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Larry C. Russ On yodelers, young lawyers, and the benefits of a smaller firm
[by Teresa Talerico] A complex business litigator, Larry C. Russ has handled his share of interesting and downright fun clients. Take the Yahoo Yodeler. In 2002, Russ represented Wylie Gustafson, a country music performer who in 1996 recorded the now famous yodel for the Internet company. Gustafson had received $590 for what he understood to be a one-time use of his yodel for a commercial. But the recording went on to be used in countless Yahoo ad campaigns and became Yahoos signature refrain. Russ led a copyright infringement suit against Yahoo and launched a media blitz, which led to what he called a satisfactory settlement.
Within 48 hours after the lawsuit was led, the case was settled, he said. It was actually a lot of fun as well as rewarding. A 1978 graduate of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, Russ is the founder and managing partner of Russ, August & Kabat in Los Angeles. Q: What should law students do while still in school to prepare for their careers? A: I picked an area I really liked, and I tried to get a job in a law rm that emphasized that area. So I had some real hands-on experience as a law clerk while I was going to school. That helped me in two ways. One, it helped get me through the boring periods of law school that happen in the second and third year. The second thing is that by the time I graduated from law school, I was pretty well known in the area I wanted to practice in. Q: What do you look for when hiring? A: I look for good communications skills, excellent writing skills, and a certain style and personality that tells me this person has some ambition and wants to accomplish something with their lives. And its not just about making the most money. Its somebody that I have some condence in the ability to develop relationships. Developing relationships is all about success, whether its attracting clients or convincing a jury that the story youre telling is right. A: Law schools need to focus a lot more on persuasive writing, not just legal research. A: I went to [University of California] Berkeley Q: Whats something they dont teach in law school but should? Q: Who inspired you to go into law? A: As you can see from reading the paper, almost every day, the entire area of copyright is in ux right now. Theres a real challenge to gure out whose rights should really be preferredthe manufacturers music, the consumers who want to be able to share music content, the manufacturers of the electronic devices. All of these interests are competing in our society, and were trying to t the advances nicely and neatly within a framework of laws that were passed over a hundred years ago. And the advances in technology are evolving faster than the law is. So were trying to play catch-up. A: Law students could use more practice learning how to take a deposition, prepare for a deposition, how to prepare for a hearing. Taking a deposition, for example, is a skill that sometimes can change a case. These are skills that require a lot of practice. Unfortunately, in todays world, when a young lawyer goes to a large law rm, theyre not even starting the process of taking depositions until theyve been out four or ve years. In a small rm, a young lawyer may be forced into taking many depositions when they have no idea how to take them and the small rm doesnt have the time to train them. Law schools could really do a great service by providing more practice for them. Q: So did you get Wylie Gustafson to yodel for you? A: (Laughs.) Well, one of the interesting things we had to have him do before we settled the case was he had to commit to doing a two-minute yodel so we could submit it to the copyright ofce and get a copyright on his yodel. Q: It seems like the types of cases you handlethings like the Internet and video game companieswould involve treading some new ground in law. Q: What are some common stumbling blocks for new lawyers? The case is won and lost on the papers most of the time. Federal judges dont provide a lot of time for oral argument these days. Ninety-nine percent of the time, theyve made a decision before theyve even reached the bench. So the written paperwork is what its all about. Organizing that paperwork in a cohesive, persuasive whole is an incredibly complicated task. Not enough time is devoted in law school to teaching young lawyers how to put together a persuasive group of documents.


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as an undergrad. At that point, law was very much in the forefront. There were a lot of people in the free speech movement that were very inspirational. Thurgood Marshall, to me, is one of the critical contributors in our century in terms of changing the way the Supreme Court looked at education in this country. Q: Any other advice for students and grads? A: I would avoid going to the largest, most prestigious law rm in favor of the mediumsized or even smaller rm. The larger the rm, the more prestigious, you dont get the professional experience that you dream about when youre going to law school. Basically, youre in a back room writing papers and doing mundane tasks that you never thought youd have to do. One of the biggest problems weve seen as a smaller rm is lawyers that have practiced all their lives at large rms and have been paid very, very well. But 15 years into their practice, they dont have any client relationships. If something happens to their law rm and they have to seek a new job, they have nothing to offer a smaller rm. That is an extremely dangerous thing to happen to an experienced lawyer.