Travolta’s lawyer believes in karma
Michael McDermott believes there’s only one reason he got the opportunity to speak at UF Law on Friday: karma. The attorney for actor John Travolta, who was asked to speak by the Entertainment and Sports Law Society, stressed treating people well in life to guarantee success.
“I’m here today because of John Travolta, not because of me,” McDermott said. “I’m here because of karma.”
McDermott stumbled upon Travolta as a client by chance, he said. He helped some friends through law school and it later paid off well for him.
“I had a couple of buddies that I carried the bulk of the work for. I graduated in the top of the class, these guys didn’t fare as well,” McDermott said. “We were best friends; I made it a point to help them because they are good guys. We all managed getting through law school, some of us with better grades than others.”
Then, about 12 years ago McDermott was travelling through Jacksonville where they practiced. He had not seen his old friends in a while, so he called to meet up with them. They invited him to his office and what he saw surprised him. There were pictures of Hollywood stars plastered all over their walls.
One of them met rockstar Alice Cooper golfing. He was unhappy with his representation, so he hired McDermott’s old friend. Eventually, Cooper led to more clients, including Travolta.
When they were involved with some tough litigation involving the runway at Travolta’s Ocala estate, they turned to someone they knew they could rely on.
“Just like the old days in law school, these guys called me to bail them out. I got John Travolta because of karma because I helped these guys through law school and then it came back to me 20 years later when they had a problem.”
They told McDermott they could meet Travolta at a barbecue at his house they were invited to.
“That’s pretty cool, I’m like you guys, I’ve watched the movies and all that stuff,” McDermott said. “All of the sudden, this guy just comes running up to me yelling ‘Are we going to win?! Are we going to win?!’ ‘Of course we’re going to win!’ You’re not allowed to do that – guaranteeing victory, but there was no way I was saying no in that situation.”
McDermott won that case and has represented Travolta ever since. Although he was brought to speak by the ESLS, McDermott never saw entertainment law that as part of his practice coming out of law school.
“I never envisioned it, I never thought it’d be possible, I never pursued entertainment law,” he said.
McDermott originally pursued law school to work in real estate, but the market dried up when he graduated. He decided to start his own practice right out of law school. He did not have an office at the time and would pay a friend to use his office to meet with clients and then would go home to do the work.
“They would laugh at me and they called it the traveling law office, because for nine months I operated like that,” McDermott said.
Along with treating people well, McDermott offered one more peace of parting advice to the law students attending.
It’s not the cases that you take that make you, it’s the cases that you don’t take,” McDermott said. “If you take the wrong cases, it’s like swimming with an anchor around your neck; you will eventually drown.”