Zev Parnass wasn’t the kind of kid who always knew he wanted to be a lawyer, and even in college, he wasn’t focusing on law as a prospective career. But he found his way to a legal internship during a summer break, which started to pique his interest.
“Around that same time, my older brother had decided to go to law school, so between that and my internship, I realized it was an interesting field with a lot of practical aspects to it. I was just drawn to it,” he recalls. “I wasn’t really sure if I would like it, since I only had this basic exposure, but I decided to give it a shot.”
The summer after his first year at Columbia Law School, Parnass interned at a boutique firm specializing in patent work. Having been a neuroscience major in undergrad, he felt it was a good fit for his background.
“I thought it was interesting, but it didn’t quite capture my attention the way I thought it might,” he recounts. “For my second summer, I decided to work at a more general firm, doing a mix of intellectual property work and tax work. I just wanted to try different things because I really had no sort of preconceived notions in terms of what I really wanted to do.”
After looking at what he enjoyed throughout his two summers, Parnass decided to pursue trademark and copyright law, which he found more exciting than patents and tax work.
“It was fun,” he declares. “It touches on entertainment and pop culture and sports and music— all the kinds of things that were my interest. That I could use some of my interests in my professional life was really a nice combination.”
“I’ve always been a big fan of trivia, and it just kind of helps to know these random things and be aware of pop culture.”
In 2003, Parnass began an eight-year stint at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. There, he focused on intellectual property work, gaining experience in trademark and copyrights.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay at a firm long-term; I knew people who were in-house and the legal and business combination appealed more to me,” he explains. “I ended up applying to Publicis Groupe. They were looking for somebody who would be the first in-house lawyer who would oversee the Publicis-branded agencies in the United States. They were using only outside counsel at the time, and that was not very cost-efficient or as effective as somebody who’s with the business full-time and really living and breathing the business.”
He nabbed the position in 2011 and today serves as vice president and assistant deputy general counsel with Publicis Groupe’s US legal department.
When he came on board, he was tasked with building his team from scratch and developing a library of document templates.
“I did have colleagues from the other agencies from whom I could get some help in terms of starting to build that library—whether it was agreements with clients, nondisclosure agreements, or releases for various things—things we needed in our commercial ad agency,” he shares. “There was a lot of infrastructure I needed to get in place to get this off the ground. I turned almost nothing into a fully functioning legal group.”
Working in commercials and advertising, his job often involved looking through song lyrics, examining football team jerseys, or watching movie scenes to ensure the commercials weren’t violating any rights.
“I’ve always been a big fan of trivia, and it just kind of helps to know these random things and be aware of pop culture,” he says. “I don’t know if there’s any other area of law that has all these fun topics.”
Eventually, his team became a well-oiled machine. Parnass found the challenge exciting.
“It’s been a really nice career arc in terms of career development and professional development.”
Then, in 2018, a restructuring took place within the legal department. Today, he oversees the agencies under the Saatchi & Saatchi umbrella, a bigger operation with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas, along with several other agencies.
“I now have a team of five people reporting to me,” he notes. “Part of that already existed when I switched roles, and I helped take over that piece and push it forward. Since I had done that on the Publicis-branded agency side, [leadership] felt I was the right person for this.”
Once again, Parnass needed to develop relationships with new clients and a new staff as well as bring new people to the team.
“It’s been a really nice career arc in terms of career development and professional development,” he shares. “Our goal is to help do the work in a creative way. We’re making commercials or advertisements, and we’re helping reduce risk for the company. At the end of the day, if I’m watching television and see a commercial I worked on, it’s nice to see the final outcome after all the work that went into creating a spot.”
COVID-19 added new wrinkles to the production process, which in turn brought fresh challenges to the job.
“We were really heavily involved with trying to work with the teams to make sure everyone was safe and also obviously reduce risk overall,” he says. “The future is figuring out how this creative world works now, in a postpandemic society, and continuing to do the good work that we’re doing.”
Parnass remains very passionate about his job, expressing that he loves advising his colleagues on things and talking through issues with people.
“I work with everyone from the CEO down to the person who may have just left college last year,” he explains. “Obviously, they have different sophistication levels, but I love problem-solving and being creative in a legal fashion, coming up with solutions to get where we need to get to and at the same time mitigating risk.”
Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP:
“Zev is the cream of the crop: a skilled lawyer and manager. He has all the tools, including extensive knowledge of the law, experience, and, perhaps most importantly, great judgment!”
–Steven E. Lewis, Partner