Dina LaPolt defies every preconceived notion attached to her status as one of music’s top attorneys. She is bold, funny and prone to unpacking anecdotes with the wide-eyed wonder of a woman who can’t believe she’s lived to tell them. She is the founder and owner of the hugely successful LaPolt Law, whose clients have included Steven Tyler, Cardi B, 21 Savage, deadmau5 and, for many years, the estate of Tupac Shakur.

Her professional reach has extended to the representation of songwriters on Capitol Hill via her work on the 2018 Music Modernization Act, the first major copyright reform for music creators in decades, and her role in obtaining the release of rapper 21 Savage, incarcerated by ICE in early 2019.

For all her achievements, however, LaPolt is the first to admit that her road has been bumpy at best. She’s candid about her struggle with substance abuse and the ups and downs she’s weathered challenging the straight, male dominance of the industry as an out-and-proud lesbian and vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

LaPolt grew up in what she describes as “a very progressive town called New Paltz, New York. When I look back, I’m so grateful and blessed that I grew up there. But as a kid, all I wanted was to get the hell out of there.

My mother was an artist. She was a painter, and she had a ceramic studio in our house for 25 years. My father was in prison reform. He started as a prison guard, and he quickly realized that most people in prison are Black men and that there was nothing helping them when they got out. So he got his master’s degree and spent 40 years setting up educational programs in maximum-security prisons. Between the two of them, I learned about the Civil Rights Movement early in life. I had quite the childhood.

The Grateful Dead was a big thing in my town. They were everything! We lived 40 miles from Woodstock, so the culture was a big part of my family. My aunts went to the original Woodstock festival, and they brought that music into my life. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin really grabbed me at the time. I remember hanging out with my aunts and their friends in a flower garden. They all had long hair and painted faces, and they were playing guitar. It resonated deeply with me. I remember saying to myself and anyone who would listen, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” From there, my parents got me a guitar, and I started taking lessons. I was addicted to music.

“I was always in bands, and I actually went to college for music. I got a scholarship to Concordia College in Westchester County. It was great, but you had to choose between jazz and classical as your focus. I picked jazz, but it was the wrong decision. It did not resonate with me at all, and I got kicked out of school. During this period, I developed a horrible drug-and-alcohol problem that I didn’t realize would plague me for most of my life.

I wound up going back to New Paltz and graduating with a degree in classical music. It was amazing. I learned things like how [Italian violinist] Niccolò Paganini was a rock star of the Romantic era. I learned to connect with music on a deeper level. And all the while I was playing in rock bands.”

Law begin to factor into LaPolt’s musical equation during her senior year in college, when her ex-girlfriend’s sister started dating Eric Carr, who was then the drummer for KISS. “Long story short, I started working for Eric as a part-time personal assistant,” she says. “Among other things, I helped him get ready for the Monsters of Rock tour. On one particular day, there was chaos everywhere; it was madness. Suddenly, in walked a tall guy with a bowtie and suspenders, and everyone straightened up. In an instant, it got really proper and respectful. Even Gene Simmons behaved differently. I was like, ‘Who is THAT?’ It was Bill Randolph, KISS’ lawyer. I thought, ‘Wow, I want that; I want that kind of respect.’

“Right before I got my bachelor’s degree, KISS decided to relocate to L.A. I had been doing all of this stuff for Eric, so I decided to finish school and move. I got my friend Ted, who was gay like me, and we drove across the country in my 1987 Mustang.

“While we were driving, I heard that Eric had gotten sick. He got progressively worse pretty quickly. I’ll never forget being at the Grand Canyon and hearing that he had been admitted to the hospital. By the time we got to California, the band had put out a press statement that he was leaving the band. The space of time between getting that news and Eric dying [of heart cancer] was nine months. It was crazy.

“It was a dark time. There I am in California with no job, no job prospects and no money. I did what I needed to do. I had all kinds of jobs. I taught guitar to kids. I sold magazines to poor people for astronomical amounts of money per month. It was on one of those calls that I met a hot girl who became my girlfriend, and we moved in together. Not long after, I found myself in another bad work situation that left me feeling like I needed a lawyer. When I said, “Maybe I’ll just go to law school,” my girlfriend laughed at me. Like any good alcoholic with resentment issues, I went on an unstoppable mission to become a lawyer.

“Along the way, I started a lipstick-lesbian band called Irresistible Impulse. It was the harmonies of The Indigo Girls with the rock of Joan Jett. We played a lot while I was in law school. During that period, BMI held a conference at San Francisco University, and we were booked to play. I went through the booklet to find our name, and I saw all of the panels listed. One of them was on negotiating record deals. It had three music lawyers. I went and I was stunned—I had that same feeling I had when I saw Bill Randolph with KISS. In an instant, I wasn’t worrying about my band anymore. I’d had an epiphany; I knew where I was going, and I was hell-bent on getting there.”

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