Mitra Ahouraian — Leading Entertainment Lawyer Explains How to Lead with Empathy & Integrity

We interviewed Ms. Mitra Ahouraian, an LA-based Entertainment Attorney and founder of her namesake firm, Ahouraian Law. She shared her journey from working for globally renowned firms to starting her own business.

I soon started my own practice, realizing that having complete autonomy over my career allowed me to choose the clients and matters I cared most about. Starting from scratch, by myself, required an incredible amount of faith and self-confidence, but I knew it was the right thing for me — and fortunately, I’ve been very successful at it.

Tell us about your business

I launched my legal career while working with globally renowned firms and was able to develop a strong foundation in Corporate Law, Intellectual Property, and Business Litigation before finding my specialty: Entertainment Law. My client list includes producers, directors, writers, actors, financiers, and influencers who know that, if ever a problem should arise, I’m the first call to make. My practice handles film, television, books, digital content, and music, which includes film finance, production legal, intellectual property, corporate advising, and film/television distribution. I’m known for exceptional legal counsel on par with the largest firms in the industry, with personalization and attentiveness that clients truly appreciate. Owning and operating my own law firm allows me to choose my clients and practice law in a way that showcases my strengths and sets me apart from the pack, and most importantly, fosters close and caring relationships with my clients.

From where did you get the inspiration to start your business?

Right out of law school, I initially went into Patent Law, because I felt it made the most sense with my undergrad science degree from UCLA. I worked at a top firm with large corporate clients, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t where I wanted to stay or build my career. By chance, I became involved in a matter involving two major entertainment conglomerates and, in the course of that case, discovered that some top studio executives were teaching Entertainment Business classes at UCLA. This inspired me to take a number of entertainment law courses, including a film finance class I found very intriguing. My professor was brilliant and, to this day, is one of the smartest film finance attorneys I know. She became my mentor and colleague — and I left the firm to work with her. I soon started my own practice, realizing that having complete autonomy over my career allowed me to choose the clients and matters I cared most about.

Starting from scratch, by myself, required an incredible amount of faith and self-confidence, but I knew it was the right thing for me — and fortunately, I’ve been very successful at it.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned while building your current business?

I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and about being a business owner.

First, I’ve learned how capable I am. I don’t need the big law firm or the gray-haired gentleman behind me in order to make a mark on this industry.

Second, I’ve learned that I cannot do everything on my own. This lesson requires delegation and release — learning to let go and to trust others to execute your vision. No one is good at everything, and I certainly don’t have time to do everything on my own. That said, as a business owner, you do need to wear many hats. In addition to my primary client and caseload responsibilities as an attorney, I also must manage administrative tasks related to billing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, business development, social media, branding, and operations.

Third, I’ve learned the importance of being your own biggest cheerleader. Other people will not always remind you of your successes and strengths, so you need to take this on for yourself. You must wake up every morning and confidently remind yourself that you’ve got this.

Fourth, you must surround yourself with people who love and support you. These are your go-to people to consult and advise with, vent to, who will champion your efforts and celebrate your successes.

How long were you running the business before you started paying yourself? How did you live through those first few months/years?

Luckily, I never experienced a time where I didn’t have any clients. Until I’d reached the point where I could be selective about which clients and cases to take on, I made it my policy to say yes to everything, knowing each experience would allow me to expand my knowledge. Because I grew up in this city and already know a lot of people who trust me, quality referrals always flowed through. I never had to advertise. I also kept my overhead low — an extremely valuable lesson one of my mentors taught me. I didn’t need a 10,000 sq. ft. office space to look impressive. My work and results stood on their own and demonstrated my value to clients. So, I focused on learning, practicing, and being the best at what I did, and it’s paid off.

Take us through a typical day.

My typical day is a busy one. I wake up at around 7:30 am and start to work right away. I like to accomplish all pressing items and answer emails first thing in the morning. I then take a late-morning break to work out and make a protein shake — my version of a lunch hour. I prefer to schedule conference calls (or anything that requires phone calls, negotiations, and/or speaking to clients) in the afternoon since my mornings are often focused on document drafting and reviewing agreements, which requires uninterrupted blocks of time. Depending on the workload, I’ll typically work until 6:00 pm or later. Many evenings, I need to attend a screening or client event. I also try to maintain an active social life with a large social circle and deep friendships. Once we can all be together in person again, I look forward to resuming the fun activities (such as going to the movies, intimate live shows, concerts, dinners, theme parties, game nights, and escape rooms with friends). I’m lucky to have my family nearby, so I usually spend one or two nights per week with them.

What do you think are the social environmental factors that have increased the prospects of women entrepreneurship? And, how would you like to educate other women to take up entrepreneurship roles?

I believe that a positive spiral occurs when we have more women in positions of leadership and as business owners since they can then serve as role models and mentors for other women to follow. As Shirley Chisholm said, “If there’s not a seat at the table for a woman, she should pull up a folding chair.” Or throne ;-) Additionally, the current growing awareness around gender gap issues in business (such as pay disparities and hiring practices) will also ultimately open more doors for women. It’s so important for society to realize and recognize that its advancement as a whole is tied completely to equal participation since we as women bring different gifts and strengths to each environment and conversation we participate in.

How to educate other women to take up entrepreneur roles?

The key to change, to creating a place for more female entrepreneurs, is to start at the root and shift the current collective mindset of both men and women. We must eliminate the idea that business and leadership are a Boys’ Club. For a woman to be a successful entrepreneur, she must not be afraid to display the uniquely potent strengths, skills, and power she has as a woman. There’s no need to attempt to fit into a traditionally masculine mold. Instead, a woman can use the traits at which she inherently excels most — namely, her abilities to look at the big picture with a focus on humanity, practice empathy, and put herself in other people’s shoes — in order to achieve the best outcomes.

If a young girl walked up to asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?

My advice for a young girl who’s planning out her future would be to soak up all of the information and knowledge she possibly can — and to start doing so today. Read every book you can get your hands on. Attend panels, take thoughtful notes and find a way to speak to the panelists after. Take classes — not just in your field, but in other fields that may expand your mind and make you better in ways you didn’t predict. Find mentors you admire who are doing things you find interesting and valuable. Learn and study what they do/did to get to where they are, then take the best of those lessons and do them your way. Lastly, as a daily practice, you should follow current events and read trade publications that cover the industry you want to enter.

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Women Can Startup empowers millennial women through features, interviews, stories, and discussion. https://www.womencanstartup.com

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Women Can Startup

Women Can Startup empowers millennial women through features, interviews, stories, and discussion. https://www.womencanstartup.com