The seven attorneys featured in Billboard’s Women in Music 2016 are among the top female dealmakers and litigators working at firms outside the label system. And their skills extend far beyond simply interpreting and arguing the law: they are champions of songwriter rights, defenders of multi-platinum hitmakers and protectors of the massive touring productions that crisscross the globe.
CHRISTINE LEPERA, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP
New York-based Lepera owes much of her workload in 2016 to Dr. Luke, whom she represents in his contentious legal fight with Kesha (several claims against him were dismissed this year by the courts; she’s still pursuing his defamation and breach of contract claims against the artist), but the veteran attorney, who cites Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her non-musical female hero, is happy to be in the game, win or lose — but mostly win. “When I was an associate working on an Andrew Lloyd Weber lawsuit, I called this lawyer to ask for an extension and he bullied me and said ‘We’re real trial lawyers’ in a demeaning way,” says Lepera when asked to recall a “man-splaining moment.” She won, by the way.
About Last Year: Won a dismissal of a copyright infringement lawsuit on behalf of Jessie J in the 9th Circuit, which sets precedent for what constitutes access to music in the social media age; Currently waiting on a decision in a matter for Drake in a case where he sampled spoken word from a 1982 jazz track.
Big Case: “It’s not a man, woman issue — It’s about human beings,” says Lepera of the Dr. Luke case. “When there’s an accuser and an accused, just because somebody says it doesn’t make it true. People’s reputations are very important to them. If you’re not guilty of something you’re accused of, the natural response is to fight.”
Word to the Future: “Be your own person and trust in your own skills and abilities.”
LAURIE SORIANO, King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP
Longtime clients Carole King and Aimee Mann along with new addition Carly Simon count on Soriano as an indie go-to for artists seeking more control over their output and public interface. But it was Frank Ocean that thrust her into the spotlight by releasing two albums in one weekend, a feat of legal maneuvering on which Soriano is reluctant to specifically comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
About Last Year: Handled new releases by Travis Scott and Kanye West; Issued 35-year copyright terminations for clients Harry Shearer and Carole King; Represented chart-toppers Twenty One Pilots, who, Soriano says, “Built their success the old-fashioned way, by building an audience locally in Cleveland and then playing consistently everywhere throughout the U.S. and then the world.”
Big Case: “Frank Ocean has been able to write the script for the roll-out of Blonde … and he hasn’t yet released the music in various formats. It has been a challenge and a pleasure to work with a client like Frank who is brilliant both creatively and in his business and to help him realize his vision for himself and his work.”
DINA LAPOLT, LaPolt Law
The West Hollywood-based LaPolt went into business 15 years ago, but is still experiencing firsts in her field. “As women, a lot of us broke through the glass ceiling, but this is the first year I feel I can really compete with these guys,” she says. “People said because I was a musician-turned-lawyer and I started my own practice and I am a woman I wouldn’t be taken seriously.” She passes much of that hard-earned wisdom to students of her UCLA Extension course, “Legal and Practical Aspects of the Music Business,” currently in its 16th consecutive year.
About Last Year: Signed Britney Spears as a client; Saw longtime client Steven Tyler release his first solo album and Fifth Harmony launch an arena tour; Continued to represent deadmau5.
Big Case: LaPolt led the lawsuit against the Department of Justice on behalf of Songwriters of North America over its decision regarding song licensing.
Non-musical Female Icon: “Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother. She taught me to no longer accept the things I cannot change but to change the things I cannot accept.”
LINDA EDELL HOWARD, Adams and Reese, LLP
Nashville-based but New Jersey-bred Linda Edell Howard got her start in music as a photographer, snapping pics of up-and-comers including Bruce Springsteen, Marshall Crenshaw, Jon Bon Jovi and Cyndi Lauper at iconic Asbury Park club The Stone Pony. “I wanted to be Annie Leibovitz,” she says. “And I thought if I went to law school I could get a job at a record label and work my way into the art department. Eventually I realized I could make a more significant contribution to advancing artists’ careers as a lawyer. But I still try to be creative. The law is just a tool, a blueprint. It’s how we color it in and build upon it that distinguishes us. We’ve got our brain, the law, our hearts and our passion.”
About Last Year: Represented writers of iconic songs — among them: “The Letter,” “Everlasting Love,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “Born To Be Wild” and “Jesse’s Girl” — helping them terminate the grant and recapture the rights back. There’s a set of loopholes and very, very specific requirements, and the other side pushes back at every turn, because they don’t want to lose the copyright,” says Edell Howard; Organized a surprise 60th birthday party for her husband, a label and publishing veteran, and 300 guests at Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame.
Big Deal: Edell Howard Negotiated Fats Domino’s deal with Fitbit, which wanted to use his 1957 tune “I’m Walkin’” in a commercial for its Alta product. “Fats is pretty much retired in New Orleans, and when they contacted us about using the song we were able to elevate it beyond just a sync-license, into a bit of a content-play, for Fats.”
Word to the Future: “Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself, because bad ideas generate good ideas all the time. Songwriters will always tell you that.”
JILL BERLINER, Rimon PC
You can find Jill Berliner’s name in any number of history books. As an attorney for Nirvana and longtime representative of Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, she’s had a front row seat to one of rock’s most storied careers. In 2015, Berliner went indie, leaving her longtime home at the practice of Peter Paterno and Howard King. Among her reasons: “There is a constant stress as a female partner who plays with the big boys because my general approach to balancing life and work is different from that of my male partners.”
About Last Year: Exited Paterno for a “vitual” lawfirm, operating out of her home near Lake Tahoe.
Big Case: The Foo Fighters vs. Lloyd’s of London. After the finance giant refused to insure the band’s cancelled European tour dates — called off due to the Nov. 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and frontman Dave Grohl’s broken leg — the band went on the offensive, suing the bank and a brokerage firm claiming “collusion” and shifty math (the suit was ultimately dismissed).
Post-Election Thoughts: “I fought really hard for women’s rights in college. I’m ready to start fighting again, if necessary.”
DEBBIE WHITE, Loeb & Loeb
Loeb & Loeb’s Debbie White is what you would call an international operator. Her longest client, Duran Duran, emerged from Birmingham, England to take over the pop music world; She’s advising China’s TenCent in its entertainment and tech efforts in Hollywood; And Canadian composer Stephan Moccio, who collaborated with The Weeknd on the Grammy-winning “Earned It,” is also on her roster. But like contestants on a TV show, it’s The Voice that keeps White on her toes as select lawyers “pitch” the hopefuls to come up with a legal plan all can agree on. “I look with a fresh set of eyes each time,” she says.
About Last Year: Kvelled upon hearing the James TW song “When You Love Someone” come on in the car and his name scroll across the screen; The Sept. 30 launch of Regina Spektor’s new album, Remember Us to Life, which she says is “a masterpiece.”
Big Deal: The Voice alum Melanie Martinez, who White began representing when the singer was just 16 and for whom she personally assembled a team. Martinez signed with Atlantic following a bidding war and released a gold-certified album. “It makes the stuff I do at The Voice more meaningful.”
Word to the Future: “Think long-term. Your career is a marathon. If you want to have credibility, you have to have a strategy. Be driven and patient and meticulous and thoughtful.”
JAMIE YOUNG, Hertz Lichtensetin & Young LLP
Whether it’s negotiating on behalf of Perry Farrell’s interest in Lollapalooza or helping Melissa Etheridge set up a cannabis business and navigate the murky laws of marijuana, Los Angeles-based Jamie Young says her job is ever evolving. “My clients come from the music end, but their work is no longer just limited to music,” says Young. “I’m learning a lot.” Young also represents Stevie Nicks, who she cites as an inspiration. “She’s another strong, powerful woman who has to a large degree broken the mold.”
About Last Year: Restructured Perry Farrell’s deal with Lollapalooza as the festival expanded internationally and took on partners C3 and Live Nation (“We’re constantly pushing the reset button,” says Young.); Developed an immersive-live entertainment project in Las Vegas with Farrell.
Big Deal: Melissa Etheridge’s weed wine venture “is a new area for me,” says Young. “She wants to be involved ‘from the seed up.’”
Word to the Future: “Be true to your own path, but realize that even though it’s 2016, there are still going to be challenges because you’re a woman.”