Rising 3L Trades Guitar for Entertainment Law Career
By age 15, Justin Dillon had already started a promising career in the music industry. Along with four of his classmates at Plum High School, Dillon formed Backseat Love Story, a band styled in a pop-punk fusion sound that quickly caught the attention of the Pittsburgh music scene. Success came fast. In just over a year, the band had signed a record deal and earned a spot on stage for the Warped Tour’s stop in Pittsburgh.
But within a few years, Dillon’s teenage dreams met the unforgiving realities of the business world. The record label and producer they worked with were siphoning money from the band. It was a defining moment for Dillon, who was set to begin his studies in music at Berklee College of Music.
“This experience didn’t necessarily turn me off of music, but it did paint the industry in a different light. In the end, it opened up an opportunity where I could pursue both my passion for music and interest in business,” he said.
Driven by his experience with the record label, he traded music school and his guitar for business school and a suit, with an eye on earning a law degree focused on entertainment and intellectual property law.
“It was always entertainment and IP for me. What I went through, which unfortunately is not that uncommon in this industry, made me very determined,” Dillon said. “Any creative activity, whether it be writing a song, a screenplay, poem or artwork becomes very personal to the author, and it’s tough to see artists whose sole focus is to be creative get taken advantage of on the business end of the industry. I wanted to change that.”
During the summer following his first year of law school, Dillon enrolled in The Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy, a joint program with Case Western Reserve University School of Law and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law that gives students the opportunity to learn from and network with experienced professionals in sports and entertainment while competing for externship opportunities.
He took full advantage of the program’s resources and educational opportunities. With assistance from Professor Craig Nard, Director of the Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology & the Arts, Dillon earned internships at Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company and the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.
“I wouldn’t be doing any of this without Craig. He helped me find people with ties to Case and Cleveland and played a big role in helping me tap into that community,” he said.
Today, Dillon is a rising 3L splitting time between Cleveland and Los Angeles, where he is completing his capstone while interning at Eric Feig Entertainment and Media Law. He describes his internship as a hands-on experience.
“It’s a boutique firm with a lot of work coming in, so I’ve had an opportunity to really dive in and learn about the industry,” he said. “I’ve worked on first drafts of book option deals and shopping agreements for screenplays, director and producer agreements, and transactional work on the production side such as film financing. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Following the completion of his capstone this December, Dillon will return to Cleveland for one last semester to complete his law degree. After graduation, he will take the first plane back to the west coast to find his new dream career.
“Spending the last two summers in LA and getting to work with and around the people that I grew up watching and listening to has been so surreal and that journey has only just begun,” he said. “I’m so thankful for the education that my IP professors have given me. The support and push from the entire IP and Law and the Arts department at Case has been invaluable.”