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Lisa E. Davis

Entertainment lawyer Lisa Ellen Davis was born on February 6, 1960 in Queens, New York. Her parents are Gwen Webb, a retired educator and Nat Davis, a jazz musician. She graduated from New Rochelle High School in 1977. In 1981, Davis received her B.A. degree from Harvard University and her J.D. degree from New York University School of Law in 1985.

Davis worked as a law clerk for the Honorable Constance Baker Motley in the United States Federal Court from 1985 to 1986. In 1986, she began working as an associate with the law firm of Kramer Levin. She joined Frankfurt Kurnit, Klein & Selz where she became a partner in 1995. Davis’ duties include negotiating financing, production and distribution agreements. Davis’ special expertise is in advising clients on exploiting potential markets. She has helped entertainment clients expand into complimentary business, including book and magazine publishing, concert promotion, music, celebrity endorsements and merchandising. Her clients include Spike Lee and Terry McMillan.

Davis often speaks on entertainment and legal ethics. She has presented at the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Conference, the Copyright Society, the Internet Conference; and the National Bar Association Convention.

Davis has been quoted in Elle magazine, The New York Times and Black Enterprise magazine. She has been noted as one of America’s top black lawyers and one of the top 50 Power Brokers in entertainment by Black Enterprisemagazine.

Davis is a member of the New York City Bar, the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association and the National Bar Association.

Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 8, 2007.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Middle Name



New Rochelle High School

Albert Leonard Middle School

Harvard University

New York University

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

New York



Favorite Season



New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Power Concedes Nothing Without A Demand. It Never Has, And It Never Will.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York



Favorite Food


Short Description

Entertainment lawyer Lisa E. Davis (1960 - ) was a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit, Klein & Selz, where her clients included Spike Lee and Terry McMillan.


Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Judge Constance Baker Motley

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lisa E. Davis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lisa E. Davis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lisa E. Davis describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lisa E. Davis describes her father's jazz musicianship

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lisa E. Davis describes mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lisa E. Davis describes her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lisa E. Davis describes her stepfather, Arnold Webb

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lisa E. Davis describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lisa E. Davis describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Lisa E. Davis remembers Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Lisa E. Davis describes her elementary school experiences in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Lisa E. Davis describes her childhood activities

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Lisa E. Davis recalls moving to New Rochelle, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lisa E. Davis describes her experiences at Albert Leonard Junior High School

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lisa E. Davis remembers her childhood friends

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lisa E. Davis describes her influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lisa E. Davis recalls her early aspiration to become a lawyer

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lisa E. Davis remembers her high school guidance counselor

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lisa E. Davis describes her experiences at New Rochelle High School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lisa E. Davis remembers her prom date, David A. Paterson

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lisa E. Davis recalls her admission to Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Lisa E. Davis remembers living on the campus of Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Lisa E. Davis describes her academic experiences at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Lisa E. Davis talks about Harvard University's black student population

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Lisa E. Davis describes her professors at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Lisa E. Davis remembers writing for The Harvard Crimson

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Lisa E. Davis recalls receiving the Root-Tilden Scholarship

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lisa E. Davis recalls her clerkship for Judge Constance Baker Motley

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lisa E. Davis remembers her relationship with Constance Baker Motley

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lisa E. Davis recalls working at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lisa E. Davis describes her early career as an attorney

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lisa E. Davis recalls how she became an entertainment lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lisa E. Davis recalls representing filmmaker Spike Lee

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lisa E. Davis recalls representing hip hop group Public Enemy

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lisa E. Davis talks about acquiring her clients

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Lisa E. Davis describes her experiences in politics

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Lisa E. Davis remembers voting for the first time

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lisa E. Davis talks about branded entertainment

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lisa E. Davis explains her role as an entertainment lawyer

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lisa E. Davis talks about her organizational involvement

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lisa E. Davis talks about her family

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lisa E. Davis talks about her cooking

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lisa E. Davis recalls her jobs during college

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lisa E. Davis describes her exercise regimen

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Lisa E. Davis talks about Theodore Wells and Thurgood Marshall

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Lisa E. Davis shares her message to future generations

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Lisa E. Davis explains the importance of entertainment lawyers for the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Lisa E. Davis describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Lisa E. Davis reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Lisa E. Davis reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Lisa E. Davis shares her advice for young lawyers

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - Lisa E. Davis describes her plans for the future







Lisa E. Davis remembers her relationship with Constance Baker Motley
Lisa E. Davis recalls representing hip hop group Public Enemy
So my fun story about Judge Motley [Constance Baker Motley], I love telling this story. One of the things, and she really did look at her clerks like family. She would have Christmas parties every year and invite all of her former law clerks to come back to chambers and they would all come back. So you would also have the opportunity to meet lawyers who had been out, you know, five, ten, twenty years by being her law clerk. And then all kinds--James Meredith would come through chambers, all kinds of famous people. You'd pick up the phone and you never knew who was on going to be on the other end of the line. But one of the things she did--she had a summer house in Connecticut and so rather than just take a vacation, she would sit by designation in Hartford [Connecticut] so that she could be at her summer house but she would still be working because she said, "Why do people retire, what do they do?" She really loved the law, she could not imagine not doing that so she would ask her law clerks to come up and spend, we would rotate, and we'd spend two weeks, two of us would each spend two weeks, we'd go home on the weekends, we'd fly in Monday morning and we would stay at her house. And her husband, Joel Motley, Sr. [Joel Wilson Motley, Jr.] was a wonderful man, I mean everyday he would pick her up from chambers, you know, he would say, "Come on Connie, it's time to go," you know, and he was just this lovely man. I remember waking up, you know, I would sleep in her son's room, you know, her son's little single bed and his Harvard [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] degree on the wall and her husband would play, Mr. Motley would play Stephanie Mills so every morning I would wake up (singing), "Put your body in it," and I'm like okay but he was also a very interesting man. He'd been involved in real estate and had been involved with some of those people moving to St. Albans [Queens, New York] and those neighborhoods in the '50s [1950s]. The other thing that we would do, we would take these walks after dinner, Mr. Motley and me, and he would tell me these stories. So, Judge Motley used to always get her hair done, I can't remember the name of the hairdresser but there was this well-known hairdresser in Harlem [New York, New York] who would do her hair and occasionally would come up to Connecticut to do her hair for her. She never did her own hair like most black women. So she was having Judge Bryant [William B. Bryant], who she always insisted on calling Judge Bree-aunt, who was going to be the new chief judge coming for dinner and she said, "I've got to do something about my hair," and I said, "Well judge you can do it, you could--," and she said, "Really?" We're on lunch break so we go into some kind of Walgreens [Walgreen Co.] or something and I said, "Well you just--do you have some shampoo?" And she said, "No I don't have anything because I don't normally do my hair." And I said, "Okay well do you have a blow dryer," she said, "No." So I got the shampoo, we bought the shampoo, the conditioner, got a blow dryer so we go home and I'm figuring okay well you've got your stuff. Well dinner's over and Mr. Motley says, "Okay well we'll go for our walk," and she says, "Joel, no, there's no walking we're doing hair," and I was like, "What do you mean we're doing hair?" And she's like, "Lisa [HistoryMaker Lisa E. Davis] you're going to do my hair." So I was like, "Okay well Judge, you could shampoo your hair." So I go into the bathroom and she's got her head over the sink with the shampoo without any water and I was like, "No, you have to wet it first (laughter)," so I shampooed her hair and then I conditioned it and then I said, "Okay I can blow it dry but we need to press it," because she did not have a perm and I said, "Do you have a hot comb," and she said, "Yes," and she had one of those combs you put on the stove and she had an electric stove and I'm like okay and I had never pressed hair before but of course I have kinky hair and I have had my hair pressed and I was like okay you have grease. I think we might have had Vaseline and I'm sitting there with the grease and hot comb and I'm like my legal career could be over right now, just one singed ear, it's over, it's over but I pressed her hair. She's like, "Good job," she was very--she was like, "Good job." She was like smiling and she said, "All right Lisa, you might have a little sideline here." So that's my great, my great Judge Motley story.$The thing that is exciting about what I do, and that has been exciting about my career is that you never know who is going to be on the phone when the phone rings. I started out my career, I was working with, I was representing Spike [Spike Lee] and I was representing Public Enemy right at the, you know, right at the heyday. I brought Public Enemy in--I'll never forget the first meeting I had with them, you know Chuck [Chuck D] and Terminator [Terminator X] and Professor Griff and the S1s [S1W group]. They all--it was a two o'clock meeting they all come, no Flavor [Flavor Flav]. Hour and a half later here comes Flavor. I'm like you think for someone who wore a clock around his neck that he might be able to be on time? No, and we had this lovely, this blonde receptionist and she's like, "Lisa [HistoryMaker Lisa E. Davis], there's a Mr. Flav here to see you," so I (laughter) I go out and I was like, "Oh hi Flavor, you know, I'm Lisa Davis." He says, "Hello Lisa, I'm Flavor." I'm like of course you are. So, you know, I was involved in the whole situation when Professor Griff, they had to kick him out of the group and I remember him saying to me, we were at some conference and he was like, "Lisa, why do people hate me?" I said, "Because they think you're a demagogue. I mean you're spouting this anti-Semitic rhetoric, what do you expect people to think? It's like you seemed like a nice enough guy but, you know, they can't take you on this ride." So, you know, and these were things that I was involved in very early on in my career and then interestingly I got a phone call, and you know again, just there aren't a lot of African American entertainment lawyers considering how many African Americans there are in entertainment so and in New York [New York] there are not--there're even fewer. So I would just, I knew a lot of people. I had been involved in politics, you know, I was sort of well-known in the bar and knew a lot of people. So when anybody ever had an entertainment issue they would call me. So a woman I knew from politics said, "I'm going to call you to refer a client to you and you may not thank me for this because she may be a bit, you know, she'll be tough to deal with but, you know, she needs some help," and I said, "Okay, who is it?" Betty Shabazz and this was before Spike was slated to direct 'Malcolm X' when Warner Brothers [Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.] was going to go forward with it and so I was, I was looking at the, she had already sold the film rights years ago so I was looking at the agreement, you know, negotiating that with her and I guess as a woman who had six daughters, you know, she just looked at me, she's like I know how to deal with young black women so we'd go out to dinner and she's like, "Okay I have, you know, a Links [The Links, Incorporated] event up in Westchester [Westchester County, New York]. I want you to come as my guest," and it's just amazing. I'm, you know, I'm sitting up here, I was obsessed my whole life with Malcolm X and I am sitting here with Betty Shabazz and she is my client, you know, I was like thirty years old. So, you know, to be able to work with those kinds of people it's, you know, amazing.$$Who else did you work with?$$Okay Public Enemy, Sister Souljah, she's a current client, [HistoryMaker] Terry McMillan's a current client, Vibe magazine, I mentioned Spike, you know, over the years I've worked with Missy Elliott. I've worked with Mos Def--who else, gosh, a lot of authors, just lots and lots of interesting people who were doing exciting stuff.