Partner, Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King &
When Paul O’Dwyer ’29, a civil rights attorney and politician,
deviated from his guest speaking role before Bob Donnelly’s ’73
high school class and spoke of his love for the law and the impact
it could have on society – young Mr. Donnelly was hooked on the law
as a profession. As a young man growing up in the working
class neighborhood of Stuyvesant Town, Mr. Donnelly didn’t have
many opportunities to be exposed to legal professionals – unless
you were in trouble. Countless recording artists should be
very happy that Paul O’Dwyer, Esq. didn’t explain how a bill became
a law four decades earlier, for if he had the music industry may
not have gained one of the staunchest protector’s of artists and
their recording rights.
Growing up in lower Manhattan, Mr. Donnelly was afforded the
opportunity to sample a diverse range of music that frequently
played in the area’s clubs and coffee houses in the early
sixties. This exposure enhanced an already strong passion for
music and the music industry. Post graduation from St. John’s
Law, Mr. Donnelly, who was working for a mid-town Law Firm, so
impressed the talent agents that he was opposing during a case with
the William Morris talent agency that post trial they offered him a
position as in-house counsel. Following his heart, Mr.
Donnelly took the position despite the fact that the position paid
a salary that was only one-eighth of what he was earning at the
time because it would allow him to focus on the building of a
practice around his passion for music.
Perhaps Mr. Donnelly’s biggest impact on the music industry came
with the assistance of then NYS Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer. Mr. Donnelly approached Mr. Spitzer with the idea of
going after the record companies who maintained slush funds
containing artists back royalties known as “suspense accounts.”
This litigation would be on behalf of the artists who were deemed
“un-findable.” His legal approach was based on the use of New
York’s Abandoned Property’s laws. The strategy worked and the
“un-findables” had defeated the Sonys and the Warners, along with
other industry powerhouses. Who were the
“un-findables?” In addition to countless small artists, the
“un-findables” included: Elton John, Dolly Parton and Dave
Matthews. The result being a $55 million settlement in favor
of the artists.
However, not everything is about litigation. Mr. Donnelly
truly loves music and what it does for society. Points of
pride include working with a team of individuals to host the now
famous Central Park Concert series which featured Simon and
Garfunkel, Diana Ross and James Taylor. Another career
highlight was working with Sting and Amnesty International to bring
awareness of Human Rights violations that were occurring in Chile
to the rest of the world.
Mr. Donnelly has helped musicians transcend their art making them
more “mainstream” and hence more marketable thereby increasing
their earning potential and providing a higher degree of financial
security throughout their careers. Mr. Donnelly was one of
the first attorneys to negotiate a major endorsement deal when he
facilitated putting Deborah Harry into a pair of Murjani
jeans. This opened the door to endorsements that he
negotiated for Elton John and Michael Jackson.
Reminiscing on his time at St. John’s Law, Mr. Donnelly recalls
being responsible for securing four engaging speakers and having a
budget of $1,500 to cover all expenses for all four speakers.
He decided to call Mohammed Ali and invite him to speak at St.
John’s Law because of the legal issues associated with his
suspension from the boxing community due to his position on the
Vietnam War and his subsequent decision not to enlist. Mr.
Donnelly contacted Ali’s training camp and was immediately put on
the telephone with Mohammed Ali. In order to secure such a
high profile speaker, Mr. Donnelly offered the future heavyweight
champion of the world his full speaker’s budget. In turn, Ali
spoke at St. John’s Law School’s Schermerhorn Campus in 1971.
Mr. Donnelly is a “big fan” of students leaving Law School with
applied experience in the discipline in which they aspire to
work. Over the years, he has facilitated a number of
internships for individuals aspiring to a career in Entertainment
Law. Mr. Donnelly encourages those in the present job market
to, “be relentless in your efforts and persevere. Go into
interviews with strong background knowledge on the firm and their
expectations and how you can contribute. Seek out practical
experience so that when you are afforded the opportunity to
succeed, you can demonstrate your skills and determination.”
When not negotiating recording contracts and looking for the “next
great band,” Mr. Donnelly treasures the time he spends with his
wife, Marie, three children and six grandchildren. Someday,
he aspires to learn how to play the guitar, which some people might
find ironic since he has represented guitar bands who have sold a
quarter of a billion albums.