LOS ANGELES – The phone rang at three in the morning. The panicked, celebrity client called out to the one person she goes to for emergencies: her attorney. Picking the phone up from his bedside, entertainment lawyer Jerry Britman gathers himself to hear the latest emergency he needs to resolve:
“Jerry, the baby won’t stop crying–it’s driving us crazy! I’ve got an audition in the morning, what are we supposed to do?” The client, a noted television comedienne, had recently adopted a child with her same-sex companion. Having never bothered to learn what that would entail, she does what she usually does and relies on her attorney to sort out the details.
Within the hour Britman, still in his pajamas, managed to calm the baby down at his client’s home using a rattle and a diaper change. While never married himself, the forty-two year old attorney has learned to take care of babies from other experiences with clients. After placing the baby back in its crib, he cleaned the infant’s spittle off of his shirt and drove to house to change clothes before heading into work. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the life of a “Hollywood” attorney would be so unglamorous.
“I honestly thought my work would be more interesting than it is now,” sighed Britman. “Sure, I get to see and interact with a number of famous celebrities, but most of them are idiots and the work I do is boring, horrific, secret or a combination of the three.”
Over the past few days, Britman has sent cease and desist letters to three paparazzi, paid off one mistress and two housekeepers, and acted as drug mule –and that was just for one client. He paid off the parking tickets of talk show host and represented a television producer in traffic court to fight a ticket for an alleged illegal right turn. He picked up a film director’s mother from the airport and dropped another client’s dog off at the vet. Still, he does not accede to all requests: when a frustrated young actor demanded that Britman sue McDonalds for not serving him due to his extreme intoxication, the lawyer instead talked the teenager out of the restaurant and drove him home to “sleep it off.”
That’s not to say the work is necessarily boring. Just last month, he faced the latest in a series of bona fide crises for a middle-aged television and film actor when a bachelor party went awry.
“The client, let’s call him Malick Caldwin, was at his nephew’s bachelor party–I advised him not to go but he told me to ‘go f— myself’ as he usually does–and while they’re at a strip club he’s getting a lap dance. Well, one of the members of the group thinks it’s a great idea to give this girl some hard drugs and she ODs in the middle of the performance and throws up all over Caldwin, who freaks out and sucker punches another stripper who received deep lacerations when she fell and broke a glass table.”
Britman permitted a dramatic pause before continuing: “Who gets the 2 a.m. call to sort out that mess? Me. First thing I do is get everyone paid so that it stays away from the police and out of the press. Thankfully the client was wealthy enough to make it go away and I remembered vodka works as a disinfectant.”
Did the actor give his attorney a gift for pulling out the save?
“No, he complained that I billed him too much and told [managing partner] Steve [Raines] that I’m stealing firm funds,” grumbles Britman, “thankfully Steve knows me well enough to ignore it, but the client’s too valuable to lose so we continue to represent him.”
Nevertheless, Britman concedes he is much better off now than he was when he first started. A promising young lawyer out of NYU, he joined his firm with an eye on working on high end contracts and intellectual property issues. He soon found that his role was more of a well-compensated gofer.
“[The stars clients] would see this new kid and either completely blow me off or have me do meaningless things,” recalled Britman. One noted rock musician had him fetch his coffee and clean his ashtray whenever he would come in for contract negotiations. “He would call me ‘garçon’. At first I figured it was his money and if that’s how he wanted to spend it, more power to him. But then the partners told me I couldn’t bill for that time and I had to up my hours just to make par. It ended up costing me my bonus that year.”
While most young associates disliked doing mundane legal research, he found it to be a break from the often abusive clients. He briefly dabbled in sports law before settling in on being a footstool to television and movie stars: “Ugh, I hated representing athletes. There are only so many paternity suits you can settle before it starts to get really boring.”
To the aspiring entertainment lawyer, Britman had three pieces of advice: “Never trust your client, take care to triple-check contracts and always be ready to find the quickest and quietest way to dispose of a body.”