Priya Verma ’02 thought she would pursue a career in sports law before she set her sights on the entertainment industry. I wanted to be the general counsel of an NFL or NBA team until I realized their jobs are quite boring,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in November 2019. “My desire to do sports just fell away because I fell in love with television,” she told Webb months later.
After just eight years in the entertainment industry, Verma was named one of “Hollywood’s 35 rising executives 35 and under” by The Hollywood Reporter last fall. Verma is “the youngest partner at one of Hollywood’s top talent boutiques,” law firm Morris Yorn, the publication notes in the feature. She practices transactional talent law — primarily working in TV and film — representing writers, producers, actors and directors, including Nisha Ganatra, who recently directed the movie Late Night.
Her firm’s clients include the likes of Jordan Peele, Scarlett Johannson and Matthew McConaughey. She serves as a jack-of-all-trades for her clients, she says, handling everything from negotiating the financial terms of clients’ deals with studios and production companies to forecasting clients’ careers and guiding their trajectories.
“It’s a great feeling to see one of your clients get a TV show on the air or see their movie in theaters,” she says. When Verma graduated from Southwestern University School of Law, she had no connections in the entertainment industry. She started out as an assistant at Morris Yorn and advanced ahead of the typical pace for her career track.
Verma learned about the business by working for the firm’s partner and was promoted to associate a year later. That’s when she began to build her own client base, focusing on writers, producers, directors and some comedians. She was promoted to partner four years later.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “I mean, you have to for the amount of hours you spend doing this.” Verma’s success did not come easily. When asked what advice she would have for those interested in pursuing a career in the industry, she revealed, “there’s really no substitute for hard work in entertainment.” “ It’s a job and yes, there are great perks to it when you’re meeting extremely creative people and going to premieres, but at the end of the day, you need to come in with no ego and really need to be willing to start from the bottom and work your way up,” she says. “This industry is extremely competitive.”
Verma has witnessed the shift in the entertainment industry, as viewers increasingly turn to streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. “The new frontier is the digital streaming world,” she added. “It is definitely changing the way we do business.” Discussions about the representation of women and people of color in Hollywood have prompted calls for other changes within the industry.
Verma says she feels a “much larger responsibility being female and being diverse.” “I’ve been told that I’m the only South Asian talent attorney and partner in the business,” she says. “I do carry that with me and, in general, I know there are things that are moving, but it needs to move a lot further.”
Verma — who mentors a young woman from Guatemala who is now a freshman at UCLA — believes mentoring young women can make a difference. “We all need to get to a point where we’re helping the women around us, and not seeing them as competition or a threat, because that is still very prominent,” she says. “I think change can start with high-powered women mentoring young women and bringing them up with them. We all have to find a way to give back to the younger generation and help guide them in that way.”
She recalls a mentor she had at The Webb Schools, English teacher Edwina Foster, who helped her whenever challenges arose. “Ms. Foster was there by my side, really guiding me through things,” she says. “She always believed in me.” Verma credits Foster and other teachers for helping her build habits and values while she studied at Webb. “It gives you a foundation that you might not see in the moment, but you realize it later on,” she says. “The principles and the values that are instilled in you as students — you’ve definitely learned something that is not related to the curriculum.”