Law and Games: Q & A with Julie Setren Kitt
We sat down with Julie Setren Kitt, Associate General Counsel at the Entertainment Software Association—the U.S. trade association representing companies that publish computer and video games, to talk about her legal career, what keeps her engaged, and her advice for attorneys aspiring to work in the video game industry.
Tell us about your role at the Entertainment Software Association.
My day job is serving as internal counsel to ESA and its affiliates—so corporate, compliance and governance. I handle contracts, our E3 trade show, board governance, and PAC and lobbying compliance. But I am lucky that I also have a policy portfolio, which keeps things interesting!
That sounds like a lot! Have you always done corporate work in the gaming industry?
No. In fact, out of law school I practiced litigation in an intellectual property group at a large law firm in Chicago. From there I joined Sun Microsystems in a business law role. That was like drinking from a fire hose. It was an intense education in contractual issues, business affairs, employment, intellectual property, and more.
So how did you end up at ESA?
About ten years ago, I got a call from a partner at my old firm—he said a former client, Ken, was looking for an associate to join him at the ESA. The decision to work with Ken was a no-brainer—Ken and I both grew up in Pikesville, Maryland, and I had enjoyed working with him peripherally while at my firm. Plus, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d given up the opportunity to work in the video game field. I mean, so fun, right?
Would you say there was some serendipity involved there?
For sure. But hard work and keeping up contacts also helped.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on at ESA?
The coolest experience of my career was working on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2011), a Supreme Court case that asked the question of whether video games, like books and movies, are protected by the First Amendment. I had the great fortune to be involved with a bet-the-business issue for the industry—a case that could change the way the government and the public at large think about video games. Ultimately ESA won the case, establishing an important precedent that video games, regardless of whether they are violent, are protected by the First Amendment. Plus I got to attend the oral argument and be in the presence of one of my heroes, RBG, which was mind-blowing.
Wow. That is exciting. What is the most important thing you’re working on now?
We are expanding our engagement in Latin American countries as the video game industry – and the laws impacting it – expand there. One challenge is the balancing game of respecting the local culture while also impressing upon lawmakers how the growth of the local market for video games and esports may be challenged under certain laws and regulations.
Why do you enjoy working at ESA?
It’s fun! If you walk into our office, you’ll see portraits of Mario and Link and sculptures of Lara Croft and Lego Kylo Ren. We have just about every console and game you can think of and we are encouraged to play them to understand our members’ products. Plus I really love the lawyers I work with, both at ESA and at our member companies. A dynamic industry like ours attracts intellectually-curious employees – which makes work that much more fun and challenging.
What would you say to law students who want to practice in the video game industry?
I’m a strong believer in the law firm path—there is no training like law firm training. Employers want the discipline, writing skills, and reasoning skills demanded of lawyers in a law firm setting. In terms of substance, focusing on corporate and licensing work, or even employment law, would make you marketable to a video game company. And of course, experience in tech or intellectual property law would be helpful to landing a job at any company in the tech sector. But for those who can’t stand the idea of working at a firm, there are other paths–like getting in on one of the great fellowships at a tech company or working on the Hill or at the FTC.
Cate Stern is an attorney and writer. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughters.