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Personnel file - July 2008: entertainment

James M. O'Brien III
Head, Entertainment Law Section
Poyner & Spruill LLP, Raleigh

Like a lot of young people, Jim O'Brien dreamed of being involved in the music industry. There were just two problems: "I didn't play an instrument, and I couldn't sing." After earning a bachelor's in English from UNC Chapel Hill, the Bethlehem, Pa., native went to law school, following in the footsteps of a favorite uncle. Studying at University of California Berkeley, "I got to meet a number of practitioners of entertainment law on the music side. It occurred to me this would be a great way to be involved." After graduating in 1992, he went to work for the Sidley Austin law firm in Los Angeles, representign musicians and assisting film-financing transactions.

After two years, he tired of the Hollywood scene and headed back East, where he persuaded Poyner & Spruill to let him set up an entertainment practice. "It was right around the time the film industry in North Carolina was really growing." He took out ads in a local trade publication and for three years did pro bono work helping production companies get starte.

Tbese days, O'Brien, 42, works with investors and producers and represents about a half-dozen North Carolina-based bands. Among recent projects were a PBS series, Betsy's Kindergarten Adventures, produced by two Tar Heels, and Bar Starz, a film made in the state starring Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy's brother. He also negotiated sale of film rights to the children's book How to Steal a Dog, written by South Carolina native Barbara O'Connor.