Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, Heather Mars ’01 dreamed of moving to New York and becoming a criminal lawyer. She achieved the first dream when she came to Brooklyn Law School in 1998, but after a few volunteer shifts at family court in Downtown Brooklyn, she decided to explore other career options.
Today, after stints at CBS Digital and SONY, Mars is general counsel at TheStreet Inc., a financial media company, where she advises on editorial and advertising issues, copyright and trademark law, licensing and rights of privacy, and anything else that comes up in day-to-day business that requires legal expertise.
“I’m learning things every day that I never would have had exposure to at CBS and SONY,” she said. “As general counsel, every single day there’s a new issue that I have to tackle.”
Classes at the Law School in First Amendment law and mass media, as well as an intellectual property internship with an attorney who represented photographers, brought Mars to her real calling: digital law.
She discovered a dynamic field that was quickly evolving—even the definition of “digital lawyer” has changed significantly since she started practicing. In her first job, at the software company Fame Information Services, Mars was the only lawyer in a company where everyone was figuring things out as they went along. “I was totally thrown to the lions, but I learned from really smart outside counsel who I called all the time,” she said.
Mars then spent six years as associate general counsel at CBS MarketWatch, working primarily on transactional matters such as commercial contracts and licensing agreements. In 2007, she leveraged her transactional experience and digital acumen to become senior director of business and legal affairs at SONY Music Entertainment in their Global Digital Business division. While at SONY, Mars worked on selling the music company’s catalogue to industry newcomers YouTube and Napster, as well as to Microsoft and several cell phone companies. But she also worked directly with developers, helping them to figure out the best way to monetize their products.
Mars says it was an exciting time to learn by taking risks, experimenting with new products and partners. She carried that sense of adventure with her back to CBS Interactive in 2010, when she became senior director of business and legal affairs for the music and entertainment division. She was responsible for all legal matters connected to digital music initiatives, such as Grammy promotions and live-streamed concerts by David Letterman’s musical guests that were played for private audiences after tapings of his shows.
At TheStreet, where she has been general counsel since 2016, Mars once again finds herself picking up the phone to call outside peers for help.
“You can be crushing it in one little niche, but if you want to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, that means there will be times when you’ll be a fish out of water,” Mars said. “You have to be comfortable saying, ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’”
— Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips