Last year during a sports event at the Staples Center, Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer Brad Small fielded a discomfiting request. One of his clients, a star pro athlete, needed a limousine ride to the airport after the game — and he wanted Small to arrange it.
Even within the intimate confines of modern entertainment law — in which attorneys have virtually become consiglieri, helping stars ink television and movie deals, sign advertising gigs, open restaurants, hire bodyguards and buy jets — the athlete’s demand was out of bounds. Small would gladly help his client invest in a limousine service if he wished, but securing a rental was a task suited for a personal assistant (the other indispensable trapping of L.A.’s rich and famous).
Yet always eager to keep clients happy, Small asked if the athlete was serious. “He was dead serious,” Small says, and when Small balked he became enraged. So Small walked away, whipped out his cell phone and had a stretch limousine waiting at the curb when the game ended. Delighted, the client yanked Small into the car with him before it whisked the two of them to the airport. Small went home in a taxi.
The incident, though far from typical, suggests the quotidian way some stars have come to rely on their consiglieri — and how by carefully tending to such needs, Small has risen quickly through the ranks. At 36, he has reached his prime just as the field has attained unprecedented prominence, with entertainment lawyers now occupying as much space in orbit around stars as agents, managers and publicists.
Small joined the boutique entertainment law firm Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal & LaViolette as a partner last February, bringing such clients as television star Eva Longoria and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura to a firm that already represents some of the industry’s heaviest heavyweights. “I wanted to move to one of the premiere boutique firms for entertainment,” Small says. “I’d be able to further focus my television practice here.”
A fit, compact man with kind eyes, Small recounts his near-meteoric career curve in a warm, matter-of-fact way, as if expounding on his résumé during a well-rehearsed job interview. But talking about himself in the library-like silence of the Bloom Hergott offices, located on tony Rodeo Drive, seems to make him self-conscious. He closes the door to his office before the interview begins and even then speaks in a low, creaky voice at first.
The office, not surprisingly, could be mistaken for that of a producer or casting agent, with a framed Desperate Housewives poster hanging on the wall behind his desk. One of the show’s stars, Longoria, is currently Small’s most well known client. On a credenza are several recent issues of magazines featuring her on their covers, and taped to the center of Small’s desk is a list of all the pilots for the upcoming fall season. In a few days, Small will spend a week in New York for what is known in the television business as up-fronts, when networks announce their lineups for the fall season.
Born in Detroit but raised in Palm Beach, Small comes from a family whose members are practically born with brown leather attachés in their hands. His father and older sister are litigators; his brother is a Florida state prosecutor. His paternal grandfather was also a lawyer and practiced until age 95. When he tells his father how busy his practice is getting, the elder Small says, “Son, anyone can be busy — are you making deals?”
He is now. He earned a degree in economics from Brown University (where he also played soccer until an on-field collision left him with a shattered tibia), and after graduating from UCLA Law School he first worked for the downtown L.A. firm Buchalter Nemer Fields & Younger. “It just so happened they were doing a lot of entertainment-type deals,” he says. From there he moved to a large West Los Angeles firm where he began to focus exclusively on entertainment law.
Then, in 1997, he became an associate with the new Santa Monica firm Erickson & Halloran, whose experienced partners wanted Small to be their “young guy” and bring in the next generation of clients. Small was promoted to partner in 2001, and two years later the trade newspaper The Hollywood Reporter included him in its annual “Next Generation” list of leading young Hollywood executives.
Entertainment lawyer Henry Holmes, who has worked several deals in which Small was involved, says Small is “a good negotiator.” He adds, “He’s got sharp instincts. He does his homework.”
Those instincts have become more vital as the cable television market has expanded. Though entertainment law likely dates back to silent films, its importance was first cemented in the 1950s after the demise of Hollywood’s “studio system,” in which actors, writers and other talent had been treated as the property of a handful of movie factories, like MGM and Warner Bros. When a 1948 antitrust case smashed that oligopoly, artists were suddenly free to pick and choose their work one project at a time and found themselves needing help wielding their newfound empowerment.
Today, with celebrities eager to avoid battles with studios, stalkers, tabloids and anyone else who could derail their careers or expose their personal lives, Small offers his clients a one-stop shop for almost all their legal work. He handles tasks that once would have required a star to have a Rolodex full of attorneys suited to the various specialties. “It’s not like we’re just sitting in the library waiting for your document to come in and then scribbling on it,” he says. “We also get involved in the negotiation. I’ll get on the phone with the agent.”
Take Longoria’s full slate, for example. In addition to her hit TV show, she will appear in an upcoming film with Kim Basinger (another Bloom Hergott client) and is a spokesperson for L’Oreal and Pepsi. Small handles her contracts in each matter. “When she buys a house, she comes to me,” he says. He even oversees clients’ wills and trusts.
Yet many entertainment lawyers decline to offer clients such all-in-one service, preferring only to tackle the movie, television and music deals; this is one reason why Small thinks the Hollywood attorney-client turnover rate has increased in recent years. He, on the other hand, has several clients whom he has represented for nearly a decade. He says some lawyers will sign “every person who walks down the street” but then do little to build a relationship. When prospective clients meet with him, some complain that they haven’t heard from their current counsel for a year. “You have to return the client’s calls,” he says.
Yet even Small, who carries both a cell phone and BlackBerry pager, stops shorts of giving clients the number to his home in Beverly Hills, where he lives with his wife, Lisa, and their two young daughters. He realized the wisdom of this policy when, at five o’clock one morning, a longtime client (the only one who did have his home number) phoned in desperate straits. The client needed a divorce — in an hour.
Small enjoys spending his early morning hours at the gym, and on weekends he relishes going to the soccer practices and games of his older daughter, who is 3. His wife, a former music industry executive, runs a concierge firm that does party planning and related services. They met at a party in Pacific Palisades in 1994, a week before Small passed the California bar. Spotting her on a sofa, Small turned to a friend and said, “That’s my wife.” They married four years later.
Small cites his happy home life as a reason why most of his onscreen clients are actresses, not actors. “I tell them I’m married and have two kids. I tell them my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world.” A sense of trust is fostered — not only because such loyalty is essential to his profession, but because it provides “a sense of security in what could otherwise be a sleazy town.”