There are two hobbies in life that Julie Maresca loves: traveling and film. So it’s not surprising the Beverly Hills, Calif., native paved a path for herself that would ultimately incorporate both passions into a successful career. But it wasn’t intentional, nor was it a direct route.
Although she discovered early on that she had an interest in law and business, as an undergraduate student in the 1980s, Maresca studied history. After graduating, she spent a year working before taking the LSAT and heading to law school. Once there, her intention was to focus on business law. “But in those days, law school was really geared toward litigation,” she says. And when she graduated from law school, her business interests got pushed aside, and she headed to the Santa Monica Courthouse focusing on litigation. After a year there, she had the opportunity to go into private practice, but at that point, it just didn’t feel right.
“I decided I wanted to try something really different,” she explains. “I had found out about this MBA program in Italy and it brought back my interest in business, so I said, ‘I’m going to Europe.’” It was a decision that would ultimately have a significant impact on both her personal and professional lives.
While obtaining her MBA in Italy, Maresca met and married her husband, and spent the next several years living in Europe working as a product manager for a medical device company. Although she wasn’t working as a lawyer, her law background was an asset in her position, and Maresca thought, why not do both?
After returning to the U.S. in the late 1990s and briefly taking a law firm position, Maresca stumbled upon an opportunity that would marry her love for travel, passion for film and business law experience. Today, as the senior vice president and general counsel of the Motion Picture Licensing Corp. (MPLC), an independent copyright licensing company for the motion picture industry, Maresca enjoys a successful career in business law for an international organization protecting the rights of the films she loves.
Q: What attracted you to in-house work?
A: As a lawyer, I knew that I wanted to go into a business. From the courthouse, the thing I liked was that you saw both sides and came to a reasonable determination. That’s how business is as well. You are doing risk analysis. You look at the numbers and the law and see what is reasonable for the business. With law firms and specifically litigation, you have tunnel vision. You are just fighting for your client. You are paid differently. Billable hours are so important.
In-house, I am free of that. This is a great fit for how I approach the law. I’m not overlawyering things. I’m doing risk analysis and giving my client the facts. The businesspeople make the decision fully informed.
Q: How big is your current legal department?
A: As an in-house lawyer, it’s just me. I also have couple of assistants for legal and business affairs. I work closely with the finance department, and we make up human resources. We get a lot of support outside. I work a lot with the motion picture studios, their counsel, and we have our attorneys at Mannat [Phelps & Phillips] that help. I use outside counsel a lot.
And then internationally what we do is, I will find local counsel and will make sure they are the masters for the law in that country.
Q: What’s a typical day in your life?
A: Most of my work is in the mornings and late evenings. Before I go to bed, I get things out to Europe. Whenever I need to make phone calls, that has to be the first thing. Last night I wanted someone to review something, so I am sensitive not to waste full days in Europe. I don’t like delays. And then, back in the U.S., I manage corporate housekeeping matters, make sure our books are in order, our meetings are taking place, fees are paid, managing minutes, etc. Also, we are working on different copyright issues, and that is a big part of my day.
Q: Tell me a little about MPLC.
A: At MPLC, we work with the studios to get the rights for motion pictures, and we bundle them in a product and sell them as an annual renewable license. We make sure contracts with studios and end users
are all in order. We handle both sides. Our product legalizes the public performance that is intended for personal use only.
This organization started when VHS came onto the market. What was intended to be used in home was brought into doctors’ office waiting rooms, stores, childcare—places like that. So in 1986, two execs from the studios and a Motion Picture Association of America lawyer started this corporation as an independent to represent the movie studios.
Q: What do you find to be most rewarding about your work?
A: I love all the copyright law. I love getting together with other attorneys. The area has been evolving, which is good for MPLC. Before, it was just VHS or DVDs; now you can get movies digitally. The more easily accessible it is, the more our product is out there.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as GC of MPLC?
A: The biggest challenges are trying to bridge the gap with everyone around the world for our company—trying to keep that open line of communication. I never realized the importance of the phone.
Also, being the lawyer, people don’t want to come to you with concerns or questions. But once they start, they don’t stop and I want them to start and not stop. I need to always be accessible. That helps me have a consistent approach about copyright around the globe. You want consistency. No matter what office someone calls from, people are getting the same answer.
Q: Did you have a mentor as you were growing up in your legal career?
A: A couple people pop to mind. At the courthouse, the judges were fantastic. Judge Alan Haber was particularly helpful—very smart, listened to both sides and was able to make the hard decisions and stick with it. I really appreciated that approach to the law and have carried it with me.
Q: What advice would you give a young lawyer wanting a career in-house?
A: When I was looking for an in-house career, I didn’t know enough about it, so I would talk to lawyers who had done it. Find someone to show you the importance of in-house work and how it can be a great career. You need to be business savvy and understand numbers. It is not just the law. You need to look at the balance sheet and see the whole business—not just your department.
Q: What is your proudest moment as a lawyer?
A: When I finally got trademark registration for our product, the umbrella license. It was a battle for seven years, and they denied and I appealed, and they denied and I appealed. It was a really hard fight, but I got approved last year.