Magazine article Variety

In Tune with 360 Degrees

Magazine article Variety

In Tune with 360 Degrees

Article excerpt

When he was growing up in New York, there were signs that Lee Phillips would pursue a career as a musician: He went to the High School of Music and Art, where he specialized in clarinet; composer Sammy Fain, perhaps best known for the standard "I'll Be Seeing You," was a cousin by marriage; his brother Stu took that path, composing popular TV and movie themes like the one for "Battlestar Galáctica."

But when he was an undergrad at Cornell, a roommate taking the IÜAT inspired Phillips to pursue a legal career.

If that hadn't happened, "they wouldn't be honoring me as a lawyer, they would be listening to me playing piano upstairs at the cocktail lounge," he quips.

As the Beverly Hills Bar Assn.'s Entertainment Lawyer of the Year, Phillips is being honored for a career that has blended his passions for music and the law. He's been one of the industry's top music lawyers, with a client roster that includes Barbra Streisand, Steve Perry, Brian Wilson, Paul Anka, Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins, Randy Jackson and TYacy Chapman.

Repping the top recording artists of the past few decades, he gained a reputation for being able to navigate among many different personalities - some were "out there, to say the least," he says - and to sort through the ups and downs and breakups of groups that create thorny contract and rights issues.

"They probably saw an intelligent attorney who basically was not going to be the star, but who would be there for them," he says of his ability to build a roster. "It's not about me. It's about the client. They're paying me for legal work, not to be the star."

His career started in the 1960s, when many California artists were hitting it big and continued to the present as the industry grapples with finding new revenue streams. The rather straightforward deals of the past have given way to so-called 360-degree, mammoth arrangements that try to include all contingencies.

"When I started, a record deal was 12 to 15 pages. Now it's 110 pages, covering every conceivable thing that may happen.

"And you actually have to read the contract," he deadpans.

After Phillips graduated from law school at Cornell he went to work in Washington, D.C., at the Department of Justice's tax division. Two years later, in 1963, he decided to move into private practice, taking a job at Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, where he developed a reputation for settling tax cases quickly. …

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