Community Celebrates Allen and Deborah Grubman’s Transformative Gift to Establish Chair in Media and Entertainment Law

Allen Grubman, Bryant Gumbel, Dean David Meyers

More than 100 Brooklyn Law faculty, friends, and community gathered on Feb. 9 for the announcement and celebration of the $1.5 million gift of powerhouse attorney Allen Grubman ’67 and his wife Deborah Grubman to establish a Chair in Media and Entertainment Law. The endowment will allow Brooklyn Law School to recruit a nationally recognized scholar in media and entertainment law and further cement its reputation as a national leader in the field.

Among the evening’s highlights was a lively interview with Grubman, hosted by iconic television sportscaster and journalist Bryant Gumbel, a longtime friend of the attorney and among his many celebrated clients. “Why this gift, and why now?” asked Gumbel. “Well,” said Grubman, “as I’ve told my grandkids, ‘I really enjoyed being inducted into the [Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame, but this, to me, is much, much more important.’ I owe all my success to my career, and I owe my career to Brooklyn Law School. All roads lead back to this.”

Opening the celebration was Frank Aquila ’83, Chair of the Law School Board of Trustees, who, in his welcome to attendees, lauded Grubman’s inspirational journey. “From humble beginnings in Crown Heights to standing at the pinnacle of the entertainment world, Allen’s relentless work ethic, true intellect, and unwavering commitment to his clients, his family, and, thankfully, Brooklyn Law School are legendary. Allen’s remarkable contribution to the legal community and the entertainment world have not only earned him an indelible place in the annals of our profession, as well as the spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he has also Inspired countless Brooklyn students to pursue their dreams. Allen’s journey from Brooklyn Law School graduate to one of the preeminent dealmakers and the undisputed éminence grise of the entertainment world, exemplifies the transformative power of a Brooklyn Law School education.” In a reference to the late Professor Joseph Crea, whom Grubman has credited with saving his law school life, and enabling him to launch a career, Aquila said, “I know that Joe Crea is here with us in spirit this evening and is extremely proud of all you have accomplished.”  (Grubman’s longtime support of the Law School includes his previous gift to establish the library’s Joseph Crea Reading Room, dedicated to his mentor.)

The impact on the Law School of the Grubmans’ gift, said President and Joseph Crea Dean David Meyer, will be “large and multi-dimensional for years to come, strengthening our faculty, expanding opportunities for our students, and raising Brooklyn Law School’s reputation nationally. Allen and Deborah’s gift and the appointment of the inaugural Allen Grubman Chair is a crucial first step toward a broader strategic ambition of building a center with resources and faculty that will make Brooklyn Law the hands-down national destination for serious engagement and insight into the future of media and entertainment law. So I thank Allen and Deborah for their vision, their great generosity, and making it possible for us to begin this journey.”

In thanking the Grubmans on behalf of the school and its students, Professor of Clinical Law, Director of Externship programs, and noted sports law expert Jodi Balsam said, “Allen’s gift endowing a chair takes us to the next level. It confirms and builds on what those of us who have practiced law in this area have long recognized: Media and entertainment law is a field of study that is dynamic, intellectually challenging, and greatly enriches the law school curriculum.” As faculty advisor to the Brooklyn Entertainment and Sports Law Society (BESLS) and Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment Law Blog, Balsam relayed the many endeavors of students, through symposia, clinics, and analysis of contemporary legal issues in the field, among others. “I have a front-row seat to the students’ entrepreneurial spirit, their industry, and their commitment to advancing this area of study and professional development,” Balsam said. “Our students truly are the champions of our media and entertainment law presence in New York and nationally.”

Two of those students, Haley Zenenberg ’24, president of BESLS and managing editor of the BESLS blog, and Henry Callander ’24, BESLS leader and member of the Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic (BLIP), also took to the podium. Recounting how Brooklyn Law has consistently scored among top schools in media and entertainment law in ratings from the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, Zenenberg spoke of the enormous opportunities a BLS education presents. “Lawyers like Mr. Grubman are clearly responsible for this growing notoriety, and with the establishment of his chair, the sky is truly the limit for Brooklyn Law,” said Zenenberg. “Most importantly, you’re actively inspiring the culture of BLS alumni, paying it forward to the attorneys that come after you.”

When Grubman and Gumbel took the stage, the animated conversation between the two friends touched on Grubman’s Brooklyn roots, his childhood gig as a singer-performer, and how, despite his self-professed checkered academic career, he made it to the top of his profession. “I wasn’t a great student, but I was very lucky to have a lot of emotional intelligence, EQ,” Grubman said. “Achievement is very, very important. And if you go to Harvard or to Yale, it always looks good on the résumé, but I tell law students, if all you have is that IQ ability and you don’t develop your EQ ability, your hands are, to a certain extent, tied.”

“So how big a deal is this tonight?” asked Gumbel, in turning the conversation toward the Law School chair. “This is a very big deal,” Grubman said. “You know, throughout your career people will say nice things about what you’ve accomplished. But I really want to do something to give back to the Law School. If I didn’t go to Brooklyn Law School, God knows what would have happened to me. I would probably have been a very successful garment center salesman or something. So I owe so, so much to this, that for me to be able to give back by creating this chair, which I think will be very productive, it makes me happy.”

The two discussed the state of the entertainment business today, AI’s potential impact on the industry, and Grubman’s decision for his firm, Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in May 2024, to diversify beyond music to film and television, and to represent both performers and the business side. “There was a dramatic change in the music industry where people stopped buying records the way they used to, and I got very nervous. I said, I don’t want to be a one-trick pony, so I decided it’s time to expand.”

“The best part of what you do?” asked Gumbel. “I love to make deals,” Grubman said. “It’s like the Olympics. You're in a tournament and you want to win. And you have to win in a unique way.”

Grubman also has an unadulterated love for Frank Sinatra, Gumbel pointed out, even amid all the contemporary artists he represents. About the famous photo of Sinatra that hangs on the wall of his office, Grubman said, “If I had a photo of one my clients there, the other people would say, ‘What about me?’ Nobody’s ever said anything about Sinatra.”

Gumbel even introduced a word association game, getting Grubman’s spontaneous impressions of some of his star clients, including Bruce Springsteen (“a great American with a unique voice”), Elton John (“a genius”), Mariah Cary (“one of the great survivors”) , and even Gumbel himself (“a dear friend whose impact on television journalism would be very difficult to duplicate”), before quipping, with a laugh, “Are you happy now?”

In an audience Q&A, Grubman was asked about his advice for students who aspire to follow his lead in the media business. “If you work hard, if you’re ambitious, you’re honest, and you’re lucky, anybody can be successful,” he said. “Whatever area of law you choose, if you have passion for it, you have an advantage.” Along with Deborah Grubman, Grubman’s daughters Lizzie and Jennifer were also in attendance with their families. Grandson Harry asked about his grandfather’s motivation to keep going. “Well, I’m fortunate to have a law firm, so no one can fire me, at least not yet” Grubman said with a laugh. “And I love what I do.”

Watch the video of the full celebration of the Grubman Chair in Media and Entertainment law and view the photos.