Show business and the sports world might seem like a glamorous and exciting experience to the outside observer, but behind the scenes there are a number of legal considerations ranging from intellectual property to immigration requirements to litigation to bankruptcy.
The Stamford office of the law firm Murtha Cullina LLP is staking a place in this high-profile world with its new Entertainment and Sports Practice Group.
William F. Fitzgerald is the chairman of this five-attorney group that launched in July and works with a diverse client base from across the nation and around the world. However, Fitzgerald is particularly excited about providing legal counsel to Fairfield County talent.
“I was born up in South Norwalk and grew up in Rowayton,” he said. “It makes sense to establish a practice in Connecticut where it really doesn’t exist.”
Among Fitzgerald’s local clients are Norwalk’s Factory Underground, which operates sound recording, film and television production studios; the master chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt; and the rapper Kenneth Schuler who performs under the name FNX.
“It’s pronounced ‘Phoenix’ and his company is called Origin LLC,” added Fitzgerald. “Fairfield County is populated with folks in these industries.”
Fitzgerald is no stranger to the entertainment world. He is a former counsel for the Connecticut Film Festival and has conducted speaking engagements at Yale University, City University of New York and the University of Connecticut Law School on entertainment law. He also credits his involvement in sports during his youth — he played football in high school and college and professional baseball in Sweden — in helping today’s athletes with their legal issues.
“I had the good fortune of playing sports in school, and having played sports around the world I know how to speak to athletes and their families,” he said. “So, that’s one for me.”
Fitzgerald, who joined Murtha Cullina in May as counsel, goes the proverbial extra mile by keeping his clients’ professional future in mind and making referrals and recommendations to individuals that could further those goals.
“I like to cross-pollinate,” he said. “If I am working with a model, I always ask the model what is her or his career goal. So, I would introduce the model to an acting coach and if that’s going well, to one of the talent agencies. I am not an agent and I don’t want to be. I enjoy being the attorney. I don’t participate in their deals and contracts. What I like to do is watch their back — and the best way to do that is being their counsel.”
The firm’s proximity to New York is helpful, noted Fitzgerald, who is admitted to both the New York and Connecticut bars. The firm has a White Plains office, too. However, he has no plans to expand the practice by setting up a Hollywood office.
“I tell people that you can get around Fairfield County in 15 minutes but it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get to a meeting in Los Angeles,” he laughed. “I have very strong relationships in Los Angeles. In today’s world, it is fine to be in Connecticut and negotiate an agreement with an attorney or studio in Los Angeles.”
One area in which Fitzgerald wants to focus on is tomorrow’s sports superstars.
“It is important to me that young athletes in Fairfield County know that there is a practice available to them,” he said. “We have young folks who get drafted in hockey, soccer and baseball and they have the right to an attorney. Many times there are young athletes and their only opportunity for playing sports is in Europe and I’ve negotiated those agreements. Once the negotiation is completed, the representation is not done. Say they’re giving me two meals a day and not free or they are injured and the team is not giving them the proper attention to the injury. It would be important for me to be a resource for them.”