The Accidental Entertainment Lawyer

O. Yale Lewis Jr. may not love rock-'n'-roll, but musicians find him irresistible

Published in 2009 Washington Super Lawyers — June 2009

When you think rock-'n'-roll lawyer, O. Yale Lewis Jr. probably isn't the first guy who comes to mind. He prefers classical tunes, doesn't follow popular music and never goes to concerts.

Yet the 68-year-old intellectual property attorney at Seattle's Hendricks & Lewis has become a go-to guy for music-industry types who have copyright cases but don't trust Hollywood insiders.

Even Lewis is a bit mystified. Although his clients have included Courtney Love, Anita Baker and radio hostess Delilah, he prefers to discuss his other achievements. Things like creating the public development authority concept that helped preserve Pike Place Market and helping with negotiations between local Native Americans and the city of Seattle that led to the creation of the Daybreak Star Center at Discovery Park.

When he went into law, Lewis had pretty basic expectations for his caseload. "I thought what made a case a good case was [just] that I liked my client, they were on the right side of the issue, there was some public issue involved and there was the possibility of getting paid after," he says. The self-described "accidental entertainment lawyer" expanded those expectations over time, ultimately finding that the level of passion—his and his client's—about a case was what made it memorable.

There is no lack of passion in the entertainment industry, as Lewis was to find out. The unexpected turn of events started in the early 1990s, when he helped Al Hendrix—the father of late rock star Jimi Hendrix—regain the rights to his son's legacy. Before Lewis knew it, music journalists were singing his praises and referring clients his way. He helped the widow of 1950s rocker Buddy Holly file suit against his old label; represented Love in a suit against Nirvana; and had Parliament-Funkadelic front man George Clinton overnight at his house while he worked on a case.

Although he was familiar with Holly's work, he generally doesn't tell clients if he hasn't heard their music.

"Courtney thought it was such a riot that I didn't follow the entertainment-industry scene. It was part of her mission in life to assure that I had at least a rudimentary education in popular music," he says. That's why she jokingly called him once to tell him about a great event that had just happened, similar to the Oscars.

"It's called the Grammys," he recalls her teasing him.

Lewis seems amused by the career turn that landed him in a situation in which receiving calls from internationally known artists would be an everyday occurrence.

"It's as unpredictable an outcome," he says, "as one could have ever imagined."

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