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Ten Questions to a Media Lawyer: Cynthia S. Arato

Cynthia S. Arato is a partner at Shapiro, Arato Bach in New York.

1. How'd you get interested in media law? What was your first job in the business?

​I first got interested in media and entertainment law as an "unassigned" litigation associate at a large law firm, when I was less then two years out of law school.  I was assigned to work on a case for the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust involving a tricky balance between the right of publicity and the First Amendment.  I was working on a real estate joint venture dispute at the same time, and I quickly discovered that I liked examining the the Ansel Adams documents a lot more than the drafts of the joint venture agreement sitting on the other side of my desk. I also got to travel to Ansel Adam's former home in Carmel, CA to review many of his original documents, including letters from the U.S. Department of Interior commissioning Adams' Mural Works project.  Not bad for a lawyer's first document production. My first job in the business was similar to my job now -- representing media and entertainment companies (and individuals) in litigation matters.

2. What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy many parts of being a media and entertainment litigator at the litigation boutique I co-founded 11 years ago.  I enjoy co-managing the firm and working closely and repeatedly with our small group of excellent lawyers and staff.  I like that my cases involve important and creative industries, clients, and works spanning film, tv, music, and news. And I still like the craft of litigation, including making briefs "sing" and fielding questions at oral argument.

3. How has quarantine affected your work and routines?

Even pre-covid, I often worked from home for a few hours each morning, so it wasn't hard to stay productive at home and doing that was not completely new.  I miss my daily subway commute because interacting with and observing random people is one of great joys of NYC living that is now on pause. I've learned I don't like exercising alone all that much. I cook a lot more than before. I started with the sweatpant approach and have since upgraded to jeans.

4. Highest profile or most memorable case?

We like to think of the lawyers at our firm as litigators first, regardless of our area of expertise. My highest profile and most memorable case was not a media and entertainment matter but involved the impeachment investigation of Governor John G. Rowland of Connecticut. I represented the Select Committee of Inquiry formed by the House of Representatives in connection with the Governor's challenge of a subpoena compelling him to testify before the Committee. The case moved on a fast track, and quickly landed before the State's highest court. The case involved many "firsts." It was a case of first impression regarding the legislature's authority to compel the testimony of a sitting executive, and it was the first time the Court allowed cameras in its courtroom, heard argument based on the briefs below (with short supplemental briefs), and scheduled argument for a full hour a side.  The argument took place on a Friday; the Court issued its landmark ruling that same day, affirming the legislature's right to compel the Governor's testimony; and the Governor resigned from office the following Monday.

My most exciting case right now is representing Lizzo in a dispute over ownership of her hit song Truth Hurts.

5. It's almost a cliché for lawyers to tell others not to go to law school. What do you think?

Go.

6. What's your home office set-up?

My new full time set-up involves a small desk in the corner of a dining room open to the kitchen, with a home laptop and office laptop together replicating my dual screen real office set up. The dining room buffet makes a good office shelf.  I'm sharing the room during the day with my father-in-law who moved in pre-covid for unrelated health reasons. His favorite place in our apt is the built in corner bench on the other side of the room (see pic).

7. What's a book, show, song, movie, podcast or activity that's been keeping you entertained?

Shows:  I'm rationing the remaining episodes of the last season of Homeland.  I've started Breeders, recommended by my brother and sister-in-law.

Books:  I'm rejecting all dystopian works or histories of prior epidemics/pandemics. I have enjoyed Olive Again and On Earth, We're Briefly Gorgeous; each uses language beautifully in its own way. I'm starting Red at the Bone for my now-virtual book group. Friendship, by Lydia Denworth (my own friend), is a study of friendship's biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations and is a great read now when maintaining those connections is even more important. I hope to finally tackle Thinking, Fast and Slow by noted economist Daniel Kahneman. It's looked good sitting on my night stand for many years.

Activity:  losing to my son in my feeble effort at chess.  Outdoor walks in the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

8. What's a typical weekday lunch?

Leftover roasted vegetables, potatoes, grains, etc. repurposed into all kinds of salads.

9. Your most important client takes you out for karaoke. What do you sing?

I would do anything I could to avoid going. No matter how times people tell me I will like karaoke, I don't like it.

10. Where's the first place you'd like to go when the quarantine is lifted?

A restaurant meal with extended family.

 
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