The industry headlines tell a persuasive tale. Netflix: The most feared force in Hollywood? Netflix: The monster that’s eating Hollywood. Netflix is killing it—big time—after pouring cash into original shows.
With cord-cutting becoming ever more common and broadcast network ratings steadily declining, will Entertainment Lawyers start streaming from traditional industry workplaces in search of Elysian Fields with newer employers working in newer technologies?
It may be a question to ponder, even as the studios and Netflix head to court in a battle over claims the big and growing streaming service poached key entertainment executives
But for lawyers, in particular, there may be more cultural and workplace issues to consider before throwing caution to the wind, polishing up that CV, and seeking to get in the queue for new employment. Yes, Netflix the disrupter of the TV world, the company that’s changing how consumers digest content, is hiring.
But the company has its own distincitive hiring practices and workplace environment, bringing a holistic, freethinking, Silicon Valley “start-up vibe” to the often provincial and openly combative, kill-or-be-killed culture of showbiz in Hollywood—and to the typically buttoned-up environment of legal departments in some of those entertainment companies.
What’s the brief on working for entertainment-tech hybrids, or at least one of the giants of the day in this area?
High pay, different expectations
Netflix has grown by leaps and bounds recently, not only in its disruptive model of content-binge-ing but also in its staffing, including its recruitment from competitors—a practice some contend is poaching—and paying well for skilled executives, and yes, legal staff. Netflix, in fact, forked out a median, annual salary of $180,000 for highly skilled and educated employees (which would include attorneys). That put the streamer at No. 2 on some comp lists, trailing only Skadden Arps, the mega law firm which had a median pay of $182,000 a year. Netflix also reportedly is paying some TV execs double what their traditional broadcast counterparts make.
But those who toil at the company also learn to adapt to new ways, including adopting what Reed Hastings, Netflix founder and CEO, famously had distilled in a slide show of what the overall company culture should actually be. He and other executives say they abjure empty, inspirational phrases, like posters of kittens clinging to tree branches, with the caption “Hang in there.” Instead, Hastings says Netflix staff should get more flexibility to make and create, not to follow rigid, “old school” rules and reporting structures. Netflix tries to stamp out useless, ineffective processes and procedures, notably eliminating vacation time tracking and expense reporting requirements. The company boasts about its five word entertainment, gift, travel, and expense policy: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.” The company asks its staff to recognize their own value, for example, by considering who would bosses fight to save during staff reductions or if competitors beckoned?
This may seem to offer sharp contrasts to some Big Law employment, where billable time is tallied in 15-minute increments, many memos must be exchanged about almost any matter, and associate and even partner churn has become almost routine and a part of the business model. But at the same time, Big Law life, still, revolves tradition and precedent, and, to be sure, associates get years (seven or eight, typically), to assimilate firm culture and to slowly build skills and relationships that add to the bottom line—all while getting what many would consider luxe pay and benefits, in exchange for very long work hours. “This is how it’s always been done,” becomes a mantra at many bulwarks of the law.
That isn’t true at Netflix, which already has seen the company re-invented a few times, and which, famously, follows the Silicon Valley model of rapid change and creative destruction. That can cause mere hard work to lessen in value and require many staffers to “move on” even if they have accomplished much for the company. That’s a crushing reality that caught up with even the architect of Netflix’s employee policies and practices.
Boundaries to brashness?
There’s no disputing, though, that Netflix is hiring, has money for now, and is spending it. They’re aggressive about recruiting, especially in seeking out highly desirable candidates at many levels with track records of accomplishment. They’re known for their straight up approaches in hiring.
But is the company, befitting its high tech roots, too brash in its dealings with Hollywood talent? When the company tried to yank two 20th Century Fox film executives away from their high-level posts, Fox sued Netflix for unlawful poaching and inducing their employees to break fixed-term (as opposed to “at will”) employment contracts with the media behemoth. Fox claims that Netflix has undertaken a “brazen campaign to unlawfully target, recruit, and poach valuable Fox executives by illegally inducing them to break their employment contracts with Fox to work at Netflix.” The company did not shrink from the legal, talent slug fest, counter-suing Fox. Netflix asserts the disputed execs’ studio contracts were void because they are unlawfully restrictive fixed-employment agreements that unfairly put employees in a “take it or leave it” position.
So now will Netflix disrupt Hollywood not only on the tech but also the talent side, including in legal shops? This may be a running industry show with more drama than Orange is the New Black or House of Cards.