Entertainment lawyers, along with agents and studio execs, are a ubiquitous group in Hollywood. However a few stand out above and beyond, based namely on deal flow and client lists. No one fits this bill more than Usman Shaikh, managing attorney at his eponymous Beverly Hills-based law firm, U.S. Law Group, who, over the last few years, has come to be known as an up-and-comer in industry circles for his legal acumen, understanding of entertainment deal-making, and New York street smarts. Usman’s unique background spans Wall St., where he was a corporate attorney, all the way through Hollywood. This lightening in a bottle combo has given this Ivy League grad the ability to not only rep film financiers and producers but also cutting edge tech and media startups in burgeoning Silicon Beach, LA’s startup hub analogous to Silicon Valley. We recently caught up with Usman to find out what makes him tick.
Launching a business takes grit, launching a law firm takes another level of grit and dedication. At what moment did you decide that you wanted to create and launch U.S. Law Group?
Thanks, for having me, truly a pleasure.
I knew early in my career that going off on my own to start a firm was something that I would end up doing, I just didn’t know when I’d be ready to do it. When I was in law school at the University of Pennsylvania, most of my classmates, including myself, wanted to graduate and work at “Big Law” primarily because law school geared us to think that Big Law was the highest echelon of the legal profession. No one in law school ever talked about hanging his own shingle or using her legal background to start a business or anything even remotely entrepreneurial (I do think that times have changed and this is no longer the case at most top law schools).
I ended up working at a large international firm in NYC and then a white shoe corporate firm on Wall Street. It was around this time that I realized that I really didn’t want to continue down partnership track. I consider myself entrepreneurial with a vast array of professional and personal interests, and I knew I needed a change or I’d be doing the same thing for the rest of my career. That was the impetus for my move to LA (along with my passion for the industry and connection to it…I studied theatre as an undergrad), where I started work at a Top 4 talent agency to get a better understanding of show business.
During this time, the economy went through a downward shift and the entertainment business in particular was hit hard because independent financing for films dried up. There was also a paradigm shift in the legal profession, with clients, who still wanted high level legal services, challenging the extraordinarily high and, perhaps, obnoxious legal fees being charged by many law firms. That’s when I left the agency and went off on my own to start U.S. Law Group (which, by the way, stands for my name).
Being a partner -level attorney with a pedigreed legal background, I was, early on, able to market myself as someone providing top tier legal services in highly specialized areas of the law at client-friendly rates, something my competitors weren’t doing or unable to do. Today, we only have one junior attorney so our clients get senior level representation at a fraction of the cost that large law firms charge, because we simply don’t have the overhead and bureaucratic red tape that they often have. All senior attorneys at U.S. Law Group come from prestigious law firms, talent agencies, studios, or production companies, and this background directly benefits our clients without the hefty legal fees. I’d like to think that U.S. Law Group is not just a product of its time but rather a leader in what I think is the new model of legal representation. That said, my training as a Big Law attorney in NYC and the time I put in at the talent agency taught me discipline and instilled a certain work ethic, which, in turn, has led to the success of U.S. Law Group.
You have an incredible career and have worked with entertainment, media start ups, music festivals, and much, more. How is it that you’re able to deliver results for such a broad array or clients? What is it about you that makes you brings it all together?
I have a unique background in the sense that I worked as a corporate attorney on Wall St. and then at a Hollywood talent agency. So my clients are generally a mix of these two disciplines. On the corporate side, I’m general counsel to numerous new media startups that are creating and distributing cutting edge content through various digital platforms. UphoricTV is a great example of this; they’re creating live stream and original content for global music festival fans. On the entertainment side, I represent production companies and film financiers, which couples my finance background with my entertainment background. Even though these deals are entertainment related, they require an in-depth knowledge of and expertise in, among other things, equity and debt investment structures and SEC compliance, in addition to industry-specific standards and practices. In the last 12 months alone, our firm’s clients have financed pictures like Kevin Connelly’s upcoming John Gotti starring John Travolta, The Clapper starring Ed Helms, Tracey Morgan, and Mickey Gooch, London Fields starring Johnny Depp and Billy Bob Thorton, Keepers with Gerard Butler, Emilio Estevez’s upcoming The Public starring Alec Baldwin and Taylor Schilling, and Tragedy Girls starring Josh Hutcherson which is currently in theatres and has an 83% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. And as you pointed out, I also provide production legal services for live events including music festivals, the latest being OndaLinda in historic Careyes, Mexico in November, which Vogue magazine recently called the lux Burning Man (for the record, I’m a burner!).
Exciting! That all said, what is your favorite part about your job?
The best part of my job is interacting and working with such talented clients, many of whom are thought leaders in their respective industries. Many times I’m amazed at what they’re accomplishing! I mentioned UphoricTV already, but other examples are seatXchange which is revolutionizing the ticketing industry and another client, SpineLOOP, is introducing an innovative and much-needed surgery technique to the market. Clients like these inspire me to bring my A-game to the office every day.
Having a wide array of clients across different sectors can certainly be challenging but, as part of what I do, I have to be able to have a deep understanding of my clients’ respective businesses and industries. I learn something new with each client and it quenches my insatiable desire for knowledge and learning new things. Additionally, unlike many other attorneys, I have the capability, through my network, to bring deal flow to my clients, introduce them to strategic partners, help with financing their projects, etc. Nothing brings me more joy than when I introduce my clients to each other and a deal comes out of it, benefitting both parties. That is not lawyering, but rather an innate desire put deals together and see my clients do well. I suppose that’s the entrepreneur side of my brain at work.
Just as a fun recommendation when working with entertainment clients, whether it be producers, talent, etc., can you choose one area of law that you think you think clients should be aware about to better protect themselves?
I’d probably say intellectual property. Most of U.S. Law Group’s matters, whether corporate, entertainment, or litigation, have an intellectual property component to them. While clients don’t need to be experts in IP (that’s the attorney’s job), they should have a general knowledge of it for their respective businesses. For example, on the film finance or production legal side, we deal a lot with rights acquisitions (e.g., optioning a literary work to adapt it for the screen), collateralizing copyrights to protect investments, chain of title for scripts, and licensing deals for content distribution. On the corporate side, we have to protect our startup clients’ IP from infringement, whether in the form of trademarks/tradedress/trade secrets, copyright of source code, or patents. For our tech startup clients, we handle software licensing like SaaS deals and founders’ technology assignments, all of which have a heavy IP component. We currently have a very high profile case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which involves complex IP issues.
What has inspired you to be a part of charitable projects? Is there a certain cause that really stands out to you?
Regardless of how busy I am running U.S. Law Group, I always try to make time to give back to those less fortunate than me. I think it has to do with my upbringing, my parents’ commitment to charitable causes, and having seen deep poverty in other parts of the world. I’ve been raising money for and donating time to nonprofits since I was a teen. Most recently, in August, U.S. Law Group sponsored an event for Give a 2nd Chance, a nonprofit dedicated to providing second chances to those less fortunate than us, especially veterans wounded in combat. We had the event at the famous The Vineyard Beverly Hills attended by a great mix of our clients, friends, and LA’s influencers and tastemakers. We partnered with Sk8 4 Education, an inner city after school skateboarding program. The event was tremendously successful in raising awareness for the charity. I’m also on the board of directors of Give a 2nd Chance, so it’s a cause that’s especially close to my heart. Additionally, over the past few years, I’ve gotten more and more involved with Russell Simmons’ Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, whose mission has become more relevant in these recent turbulent times.
As digital strategy and new media rise, let’s look to the future. What is one small strategy that you advise businesses should be implementing?
Ok, now let’s have a little fun. Which one do you love more, New York or Los Angeles and why?
I love and have deep respect for both cities. As you know, in addition to our Beverly Hills location, we have an office on Wall St. and I’m licensed to practice law in both states. It’s really comparing apples to oranges (or a Big Apple to a California Avocado?!) and each has its virtues and shortcomings. I’m proudly bi-coastal and love having a presence in both cities. Is that too PC of an answer? Lol.
Speaking of PC, we’re seeing you becoming more involved in local and national politics. What has inspired you to do that?
I’m a self admitted political junkie. While I’ve never held public office myself, I try to fulfill my civic duty as an American and admirer of the democratic process. Most recently, I’ve taken a semi-official role in the campaign to elect Omar Qudrat to the U.S. Congress in California’s 52nd District. At the sake of sounding bias, Omar’s ideology and background make him the perfect politician in Washington in these divisive times and a great hope for the future of this country. We need more young men like Omar, who’s a veteran and former prosecutor at the Department of Defense, holding public office, and I’m more than happy to devote my time and resources to see this through. Your readers should definitely learn more about Omar at electomar.com.
It’s exciting to see that U.S. Law Group has expanded into New York from Beverly Hills. There have been some rumblings about Dubai. Can you tell us a little more about that, what’s going on there?
My long term goal for U.S. Law Group has always been to expand and grow, but remain a client-focused boutique firm. We have clients around the world, and we specifically represent entrepreneurs and businesses in the UAE, so we’ve had the need for local counsel in the region. Additionally, I have family in the UAE and love the Emirati innovative spirit. During my last trip to Dubai, I put feelers out to local law firms for possible collaborations with U.S. Law Group, and the response was positive, so we’ll continue to explore these opportunities.
And the all the while, you’re becoming one of the most recognizable young attorneys in LA!
Ha, I appreciate you saying that. Being the face of the firm, I have to be a bit high profile. I have to be at certain events like award shows or premieres to network and grow my business. But when I am out and about, it’s usually with clients or colleagues. I guess that garnishes some attention around town, and I’m not one to shy away from attention!
Let’s focus in on Usman Shaikh. You have such wonderful accomplishments ranging from your firm, U.S. Law Group, and working with clients in diverse industries to devoting time to charitable causes to dabbling in politics. Are you happy to look back at the path you have taken? How does it feel to be where you’re at today? What more will we be seeing from you?
That’s a very loaded question! I think you’ll continue to see U.S. Law Group provide top tier legal services to its clients and expand by bringing on top talent. Our amazing clients will continue to succeed in their respective endeavors. I truly love what I do and count my blessings every day. And yes, I’m extremely happy with the path I’ve taken, the success of U.S. Law Group, and what the future holds for me, my firm, the other attorneys at U.S. Law Group, and, perhaps above all, my clients.
Usman Shaikh is the founder and managing attorney of U.S. Law Group, a boutique bi-coastal law firm providing innovative legal solutions in Corporate & Business, Entertainment & New Media, Intellectual Property, and Litigation matters. To learn more about Usman or U.S. Law Group, please visit uslawgroupinc.com and facebook.com/uslawgroupinc.