Dina LaPolt follows her dreams—right to the top
The music industry, despite its glamour, is still very much a boys club. Try telling that to entertainment lawyer, Dina LaPolt. This native New Yorker who was recently honored as one of POWER UP’s annual “10 Amazing Gay Women in Showbiz” list, helms her own law firm on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, and credits her success in part to being a lesbian musician who followed her dreams.
“I’ve been in bands all my life,” said LaPolt, who began singing and playing guitar in her first band, Arion, at the tender age of 13. LaPolt ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in music from her hometown school, SUNY New Paltz in 1990. Back then, said LaPolt, “I was always in the entertainment industry as a musician, but nobody was knocking down my door.”
So LaPolt began working as a booking agent, concert promoter, and artist manager. She was living in San Francisco when her band was invited to showcase at a music industry conference.
“I remember vividly, I was 27 and I went into a panel about recording agreements,” said LaPolt. “There were four guys on the panel, two with long hair, and one with tattoos, so I asked someone, ‘Was this the lawyers panel?’ and they said yes. I was riveted. Right then and there, I decided I wanted to be a music lawyer.” LaPolt spoke to one of the panelists about her dream, and said, “Ironically enough, now I give him a lot of business.”
LaPolt earned her law degree from the John F. Kennedy University School of Law in 1996, three years after she had graduated from SUNY New Paltz and had a firsthand look at the real world—“an ugly, dark place.”
She said she threw herself into law school, got involved as an activist, never missed class, and studied all the time. The hard work paid off when LaPolt passed her bar on the first try, and by February 1997 was officially an entertainment lawyer.
Three days later, LaPolt recalled, her ex-girlfriend’s sister who was living in Los Angeles called her to tell about her big break as Miss June on the cover of Playboy Magazine. She asked LaPolt for some legal advice, and “within 24 hours I was living with her.” LaPolt spent her first nine months as a lawyer at the Playboy Mansion, where she met some influential people who helped LaPolt land her first entertainment law gig.
“What I learned from that was to never give up; you have to keep at it and at it, and I did,” said LaPolt. “We were up there two or three times a week, and those are memories I will never ever lose.”
After three years serving at a law firm, in 2001 LaPolt opened her own firm, LaPolt Law P.C., on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. She has more than 100 clients, including Chastity Bono and artist Lisa Thomas, whose first record won a Grammy last year.
LaPolt also has the honor of representing the estates of artists Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez and rapper Tupac Shakur, for whom she will release a new album on November 21. The hardest part of representing a deceased artist, said LaPolt, is not only are they not there to weigh in, but “people come out of the woodwork; everyone wants a piece of the pie. If [Tupac] was alive he would beat their asses, but it’s just me and his mom and a lady named Molly.”
In addition to her legal work, LaPolt shares her knowledge of entertainment law through a series of workshops teaching artists how to create income and negotiate the music industry. Her sage advice is always, “Keep trying, always keep playing your music, and wherever you live, get educated about the music business,” be it through seminars, extension courses, the Internet, or the National Association of Record Industry Professionals.
“Musicians and artists really need to understand that part of the world,” said LaPolt. “It’s not like 1970 where people walk into a nightclub with a contract in their briefcase and pocket full of money.”
For all her hard work, LaPolt was recently honored as POWER UP’s 10 Amazing Gay Women in Showbiz. POWER UP was formed to promote the visibility and integration of gay women in entertainment, the arts, and all forms of media, and will honor LaPolt at their Annual Power Premiere Gala this fall at the Beverly Hill Hotel.
LaPolt said of the honor, “I was shocked. First I had to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.” She invited her colleagues to the Gala, and soon discovered that her friends were also clamoring to attend, thanks to the emailing efforts of her girlfriend, Wendy Goodman, also in the music industry.
Despite her legal work, LaPolt still makes time to make music with her band, Trophy Girl, but admits she performs, “not as much as I’d like to.” She furthers that as she continues to meet incredibly talented artists, this becomes harder, relating a tale of being dumbstruck when recently meeting artist Sarah McLachlan, her partner’s client.
“I couldn’t even talk; I was like a retarded idiot,” said LaPolt, laughing. “When you get to meet someone like that who performed that night for 300 people in the music industry, it’s very hard to go home and pick up your guitar.”
LaPolt entered her field motivated by a love of music, of her choice, said, “Life is too short. Any day you could get hit by a bus or have a heart attack, so you should live every day like it’s your last. I get up every day exhilarated. Every day might not be a great day, but it’s a day I created for myself.” With each passing day, LaPolt said she learns more how to manage stress and survive. Surprisingly, being a lesbian helps, said LaPolt.
“It really is still a boys club,” said LaPolt. “Regardless, I feel I get a lot more done because I’m gay. It’s easy to say when they hit on you or make a derogatory comment, ‘I’m gay,’ because I think it’s easier for them to handle that I’m not just rejecting them. Also feel like I can get away with a lot more. A lot of straight men have really fucked up dynamic with women, and it’s very hard for straight women to really be aggressive stand up for selves in the business…. Me, I have no emotional, physical, or mental connection with any man, and it helps me when I’m navigating a mans world to have that dynamic.”
LaPolt will be in town on Thursday, November 2 as part of NARIP “How To Start A Record Label” series to present her workshop, “Webcasts, Downloads & Ringtones, oh my! An Overview of the Legal and Practical Aspects of the NEW Recording Industry” at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, 155 W. 60th St., rooms 205-206. $65; $45 members at narip.com.