Careers in Law Roundtable: 5 Attorneys Discuss How They Found Their Path

Careers in Law Roundtable: 5 Attorneys Discuss How They Found Their Path was originally published on Forage.

Five attorneys for Forage roundtable

Curious about a career in law? Whether you’re in law school, taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), or finishing your undergraduate degree, it’s helpful to hear from attorneys to get a sense of what working in the legal field is really like. 

We often think of lawyers preparing legal documents, defending cases in court, and meeting with clients, but working in the legal profession also involves industries like entertainment, human rights, technology, and corporate litigation

In this roundtable, we brought together lawyers from different backgrounds to shed light on their law careers. We asked five attorneys to discuss:

What led you to a career in law?

Emily Stedman (Corporate Litigator at Husch Blackwell LLP): I actually have two lawyer parents, so I was ‘born into the law.’ When my parents moved a few years back, I actually found a picture of me in a onesie as a toddler that said ‘future lawyer.’ My birth announcement was a joke about me being the newest associate joining their law firm. At a pretty young age, I would’ve told you I’m going to be a lawyer. Then, when I was in college, it was a very intense academic experience for me. And looking back, I would probably say I was burning out and needing a break. So even though I took the LSAT my junior and senior year of college, I did start looking for other things to do … I got into Teach for America, which was a huge deal for me. It was very selective at the time. I think it still is, but it was particularly competitive when I was applying, and I went off to Arizona to teach fifth grade, and I loved teaching. I loved being in the classroom and in my four walls with my students. I taught for two years. I still think about it a lot. It was at the height of the recession, so from 2008 to 2010. And I didn’t love my school or Arizona, but because of the economy, I wasn’t sure I could get a teaching job at another school. So I thought, ‘I’ll go to law school, and if I hate it, I’ll move home to Atlanta and teach. And if I like it, I’ll go into law.’ I loved law school, so that’s how I ended up here. 

Qasim Rashid (Human Rights Attorney at Lorium Law): Being an immigrant, being a faith minority, a racial minority, for me, going to law school was about ‘how do I better understand the legal power that somebody can have by being a lawyer and how that can be used to uphold a sense of justice and accountability, especially for communities who don’t have the kind of representation that they should have.’ 

>>MORE: What Is Civil Rights Law?

Bennett Kaspar-Williams (Labor Relations Counsel at Prime Video & Amazon Studios): I was originally drawn to the law because of its proximity to civil rights — when I was in college, I thought that civil rights litigation was what I wanted to do. I graduated from [The University of Texas at Austin] in 2004 with a degree in government and spent many years doing other things before returning to the idea of law school in 2011. I ultimately decided to pursue a career in law because I realized that it would allow me to work in many different kinds of environments and fields. I have many interests and love something that allows me to pivot! 

How did you choose your practice area?

Valeria Angelucci (Corporate Transactional Lawyer at Becker & Poliakoff): When I first started practicing, I worked in a small firm, where I did get exposure to different areas. I found out early on that litigation was not for me. I do not like conflict and litigating, and mostly, I did not like the aggressiveness that some of the attorneys in the field have. On the contrary, I found myself to be more attracted to business transactions and prone to negotiation and a more concrete and down-to-earth approach. I also very much like writing. I am detail-oriented, which is important for a career in corporate law.

Stedman: I’m a litigator, which means I deal with lawsuits. I’m a corporate litigator, so it’s lawsuits between businesses or business people that have legal claims. It’s usually because they have an agreement or a contract, and something’s gone awry, and they’re trying to pursue or defend their rights under that agreement. I probably always wanted to litigate, to be a trial attorney, that was more along the lines of what my mom had done, and my dad was a corporate attorney for a big company, and I didn’t want to just be in an office reviewing contracts all day or doing deals as they say … After law school, I spent three years working for a judge, and that’s called clerking. That really confirmed for me that I wanted to do trial work.

Karl Fowlkes (Founder & Managing Partner at The Fowlkes Firm): I have always been interested in the business of creatives and athletes, particularly working directly with talent to help them make better business choices … Historically, talent has always been exploited by the powers that be, but legal advocacy in addition to technology and other factors, continues to reshape the industry as a whole. The goal was always to advocate for talent, and entertainment law provides a vehicle to do so. 

Kaspar-Williams: I gravitated toward labor and employment law because it is something that touches nearly every single person in some way or another. I find a lot of power in advising employers. As a person who is a part of several marginalized communities, I can use my position to urge businesses to do the right thing for their employees.

What soft vs. hard skills does a successful attorney need?

Kaspar-Williams: In the field of labor and employment law, a successful attorney must be able to research, write, and analyze lots of facts quickly. But, because it’s an area that is closely aligned with Human Resources, there is an interpersonal element to the practice of labor and employment law that requires the successful lawyer to be empathetic and curious.

Angelucci: When it comes to corporate law, I find it very important to have some business sense and practicality. The goal is not to write the best and most well-written contract but rather to provide something that does reflect what the parties have agreed on while balancing risks and objectives for the client. As to hard skills, being not only a good writer, but also an attentive reader is crucial.

Stedman: If you’re going to litigate, public speaking is definitely a skill you have to hone. 

Fowlkes: Three key soft skills that come to mind are professional writing, critical thinking and work ethic. As a legal representative, communication is key in correspondence to clients, opposing counsel and other key stakeholders that may arise. While oral communication is really important, a lot of entertainment law is transactional. Thus, you will often be defined by your contract drafting, digital negotiation skills, and writing ability. Critical thinking is also key as lawyers often face incredibly challenging issues that need solutions in a timely fashion. You need to have the ability to unpack and analyze to give the best guidance to your clients. Lastly, law is a field that requires an intense work ethic. You have to stay up-to-date on new subject matter, correspond with clients, bring in business and manage staff. Work ethic is a baseline.  

What are the major responsibilities of your position? 

Kaspar-Williams: In my current role, I oversee issues related to entertainment guilds and unions on Amazon original projects. Primarily, I’m providing advice and counsel, which requires quick responses, the ability to research thoroughly, and the ability to problem solve.

Stedman: I’m what’s called an associate, which is an entry-level attorney at firms. And I’m at a large firm. Associates are in a hierarchy. It’s usually junior associate, mid-level associate, senior associate, then partner. I’m a senior associate. A main responsibility of associates is research writing, but the big ones are maintaining deadlines, being organized, making sure all the deadlines are on people’s calendars, sending reminders ahead of them, and making sure things are moving forward so deadlines aren’t missed and don’t catch people by surprise. 

Fowlkes: The major responsibilities of my position include negotiating terms for entertainment contracts, drafting, and redlining contracts, filing for intellectual property protection, offering general legal and business guidance/strategy and providing education to the clients and artists at large. On any given day, any of the aforementioned responsibilities will be more time-consuming than the other but as an entertainment attorney on the transactional side, you will likely have to do all of those things in your career. These responsibilities form your toolbox and the deeper your legal toolbox is, the more you can charge for your services.

What is a typical day like for you?

Kaspar-Williams: A typical day involves several project-specific show meetings, where my role is to listen and troubleshoot any issues that might evolve based on what’s going on that particular day. I spend a lot of time emailing and using work Instant Messaging, as well as attending Zoom meetings on an industry-wide basis with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). 

Stedman: There’s really no typical day for an associate, and that was hard for me. When I joined a firm, and when I was working for a judge, it was very predictable. At a firm, if you’re type A and like routines and structure, that can be difficult …. I try to have some of my own personal routines that I can do in the morning and night to give me some predictability. Otherwise, it can be a full day in court, a full day in a deposition, or a full day of legal writing. The more senior you get, the more meetings you have, whether that’s meeting with clients, meeting with partners or internal committees or even external committees that you’re on. 

Rashid: There’s definitely not a typical day. I was in New York City yesterday, I’ll be in Guatemala this weekend, could be in Miami next week, and [I] just got back from overseas travel as well. It depends on what the needs of the client actually are. I think if you’re setting up your day to ensure you’re balancing the needs of the client with your mental, physical, spiritual and moral health, then you’re going to be in good shape. 

What do you enjoy about your role?

Kaspar-Williams: I love working close to the creative process! I enjoy problem-solving and educating my teams on the newest developments in labor law.

Angelucci: It is very satisfying to see a deal getting from the initial negotiation to the finish line. Also, often the process involves working closely with the client, so you share the client’s happiness in closing the deal. And finally, there is a lot you can learn from your clients, too, who are the experts in their field.

Stedman: I actually love being a senior associate. It’s the space between junior and mid-level associates and being a partner. I have a lot more autonomy and choice over what I can and can’t handle and ownership over files. On some files, I’m running them and checking in with partners along the way. Then, learning to delegate to junior and mid-level associates and build teams and work with teams. I really love working with other associates and mentoring and coaching [them]. 

Rashid: It’s a combination of enjoying supporting my clients in a way that we’re helping them get relief from a struggle that they have and helping them feel safer, more secure, more validated and whole. That feels good because at the end of the day, the law is designed to protect people from being harmed. And so being able to enforce the law in a way that harmed people are made whole or made whole to the best of the situation possible feels good.

>>MORE: Ready to discover which type of law practice is ideal for your career path? Check out Forage’s law virtual experience programs.

What part of the job do you find most challenging? 

Kaspar-Williams: Definitely the three-year cycle of labor negotiations. Each major guild/union (SAG, DGA, WGA, IATSE, Teamsters) has an agreement that lasts three years, so we have to renegotiate on a regular basis. Preparing for and participating in those negotiations is challenging. 

Stedman: The unpredictability is challenging. If you’re at a big firm like I am, you have lots of bosses, partners, clients, then you have people under you that need things from you. And sometimes you ask for help, and no one else has time, so you have to just suck it up and figure out how to do it. And that can be really hard. And finding time to do things for myself. Going to the gym goes out the window if I’m busy, so it can be hard to take time to take care of myself as well. 

Fowlkes: The most challenging part of the job is finding the proper balance between doing the substantive work and taking client, new business, and stakeholder meetings … The lawyer-to-client relationship is a very personal relationship and one that requires a hefty amount of trust that could be lost very quickly if work starts to slip. At the same time, many people in private practice need to continue to grow their businesses. In the entertainment industry, many lawyers use a 5% commission that leans heavily on constant deal flow and new business. The natural time constraints and tension between servicing your core clients and going after new ones often leads to an unhealthy work-life balance that many lawyers struggle to manage. It’s imperative that you lean into developing time management skills, so you can find the proper balance early in your career. 

Rashid: It’s when someone needs help, and you don’t have the power to provide them the help they need. I, on a daily basis almost, get clients reaching out to me on things that are just either out of my bandwidth, out of my capacity, or out of my expertise. And I know they’re gonna have a hard time finding the right person for it. 

What should aspiring lawyers know about law school?

Kaspar-Williams: Most law schools do not usually teach a lot of lawyering skills. Aside from basic legal research and writing, law schools teach mostly “black letter law” (what statutes or written cases say about the law). It is up to the law student to choose courses and opportunities that actually provide more hard skills, like oral argument or trial advocacy. To make the most of the law school experience, I encourage students to take classes that add skills rather than focusing on classes that cover lots of kinds of law, but repeat the same format of lectures and tests. Take classes that teach you to write different types of things, do different types of research, and solve different kinds of problems. Take a clinical class where you learn more about the ins and outs of actual practice.

Stedman: Attorneys love to bash law school. It is a hard and unique experience, but it’s not horrible for everyone. It’s also not for everyone. You shouldn’t go to law school just because you don’t know what else to do. You shouldn’t go to law school just because you’ve decided that business school isn’t what is of interest to you. It’s a very intense three years. And I think the biggest thing that catches people off guard is, in most of your classes, you only have a final exam. You don’t have any grades along the way. You go to lectures, you do the reading, there’s one test at the end, and your grade turns on that. 

Fowlkes: Law school is obviously really important in your trajectory as a lawyer but where you go to law school and what you do during law school can really set you up long term. If your interest is in entertainment law, Billboard and other publications often put out lists that highlight where the top entertainment lawyers went to law school. Geography should also play a major role in where you should attend law school. Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami are entertainment industry hubs and many of their law programs are reflective of this with a plethora of entertainment law curriculum and professors who have years of experience in the industry. These cities also allow you to gain natural connections with many people in the industry in the normal course of life. Lastly, entertainment law is a niche body of law and most niche bodies of law are best learned through practice. Your coursework will help, but your externships and practical experience will really set you up for long-term success.

Rashid: Don’t wait until you’re in law school or out of law school. Find the lawyers in your life; find the lawyers in your network, in your faith community, or in your social circles. And just say, ‘hey, can I tag you? Can I work for you? Can I intern for you?’ Start that now, while you’re doing your undergrad, so that when it comes time for law school, you have that network built up, and it’ll be much easier for you to find the type of job you want or find a job at all, especially if the economy is in a downturn. 

What classes, extracurricular activities, or early work experiences should aspiring lawyers consider?

Stedman: I took two years between law school and undergrad to teach. I don’t say I took time off because teaching was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I think everyone should take some time to work before going to law school. I don’t think it matters what it is. You could be waiting tables, you could be a paralegal, you could be a teacher. It gives you some time away from school to kind of take a break from using your brain in that way. And it gives you some time to gain some real-world adult experience that I think just puts law school in a whole new perspective.

Kaspar-Williams: Things that boost your ability to speak publicly, problem solve, write, or research will serve you well. [The] ability to understand the real-world context of many legal problems is key, too. I often say that students will get more out of law school and be better lawyers if they live and work in the world for a while first.

Rashid: Anything that appeals to you. It’s about building good habits and about building good hard skills and soft skills. If your passion is biology and you want to be a lawyer, get your degree in biology. If your passion is design and you want to be a lawyer, get your degree in design. There’s no one magical degree. 

Angelucci: Clerking while in law school was of huge help to make sure the area of law you think you might want to practice in is actually what you think it will be. In any event, I think that you truly learn when you start working in a certain area. Do not forget to also enjoy the law school experience!

Do you have any advice for law students?

Fowlkes: If your plan is to work in the entertainment industry as a lawyer, especially with a focus on talent representation, it’s important to build a legal network, but there is so much value in networking with other key stakeholders in the industry, such as managers, [artists and repetoire]  and the actual talent themselves. These are the people that will, in the future, form a large part of your client referral network. These stakeholders will also give you perspective on the industry that you will not get from law school. While most first- and second-year associates will not be tasked with bringing in business, whenever your name is called to bring deal flow to the table, you want to be in a position to do so naturally … Having the foresight to build those relationships early will provide great dividends later in your career.

Kaspar-Williams: Your success in your legal career will not depend on your law school grades or activities. If you’re doing great, great! If you are struggling with something, be gentle with yourself — no one asked me [about] my grades once I started working!

Stedman: When you’re in law school, there’s a heavy urge to look around and see what everyone else is doing. Right out of the gate, you’re going to have a sense of who the smart kids are. And after your first semester, you’re going to have a sense of who’s at the top of your class. And there’s this urge to think, well, when were they studying? What materials were they using? You have to do your best to keep blinders on and do what works for you.

Rashid: I had this practice where I would try to have lunch or coffee with a different professor or lawyer every week. And if you think about the 156 weeks you’re in law school, that’s 150-plus people that are scholars and well-respected leaders. They have the connections, and everybody knows them. And if it’s your professors, you can better believe they know a ton of lawyers that they’ve taught over the years. Make it part of your schedule that, on this day of the week, I’m going to find somebody. And if a person says ‘no,’ go on to the next one. 

Do you have any advice for undergraduate students considering law?

Fowlkes: Take a year or two off before starting law school. Law school — in particular the first year — can be grueling, intense and challenging. I started law school at 21 years old without any real work experience and with a level of immaturity and lack of perspective that many young adults have. A year or two in, between gaining some real work and life experience, would have done wonders for me in regard to approaching law school with the conviction and gumption you need to be successful.

Angelucci: If you’re thinking of becoming a lawyer and living a “Suits”-type of life, forget it. The practice of law can be very satisfying but also very stressful. Also before starting law school, I suggest getting an idea early on what areas you might be interested in (at least an idea), and try to shadow somebody that works in that area, to see if the actual practice reflects your expectations.

Stedman: I’m privileged, I’m fortunate to have two attorney parents, so I’ve been around lawyers my whole life. If you are thinking about law school and if your school has a law school, go visit it, sit in on a class, talk to law students, but also talk to an attorney. Don’t hesitate to Google ‘lawyer plus your school name’ and start talking to them. You know, nine out of 10 will ignore your call or email, but you just need that one to answer and talk to you about what they do. And that person, if they take your call, likely knows other people who will take your call. 

This interview was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Meet the Roundtable Attorneys 

Valeria Angelucci 

VALERIA ANGELUCCI is a corporate transactional attorney who concentrates her practice in the areas of corporate finance, mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, securities, SPACs, and general corporate. Admitted to The Florida and New York Bars, Angelucci regularly advises clients on corporate governance matters, including structuring entities customized to the client’s specific needs, and assists in drafting and negotiating transaction and financing documents as well as a variety of contracts. She also advises and guides clients to ensure they make informed decisions on a wide range of topics, such as intellectual property, employment or compliance issues, and legal and business risks.

Karl Fowlkes

KARL FOWLKES (he/him) is an internationally recognized entertainment lawyer, tech mogul, and entrepreneur who has negotiated over $45 million worth of groundbreaking deals in the entertainment industries under his own practice – The Fowlkes Firm. The firm’s clients include artists, athletes, music producers and creative companies that have amassed billions of streams, Grammy awards and cultural accolades. He’s also an equity partner in a full-service recording, publishing, and venture company called EVGLE, home to chart-topping artist Blxst. Beyond music, he’s also a Certified NBPA Player Agent and FIBA Players’ Agent under Firm Sports.

Bennett Kaspar-Williams 

BENNETT KASPAR-WILLIAMS (he/him) is a lawyer, advocate, and artist who brings his multi-dimensional approach to everything he does. No matter the task, Kaspar-Williams has an eye on inclusion because he believes, most of all, in the power of representation. Kaspar-Williams is a native Texan and UT Austin graduate who lived many professional lives — ranging from bicycle mechanic to high school science teacher — before attending law school at UC Irvine, where he graduated in 2014. Kaspar-Williams practices Labor and Employment law, and his work has taken him from Big Law litigation to working in-house. 

Emily Logan Stedman

EMILY LOGAN STEDMAN was born and raised outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and has called Milwaukee home since June 2013. She obtained her B.A. (Spanish and History) in 2008 from Wake Forest University. Next, she taught fifth grade in Buckeye, Arizona as a 2008 corps member with Teach for America. In 2010, she enrolled at the University of Mississippi School of Law, graduating in 2013 and having served as Editor-in-Chief of the Mississippi Law Journal. From 2013 to 2016, Emily clerked for Judge Pamela Pepper, now Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. In 2016, she joined Midwest Big Law as an associate at Quarles & Brady. Since November 2020, she has worked as a Senior Associate at Husch Blackwell, where she practices commercial litigation.

Qasim Rashid 

QASIM RASHID is an attorney based in the Chicago office of Lorium P.C. Rashid’s practice focuses on matters dealing with business litigation, non-profits, civil rights, business consulting, media consulting, and consumer finance. Rashid began his legal career working for a major financial institution to build out consumer finance protection policies and help manage corporate litigation for a $1.2B portfolio. He then pivoted his practice to include non-profit and civil rights matters, where he has worked with several national non-profit organizations focused on women’s rights, racial justice, and religious freedom.

The post Careers in Law Roundtable: 5 Attorneys Discuss How They Found Their Path appeared first on Forage.