Feature, Q&A

Marjorie Williams: Forging a Future for A-list Creators

Danielle Dhari is an LLS student blogger.

Impressive doesn’t even begin to define Marjorie’s career. But, her career path leading up to her current role as top-ranking entertainment attorney has been anything but linear. A passion for international law after joining the Air Force led to a discovery of the power of entertainment while she was in law school. She brought the skills she was learning in the military and her passion for social justice to the clinics she participated in at LLS and eventually her career as an entertainment lawyer. After my brief conversation with Marjorie I left not only feeling proud to soon be joining an alumni network that includes people as inspiring as Major Marjorie Williams (Ret.), but also appreciative of the reminder of the real-world application that my current LLS endeavors will have in my future legal career. 

DD: I know your legal career has centered around the entertainment industry and you’ve said that Loyola introduced you to the power of entertainment. What is it about that power that you find so intriguing? 

MW: Well, it’s interesting because I came from a background in the military where the entertainment industry was like the furthest thing from my mind, honestly. Being in LA and working in entertainment is like being in DC and working in the government. You throw a rock and someone does something in that capacity in this space. And, I realized just how much it translates across the world, right? I travel a ton and no matter where you go there’s some part of American culture or pop culture that really kind of drives, not only trends but also conversations. To take it a step further, for me, Loyola has social justice in its fabric. That’s at the core of some of the identifiable characteristics that Loyola eats, sleeps, and breathes. There’s a lot of power in entertainment in terms of the ability to highlight various causes as well. So I think that’s the biggest thing for me in terms of realizing how the power of entertainment can be utilized to further whatever cause you may support.

DD: They say with great power, like the power of entertainment, comes great responsibility. What do you feel is your responsibility as an attorney in entertainment or do you even feel like you have some sort of responsibility in that space?

MW: I think, for me, what I’m probably most focused on right now is the legacy. The industry as a whole has been one that has been really kind of unattainable in a lot of ways as far as access to it. And to me certainly in the legal field. So what I’ve been really passionate about is talking to people about what opportunities actually exist and then trying to help connect the dots. They have to do the work once they get in, show up for the interviews, and show up with their grades but so many people just never had access to the industry. So, by default, they’re unaware of the opportunities beyond what you typically see in front of the camera. There are a number of students around LA that know me because I try to be very intentional and welcoming and open to dialogue and conversations with whoever wants to talk to me. In particular from underrepresented demographics.

DD: I know you were also a Major in the Air Force. What skills did you learn in the Air Force that you think have best served you in your current role?

MW: I tell people, one, just being an Officer early on in your 20s, you’re taught about leadership and in particular leading teams. So much of what the industry is is a team and people have to come together to collaborate in order to execute. For me, just the ability to be a good team player, because a lot of people, particularly in this industry, act as if it’s only about them and want people to see how amazing they are. But it’s also being a leader even when you’re not in a leadership position. My first job I was the low man on the totem pole but at that point I was a Captain in the Air Force, I had a master’s degree in international relations and I had a law degree. If I didn’t know how to jump into this new sector it would have been highly problematic. I also think what’s really important for lawyers is not only our written communication but our verbal communication. The military taught me that early on because I was responsible for doing briefings in my role as an Intelligence Officer. A lot of my job was not only briefing pilots or people who were around my same rank but at times I was briefing Colonels and even Generals. I joined in 2000 and the world changed in 2001. A part of my career was supporting some of the efforts of the war, so, it really just hones in that as a lawyer it’s important to get to your point quickly while having the background information so you’re prepared when your audience has questions. The flip side is also listening. That’s such an important skill particularly for lawyers. It’s critical in particular in negotiating because I pay attention to what the other side’s real needs are. It helps me be more effective as a negotiator because if the other side feels heard it becomes a less antagonistic negotiation. The firm I’m at hired me from my interactions with them on the other side of deals. That speaks volumes. It’s a testament to my negotiation style as an attorney. 

At this point in the conversation Marjorie and I started talking more about transferrable skills and how to sell yourself in a new industry where you might doubt that you have the type of experience the employer is looking for.

MW: I think sometimes, when you come from external industries, you may come with a bit of self-doubt, in terms of starting over. A lot of people’s paths to law school are very linear, and you go from undergrad and go right into law school. But I also think there is a lot to having life experience and bringing those experiences to the table, I think it’s only additive as an amplifier in your educational experience because you really have context for some of the things you learn. 

DD: You just mentioned self-doubt. Is imposter syndrome something you’ve dealt with and worried that you weren’t qualified to take on these new projects? Or do you think you always went into big career milestones with confidence? 

MW: My career path has certainly been the opposite of linear and very non-traditional. I’m not afraid to learn something new. And so, I think a lot of what my confidence can be attributed to, is, again, really all of the things that I did in the military. When you’re, you know, in your 20s, and let’s be clear, at a time, where there’s a lot of conflict you learn pretty quickly, how to find your voice, and do it effectively. At this point, I can’t tell you the last time I really felt like, this is something that is going to be insurmountable. And let’s be honest, I’m a very spiritual person. So for me also, I’m very clear that I’m always going to be taken care of even though there are times where maybe the job isn’t what I thought it was going to be, or certainly life isn’t without challenge. That’s absolutely the case in my situation. I lost my parents when I was a teenager. I was raised by my cousin who was very young at the time, but she instilled a sense of just foundational understanding of “you can be successful”. You’re adding those to your toolkit of, “If I if I can do that, I can certainly do this.” If I can help with hostage rescues, if I can help our pilots decide where they’re going to target and get back safely and we will figure this all out. We’ll put our heads together.

DD: Looking back at your time at Loyola, what would you say was the thing that you did here that best helped prepare you for the working world?

MW: I think it was really getting practical experience. I did clinics. I did externships. I did  small firm reception and got a job working for a person who worked in music. It was those practical experiences because there were areas that I was exposed to from working while I was in law school that I didn’t know existed. And again, building upon those experiences is what led me to an awareness of what actually is even out there.

DD: My last question for you is do you have any advice for incoming law students that are hoping to work in entertainment law after graduation?

MW: Buckle up! The biggest thing is just understanding that there’s no linear path. I have friends who have practiced in private practice before coming to entertainment. One of my boss’s bosses, who is effectively the COO at Amazon Studios, was a public defender or DA at one point. I think, if you want to do this, just stay at it because you’re gonna hear a lot of no’s. And in some cases you’re gonna have to take one step back, or even two steps back. When I started out I was temping. That’s how I got my job. I came out when we were the first class that was impacted by the recession. It was disastrous for my class.  Law firms were closing. They were rescinding offers. They were paying people not to come into work. For me, I thought, “Oh, the other area that I would have gone into was government.” Whether that was city attorney, homeland security, white-collar anti-terrorism, something like that. But government wasn’t hiring.  A friend connected me with another friend that I met at a birthday party who happened to own a temping agency and they were like, “you can at least temp while you’re waiting on bar results.” I thought that was a way to get some sort of experience. In temping you think this is not going to be permanent. It’s just a temporary thing. But I sought out opportunities to continue to get experience. That’s the advice that I can tell whomever, no matter what you’re doing, to seek out opportunities to get some sort of experience. In those experiences you also never know who you’re gonna meet. And the entertainment industry is very much about, not only who you know, but who knows you. I don’t know that I’ve cold-applied for anything. From temping for this family that I met at a birthday party through a military friend to the various routes I’ve had, it’s all been through something who’s reached out to me or referred a recruiter to me. To students, I can’t underscore that no matter where you are, show up. No matter where you are try and get the best that you can out of whatever you’re doing. And just be pleasant. It goes such a long way in just coming to work with an attitude to “how can I help.” People notice that and remember that. 

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