When it comes to lawyers, there are a number of areas that they can focus their practice on. Similar to the medical profession where some doctors specialize in pediatrics, cardiology or oncology, lawyers can specialize in a variety of areas ranging from family, public service, criminal or environment. And, when it comes to the entertainment business, this reality also rings true. Entertainment lawyers can specialize even further, in anything from music, unions, film, intellectual property, radio and art.
If you are “in the biz” and are wondering if you need to hire an entertainment lawyer, then read on to learn the basics about the different types, costs and more.
What is an Entertainment Lawyer, exactly?
Lawyers who specialize in the entertainment field are typically found performing a number of tasks including the negotiation of deals and assessing contracts, as well as pursuing court matters. Generally speaking, entertainment lawyers can be grouped into two main categories: Negotiators and Litigators. Negotiators primarily focus on reviewing and advising on deals and contracts, while litigators will argue various matters before the courts.
What is a “Negotiator”?
You will seldom, if ever, find the Negotiator arguing in court as they spend the bulk of their time in their office reviewing and drafting deals such as publishing arrangements, record deals and contracts with talent agents. The Negotiator will also focus the majority of their time in meetings and on the phone with clients, record labels, studios and other lawyers. In a sense, the Negotiator’s duties are comparable to that of a performer’s agent in that most of their attention is placed upon the legal fine print, implications and terms of a specific contract. Additionally, they are typically well connected within the industry having relationships with publicists, label / studio heads, talent managers / agents and so on.
The Negotiator’s number one priority is that you receive the best possible deal and / or contract. This entails that they sift through endless fine print and endure countless contract revisions on your behalf. This is understandable seeing as that studios and record labels often provide the first (and standardized) contract to get the ball rolling. It is no surprise that this first offer is biased towards the studio / label, and is exactly why the Negotiator will come in handy. The best lawyers understand the smaller details within each contract and know when you should push back and, alternatively, when it is okay to give in.
Lastly, a Negotiator will guide you, as a new artist, and help you understand the industry, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of agreeing to particular arrangements. In many ways, a Negotiator can act as an accountant, talent manager and agent all at once, in addition to providing you with legal advice.
What is a “Litigator”?
Litigators are experts when it comes to the finer details of intellectual property and contract law. Their main point of focus is flagging prospective legal problems in a certain conflict, and trying to reconcile the issues through arguing in court, arbitration (an unofficial trial, a private attempt at conflict resolution) or / and mediation (negotiation with a moderator). Litigators are mostly called on if (or when) a legal dispute occurs and are extremely competent in filing law suits, arguing, pleading and drafting for the courts.
When Should I Hire an Employment Lawyer?
Truth be told, it would be wise to hire an employment lawyer as soon as you are given a business contract that you are thinking of signing. Furthermore, you should always have an employment lawyer, someone who concentrates on intellectual property (for example, trademarks and copyrights) and contract law, to review any and all agreements before you sign them. Although the terms of a given contract could be well-meant, the ramifications can be enduring and very difficult, if at all possible, to undo once it is signed.
It is very important to keep in mind that, even though someone is a “lawyer” it does not mean that they are well-versed enough, or have the relevant experience, needed to accurately navigate the legal playing field within the entertainment industry. Just as you would not want to see a dentist for an eyeglass prescription, you also would not want to end up as a criminal lawyer’s experiment within the entertainment business.
If you, personally, do not know of a reputable entertainment lawyer then it would be a good idea to ask for recommendations from others in the business such as musicians, actors/actresses, managers, promoters and so on, for some guidance. It is also imperative that you find a lawyer who not only has the appropriate qualifications within the entertainment realm, but also someone who is licensed to practice in your particular province. Laws can differ between provinces, so this will be a critical detail not to overlook when hiring an entertainment lawyer.
How Much Will it Cost?
This is a fair and essential question for anyone who is considering hiring a lawyer. Firstly, there are a couple of main modes of payment that lawyers accept: flat rates and hourly billing. In terms of hourly rates, these can vary extensively depending on the province and size of the city / town in which the lawyer is located. For example, some lawyers bill as low as $100 per hour while others charge as much as $1,000 per hour. Flat rates are becoming increasingly common within entertainment law, and it is likely that you will be asked to pay a retainer fee up front. Generally speaking, your lawyer will deduct money from your retainer as time goes on, and you might be charged on a transactional basis. For instance, your lawyer may charge X for contract negotiations, and Y for copyright registration, instead of billing you for the hours worked on each task.
As you can see, there are a few straightforward options for payment when it comes to hiring a lawyer. However, you will want to avoid paying your lawyer on a percentage basis. For example, your lawyer takes 20% of a contract or deal signed. This type of arrangement will not be beneficial to you and is illegal in nearly all states.
Whatever the case, it is wise to set up a consultation with any prospective lawyers (they are normally free) and make as many inquiries as you need. Lawyers can be expensive so it is vital that you are aware of all of the financial obligations involved.
On the other hand, if you are not able to afford a lawyer it is possible to find one who will agree to represent you free of charge. This might be a newly licensed lawyer who is just starting out or, if you are lucky, someone who is a fan of your work.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is general legal information only. Any use of this column does not create or constitute an attorney-client privilege. Consult your Lawyer for all specific considerations.