Emily Roisman, Class of 1985
Emily Roisman '85

Published in the Graduate Report, Fall/Winter 2010

In 1994, Emily Roisman ’85 left her practice as a partner with Schatz & Schatz, Ribicoff & Kotkin in Hartford to join the circus. Roisman was not pursuing a childhood dream to be a tight-rope walker, a lion tamer or a fire-eater. Nor was she a secret graduate of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Rather, Roisman left practice as a real estate litigator to work for Feld Entertainment®, the world’s leading producer of live family entertainment, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus®, Disney on IceSM, Disney Live! ©DISNEY  and, most recently, motorsports events such as Monster Jam®, Supercross and Arenacross.

“Shortly after I became a partner at Schatz & Shatz, my husband (Peter Roisman’86) was offered a job as the director of the Golf Division of Advantage International (now Octagon Sports Management),” says Roisman, a Dartmouth graduate who met Peter at UConn Law. “We decided that the opportunity was too great to pass up, so we moved to Great Falls, Virginia.”

On the advice of a partner at Schatz & Schatz, Roisman contacted Jerry Sowalsky, the general counsel of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, which was based in the DC area. While there was no official opening in the legal department, Sowalsky (who began his career at Ribicoff & Kotkin) said that they were very busy and could use some help. “I took the job and began working out of the office’s law library – right next to the copy machine,” recalls Roisman. “I started with about 20 hours per week, which soon became 30, and before I knew it I was working full time and had my own office. Over the years, I was given increasing levels of responsibility, eventually leading to my appointment as vice president and corporate counsel…What I thought was just ‘the circus’ proved to be an international entertainment company.”    

Today, most of Roisman’s work involves drafting and negotiating contracts – such as a recent commercial lease for Feld’s New York office in the Empire State Building, architect contracts, merchandise and music licenses, commercial synchronization licenses, public performance licenses with ASCAP and BMI, promissory notes and guarantees, employment agreements, “work for hire” designer contracts, concession and other vendor agreements, and a ten-year license agreement with Disney for the presentation of Disney On Ice and Disney Live!. She also is consulted frequently on employment law, risk management and administrative law issues. And in her not so spare time she advises Feld’s marketing department on promotions law, helps draft sweepstakes rules¸ and edits advertising copy to ensure compliance with FTC rules and other consumer protection laws. “The most challenging aspect of the job is simply keeping up with the volume of work,” Roisman says. “Since I came to Feld in 1994, we have added the Disney Live! stage shows, which perform all over the world, and we have acquired Live Nation Motor Sports, which added Monster Jam, Supercross, Arenacross, Nuclear CowboyzSM and International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) drag racing to our entertainment portfolio. We are much busier than we were ten or fifteen years ago.”

Despite the hectic pace, working for the producer of the Ringling Bros. and Barney & Bailey Circus is not without its unique perks. “I have had so many interesting¸ unusual and exciting experiences over the years,” says Roisman. “I have climbed inside the Human Cannonball’s cannon and driven a monster truck at a pre-show event at our Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas. This past summer, I was a passenger in a dragster at one of our IHRA racing events – we went over 135 mph. I have fed a baby elephant at our Center for Elephant Conservation. And I have met – and drafted contracts for – some of the world’s greatest performers, directors, composers, lyricists and choreographers.”  

For years, Roisman also has been able to provide her two daughters (Allie, 22, and Tori, 19) with a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s most famous circus. “Both kids love Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but before I took the job at Feld, they were terrified of clowns.  Fortunately…after watching Sunshine the Clown putting on her makeup, wig and costume, they were much more comfortable.” 

Clearly, Roisman has absolutely no regrets about leaving private practice to join the circus. “I love working for one client and feeling like I have a vested interest in the outcome of everything I do,” she says. “It’s my company, too. The in-house lawyer has the luxury of truly knowing and understanding the client’s needs. Also, with only four lawyers in the department, there is never a dull moment. And because we do almost all of our work in-house, I find myself constantly learning about new areas of the law, (as well as building on my) expertise in merchandise and music licensing, and in marketing and promotional law.”

Roisman continues. “Most days, the pace is rapid-fire – and I like it that way. I have been known to say – with all due respect to our trademark – that I have the greatest job on earth.”

FACT: Emily Roisman’s husband, Peter, who enjoyed a long and successful career in sports management and marketing, is a partner with SurgCenter Development, a company that develops ambulatory surgery centers across the United States. Roisman’s father-in-law, Gerald A. Roisman ’62 is a partner at Roisman & McClure PC in West Hartford