PJ Shapiro
Photo courtesy of P.J. Shapiro

P.J. Shapiro: Hollywood’s advocate on a quest for peace

by Mara Shapshay

It’s 1:00pm on a Thursday, close to the end of another hectic week at arguably Hollywood’s most powerful entertainment law firm, Ziffren Brittenham. I’m sitting with P.J. Shapiro, Ziffren’s co-managing partner. We sit in his top floor, corner office in Century City. His office is immaculate, not a paper is out of place. He and his environment seem very controlled, but underneath P.J. has this restless energy.

P.J. is one of those good-looking, affable guys that every dude wants to have a beer with and every lady is charmed by. He credits his mother for his gregarious and social nature. P.J.’s charisma has landed him a vast array of celebrity clients. His clients are the stars sitting in the first few rows at the Oscars and the Emmys.

Along with his impressive clientele, he also has remarkable credentials. P.J. has an undergraduate degree from UCLA, as well as a MBA and a law degree from USC. He is one of the youngest entertainment attorneys to make capital partner, then managing partner of any entertainment law firm. He has accomplished so much in just 39 years on this planet. When he talks, one can tell that he has a mind that is as busy as LAX at Christmas time.

So, how did a nice Jewish boy from Chatsworth become such a phenom? The answer would be his father. P.J.’s face turns from smiling to stoic when talking about his Dad. “My father was stern, tough and militant. I was a straight ‘A’ student and excelled in school. I got a 1400 on my SAT’s, but he asked why I didn’t get a perfect score.”

P.J.’s father, who is no longer with us, was an Israeli immigrant who moved to the U.S. in his early 20’s. His father was an engineer who ruled his household with an iron fist. He demanded perfection and instilled in P.J. a drive so strong that it could power the city of Los Angeles.

Princeton Professor Alejandro Portes talks about the pressures of immigrant children in his book, Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. “Pushing children so much can also have drawbacks.” The daughter of a Korean immigrant in Professor Portes book says it best, “By making the biggest move of their lives for me, my parents indentured me to the largest debt imaginable — I owe them the fulfillment of their hopes for me.”

Financial success equaling happiness is a trap that children of immigrants and many others fall into. Being successful can become an obsessive mission to acquire security and contentment from material gains. Happiness based on getting that job, that car, that house is fleeting because once you get it, what’s next?

P.J. admits to having had this philosophy of success but his priorities have changed. His is now a philanthropic family man.

P.J. is a big supporter of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He told me his primary purpose in life is to give back and be a good father and husband.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t take his role as an entertainment attorney seriously. He told me, “I love my job because I’m an advocate, analyst and quasi therapist. I address problems in a personal and professional way.” He told me that he tries to make himself available to his clients in a meaningful fashion. He said, “I know I’m the first call for many of my clients and that is gratifying.”

What was gratifying for me was the amount of candid self-awareness he has during the interview. P.J. admits that his biggest struggle is being at peace. He credits his wife, Lisa, for encouraging him to evolve and grow. When P.J. talks about his wife, his grin is refulgent.

He met Lisa a week before they started law school at USC. He was immediately drawn to her but she wanted nothing to do with him. It was pretty much a boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, boy gets girl kind of story. They got married a few years later and have three children: Max (8), Jack (6) and Paisley (2).

Lisa is responsible for inspiring P.J. to become an entertainment attorney. When he met his wife he had just failed out of medical school and was unsure what he wanted to do. Lisa focused P.J.’s attention towards Hollywood, knowing that he has a strong passion for movies, TV and everything entertainment.

P.J. has redefined success as not only being a great entertainment attorney but also a good husband, father and human being. That is a lesson many of us could learn, after all, happiness comes from the inside out. P.J. is still on his quest for contentment. He is at the station waiting for the peace train; it should be arriving soon.

Mara Shapshay

About Mara Shapshay

Mara Shapshay is a writer/comedian/performer who has a BFA from NYU Film and an MFA from the American Film Institute. She is a stand-up comic who performs regularly at The Comedy Store, Improv, Laugh Factory, and many other venues. Mara is currently writing her memoir, Sleeping With The Dalai Lama. In addition, Mara writes for The Huffington Post, Thefix.com and Glamour Magazine. She can be seen in an episode of season 6’s Kathy Griffin’s Life On The D-List. Follow her on Twitter @marashapshay

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