This article first appeared in California Law Business
by Ross Johnson
It's easy to find Joseph R. Taylor in the crowded Brentwood Restaurant Toscana. He's the tall, youthful-looking diner with a great suit, a booming voice and confidence to burn. The 39-year-old partner at Santa Monica's Liner Yankelevitz Sunshine & Regenstreif is a brash litigator who has fought his way to the top of the entertainment world. Just ask Taylor's former boss and personal guru, Larry Stein. "Joe Taylor is a great lawyer," the high profile entertainment litigator with Century City's Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan says. "I worked with Joe for years, and I would be honored if he considers me a mentor. Hollywood has a select niche of lawyers who battle over entertainment contracts. It's a business where lawyers spend years learning how entertainment dollars are counted, hidden and, ultimately, dispersed to the players. As evidenced by his client list, Taylor knows the players. Legendary television producer Steven Bochco added Taylor to his team of attorneys who went to war against 20th Century Fox. In the widely reported "vertical integration" case, Bochco claimed the studio was self-dealing on sales of episodes of "NYPD Blue." The parties reached a confidential settlement in April. Other Taylor clients include "Access Hollywood" co-host Leeza Gibbons, reality-TV producer Mark Massari and "The Wonder Years" creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black. Summit Entertainment, one of the leading foreign-rights sellers for feature films, is also on his roster. Daily, Taylor must be a whiz at talent guild regulations, California Labor Commission statutes, back-end profit-participation deals and the ins-and-outs of arbitration -- where most showbiz cases that don't settle end up. Taylor is a seasoned realist about contract litigation in the entertainment industry. "The fact is that entertainment-business litigation is discreet problem-solving," he says. "It's not about turning everything into World War III." A native of South Bend, Ind., Taylor earned his bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Michigan in 1984 and his law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, School fo Law in 1987. Taylor claims his first break came fresh out of law school when he landed an associate position at newly formed Christensen White Miller Fink & Jacobs. "The firm was just getting started and really had a pioneer spirit," Taylor says of the entertainment powerhouse, which is now called Christensen Miller Fink Jacobs Glaser Weil & Shapiro. "I had a chance to learn from great lawyers like Patti Glaser." In 1990, Taylor went to work for Stein at Stein & Kahan and was promoted to partner four years later. When Stein & Kahan merged with Alschuler Grossman & Pines, Taylor decided to move to Liner Yankelevitz, a litigation boutique. Taylor says he wanted a young, hungry firm. He was not disappointed. "We're the guys with the funny names who are not established but are constantly doing battle at the highest level," Taylor says of his firm. What advice does Taylor have for young litigators breaking into the entertainment bar? "Entertainment is a small business with a recurring set of problems," he says. "Learn as much as you can from your elders, who've been solving this stuff for a long time. Once you've absorbed a sufficient amount of their wisdom, you can apply your own energy, style and lower billing rate to the business of problem-solving. "The lunch is over, and Taylor climbs into his brand-new Cadillac and roars off down San Vicente Boulevard. With a 3 year old daughter, wife Kelly, and a new home north of Montana Avenue in the toniest section of Santa Monica, Taylor is hungry to get back to his office and do the kind of work that will allow him to raise the rates.