Jonathan Handel, Of Counsel, TroyGould, Los Angeles, California
Thanks to his deft use of social media, Jonathan Handel went from a relatively obscure entertainment lawyer to an oft-quoted international authority on entertainment matters and a regular contributor to Forbes.com—all in a matter of a few short years.
Nothing in his career would have presaged its sudden turnaround and his meteoric rise. He started his legal career like many lawyers, clerking for a judge. He then joined a firm where he focused on appellate and commercial litigation. Concurrently, he worked as a federal Associate Independent Counsel involved in a federal prosecution and investigation relating to a search of Presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s passport files. With a growing interest in entertainment law, he left private practice to accept a position as Associate Counsel of the Writers Guild of America, West. It would be unfair to say that the career path to his current law practice as an entertainment and new media lawyer at TroyGould in Los Angeles was routine. However, none of his early successes rival what’s going on today, and he credits his involvement in social media as one of the big reasons for his recent vertical trajectory.
Jonathan started blogging about the Hollywood entertainment industry and related legal issues in August of 2007. His first post on Digital Media Law (www.digitalmedialaw.blogspot.com), “No Honey for Pooh Family,” briefly addressed a ruling against the heirs of Stephen Slesinger who had obtained the rights to the famous bear from the story’s author A.A. Milne. Jonathan followed that with an assortment of posts on trending topics hoping to build readership and get new exposure for his entertainment and technology law practice. Pretty basic stuff.
But at the same time, the Writers Guild of America was threatening to strike. Hollywood waited with anticipation and fear as the deadline for the writers’ strike approached. The effect of a strike, if not averted or delayed, would be programs off the air, movies delayed, and people out of work throughout the industry and the local economy. As a former counsel to the Writers Guild, and a current practitioner of new media law, Jonathan was familiar with the issues. Jonathan and his new blog were perfectly positioned. Add to that, the TroyGould outside publicists had just introduced Jonathan to Variety’s entertainment labor reporter.
Within days, Jonathan began a program of blogging and of outreach to the press. His posts conveyed analysis, opinion and predictions. His emails to journalists offered the same. The posts to Digital Media Law on the topic made it easy for journalists searching for background to find his blog and to quickly see he knew the issues. Within weeks he became the go-to legal source for local, national and international journalists writing about Hollywood labor, many of who told him his blog was the best available source on the topic.
A firestorm of publicity ensued, with multiple interviews per week (and sometimes per day) as the strike began and, then, as Hollywood labor unrest dragged on for months. Boarding a Southwest flight to Salt Lake City for the Sundance Film Festival, Jonathan received a phone call from a radio station insistent upon doing an interview immediately, even as he carted his carry-on down the aisle and searched for a seat in the crowded, noisy plane. Week after week, Jonathan’s friends, clients, colleagues, even his auto mechanic and dental hygienist all reported seeing him on television, hearing him on the radio, or reading quotes in the paper.
And speaking of airplanes: Following a visit with their son in LA, flying back east on Jet Blue, Jonathan’s parents tuned into CNBC on the airline-seat TV. To their surprise, there he was, their son the attorney blogger being interviewed on TV! How cool is that? As cool as all of this…
Over the past two and a half years, Jonathan has been quoted about 600 times on matters pertaining to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) negotiations and strike, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiations, as well as on other matters related to new media, entertainment, and technology. He has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, New York Post, Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News.
He has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNBC, Bloomberg television, Fox Business News, Los Angeles news channels, Canadian national television, BBC Radio, NPR, and other U.S. local and national radio and TV programs. Stories quoting him have been reprinted in several thousand different international newspapers and TV station websites in Taiwan, China, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Russia, Canada, England, and various European countries.
Jonathan’s Digital Media Law blog, along with cross-posting to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has opened up opportunities to contribute an Op-Ed piece and a book review, both for the Los Angeles Times, and numerous articles for the Daily Journal and the Los Angeles Business Journal. He’s now a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and Forbes.com and his blog is syndicated on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database). His posts have been linked to or reprinted on other blogs thousands of times. And he continues to be interviewed about twice a week on various entertainment law and business subjects. As the next round of Hollywood negotiations begins, that number will no doubt increase again.
To further sweeten his success, when Jonathan attended a panel in Los Angeles during the writers strike, one of the speakers pulled out a printed copy of one of Jonathan’s blog posts and informed the crowd that Jonathan’s blog was assigned reading for his students. That speaker turned out to be the head of UCLA School of Law’s entertainment law program, and a few semesters later, Jonathan is now an adjunct professor at the school, teaching a class on Entertainment Unions and Guilds. And most recently Jonathan received an email from Forbes Magazine telling him they read his blog, love it and wanted to offer him an opportunity to be a regular contributor on Forbes.com.
Jonathan’s online social-media participation has worked to exponentially increase not only his profile but also his law firm’s profile and, of course, significantly increase his new business.
What has Jonathan learned between “No Honey for Pooh Family” and Forbes.com? “I had no idea something could take off to this degree. I’ve learned so much about working with the media. I have also learned how valuable it is to interact with and help others via social-media tools. Suddenly I have the best of all worlds. I love to practice law, I love to teach, and I love to write.” 
This story has been excerpted from the forthcoming book, social.lawyers | transforming business development, by Jayne Navarre, available in fall 2010 from Thomson Reuters.
 Jonathan Handel, Esq. (Of Counsel, TroyGould, Los Angeles, CA), in discussion with the author, April 2010.