After 10 years of hard work and dedication, some lawyers fantasize about turning their creative outlets into careers. The opposite was true for Safwan Javed. After a decade of touring, writing music, and making records with his band Wide Mouth Mason, Safwan needed time to refresh. What started as a break and exercise in expanding his knowledge-base became a career in entertainment law.
Through a bit of luck and a focus on his interests, Safwan has been able to practice law, continue co-managing and performing in Wide Mouth Mason, engage in volunteer and advocacy work, and most importantly, get his kids to school most mornings.
During his undergraduate studies, Safwan veered off of his plan to become a lawyer, because the opportunity to sign with a major record label presented itself. Wide Mouth Mason, the band that he started with his long-time friend, was taking off, and he knew a shot at being a full-time rock musician was rare. A record deal does not automatically equate to success, but it did for Wide Mouth Mason. At the height of their fame, the band was playing upwards of 200 shows per year, and making albums in between.
When burnout began to creep in, Safwan got excited about the idea of law school again, but not without reservations. He had been out of school for nearly 10 years and worried that he would not remember how to be a student. Safwan took the LSAT to see if the academic part of his brain still worked – it did. He then applied to law schools just to see if he could get in – he did. Then came the hardest part: Telling his bandmates that he was going to commit to law school for 3 years. He promised that he would still be available in the summers to play shows and to record, and his band-mates offered their support.
Safwan’s commitment was to finish law school, not to become a lawyer.
As a result, he felt fortunate to be able to mostly take classes he was interested in and avoid padding his law school resume with those geared towards specific and common career paths for lawyers. Safwan appreciates that you can find an intersection between any interest and the law. With a very personal interest in music, his course load was heavy on intellectual property and he learned the things he wished he had known when signing recording and publishing deals at age 23.
Nearing the end of his 3rd year in law school, Safwan questioned whether finishing law school, without becoming a lawyer, was akin to running 3⁄4 of a marathon. It seemed like a poor decision not to cross the finish line. He pushed on to complete articling and the bar, but that was not the end of the race for Safwan. Music would become his primary focus again with law as his side job.
Some opportunities, like signing a major record deal, may only come around once. When a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with Canada’s premier entertainment law firm, Taylor Oballa Murray Leyland LLP (“TOML”) presented itself to Safwan, he couldn’t pass it up. If any firm understands Safwan’s commitment to music, it’s this one. Many of the lawyers at TOML are artists as well. Safwan is now a partner at the firm.
Balancing his two careers and other commitments requires some flexibility.
As a solicitor, a lot of his work can be accomplished with a computer and an internet connection. When he’s not on the road with the band, he works out of his office at TOML, and when the band is on tour, he works out of dressing rooms, hotel rooms, and airport lounges, during the time slots between soundcheck, showtime, and travel.
Safwan is also a committed volunteer. He has been a board member of the Songwriters Association of Canada, a high-level songwriters advocacy group who lobbies for legislative changes for more than a decade. He is the current President of the Board for Fair Trade Music International, which promotes an ethical music ecosystem. Safwan is also involved with Music Creators North America, who advocate for, and educate on behalf North America’s music creator community internationally.
Going to concerts is a part of both of Safwan’s jobs now. As an entertainment lawyer, the Juno Awards, the Grammy Awards, and TIFF are work events. He is fully immersed in the entertainment industry through both of his jobs and thrives on the creative energy he is so often around.
Entertainment law is niche, and like any niche industry, it is not easy to land a job in it. If you want to practice in the area, Safwan suggests that a targeted effort and a good understanding of copyright law and industry framework and business practices can go a long way. Get creative in your search for experience. Whether that be interning for a music label or publisher, film/TV/theater production company, broadcaster, or concert promotion company, any exposure to the industry will benefit you. Opportunities exist if you are dedicated to finding them.
Looking back, Safwan sees how his personal identity was singularly intertwined with his band’s ups and downs.
Now, he realizes the benefit in splitting his time between different interests that fill different buckets. Safwan’s law job keeps him connected to the inner workings of the industry, and engages his academic brain. Wide Mouth Mason keeps his creative side engaged.
Despite the stark difference between Safwan’s careers, he has found a place in both – separately and concurrently. If the grass is always greener on the other side, maybe the answer is to jump back and forth across the fence as often as possible. If you look for it, you might also find a happy place where two fields meet.