Behind the Music
Alumnus John Rosenberg ('79) combines his passion for music and the law
How do you go from being a prosecutor to representing top recording artists like Norah Jones, Alicia Keys and Jessica Simpson? For John Rosenberg (’79), his career path has always been driven by two passions: music and the law.
After majoring in ethnomusicology in college, Rosenberg hit the road with his band, which was opening for groups such as Yes, J. Geils and Dave Mason. Being interested in the law, he read his band’s contracts and at one point questioned a promoter about the terms. When the promoter replied, “Listen kid, you just play the guitar and let me worry about the contracts. We’ll get along much better,” he decided it was time to go to law school.
“I had been out of school for two years so I came to BU as a hippie guitar player who talked a lot in class,” he recalls. After graduating first in his class, he continued playing music on the side, but took a position as a law clerk for 1st Circuit Judge Levin H. Campbell and then in the Justice Department, where he focused on criminal appeals.
While those positions were more academic, Rosenberg soon discovered his aptitude for litigation when he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Within his first year as a prosecutor, he had six jury trials under his belt. “I found that I love being in front of juries as much as I love performing,” he says.
After four years, he decided it was time to give private practice a try, and he joined Friedman & Atherton in Boston, where he learned to apply his prosecutorial skills to civil and commercial litigation. Subsequently, he joined the Boston office of Milgrim, Thomajan & Lee.
“I was always interested in entertainment law, but didn’t get a chance to work on that type of case until 1989, when I got a call from a New York lawyer who was looking for a litigator in Massachusetts to work on a case,” he recalls. That case led to another one, in that instance for the group Extreme.
He began working on additional cases and building a reputation as an entertainment litigator. A few highlights include winning a significant trial victory for Bo Diddley and obtaining compensation for Duane Allman’s daughter for Mr. Allman’s work on the “Layla” album. In the process, Rosenberg also played music with some of his clients, recording three cuts on Diddley’s Grammy-nominated album “A Man Amongst Men” and a cut on the Mighty Mighty Bosstones platinum-selling “Let’s Face It” album.
His increased focus on entertainment law cases led to a move to New York in 2003, when he joined Sullivan & Worcester as the head of their entertainment litigation group. However, after a few years he decided it was time to go out on his own, so he launched Rosenberg & Giger.
Today, his clients include Martin Scorsese, Sting, Kiss and many more. “In my entertainment law practice, I generally represent only artists, not record labels, probably because I’m a musician myself. You have to understand your clients’ needs, and being a musician I have that unique perspective,” he says.
While he couldn’t have predicted his career path back in law school, he credits BU with providing him with the foundation needed to become a litigator. “At the time, the Socratic Method seemed forced and unnecesary to me, but it was my professors’ insistence on making us think on our feet and outside of the box that really developed my litigation skills. When I’m in court now, I really get it and am very appreciative of their efforts.”
Reported by Meghan Laska