Every morning, Tania Kricfalusi tries to split her hour of reading evenly. Half her time is dedicated to updates in the copyright field or legal news roundups. The other half involves catching up on the latest breaking stories from Hollywood via Deadline, the Hollywood Reporter, and TMZ. This isn’t a guilty pleasure; it’s required reading.
“I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve found out about an issue that’s going to be coming across my desk by first seeing it on TMZ,” Kricfalusi says, laughing.
The senior vice president of litigation and head of television and feature film litigation at NBCUniversal is a sixteen-year company veteran. Kricfalusi isn’t just a student of the law; she’s who you want on your trivia team. The attorney is an encyclopedia of popular culture because she has to be, and the famous names she’ll casually mention while telling a story requires one to quickly recalibrate what “a normal day in the office” can mean.
Kricfalusi’s demeanor isn’t Hollywood flash or smarmy in the least. The Texas-raised lawyer always seems on the verge of a laugh, and it requires a lot to surprise her. In fact, her reputation as the go-to person in a crisis has been well-documented.
She remembers how a former studio executive used to regularly call Kricfalusi when tensions were high. “It wouldn’t just be litigation; it would be talent or agents at an impasse. Tempers were flared, and I would get the call,” she explains. “He’d say, ‘Tania? Can you come in and just do your “Tania Thing.”’”
The so-called “Tania Thing” is a phenomenon wherein everyone involved in a dispute manages to walk away satisfied with the resolution. The lawyer says it’s a mix of lawyering, couples counseling, and “just a pinch of being an adult” in a business where that attribute can be hard to come by at times. It’s a skill Kricfalusi first mastered by putting her studies at Yale Law School on hold to pursue a career in advertising.
Although her college essays declared her intention to become a congressperson or senator, internships at the Texas capitol and White House didn’t prove as fulfilling as Kricfalusi had hoped. Even though she found the work incredibly interesting, she ultimately realized politics wasn’t the life she wanted.
Instead, she amassed experience at Chicago-based advertising firm Leo Burnett doing client service work where her time in politics came in handy.
“There were definitely times I wound up taking clients out to dinner so they wouldn’t interfere with an ad shoot,” Kricfalusi reflects. It was an early proving ground for her talent for de-escalating dicey situations.
When Kricfalusi finally showed up at Yale Law in 2000, it was shortly before Legally Blonde was released in theaters, and the aspiring attorney felt the part.
“I was surrounded by people who already had patents or had started NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” she says. She interned at the public defender’s office in Washington, DC, but found herself bringing the work home with her in a way that was unhealthy. Politics were out, and so was criminal work.
Kricfalusi grew more interested in entertainment law that encompassed intellectual property, business, contracts, technology, employment, and more.
While working in private practice on the West Coast, Kricfalusi started amassing a treasure trove of experience and stories. She helped defend the National Enquirer in a defamation suit that involved Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Tara Reid, and a Canadian exotic night club. She also represented clients like Colin Farrell and Mel Gibson, and she worked for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, even acting as a seat filler at their most prestigious awards night.
“If you’re going to be a lawyer, you might as well be a lawyer who gets to go to the Oscars,” Kricfalusi jokes.
In 2006, she went in-house at what is now NBCUniversal. The lawyer says she’s frequently asked about how to go in-house in the entertainment industry. It’s a tough question because for Kricfalusi, it was a poker game.
As the young lawyer who thought about going in-house, she knew she needed to become more marketable as a transactional lawyer. So she completed an extension course at the University of California, Los Angeles on legal affairs and contracts. Around the same time at a Beverly Hills Bar Association event, she met a lawyer who was part of a regular poker game of in-house lawyers from different studios—a surefire means of hearing about potential job leads before they went public.
“I said, ‘Well, I like poker,’ and I got in,” Kricfalusi says. “Many of those people are now GCs of other studios. Sometimes, that’s just how it works.”
The lawyer’s roles and responsibilities through the years are part real-life and part what you think a lawyer on a television drama does. There are the real-life issues like pre-publication review of investigative reporting pieces and hidden camera segments for news programs.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “how did they get to film that?” No doubt Kricfalusi was there for the conversation. That included being on an on-call rotation for the Today Show in case something wild happens overnight and needs to be addressed on the show.
“You get a call that Kanye West fell off a stage in Norway, and they want to use a video that’s on Twitter,” Kricfalusi explains. “Lawyers are drilled to just research, research, research. Early on, this job gave me an appreciation for operating in a time-sensitive environment. You have to learn that big-picture vision and provide the best counsel you can. A lot of this business is going with your gut.”
Kricfalusi’s work spans a wide gamut: She might be providing counsel for Rachel Maddow against a lawsuit from One America News Network. She might be reviewing streaming agreements in an age where it’s still the wild west of new digital frontiers. Or, she might be called to address yet another in a long, long line of Real Housewives issues (let’s just say there are many).
The SVP is masterful at what she does, and she practices in an environment that is unlike any other. That’s what keeps her interested. Tomorrow’s big challenge is often tonight’s headline.
“Tania is smart, quick and knows her stuff. On top of that, she is a pleasure to work with and has a very team-oriented approach to problem solving that motivates everyone working for her to do their best work. NBCUniversal is lucky to have her!”
–Scott Edelman, Partner
“I’ve worked with Tania on many matters. She is smart, shrewd, and an excellent strategist. My favorite quality is how composed and unflappable she is—steady under pressure while never losing her sense of humor.”
–Andrew J. Thomas, Partner