It’s a little after 11 on a Tuesday morning, and Corey Field, dressed in a casual blue suit, is in the 51st-floor office of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. He stands at the edge of a vast conference room, which is lined with a series of immense windows that reveal stunning views of Philadelphia. As Field looks out and points at the sights, the 50-year-old associate seems on top of the legal world.
Wait a second. How impressive of a career can a 50-year-old associate have?
In Field’s case, extremely impressive.
Field rides an elevator down to his office, seven floors below. He walks in and sits behind his desk. A former music composer, Field graduated from law school fewer than five years ago. His peers are as much as 20 years younger than he is.
“Most people in the real world don’t care and don’t know the difference between an associate who is a first-year or a third-year or a partner,” Field says. “All they know is that you’re a lawyer and you work in this skyscraper, and that’s cool. But if you spend your entire life in the legal profession, then you understand that this middle-aged guy has very little status, and you wonder why this person is willing to do that.”
The short answer is it just sort of happened. The long answer is more interesting.
Field spent the bulk of his professional life at European American Music Distributors Corporation, a publisher and licenser of classical music compositions. He began working there in his late 20s and was promoted up the ranks. After a decade at European American, which was then based in the Philadelphia suburbs, he was vice president. Still, Field thought he wouldn’t advance in the company much further because the president was happy — and quite good — at his job.
“I hit a career ceiling,” Field says, as his eyes slowly pass over the electric guitar that hangs on his wall. “ I felt I could do more with my life. But because we were in Pennsylvania, I was in a bubble. I couldn’t just job-hop. The truth is the international music publishing world isn’t happening in the Philadelphia suburbs.”
There were other obstacles, too. Two of Field’s three daughters had cystic fibrosis, and he and his wife were committed to staying in southeastern Pennsylvania to provide their kids with consistent medical care. (Two years ago, his youngest daughter died at 17 from the disease, and Field helped establish a scholarship fund — the Karrlin Field Memorial Fund — in her honor.)
As Field searched for a way to reinvigorate his career, he thought of the copyright attorneys he knew. “I thought what they were doing was cool,” Field says. “They were still doing the music thing but at a whole different level. … So I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go to law school.’”
Still, Field insists he had no intention of becoming a lawyer at that point. “I believed it would help me in my work,” he says. “I thought I could combine what the president of my company and what the lawyers do in one person. Besides, I knew if I wanted to be a lawyer, I would have to take a huge pay cut.”
Field grew up in Hollywood. His mom was a journalist and his dad, Martin Field, was a screenwriter who received a story credit for a B-movie called Murder Is My Beat. A poster hangs in Field’s office.
Field fell in love with music when he was a teenager. He learned to play piano and bass guitar. In high school, Field decided he wanted to compose what he calls serious music — “symphonies and chamber music and piano sonatas.” He went off to the University of California at Santa Barbara and earned a bachelor’s degree in music. He and his wife then moved to England, where he picked up a doctorate in composition at the University of York.
As a student, Field spent many hours composing at the piano. His music won several prizes and prestigious writing awards. It was also played on major radio stations, including the BBC. Back then, he wanted to become a professor who composed music. But those positions are hard to come by.
“When I finished the doctorate, we had a baby, and it was decision time,” he says. “We moved back to Los Angeles and moved in with my mom while I looked for a job.”
Desperate to support his family, he eventually went to New York to hunt for openings in the music industry. He stayed at the Y while his wife and daughter waited for him in Los Angeles. “I was a grown man with a family and no job … it was terribly stressful,” he says.
After a few weeks, Field was offered the position that “changed my life.” European American Music Distributors Corporation hired Field to work in its sales department. For Field, it was a tremendous opportunity to deal with the music and musicians he loved. “In the classical music world, there was a lot of prestige working for this company,” he says. Soon after, European American relocated its offices to a Philadelphia suburb. Field and his family followed.
“One thing people always ask me is do I miss being a composer,” he says. “The answer is no. I feel like I got it out of my system. I did it right through my late 20s. I was, in my view, a modest talent. But I started working with composers as a music publisher, and they were so much more talented than me. Oh god, they were really great composers. Also, I was very satisfied working with composers and going to concerts and traveling around the world.”
In 1998, 42-year-old Field started attending classes four nights a week at the Wilmington, Del. campus of Widener University School of Law. He excelled in school. Widener offered Field a 50 percent scholarship that was contingent on his maintaining at least a B average. “I had this unbelievable financial motivation to work hard,” Field says. “I was terrified I would lose the scholarship.”
Field’s skills as a music composer made writing scholarly papers easier. “Writing musical sonatas is very similar to writing a legal argument,” he says. “Having been a music composer made me supremely well trained for legal writing.” As a student, Field published at least a half dozen scholarly papers on copyright law.
“A good law school education is supposed to broaden you, and it did,” he says. “I realized there was a lot more out there.” Field also realized that he wanted to practice law; he was offered a job with the intellectual property group at Ballard Spahr when he graduated in 2001.
As a lawyer, Field has been “working his butt off.” He concedes it was rough for him at first being the oldest person in his position.
“When people make a mid-career change and go into law, they often have a hard time,” says Thomas Bennett, a Ballard Spahr partner. “People wonder if they are set in their ways or too far along in their years to be energetic. The life of an associate is hard. It’s a grind. But Corey has been a great acquisition for the firm. He was able to be successful quickly. To get to where he is in our firm usually takes a lot more years than he has put in here. He has been able to tap into and take advantage of his prior experience in a way most new associates can’t.”
Field brought in new clients, mostly from the music business. And he has been recognized and applauded for having distinct expertise in copyright negotiations. For instance, Ballard Spahr’s Salt Lake City office represents the Utah Symphony, which recently ran into a problem when it was preparing to put out a new CD. The orchestra pinned many hopes on the release of the CD, believing, among other things, that it would help revive its reputation on the world stage.
After the CD was recorded, however, the record company went bankrupt. Bennett, who works out of Ballard’s Salt Lake City office, says Field’s expertise saved the symphony from a disaster.
“Without Corey’s intervention, the bankruptcy of the publisher would have almost certainly meant the end of the CD,” Bennett says. “This was the first recording the symphony had done in a long time and it would have been really discouraging for them if the project had failed.”
When the symphony was crafting the contract with the record company, Field and the intellectual property team were asked to review it. Field noticed that there was no release-and-reversion clause in the contract. Field changed the contract so that the symphony — and not the producer — owned the rights to the master recordings. (Usually, the producer owns those rights.) “Because of the provisions in the agreement,” says Field, “once the record company was in bankruptcy, we were able to litigate so that the symphony had the right to get the master recordings back.” Otherwise, the recordings would have been part of the producer’s assets, and the CD would have been part of the bankruptcy proceedings. The symphony reclaimed the masters and released the CD with another record company.
In his short time as a lawyer, Field has become quite visible in
entertainment law circles. He is an officer for the Copyright
Society of the USA, the American Music Center in New
York, and the Entertainment Law Initiative Advisory Committee,
which is part of the National Academy of Recording Arts and
Sciences. He says that last role is his most fun.
The academy produces the Grammy Awards, and a couple of years ago Field went to Los Angeles for the show. At a luncheon for entertainment lawyers in Beverly Hills, Field sat next to an attorney who represented one of the most successful composers of film scores. The composer, whom Field declines to name for confidentiality reasons, wanted his work to be viewed seriously outside of Hollywood and was in negotiations to have his music showcased at Carnegie Hall. After the lunch, the composer’s attorney asked Field to help lay the groundwork for publication of the performance. A few months later, Field sat in the audience at Carnegie Hall as the music was played before a very impressed crowd.
“If you’re going to practice entertainment law in Philadelphia, you have to get out of town,” he says. “You have to go to New York and Los Angeles, you have to meet people and go to lunch. You have to work to develop your practice.
“I really feel like I’ve got to make up for lost time. I want to show that this whole thing was a good idea.”