Tabula Rasa

As technology and entertainment converge, Stohn Hay Cafazzo Dembroski Richmond LLP is going where no lawyers have gone before

Partner Diana Cafazzo’s hobby is origami, and she’s a founding member of the Origami Society of Toronto. Clients, she says, will sometimes come to meetings and pull out of their wallets pieces of currency that she had folded—into little shirts or animals—years before. “One was so old it was made from a French franc,” she says.
Partner Diana Cafazzo’s hobby is origami, and she’s a founding member of the Origami Society of Toronto. Clients, she says, will sometimes come to meetings and pull out of their wallets pieces of currency that she had folded—into little shirts or animals—years before. “One was so old it was made from a French franc,” she says.

When young people ask what makes entertainment law so great, Diana Cafazzo, who cofounded Stohn Hay Cafazzo Dembroski Richmond LLP (SHCDR), tells them it’s the range and novelty. Every day brings a wide diversity of work, especially as the Internet and its various platforms continue to grow, and sometimes the lawyer even gets the opportunity to start from a blank page, working in areas that are brand-new for both her and her client. Here’s a look at the numbers behind her career, her firm, and her industry’s changes.

1988
Cafazzo began her professional journey in 1984, when she received a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Toronto and went on to its law school. She finished in 1986, and after articling, she was called to the bar in Ontario in 1988. “I’m a child of the big-firm culture,” she says, referring to her first job, with McMillan Binch LLP (now known as McMillan LLP), where she made partner in 1994. “If you count my time as a student, I was there for 19 years.”

5 partners
A colleague encouraged Cafazzo to stop practicing at the large Bay Street firm and join a boutique, but she’d just taken time off to have a baby and for a long time wasn’t ready for another big change. In 2004, however, she plunged in, joining her colleague and three others in founding SHCDR. Quickly, she and they noticed the perks that came with autonomy.

“All of us were entertainment lawyers working for large Bay Street firms, and all of us had had positive experiences because you practice at a very high level,” she says. “But at the same time, we figured out what others had before us, that if you build a small, specialized boutique—and one that you own—you can achieve a number of things. You can focus entirely on the industries, clients, and work you want to do, and you can provide your clients with your focused expertise at a reasonable cost. And you have far more control over your own time and life.”

8 industries
The firm serves roughly eight industries in the content world, including television and film, music, books, live theatre, interactive media, sports, marketing, and technology. Cafazzo’s own interest in the entertainment field began with a fascination with cultural content and the way it’s made. (In Canada, like most countries in the world, it’s regulated to encourage domestic production.)
Cafazzo also loves the clients she deals with. “They’re creative individuals or individuals who recognize that their businesses would be nothing without creative talent,” she says. “That leads to day-to-day interaction with a set of clients who are truly interesting people. In many ways, our actual work is the same as that of other lawyers, but we get the added bonus of working with born storytellers.”

26 years practicing law
Cafazzo and her colleagues aren’t litigators; they help clients make things. Those things can range from the small (individual songs and games) to the large (films, television shows, and online movie stores), and the variety is exactly what the lawyers find compelling. “One of the reasons we all love our industry and have stayed with it so long is the range,” says Cafazzo, herself a 26-year veteran who, in 2014, was recognized by the website Best Lawyers as Toronto’s Lawyer of the Year in entertainment law.

WHY LAW?

“I stumbled upon it, and a lightbulb went off. Initially, I had a fascination with cultural content, but then came the clients, who are truly interesting people.”

1 season
In 2011, Cafazzo’s firm worked on a television series called Combat Hospital. It ran for one season in the United States, in prime time on ABC—a major achievement for a Canadian show. Leading up to the airing, however, there was significant behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

SHCDR’s lawyers vetted the show’s financing, which came from private and public sources in three countries; pulled together agreements for the writers, actors, music, artwork, and sets; ensured there were no defamation risks from stories resembling real life; and negotiated contracts for broadcast and distribution. And though the final item in that list might seem like the end point for a show, it’s really only the beginning, Cafazzo says.

There’s also companion music that gets sold. And for children’s shows, there are merchandising campaigns with dolls, lunch boxes, bed sheets, etc. If celebrities are involved, there are public appearances and endorsement deals. “If you ever sit through the credits of a TV show, we’re usually way at the end, below the truck drivers and caterers, but we’re probably one of the first phone calls someone making a TV show has to make,” Cafazzo says.

5 years
The industries Cafazzo deals with had been happily chugging along for decades, but suddenly, about five years ago, up rose the ability to deliver all sorts of creative content cheaply to a widespread audience through online resources. “It was revolutionary,” Cafazzo says. “There has never been a time when so much content has been so readily available to so many people.”
Consumption is rising as a result of these changes, but they also bring up many business and legal questions. “Will there be enough money in the system for our clients to continue to make and distribute high-quality content?” Cafazzo asks. “What are the new business models? Then we have new privacy laws, crowdfunding, issues about what you do with children and the Internet. Our firm’s goal is to make sure we can help navigate our clients through these changes.”