by Laura FrustaciJohn Meigs JD ‘95 became a name partner at his firm Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush, Kaller, Gellman, Meigs & Fox at the start of 2022, becoming the first person of color there to achieve that status. Heading into the year, he busied himself with what earned him that position: making deals. He set Kaley Cuoco to star in the half-hour Peacock series Based Upon a True Story, Winston Duke to join Amazon’s Marked Man, Sherri Shepherd to topline her own talk show (Sherri), Steven Caple Jr. to direct the Lionsgate adaptation of the YA thriller Thieves’ Gambit and Betty Gilpin to play the lead in Peacock’s Mrs. Davis and the co-lead in Showtime’s Three Women. Meigs also optioned Leila Mottley’s bestselling debut novel, Nightcrawling, to Amblin and closed a deal for Michelle Buteau to co-write and star in a Netflix series based on her book Survival of the Thickest.
Born and raised in South Central LA, John Meigs JD ‘95 loves what he does for four reasons: he’s a self-proclaimed “deal nerd” and a “Papa Bear” towards his clients, he believes in the cultural impact of media, and he has the opportunity every day to change the lives of his clients.
John grew up with a mother who was an elementary school teacher and a father who was a war veteran, engineer, and ultimately a trial lawyer (and later, a judge). John’s father was one of his biggest inspirations for going to law school. “I remember him going to law school at night while working in the day,” John recalls. “I saw him taking the bar exam, and I saw him become a public defender. And I realized being a lawyer means you go to court and speak on other people’s behalf, and I thought ‘Wow, what a cool thing.’”
Although he began Harvard Law School with the intention of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a trial lawyer as well, in his first year John took the elective ‘Harvard Negotiations Project’, and everything changed. He fell in love with the class, doing mock negotiations under the supervision of Roger Fisher, author of the bestselling novel Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. John then went on to become a teaching assistant for the course for his next two years of law school.
After graduation, John started down the BigLaw litigation route at Kirkland & Ellis in Los Angeles. Following that, John did a clerkship on the Federal District Court. “The judge had a bunch of entertainment litigation cases,” he says “One was involved in a movie called Anaconda– it was a copyright infringement case. As clerks, we would come up with an opinion and present it to the judge. And I thought, ‘This is really cool, the briefs for this case are like a comparative literary analysis between this screenplay and this movie.’ I could marry my love for film and television with legal argument.” It was a huge moment of realization for John, so after his clerkship, he pivoted and moved to a firm where he could do entertainment litigation.
However, it wasn’t exactly what he expected. “After three years of that, I started to realize the joke was on me because I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and in the entertainment context, there were key players doing deals over and over again, and when they get mad, they sue each other, but before it even goes to trial, they’re going to make a deal to settle. You could be planning for a three-week trial, and doing 18-hour days, and then it gets canceled. That was soul crushing. I either needed to get out of entertainment litigation and go to trial, or I had to double down and go over to the deal side because that’s what entertainment law is about.”
John decided to join 20th Century Fox, worked there for a year, and gleaned as much as he could. Then he joined his current firm, and has been there now for 22 years. “I was made equity partner two years ago and a named partner one year ago, and as of last year, my understanding is that our firm is the highest grossing entertainment boutique in the business. I love what I do, and a lot of what I do is informed by what I learned at the Harvard Negotiation Project all those years ago.”
In a groundbreaking achievement, John was the first person of color to be made a named partner at his firm. “The first thing I did after I became named partner was to hire an amazing Black woman to work for me. She’s from South Central LA like me--she wants to support creatives who advance marginalized stories, also like me,” John says. “We work really, really hard. If you’re really going to have the sleepless nights and time away from your family, and pour yourself into your clients, you have to believe there’s a greater good. Storytelling is the way that we translate culture. It has the power to change hearts and minds, and the most powerful means of storytelling is television.” In terms of diversity at his firm, John confirms, “I want our firm to look like America. We’re working on it. I’m working really hard on it.”
In his everyday practice, John explains what he feels has made him such a strong and effective lawyer for so many years: “I find that I approach things differently from my counterparts, with deep research and planning, and combine that with my trial experience, it’s a unique approach for my clients. One example of that is, I represent Kaley Cuoco. I’ve worked with her since before Big Bang Theory. When we got to the big negotiation, when we reached $1 million per episode, I dusted off these old boxes and pored through the Friends re-negotiations. I created a chart adjusting the Friends payments for inflation and noting that Friends was a bigger ensemble.” During the negotiation, someone from Warner Brothers claimed John and Kaley were asking for even more than the Friends cast asked for. John turned around and said, “Actually, we’re not” and pulled up his research. And they got the deal.
Making life-changing deals for his clients is what he’s truly passionate about. “I’m a deal nerd. At my core, I’m a deal nerd and I fight for my clients, particularly when I feel like they’re being undervalued, underpaid, or mistreated in any way, particularly if that coincides with race, gender, sexual orientation bias, I go super hard… I love being a part of the change of someone’s life. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.” Being a lawyer holds a deep significance and purpose for John. “We’re advocates,” he explains. “We’re representatives. I take the word representative seriously. Re-presenting. I’m not going to make a negotiation about me or my ego, I’m going to make it about that client. If you’re looking for a shark, that person leaves blood in the water and everyone hates them. And then everyone hates you, and also hates the client vicariously. You do not want that. You want to have the best utility for the most people, in terms of your approach… honest, fair, and reasonable. Have facts and data. Forging good relationships means people will do you favors. That’s not unique to me, but it’s something I feel is very important.”
For anyone considering law school, John had some wisdom to share. “Don’t go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer,” John states. “Don’t go because you don’t know what to do with your life. You really have to want to practice the profession and take it seriously. It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world. If you want glamor, be an agent or manager or studio executive.” And what would he tell himself at the start of his career? “The advice that I would give to my younger self: The ‘lone wolf’ mentality is very limiting. There’s an old African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in a group.’ Establish a cohort and allies. It’s really hard to do it by yourself.”
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