John Dabney '98

Seton Hall Lawyers in Entertainment: John Dabney '98, Senior VP, Employment Counsel for ViacomCBS


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Published 2020-11-09

Seton Hall lawyers can be found across a broad spectrum of industries, and each edition of Sidebar will focus on Seton Hall Lawyers in a different industry -- this edition focuses on the entertainment field and John Dabney ‘98, who works for ViacomCBS, one of the world’s leading entertainment companies. We caught up with Dabney to learn more about his position, why he decided to enter the field, and the tremendous impact Seton Hall Law has had upon his career. He also provides some advice for law students seeking to enter the entertainment law sector.

John Dabney ’98 is Senior Vice President, Employment Counsel for ViacomCBS, where John has worked since 2005. In his role, Dabney provides legal advice to the many prominent domestic and international brands and businesses that make up the ViacomCBS portfolio, including MTV, Nickelodeon, CBS, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures. On any given day, he partners with business line leaders, production teams, and HR. His responsibilities include working with the Corporate Development and M&A teams to acquire and integrate new businesses in markets around the world, and oversee the ViacomCBS workplace privacy program. Dabney also manages outside counsel in 25 countries.

Prior to joining ViacomCBS, he served in private practice developing his skills in labor and employment law with the firms of Kauff McGuire & Margolis, and Proskauer Rose. Dabney earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colgate University. During his undergraduate studies, he traveled abroad to the United Kingdom to study political science and government.

Despite the high-profile nature and demands of his role, Dabney remains actively engaged with Seton Hall Law. He makes time to give back and mentor the next generation of Seton Hall Lawyers. He has been a speaker for several student events and most notably served as a panelist during the Women’s Leadership General Counsel Panel. During his tenure at Seton Hall Law, he was active with the Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, the Entertainment Law Society, and was a recipient of the Sports Law Fellowship.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your position? What is the most challenging part?
The best part of my job at ViacomCBS is working side by side with some of the entertainment industry’s most creative people. From SpongeBob to The Video Music Awards to the Super Bowl, the product we make and sell is based on that spirit of creativity. As a lawyer, I try to channel that creativity in solving problems for the business.

The most challenging part of my role is the sheer volume. Like most companies, ViacomCBS is looking to do more with less in a very competitive sector. There are days when I just don’t know how it’s all going to get done … but somehow it always does!

Who or what inspired you to enter the entertainment law field?
My entree into the entertainment field came through my time in private practice. I worked for 5 years for a boutique labor firm that represented Viacom for many years. When the chance came to go in-house, I grabbed it and have been there ever since!

How did Seton Hall Law prepare you for this position?
Seton Hall offered several extracurricular activities that focused on both sports and entertainment law. My involvement in those organizations as a law student fed my interest in the industry. Being so close to a creative hub like New York City while in law school also allowed me to explore internships and make valuable connections.

Why do you feel it is important to give back to Seton Hall Law?
I have great memories of my time in law school, and I’m thankful for the excellent legal education I received at Seton Hall. Spending time with current students to help them think through their career options is something I enjoy, and I think it’s important to help the next generation of lawyers understand the opportunities that are out there to do important and interesting work.

What advice can you provide to students who want to enter the entertainment law sector
Always remember that “entertainment law” is really just contract law, labor law, and IP law under a different name. Focus on these areas, and it will help you when a big opportunity comes your way! And don’t be afraid to start small … the internship really does lead to the full-time job if you are patient enough!