Category: GEMA, GEMA Externship

Title:GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now? – Danielle Schiffman (C’06, L’11), Lincoln Center

GEMA launched its annual Externship Program in 2003, a unique experience where Georgetown seniors and graduate students spend one week in Los Angeles or New York during spring break meeting with a number of alumni from a variety of fields in entertainment and media. Over 200 students and more than 500 alumni have participated in the program over its first 18 years and many of the externs have gone on to roles across the media landscape. In our series The GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now?, we reconnect with past Externs to find out how their careers have progressed since graduation.

Danielle Schiffman (C’06, L’11) is Associate General Counsel and Senior Director of Business and Legal Affairs at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Danielle Schiffman oversees business and legal affairs for the performing arts center. Her work touches on all legal and strategic aspects of the organization, from performances seen on stages and screens, to educational, innovation, and accessibility initiatives, to venue and in-house operations.

What was your first “big break” into your industry? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?

My first on-set experience in the legal world of arts and entertainment occurred during my second year of law school where I interned at the National Geographic Channel in Washington, DC. There I began to learn how to draft contracts for film and tv. I was exposed to labor relations, intellectual property considerations, talent negotiations, indemnification (the big “I” word they don’t teach you in law school) and the world of business and legal affairs. I loved sitting in on tense calls. Then hearing the deal team lawyers go back to their clients with good news/ bad news, wrestle issues internally and present them externally with bravado to opposing counsel. I also loved watching my work on the big screen. Sure, I wasn’t writing the script of a Joubert wildlife film, but writing contacts for voiceover services and music licensing deals can also be a creative undertaking! And that is to say nothing of procuring insurance for working with wild animals on sets and liability disclaimers. I knew I didn’t want to go the route of a traditional big law job, so I had to build up my skills elsewhere.

What was your first job?

When I graduated law school, while my heart was set on a career in arts and entertainment, the market forces of the 2011 economy were against me. I began my career in the Brooklyn DA’s Office in Crimes Against Children Unit. The work was fast-paced, significant, challenging, rigorous and gut wrenching. I liked thinking on my feet and using my legal degree to better the lives of others, but I also realized I liked the drama of law and order better on TV than in my actual day to day. Tellingly, I spent my lunch breaks waiting on line at the Brooklyn outpost of TKTS to get tickets to the latest Broadway shows. It was a sign to me that I needed a change and wanted to find my way back to the arts.

What do you do in your job now? What is your favorite part of your current position?

I have fun! I work with creative programmers to make beautiful art come to life, ensure artists have the financial and organizational resources to create new works, and generally make arts more accessible to the masses through performances, education and digital initiatives. In my role as the Associate General Counsel and Senior Director of Business and Legal Affairs at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, I oversee legal and business affairs for all of our on-stage and on-screen performances (television, cinema, streaming, podcasts, social media, etc.). My work touches on all areas of the business from the most glamorous aspects— agreements with vendors for xerox machines to the even more glamourous work for which we are known – our signature artistic programming.

My favorite part of my job (and the legal profession in general) is that it means I am involved in all aspects of the business, including finding new and creative ways to grow the business to support our mission. When I came to Lincoln Center, I joined the team to help launch a project, Dance In Cinema, Lincoln Center’s first ever cinematic offering and the first time American ballet companies had ever collectively been filmed and distributed domestically in cinemas. Shortly after, a new position was created for me to oversee all the legal work associated with our all media and television products. Our content is now distributed on multiple platforms, cinema, international, and streaming platforms (and yes, don’t worry you can assure your grandparents you can still buy it on VHS and CD). I work on deals with emerging artists to commission new works of art for stage and public installation, and I support my colleagues’ efforts to launch innovative educational and accessibility programs to bring art to those who traditionally have lacked access.

What was the externship experience like for you? Did it have an influence on your career/help kickstart your career?

The externship was super motivating. As a 1L student at Georgetown Law, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day race that you can lose sight of the forest through the trees and figure out how you actually want to use your legal degree. The externship helped me take a step back from the classroom experience. I met real practitioners, lawyers, creatives, artists, media executives, who were living careers that I admired and wanted to emulate. People who weren’t interested in how great you could “bluebook” or how fast you could Westlaw. I was blown away by the caliber of alumni I met and their genuine passion for their work. I met lawyers who hadn’t gone the traditional route of “big law”. I met talent agents and managers. Trained lawyers who worked as CEOs and COOs of media companies. Lawyers who were producers!

They pulled back the curtain and demystified the industry that felt a long way away from Washington DC. The advice that most resonated with me was “Don’t be shy. Reach out. Think outside the box. Ask questions. Use your time in school to explore your interests authentically. Try to get hands on experience and training outside of the classroom. And keep in touch with the people you meet along the way.”

What part(s) of the Externship did you find most valuable?

The externship helped me focus my time on the hilltop and crystalize a vision for myself after law school. I sought out interesting internships in business and legal affairs during the school year (not just as a summer internship). I took classes in contract drafting and negotiations, intellectual property and (not to date myself here….) the law of the internet. I even had fun outside the classroom (no you don’t have to spend 23 hours a day in law school at the library, it’s ok to enjoy life outside the classroom too. In fact, if you want to work in the industry, you should probably learn about it!). I established a student club narrowly focused on the “arts” to meet the lawyers who I imagined existed and worked in the field. My club SALVAGE (Students Against Looting Valuable Antiquities) began as an opportunity to learn about art through the lens of art repatriation—paintings looted from the Jews and others during WW2, the attack on the Baghdad Museum, bombing of the Buddhas in Afghanistan, etc. But as the interest in my club grew, so too did our mission. I began to dream about the larger world of art lawyers. And I was pleased to learn that those lawyers were eager to come and talk about their work.

It was through these experiences and networking opportunities – some intentional, some through happenstance – that I connected with the larger network of lawyers working in the sector including the then General Counsel of Lincoln Center who later hired me to join her team at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

What was your experience like attending Georgetown? Were there any particularly formative experiences that were special to you?

I am one of those lucky Double Hoyas. I have my name up on the walls at the Tombs for having completed the “99 days club,” and honestly, there should probably be an asterisk next to it for having also gone back an additional 99 times (at least) during law school. Georgetown’s emphasis on — Cura Personalis — the care for the whole person — outside and inside the classroom — has remained with me long since the flavors of Wisey’s and the Tombs have faded.

As a college student and law student there never seemed to be a lack of opportunity to grow my interests in and outside of the classroom. I loved arts and the entertainment industry before Georgetown but loved that Georgetown could offer me a chance to study it deeper and to immerse myself in it authentically. I studied at the Villa Le Balze in Florence during college. And in law school, when Georgetown Law didn’t have a class related to Art Law—I got permission to take classes at Siena Law School in Italy to study it closer (while drinking negronis and getting course credit). I remember during my sophomore year one of my professors “required” us to go to the museum rather than just study slides of artwork. Another professor “required” us to hear music in person rather than listening to it in Lauinger. Weekly trips to the museums, tickets to the Kennedy Center, art history classes and courses on opera and symphonic music. Going to shows. Painting. This was a part of the curriculum? I loved the possibility that you could blend your personal interests with your professional life.

What’s your advice for an undergraduate/ law student trying to break into your industry? Is there anything you would tell your younger self now?

Don’t be discouraged. Your first job isn’t your last job. Surround yourself by people you would actually like to spend time with outside of the office. Go see shows. Stay after. Have a drink. Chat with people you meet there. Find causes that matter to you. Try to position yourself professionally near the work that gets you excited (even if you are only tangentially working on the project). Through this, opportunities and connections will present themselves. It isn’t luck. It isn’t serendipity. But navigating your career isn’t math. There is no one size fits all solution. Don’t be shy to create opportunities for yourself – life isn’t lived just on LinkedIn or Simplicity. Use your time to figure out what makes you happy. Cold call people. Seek out advice and adventure. But above all, always remember to thank people for their time. Don’t seek out relationships just in the hopes it will get you your next job but seek them out because you actually want to learn from them and use their experiences to help you find your path.

Name someone in your career who has been a valuable mentor or role model to you and why?I’ve been lucky to have many mentors who all offer different advice and perspectives on life and career. Among my most treasured mentors is Jennifer Baltimore, SVP Business and Legal Affairs at Universal Music Group. She has always said “Find your people”. She personifies how to be both kind and cool. She has taught me how to be tough and fair. And that not all lawyers need to wear pant suits and if you do wear one, it need not be navy blue.