April 17, 2017
Kevin Yorn (L ’90), who represents Ellen DeGeneres, the “South Park” creators and many other entertainment stars, shared insights about his work and career path during a Tulane Law visit in March.
Kevin Yorn (L ’90) also has created a fund to promote the study of entertainment and media law at Tulane.
Photos by Tracie Morris Schaefer
Attorney Kevin Yorn says Tulane Law School attracts adventurers.
And studying with classmates full of ideas and professors from all over the world, he says, opened channels in his thought process that encouraged him to “get outside the lines a little bit and not live my business life in a linear way.”
Judging from stories he shared with Tulane students during a recent visit to campus, Yorn’s journey to becoming one of the top lawyers in Hollywood would make an entertaining biopic.
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Though from the East Coast, Yorn (L '90) decided while in law school to go west, spending a summer clerking in the Beverly Hills District Attorney’s Office. After graduation, he returned to California and wound up prosecuting gang cases in Los Angeles during a tumultuous time that included riots following the Rodney King beating by police and the riveting drama of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
But Yorn really wanted to practice entertainment law. When no one would hire him, he started a firm with another Kevin (Morris), and they went about making their own luck. Yorn recounted how he and Morris stumbled upon a pair of college students at the Sundance Film Festival showing their first film on a motel room wall. That’s how the Morris Yorn firm came to represent Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Judith Gronna (L ’17), president of the Tulane Entertainment & Art Law Society, introduces attorney Kevin Yorn (L ’90).
A few months later, the newish Comedy Central channel gave Parker and Stone a platform for a show called "South Park" — whose profane hilarity remains wildly successful even after two decades. But, in those early days, who really knew what to expect? Yet, when a draft of the first "South Park" contract gave Comedy Central all creative rights to the show, Yorn said, the firm crossed out that term, so Parker and Stone retained rights to all sorts of derivative works — movies, music, digital, merchandise — a crucial part of controlling the empire they eventually built.
The relationship with the "South Park" duo also illustrates a key element in the firm’s success: helping clients develop projects and build their brands, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, when Parker and Stone wanted to produce a musical, Yorn’s firm helped raise money to finance what became the stage hit “Book of Mormon.”
“What’s really fun for me is working on a team to help our clients get where they want to go,” Yorn said.
The firm represents or consults with some of the entertainment industry’s biggest names — including Ellen DeGeneres, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey, Jordan Peele, Zach Galifianakis, Kevin Spacey, Ellen Page and Justin Timberlake among them — handling contractual issues such as use of intellectual property, licensing, payment, script approval and travel considerations.
But if a client wants to start a side business, such as DeGeneres’ home products line ED, Yorn and his partners will help with forming a corporation, marketing, finding investors and, in some cases, providing capital. Yorn also serves as a board member on all of DeGeneres’ ventures.
Yorn was back in New Orleans in March to collaborate with Tulane University: he has created funds to promote entertainment and media law at Tulane Law School and to support the Gender & Sexuality Studies program in the School of Liberal Arts. The law school gift will bring more cohesion among fields in which Tulane already has shown national leadership and is poised to create greater opportunities for students and faculty, including sports law, media law, intellectual property and entertainment law.
“Kevin Yorn’s bold and restless creativity has made him a stand-out among Hollywood lawyers,” Dean David Meyer said. “I’m deeply grateful to Kevin for nurturing the distinctively creative Tulane Law community through this generous gift.”
Meyer said the fund “will enable Tulane Law School to leverage our stand-out faculty in media law, sports law and intellectual property law, as well as New Orleans’ uniquely vibrant creative environment, to make a mark nationally in entertainment law.”
During his March presentation hosted by the law school’s Entertainment & Art Law Society student group, Yorn said that at graduation he was “a confused law student” who didn’t know where he would end up. He gave students practical advice about living with integrity, being thoroughly prepared for job interviews, building professional relationships, reading widely and not giving up on their dreams.
“Don’t sweat your first job. It’s such a long journey,” he said.
For him, “It just kind of worked out, and it was a weird alchemy that happened. I didn’t get caught up in what the future was going to be, I just did the best I could.”
One of the unexpressed takeaways of talk, however, was that Yorn’s remarkable success hasn’t come through luck alone, but also through shrewd strategy, hard work and relentless hustle. The career-changing encounter with then-unknown Stone and Parker, for example, happened because Yorn and his law partner attended the Sundance Film Festival specifically with the hope of seeking out unrepresented artists and filmmakers.
Judith Gronna (L ’17), president of the Tulane Entertainment & Art Law Society, called Yorn “incredibly humble,” a charismatic storyteller and clearly willing to help students get connected in the field.
“He gave a very honest account about his experiences as a prosecutor, and you could tell what he learned at the DA’s office very much informed his career,” she said. He also “gave very good advice about learning from mistakes and turning them into new opportunities.”