who graduated from Miami Law in 1973 and became an entertainment attorney, shared with students a few days ago some insights on the issues he faces in practice, including the intricacies of television and motion picture development, distribution, and financing. He also had a few tips on how to handle famous people.

"Never gawk over entertainers," he cautioned. Lawyers looking to represent such clients, Rappaport said, should bear in mind that while celebrities don't mind the occasional compliment, they expect to be spoken to "like a normal person."

Once retained, he went on, attorneys should "never do anything that goes against what you believe," and must "never let a client dictate your behavior."

Rappaport, whose lunchtime discussion was hosted by Miami Law's Entertainment & Sports Law Society, practices in South Florida and New York, and said that although he works sometimes in Los Angeles, he has never felt the need to move there despite its position as the center of the entertainment industry. Rappaport began playing the guitar at the age of eight, and adopted music and musicians as his legal specialty. His late brother, Steven Rappaport, was something of a rock 'n' roll star with the Ran-Dells, and co-wrote "The Martian Hop," which rose to number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1963.

"The nice thing about being an artist and going into this industry is that you have an artistic sense and feel of the industry," said Rappaport, the author of a book titled STAR! Finding Artistic and Commercial Success in the New Entertainment Industry, which was published in January by ABA Book Publishing. He often doesn't discuss legal issues in first meetings with musicians; he and the client usually talk about music. The entertainers he has represented include Liza Minnelli, Steven Seagal, Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band, Bon Jovi, and hip-hop singer Aaron Carter. "Seagal is a huge guy," Rappaport recalled. "You look up to him when you talk."

He said Miami Law is a great school, "and when you graduate you will more fully understand how great." The education the students receive here, he said, puts them on par with Ivy League graduates and "any other student in the country."

"The education I got here was excellent," he said. "The unevenness doesn't come from what school you go to; it comes with the territory, it comes from what you do or don't do with it."

Rappaport said that anyone can overcome the absence of inside contacts. "You make your own contacts, go to every alumni event, network," he said. "My referrals come from other attorneys. You need to get out there and counter your lack of experience by telling employers that you are a fast learner, a hard worker, and that you will never let them down."

Then, some parting words: "Love what you do. Life is short and the quality of your work is more important than the quantity. Never let anyone see you sweat, never lose your smile, never lose your laugh, never lose your sense of humor. Be a leader."