“You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate,” is a saying from one L. Londell McMillan, an attorney, media mogul, entrepreneur and community activist.
He could just be an alpha male over-achiever, or he could just be a Bed-Stuy boy who’s done real good in the world of law, business and media.
If you see McMillan, 47, he is a very unassuming character. If you see him, he will probably have a nice suit on, but if it’s cold, you might see the big puffer jacket and trapper hat. You wouldn’t know that he is an international legal and publishing powerhouse.
“Londell is a Brooklyn-born guy who is a community and family man that is in business,” said McMillan. “I am a business lawyer and an entrepreneur. It just so happens that one of the businesses that I spend a substantial amount of time in is the very high-profile business of entertainment. But I am very committed to my community and my country.”
McMillan is a multitasking man; currently, he is a lawyer with Meister Seelig & Fein LLP and also publishes the world-renowned The Source magazine (www.thesource.com) and Jones magazine (www.jonesmagazine.com).
Named by the National Law Journal as one of the “50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” in 2008, McMillan has represented famous folk such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, LL Cool J and Spike Lee.
Founder and chairman of the McMillan Firm, McMillan proudly declares that he is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and New York University School of Law. He was also an Academic All-American student athlete who played on the Cornell University football team.
He was very much a presence during the sad tribute to and funeral of Jackson, but he has also been a guest and commentator on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the “Today” show and CNN, among many, many others.
While his corporate clients have included Time Warner Cable, Radio One and Mercedes-Benz, McMillan told the AmNews that he is very much a man of the community, being the general counsel for the Brooklyn Branch of the NAACP, as well as general counsel and founder of the Artist Empowerment Coalition.
With so much going on, how does McMillan divide his time?
“I spend most of my time practicing law while I am invested in other [businesses] such as news media—social media as well as digital and traditional media,” he said. “On any given day, I might be in court representing an international media company like Arise, or Run-DMC, or negotiating a business deal for a business client and then going on to make sure that the content of The Source is socially responsible; or I might get a call from the community saying that they need support for a school or for some community affair.”
His own media interests, he said, “are based on the importance of having media communications that are owned and controlled and operated by our communities so that you can have diversity of voice and a more just democracy.”
Regarding The Source, he said, “I own the biggest media brand in hip-hop in the world, so there is a considerable amount of responsibility that goes with that. The magazine deals with youth culture—particularly males who are very much affected by music and technology. I am very proud with how we have turned it around, and we have made it clean and free of anything lewd or degrading. And then there is the Jones magazine and website, digital and social media that deals with beauty and style for women of color. My media businesses are more based on culture than justice; my law business is based on business and justice. Our culture has been given a blow of injustice and that is something I am very focused on.”
It sounds like he might be running for office in the not-too-distant future. He laughed and said, “When I was in law school, I was director of the National Black Law Students Association. President Barack Obama would attend my meetings, and from undergrad at Cornell to my law school years at NYU, many would have projected that I would have become a congressman or senator, but my path led me to serve my clients. I think there are many ways to serve and have influence, and having influence behind the scenes is one way to serve.”
But there’s more: The Brooklyn man was also one of the co-owners and investors in the New Jersey Nets basketball team and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards development project. He said, “Promises were made in terms of affordable houses and minority-owned businesses that haven’t been fulfilled. I want to make sure those agreements will be honored.”
This busy man was also Michael Jackson’s lawyer. The attorney is noticeably humble about it. “I started representing Michael Jackson years before representing his family. I was hired to save Neverland Ranch and the Beatles catalog. It was an honor to work with Michael Jackson and to protect him and his assets at a very pivotal time,” McMillan said.
“He was much more giving and philanthropic than many give him credit for. He set his expectations far beyond what most people can even think and imagine, and he never wanted to settle for less. He was also someone who was concerned about his community—as much as he wanted to be a member of the world community—and that’s interesting because in many of our circles, some would consider that a contradiction, and it’s really not. For him, there was no inconsistency between wanting to be helpful to the Black community and wanting him to be helpful to the world.”
McMillan has worked alongside some of the greats. “Johnny Cochran was a mentor of mine who would seek out my advice when it related to entertainment matters,” he said. Cochran once told this reporter that his ambition was to create a “conscious cadre of lawyers.”
McMillan said there has always been one goal he has kept. “People do not understand that lawyers were engineers of social justice, and we need to go back to those days where lawyers were the vanguard of human rights and social justice—long before the Civil Rights Movement, long before Dr. Martin Luther King in 1955; it was Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954, which means that there were many cases before 1954 before the Supreme Court.”
His personal drive is all about his mom, he says. “I grew up in Brooklyn in Tompkins Houses, which is right across the street from Marcy Houses where Jay Z grew up, and my mother was a very strong influence in my life. She was an entrepreneur and she talked about education, but I played sports, and sports and music and education kept me out of the streets. My first job was representing athletes with a sports agency on the labor side. I went to a labor school. I wanted to be a labor leader. At Cornell, I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, and from that, I became a business lawyer—an entrepreneur—and that was something that I am very proud of because I am purpose-driven, and I bring those same values of labor and civil rights to everything that I do.
“I see celebrities as part of that labor chain. Although many of them are wealthy by most standards, what they are earning is a mere fraction of what the billions are helping to create; and then the industry which they are helping to create is less kind to the communities where they are coming from. I think that that has been an imbalance that I consider an injustice.”
McMillan, who is the father of 12-year-old Kyla Imani, said, “Fatherhood gives me the most joy. My daughter and I are super, super close.” He said he is “very committed to youth having access to good education supplemented by sports and the arts.”
He said, “I am blessed and fortunate to have been mentored by Queen Mother Adelaide Sanford, Dr. James Turner and Johnny Cochran.”
In turn, he uses his considerable acumen to help others. He is the attorney for the daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. He said, “I have a personal relationship with each one of them. These women are not celebrities; they are causalities of ‘the movement.’ We owe them a profound debt because of their parent’s great sacrifice, and too many of us have not paid the proper contributions to them.”
Reflecting on his career, McMillan said smiling, “Don’t be surprised by the kid; he is from Brooklyn—the hood too, the projects of Brooklyn.” He added, “When you think about a new generation Vernon Jordan or Percy Sutton—I see myself in that mode. I’m in that lane, but I am connected in the hood.”
And with the last year’s elections bringing in a new Black Brooklyn borough president in Eric Adams, new Black Brooklyn district attorney in Ken Thompson and new Black public advocate in Letitia James—along with a host of young and progressive Black council members, state and federal government officials—McMillan said, “Brooklyn is looking great. Brooklyn has now formed the new power base that Harlem used to have. I am very proud.”