Shawn Foust, Video Game Attorney Guru


Current title and employer?

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP. Associate and founder of the Video Game Industry Team.

Law School? Law review?

University of Virginia. Absolutely not. I elected to go the moot court and mock trial path, but it really seemed like my friends had a blast with the law reviews.

Describe a typical day?

Here are the pieces: Seven to nine hours billed, three to five hours for business development, and one to two hours for group management. How those pieces all fit together on any given day is anyone’s guess. I’ll cop to a few hours of video games after my wife heads to bed as well.

Recently I have been working more with our Shanghai office, so the hours have gotten a bit funky.

Your job can be pretty stressful. What game do you play after a really tough day?

That depends. If it was tough because it was a thought intensive, then I gravitate toward games with intuitive game play and simple objectives. Castle Crashers is a great way to cap off a long day. I’m a huge fan of the art, and the side scrolling beat down just washes those tensions away. The music is solid as well. If you want to burn a few hours, I also suggest Kongregate and Addicting Games (invaluable during bar studying).

If it was frustrating for other reasons, then first-person shooters seem to pop up a lot. Call of Duty and Left4Dead are current favorites.

How long have you been a gamer?

Since I was around six or seven. My friend attained “best friend forever” status when his parents gave him an Atari 2600, which introduced me to console play. I learned some of the most important life lessons from Joust: 1) Always take the high ground; 2) You never have enough time to do everything you want to do; and 3) No matter how tough you think you are, there is some giant invincible pterodactyl that is tougher. Tough lessons for a seven year old, but important.

Favorite game/console of all time?

That is like asking mom to choose her favorite kid. For games, it is hard to compare across genres and between console generations. Favorite role playing game? Final Fantasy III (U.S. Numbering). First-person shooter? Call of Duty 4. Sports game? I am weak in this genre, but FIFA ’09 and Bases Loaded come to mind. Real-time strategy? Warcraft III and Rampart for the NES. Simulation? Sim City 2000. MMO? Ultima Online. If I was absolutely required to choose a favorite overall game, it would be Ogre Battle for the SNES. No one I knew played it, and it was not widely released in the states, but it was an incredible game.

Favorite console? Grey box. Nintendo Entertainment System. You just don’t mess with your starter system. Also, I have immense respect for any piece of electronics that can be fixed by rapidly pressing the on/off button and blowing on the offending portion.

How many hours do you spend gaming each week?

During the golden age of my gaming, I could log 50 hours in a week without breaking a sweat. I remember when Gemstone III, a text-based MUD, was on America Online back when AOL had a per-hour fee. No one questioned my dedication to games after I spent a summer working off the $1,200 bill. Nowadays, I am lucky if I can squeak out 15-20 hours in a week. The typical week is closer to 10. I have a massive backlog of games to play right now; the holiday season has been kind to gamers.

Have you ever been able to bill an hour by playing video games? If so, how cool did that feel?

I view product awareness of a necessary part of representation. As a result, I make an effort to play the recent games for each client or potential client. As a general rule, I find it hard to justify play time as billable time (no matter how much I desperately want it to be). There might be narrow exceptions when a specific experience with a particular game is required for an aspect of the work. For example, if I was required to play a narrow portion of a closed beta game in order to draft an end user license agreement, I might bill that time with the client’s permission. To date, I have not billed play time. That’s depressing.

Do you play with other lawyers at the firm?

Yes. For a while we had a small clan on Call of Duty 4. We excelled at raising the self esteem of our opponents. Remember the invincible pterodactyl? Sometimes it looks strangely like a crack team of malicious thirteen year olds.

At our last firm retreat we had a Guitar Hero competition and there is talk of a future Rock Band battle between the offices. Right now, I play Left4Dead with a few colleagues. The firm that games together stays together.

Have you ever played lawyers at other firms?

I have, but never in an organized fashion. I hereby throw down the gauntlet to anyone who wants to challenge us though. That includes my former guild mate, Trevor “Meat Shield” Knapp. The world would be a better place if disputes were resolved by intense Pac-Man marathons.

What was your coolest moment as a video game lawyer?

I was giving a presentation on end user license agreements at a video game developer conference and I found myself at a table with the creator of Gemstone III (the game that almost resulted in my expulsion from my family). I do not really get star struck when it comes to film stars, but put me in a room with the person who made one of my favorite games and watch the disaster unfold.

How did you manage to blend your passion into your practice?

Sheppard Mullin deserves more credit for that than I do. I raised the possibility of a video game team with the firm leadership and I think most firms would have let the idea die there. Instead, Robert Beall, the firm’s administrative partner, suggested I develop a business plan and an industry overview, which I did. The firm has deep roots in traditional and interactive entertainment, so this seemed like a natural extension for the firm.

After the business plan, Robert suggested I get the ball rolling on the group, which is when I began to reach out to the firm in a broader sense. I was surprised by the firm’s preexisting relationships and experience in the space, and I was floored by the level of support I received from the partnership. Partners like Brian Pass, Shaun Clark, Kent Raygor, Marc Sockol, Neil Smith, Bob Gerber, Ted Max, Kevin Goering, James Chadwick, and Riaz Karamali have been invaluable in growing and developing the group.

Now we have a fully functioning group that reaches across offices and practice groups. Members participate in developing pitches, brainstorms where we consider theoretical issues in the space, and attending game conferences in addition to servicing clients. This is only just beginning, and I hope to have our success mirror that of the video game industry itself.

Gaming is thought of as something that younger lawyers might do, but have you ever come across a more senior partner who was a diehard gamer?

I cannot violate the sacred trust of the video game group by revealing specific identities, but there are a few partners at the firm that are no stranger to the vagaries of World of Warcraft. They may have engaged in raids, and they may have epic gear. I can neither confirm nor deny.

Any advice for young associates like yourself who want to marry their passion with their practice?

If you are looking for the chance to grow a career, choose your firm wisely. Look for firms with an entrepreneurial streak or a pre-existing group in your area of choice. Firms that are pushing into new practice areas are a good bet, particularly if they’re among the first. See what type of mentoring the firm offers, and whether there is much direct interaction between associates and partners. Mid-size firms seem like an ideal place to locate — they aren’t so small that they cannot stomach risk, and they aren’t large enough to have impregnable institutional barriers to creating something new. It’s also a good sign if the partners play poker and hit Vegas on occasion (bonus points if they shoot dice).

I would also suggest that associates give their firms a reason to trust them. If you want them to put resources at your disposal, you had better be prepared to provide a solid return on investment. Passion counts for something, but articulating that passion as a viable business option counts for lot more. Plan your moves before you make them. Every dollar spent on you is a dollar not being split among the stake holders in the partnership, so do whatever it takes to return two dollars.

Finally, go out there and talk to the people in the field you would like to break in to. Learn their business. Early on, don’t worry about developing business, do worry about developing relationships with people you trust and who trust you.

Read more interviews and Bitter Success.

9 Comments

  1. Pacific Reporter

    December 12, 2008 at 10:05 am

    For an associate, this guy is pretty awesome.

  2. Law Man

    December 12, 2008 at 11:49 am

    cool guy

  3. Big Law Dude

    December 12, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Game on, Foust

  4. Anonymous

    December 12, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Just why are we reading about this guy?

  5. Ex-BigLaw

    December 12, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    So let’s see, this guy works have an average 13.5 hour day, indefinitely – think he’ll stay married?  The odds are 90%+ that he won’t, and pretty high that his wife is already cheating on him, which he wouldn’t even notice since he’s never there.  And he and doesn’t even have the promise of partnership since, if the economy slows down just as he comes up, he’s likely f—ed no matter what, since the existing partners will not want to share a shrinking pie with more people.  Seems like a story of how NOT to live your life.

  6. Anonymous

    December 12, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Ex-BigLaw: He seems happy. Don’t hate the player just because you left the game.

  7. Big Firm Tool

    December 13, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Hey Anonymous, I think we’re reading about him because he’s actually doing something different, and something he likes.  Unlike me.  And you too probably.

  8. ths

    December 17, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    This guy represents THE paradox that is being a lawyer, or any professional – being able to do something that you enjoy, but being in a situation where you are forced to give up the whole of your life to others just to be able to do it.  On the one hand, I wish him the best, on the other hand, its people like him that result in everyone having to work 12+ hours a day – after all “Don’t you like your job?”

  9. Grace

    December 23, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Sorry, not convinced this guy has a good career path. A good life is a balanced one and that isn’t spending 80% of your waking hours at work.

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