I ask Leyla whether she’d always wanted to be a lawyer and how she came to work in the entertainment sector.
“When I was a teenager, I saw Silence of the Lambs in which Jodie Foster played a secret agent. I loved her in that role and it was an inspiration for me: I decided I wanted to be a secret agent too! But my parents, both doctors, told me it wasn’t a good idea… They said that the closest I could get to being a secret agent in Soviet Russia was to study law.
“So off I went to Moscow State University. But as soon as I started class, the Soviet Union collapsed and I fell into a vacuum. Old laws expired and new laws appeared like mushrooms in the forest after the rains. Everything was changing and it wasn’t easy to know which laws to study. We didn’t even have textbooks to study from!”
“What an amazing and confusing time that must have been!”
“It really was, when I think back to it,” says Leyla with a laugh. She continues: “When the Soviet Union split, Russia emerged as a new country with a new ideology and a brand-new entrepreneurial law. In Soviet Russia, there had never been an entrepreneurial law, and now all of sudden banking activities and currency exchange were regulated. This formed a huge challenge, but also a huge opportunity.”
“Incredible,” I say. “And so where did the entertainment aspect come into your career?”
“During my studies, I did an internship at Russian television. It was a Soviet-style organisation, but I was so impressed by the world of television and entertainment, and by the stars I met on a daily basis that I stayed there for two years.
“After I graduated, I decided I wanted to keep working in the entertainment industry: I worked for federal TV channels, learnt about the industry and built my network. Then, in 2006, I got the opportunity to start my own company: a US-based media сompany was looking for an intellectual property lawyer and they got in touch with me.”
“So what was your domain exactly?”
“Local legislation had to be harmonised with international treaties in preparation of Russia’s entry into the WTO and I was one of the professionals who started the legal business in the new digital Russia. We did licensing deals and synchronisation deals; we applied international regulations and business models to the Russian reality using law as a tool. During this period, I acquired great experience and knowledge and also a built an extensive network in the media, internet, telecoms and, of course, entertainment industries.”
“And that’s how you became one of Russia’s first international entertainment lawyers!”
“That’s right! I attended international music, telecom and cinema forums and digital media conferences; I travelled the world and worked like crazy and was very successful.
“But in 2008 I had a wake-up call: the economic crisis hit my US clients hard and business collapsed. I realised I had been neglecting my health and my family and that I needed to take a break. So I took three months off and went to Greece. I connected with nature, started practising yoga and spent time with my daughter…”
“And how has your life changed since then?”
“I think I better work-life balance: I work not because I need to pay bills, but because I am passionate about my field of work. I am totally involved in every project I do and am devoted to my clients. But I also make sure to stop. In my everyday life, I frequently stop to meditate for a few minutes. To observe what is going on inside and check if I am connected to my inner compass. I like to go out into nature, spend time with family and practise yoga. Since I have adopted this new lifestyle, my business has become an integral part of my life, without ever becoming a boring routine.
“In 2009 my company merged with a Ukrainian online media legal firm and we have been working out new legal schemes for the digital and entertainment markets in Russia and also cross-boarding. We grow together with the industry and things are going well. I have also come to understand that entrepreneurship is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, you have your freedom, but on the other hand, you have greater responsibility – for clients, for employees, for the market, for the industry.
“But I now know that the most important responsibility I have is to myself. I need to always stay alert and be aware of the present moment. Am I happy and balanced? Do I have enough energy for my family? Is this the work I want to be doing? Is it inspiring me and is it benefitting others?”
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