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American entertainment lawyer seeking success in China’s booming industry

“China is building 14 or 15 new movie screens every day, and this kind of growth is expected to continue for at least another 5 or 6 years,” said Jules Weiner, talking about the “unbelievable” momentum of China’s showbiz. The US lawyer is based in Beijing, working as a specialized entertainment and media attorney.  

Weiner is seeking to build a successful career in China’s booming film market, the world’s second largest.
 
“It’s expected to be larger than the US in five or so years,” said the lawyer.  
 
A good command of Chinese language—a necessity for practicing law in China 
 
After graduating from the George Washington UniversityLaw School in 2009, Weiner worked for a short time as a public defense lawyer before heading back to China, where he had spent two years in the music business before attending law school.
 
“I probably would have stayed in the US for a longer period after law school, butthe country was going through an economic recession at the time, and on the other hand, I really enjoyed being in China,” Weiner said in an interview with Sino-US.com at Yingke Law Firm, his current employer.    
 
He soon gained a full-time position at the well-established Hylands Law Firm, and worked there for over three years. “The partner I worked with there did a lot of entertainment-related work, which allowedme to get a good feel for thispractice area” he said, indicating that’s where he grew into an entertainment lawyer.  
 
And because Weiner was really into working in the media/entertainment field, when he did finally move to the Beijing office of a famous international law firm, Hogan Lovells, he soon moved back to a domestic law firm’s (Yingke Law Firm)entertainment practice due to the greater scope of work that can be done by domestic firms in themedia/entertainment sphere.
 
Yingke is Asia-Pacific’slargest law firm with 16 international officesand over 2000 registered attorneys. Its entertainment practice team of 8 professionals is headed by Wang Jun, a star lawyer, who is representing many household names and gilded studios in China’s showbiz industry.
 
For Weiner to win a position, his Chinese language skills played a major part. As he once advised an American student who wanted to work in China, “If you want to be successful in the field here, your Chinese must reach certain level where you can meaningfully take part and contribute in meetings and events. It’s all about value added service.”
 
Now, Weiner can communicate quite freely about any legal issues in Chinese and he can even read Chinese contracts and statutes.
 
“It’s a never-ending process, though” said Weiner, indicating he never had time to go to school and except for taking classes once or twice a week, he’s mostly self-taught.”
 
What does an entertainment lawyer do?

Before coming to China for the first time, Weiner received a master’s degree in music, which tends to explainwhy he he’s drawn tothe arts and cultural things.

“I’m now representing most of the artists in the circle—actors, directors and independent producers,” he said, noting that not as profitable as most people may think, to be an entertainment lawyer usually entails a lot of time into legal-support kind of work. And sometimes, he could only expect contingency fees.
 
And when asked what entertainment lawyer would usually do, Weiner gave an example, highlighting the context of overwhelming bilateral investment trend in the industry.
 
“Almost every major US studio has already made big investments in China, like Dream Works and Disney. And now, investment is happening in a very big way the other way around,” he said.  
 
“Just in the last year or two, you see more Chinese investors going to Hollywood. For instance, you have Chinese institutional investorsnow being courted to invest in American studios. If the US studio is asking the Chinese investor to cover, say, 30% of its overall film investment for a fewyears, the money involved could amount to almost a billion dollars, which means there would be many long contracts and negotiations. Lawyers needed,” he said with a dry smile.
 
As an American lawyer, Weiner is supposed to be an expert on US law, and he would be asked to inform his clients if the contracts comport with the US law.
 
“And I also need to study a lot about the Chinese law because I’m in China. That means I really need to work hard and keep up on things.”As Weiner puts it, it’s the difference of the two completely different systems that fascinate him the most.
 
And except for helping with the completion and successful execution of business contracts, intellectual property rights law is an area that could hardly be avoided by entertainment and media legal professionals.
 
“Over the past 10 years, the government has, for various reasons – including pressure and lobbying by not only foreign governments, but more and more from domestic companies possessing substantial IP property and portfolios, as well–pushed policies forward and enforced and updated IPR laws,” he said.

Weiner concluded, “The progress just mentioned has not always been consistent,that is, in time frame and/or specific areas of IP law, but on the whole, China’s IP regime has surely (and likely will continue to) become much stronger.
 
Photo: Courtesy of Jules Weiner. 
 
Jules Weiner is an attorney in the IP and Entertainment Team led by Allen Wang at the Yingke Law Firm, Beijing Office. He can be reached via email: jesseweiner@yingkelawyer.com

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