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Michael Donahue: What Happens When People Stop Being Law Students and Start Being Lawyers

Michael P. Donahue '11

For Michael P. Donahue '11, being an entertainment lawyer isn’t just about Keeping Up with the Kardashians; it’s about keeping up with an ever-changing media landscape in a notoriously fast-paced industry.

As an in-house attorney at Bunim/Murray, a pioneering production company in reality television, Donahue is constantly challenged to stay current with the finer points of entertainment law. “As technology continues to influence entertainment, the legal aspects of deal-making are inevitably changing,” he says. But the job does have its rewards.

“Reality television is an interesting career path for an entertainment lawyer because, unlike scripted television or film, unscripted and reality programs can be developed, shot, and aired within a year,” Donahue explains. “It’s gratifying to see deals come to life so quickly, especially because I know I played an integral role in making them happen.”

Donahue works closely with producers before, during, and after productions such as Project Runway, Real World Ex-Plosion, and Road Rules.

“This collaborative process means I get to be involved in creative processes, which you don’t typically find at most law firms. I also enjoy working closely with the production team because, sometimes, I get to travel to exotic destinations,” Donahue says. “Most recently, I went to Thailand for the filming of an on-location episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Before he was trekking through Thailand, Donahue prepared for his career at California Western School of Law, a choice to which he attributes much of his professional success.

“The best thing about California Western is its emphasis on providing a practical legal education,” he says. “For example, Professor Hargrove and Professor Cato worked tirelessly to emphasize that writing is a huge part of being a lawyer. Whether it’s a trial brief or an email, how you write and speak reflects who you are, and they were so right. I’m also glad to have taken the Entertainment Practicum course with Professor Robin, which allowed me to digest and analyze actual entertainment agreements, and apply those skills.”

Inspired to pursue entertainment law, Donahue took a door-opening internship at California Western’s nonprofit program, New Media Rights.

“Interning there exposed me to a range of legal issues facing grassroots musicians and artists, and allowed me to learn about fair use, trademark, and copyright law, which are all relevant topics in my career,” Donahue explains. “My supervising attorney, Art Neill, was extremely supportive of my dream to pursue entertainment law and encouraged me to find internships in Los Angeles the summer after my second year, which I did.”

Breaking into entertainment law isn’t easy, Donahue concedes, and those internships helped open doors for him. “Before starting law school, I didn’t know any lawyers nor did I have any connections in the entertainment industry,” he says. “The opportunity to meet as many people as I could in the industry helped pave the way for where I am today.”

Offering practical wisdom to those who would like to follow in his footsteps, Donahue’s advice places emphasis on the importance of demonstrating perseverance and humbleness in his profession. “Know that there’s truly no substitute for hard work. Breaking into this business isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible. Every single internship and job I’ve had has been a result of my own diligence and determination,” he says. “Furthermore, because the entertainment business is uniquely structured, most aspiring entertainment lawyers must initially prove themselves in non-lawyer positions. This reality quickly destroys idealistic notions that working in Hollywood is all glitz and glamour, but if you’re passionate enough, you’ll do whatever it takes.