Why Hire an Entertainment Lawyer?

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Many creative people, especially those who are just starting out or are still at “indie” status, cannot afford expensive legal services.  Some artists decide to proceed without an attorney, while others may use a friend/cousin/brother-in-law/etc. that is a real estate/personal injury/construction/etc. attorney willing to review a contract for free.  Both of these scenarios are detrimental to the artist, and here is why:

It is highly ill advised to enter into contracts without having an attorney review them.  First, these contracts contain specific language that is quite foreign to someone not trained to interpret and understand it.  Second, companies offering contracts to artists have had highly skilled lawyers draft these documents and often draft them in a way that is confusing, sneaky and intended to mislead the artist.  I have encountered many artists, some of whom became my clients, who previously signed these types of deals without consulting an attorney.  The result was that they got stuck into a bad deal, realized their mistake after they had already lost significant amounts of income and then needed someone to fix the situation – so they hired me.

Having a non-entertainment attorney look over a contract is better than proceeding without an attorney, but it is still not an ideal scenario for an artist.  This is because the entertainment industry has practices and uses terms in its contracts that only pertain to the entertainment industry.  This field is so nuanced that even film contracts and music contracts differ in some of their terminology.  An attorney that may be great at general business contracts will not be familiar with these industry-specific terms and will miss crucial points that separate a good deal from a bad one and could cost the artist a lot of money.

I understand that legal services are expensive.  However, it will be even more expensive to be stuck in or try to get out of a bad deal than had the artist hired an attorney to negotiate the deal correctly the first time.  One option is contacting a free or low-cost legal service clinic, as there are some specific to the creative community.  Another alternative is to have a consultation with an attorney.  Some attorneys will charge a lesser rate for a thirty to sixty minute consultation that may answer a lot of your questions.  A third alternative is to hire a newer lawyer that understands the business and can service the client at a lesser rate than an attorney that has been practicing for thirty years.

I always want artists to be protected and get the best deal possible.  Whomever you choose to hire, whether it be me or someone else, please make sure you get an entertainment attorney with experience in the type of deals in front of you.

In an upcoming series of posts, I will discuss how to choose the right attorney for you.

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