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Recording Academy Finally Hires In-House Legal Counsel

Jennifer Jones worked as an attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP for 17 years. The Recording Academy was one of her top clients.

The Recording Academy announced on Wednesday (Jan. 19) that Jennifer Jones has joined the company as executive vice president of legal affairs, effective immediately.

This caps a search for in-house general counsel that dates back at least seven months. It has been a source of controversy in recent years that a nonprofit organization of the Academy’s size and stature didn’t have an in-house general counsel and instead paid high yearly fees to outside firms. One of those firms was Proskauer Rose LLP, where Jones worked as an attorney for 17 years.

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In her role at Proskauer Rose, Jones worked with the Recording Academy for more than a decade, advising the Academy and its affiliates on a broad range of legal matters. She also served as counsel and advisor to other clients in the arts, entertainment and sports industries.

Jones, who reports to CEO Harvey Mason jr., oversees the Academy’s day-to-day legal matters and is the advisor to the Academy’s board of trustees, senior Recording Academy staff, the senior leadership of its affiliates, and other areas within the organization. She also acts as the liaison between the Academy’s business units and outside counsel, and supports and facilitates these interactions to enforce the Academy’s intellectual property rights. She is responsible for managing the organization’s legal affairs department covering contract law, employment law, privacy and data protection, intellectual property, advocacy, and not-for-profit governance.

“Taking a fresh look at the Academy’s legal practices and ensuring they are best in class is crucial as we continue the organization’s growth and transformation,” Mason said in a statement.  “As a new and very important strategic advisor for the Academy, Jennifer will strengthen our leadership team as we push toward our goal of doing more to service our music community. We’re thrilled to welcome her to the Academy family.”

Jones holds a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She is admitted to practice in California, New York and Illinois.

With Jones’ appointment, the Recording Academy’s executive staff, as listed on its website, consists of 10 men and seven women. (This excludes executives who work for MusiCares and the Grammy Museum.)

In a roundtable conversation that appeared in the Sept. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard, Mason (who was then interim president/CEO) spoke to the issue of what consideration had been given to hiring an in-house counsel.

“We’ve considered it for probably the last five or so years,” Mason said. “[But] it’s not something where I can just say, ‘We’re hiring in-house counsel.’ The finance committee, the trustees — these are decisions that would go beyond just the CEO or even the chair. It is something that we are evaluating…. I’ve always been one to try to cut legal costs, but as I get into it, I see that the needs of the Academy are very diverse. There’s employment law. There’s corporate law. There’s intellectual property law. There are so many different legal specialties that if we were to bring in a house counsel, that person would have to be an expert in a lot of things. So we do have to outsource some of our needs. We’re trying to cut that back.”

The Academy paid high fees to two law firms in particular — Greenberg Traurig, where Joel Katz was, until Dec. 31, 2020, the founding chairman of its global entertainment and media practice; and Proskauer Rose, where Chuck Ortner, another attorney with deep ties to the Academy, is a partner. Billboard reported that those fees average almost $3 million a year and totaled more than $7 million in 2017 — hefty payouts for a nonprofit organization.

In the 2020 roundtable conversation, Mason sought to clarify that the high fees paid to outside counsel included their commissions on big negotiations they worked on. “When it comes to legal costs, you have to extract the amount that we pay in commission for big negotiations, and I think that’s where some people get a little bit twisted around on the number. We’ve done two contracts with CBS — deals that were in the hundreds of millions of dollars — and the commissions from those deals are part of the legal fees we paid over the last few years.”

Katz (who now works at Barnes & Thornburg) and Ortner were listed as advisors to the Academy in the program book that was distributed at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards in January 2020. Katz was listed as general counsel; Ortner as national legal counsel. Two other lawyers were also listed as advisors — Bobby Rosenbloum (deputy general counsel) and Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks (deputy national legal counsel).

No lawyers were listed as advisors in the program book for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in March 2021.