“You are exactly where you need to be” — Fresh out of law school, I was job hunting at the time, and feeling discouraged. A close friend gave me that valuable piece of advice. Looking back now, I realize that whether I landed in a good or bad place at any given time, it was exactly where I needed to be at that particular point in time..
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anita K. Sharma
She is the founder and managing partner of Sharma Law, a New York based law firm specializing in entertainment law, digital media, talent representation, intellectual property, production legal services, and corporate + commercial law. Touting a client roster of more than 40 digital media talents and influencers across multiple genres, Anita and her team have been at the forefront of digital media dealmaking.
Taking a modern, specialized approach to entertainment law, Sharma Law is committed to providing practical legal advice that enables enhanced creative freedom and control on the part of the client. A film school graduate and former film producer, Anita’s firsthand industry experience gives her a unique perspective and skill set that few entertainment attorneys have. She is genuinely passionate about the business behind art, while helping a new generation of talent navigate the new media landscape.
Thank you Anita for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I began my law career at a prestigious NYC law firm. It was a good experience, but ultimately I felt like it wasn’t a place that I could thrive. I have always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and drive, and I’ve always admired creative people. This led me to launch my own practice (pre-digital media), where I focused on advocating on behalf of indie filmmakers. It may not have been the most financially sound decision at the time, but it was undoubtedly the right one. I later went to film school and became a producer, where I developed valuable firsthand knowledge of the entertainment industry. Realizing my true passion didn’t reside in the day-to-day of filmmaking, but rather in the legal support of the persons and businesses creating this amazing art, I returned to law and shortly thereafter signed my first influencer client. This “new frontier” of digital media was really exciting to me — I found my calling. From there, I went on to build one of the largest influencer/digital talent practices in the country.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Back in 2013, we were one of the first entertainment law firms to start representing creators who primarily posted content on social media platforms. Back then, posting content on social media wasn’t considered a business as much as a fun hobby. Two things changed that: platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram rose very quickly in popularity, and the tools needed to create content, such as great cameras and editing software, became cheaper and more accessible. This resulted in talented creators being able to create and post entertaining content online as much as they wanted to, when they wanted to. Before long, they had built loyal audiences of thousands of people (and in some cases, millions). I remember having a client with millions of subscribers whose YouTube videos would get more views every time she posted one on than “The Amazing Race”, which was the number one show on TV at that time. Coming from a “traditional” background in TV and film, that blew my mind. Creators no longer had e to be vetted by “traditional” gatekeepers to get their work seen. They could do it on their own and build loyal audiences who would converse and engage with them in real time. The moment of disruption came when people began to realize that content creation on social media platforms is a business with a tremendous financial upside for creators. With new platforms and distribution models, we had to quickly develop new deal structures and contracts. Every single deal that came across our desks was new and innovative in the entertainment industry at that time (and in large part still is).Digital content involves a technical component in addition to a creative one. Add to that a layer of new regulatory scrutiny that clients need advice on how to navigate. We had to apply our previous knowledge in entertainment law to this new landscape.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I left the big law firm life and started my own firm, I mistakenly and naively thought it would be quick and easy to get clients, and build a practice. I was wrong. Client acquisition and business development takes time and focus. From the time I meet a potential new client to actually signing them can take as long as six months to a year. I learned the hard way that people take time to make decisions, and they are not working on my timeline. It is true that what appears to be an “overnight sensation”, in reality, took years of hard work. When people remark on my successful practice I tell them it took over ten years to get here. And the focus on business development doesn’t lessen even in success. I think it actually becomes more of a focus because bigger and better opportunities are available once you reach a certain level of success, and you don’t want to miss out on those.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Although I do believe mentors can be very helpful, I didn’t seek any out, mainly because there was no-one whose path I wanted to follow or emulate. It also took me a while to find my niche. My journey wasn’t a straight path, it was more of a zig-zag pattern with many breaks, stops and starts. Right out of law school, I landed a job at a big NY law firm. When I realized its culture wasn’t a place I could thrive, I started my own practice. I then decided I wanted to go to film school and become an indie producer, which I did. I loved it, but it also made me realize my true passion lay in the business and legal behind the art, not day-today producing. I ended up coming full circle to my own law practice. Ironically, what I became most passionate about, digital media, didn’t exist until later in my career.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think when disruption brings about positive change, that’s a good thing. For example, when Uber first came along, the convenience and ease of use were amazing for consumers. Living in NYC, I especially appreciated it. But often, if not always, that kind of disruption comes with a dark side. Problems quickly arose such as underpaid drivers with no benefits, and safety issues for women. It’s the same with food delivery apps that gouge restaurant owners. What may seem very positive and disruptive at the time can quickly develop negative consequences and collateral damage. I think it helps to be mindful of the negatives in order to address them in a timely and effective way before they morph into bigger issues.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- “You are exactly where you need to be” — Fresh out of law school, I was job hunting at the time, and feeling discouraged. A close friend gave me that valuable piece of advice. Looking back now, I realize that whether I landed in a good or bad place at any given time, it was exactly where I needed to be at that particular point in time..
- “Don’t talk sh*t about anyone because you never know where you’ll meet them again” — I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have crossed paths with people I never thought I’d see or talk to again. Or I’ve met a new person who randomly knows someone I know. The entertainment world is a small place! You don’t want to be seen as someone with no integrity or who is not trustworthy.
- “It’s not about the mistakes you make, it’s whether you learn from them or not”. As a perfectionist, I have to fight the tendency to dwell on the negative. I have certainly made mistakes along the way (personal and professional), but now I try to learn from them. That means looking at my role in what happened and how I can behave differently in the future. Since you can’t control/change anyone else’s behavior, circumstances, or the past for that matter, shifting your focus to yourself and not the mistake per se is incredibly helpful as a learning tool.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We are really focused on making our mark in the world of gaming. I feel like talent in the gaming industry is where influencers were in 2013 — they are starting to recognize the business potential here, and that’s incredibly exciting. It’s very male dominated and we would love to be a female voice in the space. Also NFTs have amazing potential in our industry, and we are working hard to make sure we’re up to date on all new developments in this area, so we can be ready to help when our clients need it.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women disruptors that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being seen as an “exception” to the rule brings more negative scrutiny, harsh judgement and criticism of women disruptors, which is patently unfair. Our achievements and hard work shouldn’t be seen as an anomaly just because we’re women. In law it’s particularly frustrating because aggressive male lawyers are rewarded, whereas aggressive female lawyersare not. We’re expected to dial it down when advocating for clients. The good news is that I believe we can create the circumstances for women to succeed, even in our present world of double standards. For example, we can proactively make spaces for each other, instead of waiting for it to happen. That’s a big part of why I started my own firm. I can carve out my own path.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
In my business, I have to watch and listen to a broad range of content to stay up to date on emerging trends. I have varied interests as a result. Having said that, reading ”Getting to Yes” in my law school negotiation class made me realize my passion for advocacy, deal making, and negotiation. I also love the “Start Up” podcast that follows various start-ups for months. It allows you to hear the struggles as well as the triumphs and I’ve learned from personal experience that you can’t have one without the other.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I definitely haven’t inspired this particular movement, but I am incredibly energized by the push for diverse creators to be seen and heard, and to be able to tell their own stories. I want my kids to see kids onscreen who look like them. This is so important. I feel like inroads are being made, but there’s a ton of catching up to do. It’s an honor and joy for my firm to be able to support diverse voices and artists.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have become much better at delegating tasks and recognizing my own limits. I think as business owners there’s an emphasis on “bootstrapping” and doing it on the cheap, by yourself. All that means is that everything may get done, but nothing gets done particularly well. When I’ve chosen to invest upfront in help, it has paid itself off in dividends and freed me up to focus on my strengths.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!