When Sheetal Nanda started law school, it might have looked like a somewhat surprising career move. Her background, for one thing, was in science. She’d studied developmental biology at the University of Toronto and had even applied to medical school. She also had a passion for the arts. In high school, she’d spent a fair amount of her spare time on creative writing, including fiction and plays. Nanda was also a film and television buff. During that first semester of law school, she made time to attend screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Deep down, though, Nanda had always been attracted to law school, which, she knew, would tap into her long-standing interest in strategic and analytical thinking. Once she decided not to pursue medicine, it was an easy choice. “If I wasn’t going to go into medicine,” she says, “then I was going to completely pivot into my other passion.”
After law school, she landed an articling position at an immigration boutique, but once she was called to the bar she immediately turned her attention to the entertainment world. Noticing that the job market couldn’t deliver on the career she wanted, she decided to strike out on her own. “My parents said to me, ‘If you can’t find the job you want, create it,’” says Nanda. That’s precisely what she did, launching a solo entertainment and immigration practice, now called Quantum Law Group. Her plan was to provide affordable services to people in the creative industries.
To build a profile, she knew she needed to network. Nanda went to TIFF events, attended Fashion Week and wrote reviews of movies, including Bollywood films, for popular blogs. Over time, she landed clients: independent producers, writers, authors, filmmakers. “I just love working with creative people,” she says. “I think, even now, I usually see myself as a creative.”
Indeed, if anything has characterized Nanda’s career, it’s been imagination and ingenuity, the central arrows in any creator’s quiver. One of her savviest strategic moves was to merge immigration and entertainment law, thus creating a unique type of practice. At Nanda’s firm, immigration work, which might entail helping actors and filmmakers obtain work visas, is a core service offering. “Sheetal is very entrepreneurial,” says Lisa Feldstein, a family-health lawyer who’s known Nanda since law school. “She’s very passionate. Whenever I have lunch with her, I feel so inspired.”
Nanda also realized that the technology revolution was hitting the entertainment industry. The sector was once primarily populated by movie, music and sports talent. But Nanda started to broaden her client base to include YouTube personalities and digital-content creators.
Michael Levine, a legendary entertainment lawyer and a retired partner of Goodmans LLP, is a mentor to Nanda. These days, he serves as an executive producer on documentaries and scripted programs; he’s also the chairman at Westwood Creative Artists, Canada’s largest literary agency. “Tech is changing everything,” he says. “Sheetal is on the leading edge of recognizing those changes.”
One of Nanda’s latest passions is helping her clients get their projects into development. That can involve giving feedback on a book, helping to pitch a script or simply bringing like-minded individuals together. “I like developing talent,” she says. “One of the best things about having your own practice is the chance to pursue opportunities that excite you. It fulfills me creatively.”
And, ultimately, she is platform neutral. A good story is a good story, be it a novel, a television show or a YouTube video. As she puts it: “The thrust of it is, how well do I tell my client’s story?”
Timeline of an entertainment lawyer
1998: On a merit scholarship, Nanda moves from her hometown of London, Ont., to attend high school at Ridley College, a boarding and day school in St. Catharines.
2006: She earns an honours bachelor of science from the University of Toronto, with a specialty in developmental biology.
2008: Nanda starts law school at Osgoode Hall.
2011: After graduation, she articles at Seligman Law, a boutique immigration firm in Toronto.
2012: Now called to the bar, Nanda swiftly launches her own entertainment and immigration practice, called SN Legal. “I identify myself as an entrepreneur as much as I do a lawyer,” she says.
2013: Canada launches the initial pilot phase of the Start-Up Visa Program, hoping to attract job-creating entrepreneurs to the country. Nanda is an early lawyer to embrace the program, helping to bring talent into the country from across the globe, including Brazil, India, China and Dubai.
2017: Nanda rebrands her firm as Quantum Law Group. Her clients include filmmakers and writers but also creatives who distribute their work on YouTube and Instagram, as well as tech start-ups.
This story is from our Spring 2020 Issue.
Photography by Erin Leydon