We recently caught up with former Stroock lawyer Lori Landew. She is now VP, Legal, overseeing the Original Content Division of Audible, Inc., an Amazon Company, which produces and distributes digital spoken audio entertainment, information and educational programming. Lori started her career at Stroock as a general commercial litigator, moved to other law firms to practice as an IP litigator, and then transitioned to transactional work as in-house counsel to two independent music companies. After that she established her own entertainment consulting company before heading back to firm life to build a successful entertainment department at an Am Law 100 firm. She returned to in-house practice in 2019 to cap off a 30+ year career as an entertainment lawyer.
Lori shared some fond memories of her time at Stroock, discussed how she came to focus her practice on the entertainment sector, and the challenges and benefits of working in-house. She also imparted some tips on how outside counsel can better serve corporate clients.
Q: Tell me about your time at Stroock. What did you enjoy most about working at the firm?
LL: It feels like a lifetime ago that I was at Stroock, but I still hold it very close to my heart. What I enjoyed most were the people I worked with, the relationships that were created and, in particular, colleagues from my class and those within a couple of years of me. I’m still in touch with many of them. It was a very transformational time. We were all starting out together at a big firm, learning the ropes and what was expected of us, and struggling through it together, which really created a bond. My friends at Stroock made the rest of the craziness bearable.
I also remember that Stroock put first year and second year associates together in a single office. I don’t know if this was done to save space or with purpose, but it was a great way to learn how to navigate firm life. Amazingly, I thought that the second year associate was SO experienced, and I was thrilled when I ascended to be the more senior office mate. I have very vivid and fond memories of those days.
Q: What brought you to Stroock?
LL: I chose Stroock because when I was researching law firms in my law school’s placement office, I saw that, in its description, Stroock had listed entertainment as a practice area. It turned out that Stroock had only one employment lawyer who did some work for entertainment companies. Although disappointed by this reality, I stayed for two years to demonstrate commitment (which was a thing in those days). I value those early years. Those experiences taught me what it takes to be a good lawyer and to succeed at a law firm. Ultimately, I left to pursue my interest in entertainment law with confidence that I was well prepared for the next chapter in my career.
Q: How did you go about homing in on the entertainment industry as your focus?
LL: I always knew that I wanted a career in entertainment law. I was a performer from an early age – singing in the youth choruses at the Metropolitan Opera and NYC Opera companies, and running a theater company in college, among other things. My first love was always performing, but pursuing a career as an artist was not in the cards for me. When I went to college, my parents (a taxi driver and a bookkeeper) were very supportive. They said I could do whatever I wanted to do as long as I became a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. (J). I chose lawyer, and luckily found a way to combine my love of the arts with my legal career, beginning with attending Columbia Law School, which had a great Law & the Arts program.
Being focused on a primary area of interest made it easy to plot my career moves from the start. I knew what I wanted and was fortunate to be presented with opportunities to realize my goals and objectives.
Q: How did your law firm work and corporate work prepare you for your current role?
LL: The training provided by skilled lawyers at excellent law firms is typically terrific. Young attorneys learn discipline, gain substantive knowledge, develop skill sets, and cultivate an understanding of what clients are looking for. I learned the fundamentals of research, advocacy and writing skills during my early law firm days. I carry all of that training with me to this day.
I also learned a lot during those early years that I apply now when managing less experienced lawyers. I draw on my own experience as a newly minted lawyer to help less experienced lawyers gain confidence and become better at what they do.
Another thing I learned from my firm days is that law firms do not focus enough on efficiency. This has informed how I manage outside counsel, including how I monitor billables and keep tabs on how work is done, avoid redundancies, and understand what we’re billed for.
Being in-house is a whole different type of training. You learn about what drives businesses and business decisions and apply your legal skills in a real-life business context.
Q: What did you learn that proved to be particularly helpful when you went in-house?
LL: My experience taught me the skills needed to provide counsel from both a legal and a business perspective.
Q: Did you experience a form of culture shock when you went in-house? It’s so different from working at a firm.
LL: I did experience culture shock. My first in-house job was working for a music company, Zomba Recording Corp. (aka Jive Records), which at the time, was the largest independent music company in the world. My job was to handle clearing or licensing samples for rap and hip hop records. To say that was a change of pace from my law firm life would be an understatement and I loved every minute of it.
What did not change was my constant desire to work with people I liked and respected. This has always been hugely important to me and always influenced my career decisions. I choose jobs based on the people I will be working with more than the substance of what I’ll be doing.
I never had any issues with the people at Stroock. They were nurturing and supportive (most of the time) and cultivated a family atmosphere (thanks in large part to Burt Lipshie who took every young litigation associate under his wing). The same was true of the next firm I joined. It was very family-like and warm. When I went in-house, I sought out companies that encouraged teamwork. That’s the type of environment where I do the best. In that sense, the culture wasn’t all that different in the places I’ve worked. But certainly the day-to-day tasks, how you go about them and the expectations and things from a business perspective have been different.
Q: Tell me about your current role at Audible.
LL: Audible is an audio spoken word entertainment company. Every piece of content we release has been the subject of an agreement (or agreements). My job is overseeing the group of lawyers and legal professionals charged with acquiring all of the rights that we need and overseeing all the agreements that go into producing the content and distributing it. We also handle any disputes that come up along the way.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face as a corporate insider?
LL: The greatest challenge is balancing the business and legal interests. When you’re outside counsel you may be sensitive to your client’s business concerns, but you’re mostly focused on answering the client’s legal questions. You’re there to give clients the information they need to make informed business decisions. When you go in-house, companies want you to have that legal ability, competence and expertise, but then they also want you to be very aware of and focused on what the business implications will be and they want you to help them make decisions related to that. When you’re in-house, you’re very much a part of the decision-making process.
Q: What made you want to go back in-house from the law firm world?
LL: One of the things I enjoy most about being in-house, and drew me back in-house, is that sense of really being part of a team. When you’re at a law firm, it’s more difficult to feel like you are part of the team. I enjoy combining my knowledge and skills with others who bring their own expertise to the table. Everybody appreciates and respects everyone else’s knowledge and contributions. There’s a real mutual respect and appreciation when you’re in-house that doesn’t necessarily exist when you’re at a law firm.
Q: What can outside counsel do to make the job of in-house counsel and other corporate leaders easier?
LL: Often outside lawyers fail to communicate succinctly. They seem to feel that clients want a full analysis from all perspectives and no point of view. While I appreciate the expertise that outside counsel bring, I usually want the lawyers to distill and crystallize the information, tell me what I need to know, why it’s important, and share what they think is the best path forward.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
LL: Everything you do leads you to where you are and Stroock was my first experience as a lawyer. Even though I didn’t pursue a career as a commercial litigator, I absolutely appreciate and value the time that I spent at Stroock. I was with a wonderful group of people, a really excellent group of lawyers and mentors, and in a great place to start a career. I am truly grateful for that.