Making Sense of a Showbiz Law Shake-up

Matthew Belloni
September 17, 2021

In its four decades, the Ziffren Brittenham entertainment law firm has never really suffered a major group defection. Lawyers have left, of course, most notably Tom Hansen back in the ‘80s to co-found the rival Hansen Jacobson firm. But Ziffren has remained remarkably stable as it has grown to become arguably the most powerful talent firm in Hollywood, representing everyone from Dick Wolf to Mindy Kaling to Ben Affleck, and so on.

So that’s why so many eyebrows raised when P.J. Shapiro (Emma Stone, Selena Gomez) and Matt Johnson (Oprah Winfrey, Adam McKay), the firm’s current and past managing partners, respectively, announced this week that they are hanging a shingle with Ziffren partner Greg Slewett (Michael B. Jordan, Donald Glover) and Tara Kole (Emma Watson, Riz Ahmed) of the Gang Tyre firm. It’s all friendly and professional, but more lawyers (I’ve heard Wendy Kirk, Logan Clare, and possibly others) are expected to join when the firm launches in January. The news spilled early thanks to a blabby CAA agent.

This move, along with the splintering of the Bloom Hergott firm, signals to some a generational realignment in the Hollywood legal world. Maybe, but I’m not convinced. It’s true that Shapiro and Johnson are the main “signing” partners at Ziffren. But rival firms cheering any perceived weakness should be reminded of the institutional power and roster of lawyers who remain. Cliff Gilbert-Lurie (Wolf) has taken over as managing partner, and the generation below Ken Ziffren and Skip Brittenham—lawyers like Sam Fischer (Matt Damon) and Bryan Wolf (Judd Apatow)—is still very much in their prime.