Lawyer is in great demand by film clients and others
By Kevin Gray
Justin Wineburgh ’94 began working at the international law firm Cozen O’Connor in 2000. With a background in defending engineers sued in professional liability matters, Wineburgh, an electrical engineering graduate, was brought in to work the other side and pursue claims against engineers, contractors, and construction companies.
But, like a good Hollywood thriller, his professional storyline took a strange twist. One of his closest childhood friends was a Hollywood producer being sued over his involvement in a $260 million blockbuster movie, The Ring. He and some of the film’s other producers called on Wineburgh to handle their defense.
The case completely re-directed his career.
“After two years, the case went to trial and we achieved an excellent result for my friends and clients,” says Wineburgh, who earned his J.D. from Widener University School of Law and works in Philadelphia. “We were successful in getting my clients dismissed from the case after two weeks of trial. Moreover, we had asserted affirmative claims against other parties and were able to achieve a settlement in favor of our clients on those claims.”
Others in the business noticed Wineburgh’s diligent work and the exceptional results he obtained. His friend — who has since gone on to become one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood with a resume that includes several hit movies — introduced Wineburgh and recommended his services to his friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry.
“As the case went on, I gained great exposure and made excellent contacts in the industry by attending events and parties during my numerous trips to Los Angeles, which allowed me to meet many of the up-and-coming, as well as established, players in the industry,” he recalls. “Eventually, some of these people started to call me for advice and guidance. Essentially, I built my practice one handshake at a time.”
And Wineburgh realized something.
“For a period of time, I was working on the Ring case around the clock, and I really enjoyed what I was doing,” he notes. “Following the conclusion of that case, I focused on the contacts that I had made in the industry and, over the last few years, business has grown and expanded at an incredible rate.”
According to Wineburgh, Cozen O’Connor is now the largest law firm based in Philadelphia with an entertainment practice. He is chair of the firm’s sports and entertainment practice, representing clients in complex tort, commercial, defamation, privacy, corporate, employment, and intellectual property matters.
Wineburgh also represents writers, distributors, retailers, managers, agents, music engineers, production companies, and artists in a variety of matters, including contract negotiations and transactions, pre-litigation counseling, and serving as production counsel. He has represented clients at the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Cinevegas Film Festival, and American Film Market.
He has been repeatedly chosen by his peers as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer, placing him in the top 5% of Pennsylvania attorneys. In 2006, Wineburgh was honored as a Lawyer on the Fast Track by American Lawyer Media, which recognized 45 of the top lawyers and leaders of the legal community under the age of 40 in Pennsylvania. Also that year, he received the Widener University School of Law Alumni Spotlight Honor, a distinction which recognizes only four alumni of the school each year.
The constantly changing circumstances surrounding many of his projects are major challenge in his work.
“I may get a call in the morning from a client saying ‘this is what we need to do’ and by 3 p.m., the project is dead,” he explains. “I need to keep up on cutting-edge legal theories to stay creative for my clients on both transactional and litigation matters. It can be a daunting task.”
Still, Wineburgh—who is also an accomplished violinist and tuba player—makes the time to teach as adjunct professor of entertainment law at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. He also serves as a mentor to law students and newly admitted attorneys, and regularly handles pro bono matters for a variety of organizations. He lectures on a variety of topics and developments affecting the industry for numerous universities and organizations, including Temple, Drexel, Villanova, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the Philadelphia and New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Moreover, he is frequently interviewed and cited as an expert on matters affecting the entertainment industry.
Wineburgh recalls his days at Lafayette with great fondness and credits the school with setting him on a path that has allowed him to realize many of his accomplishments. He cites Bob Weiner, Jones Professor of History, as having had a positive impact on him, and he regularly keeps in touch and plays golf with some of his brothers from Kappa Delta Rho Fraternity.
“Lafayette was a great place,” he explains. “It allowed me to flourish into a responsible, productive member of society. Lafayette gave me the opportunity to interact with people — classmates and peers, professors and alumni — in a variety of situations and circumstances that fostered growth and maturity in countless ways that have served me throughout my career. Lafayette helped me develop the tools I needed to succeed in life.”
Those tools have helped him carve out a name for himself—and his law firm—from the City of Brotherly Love all the way to Hollywood and beyond.