4 Tips For Choosing An Entertainment Attorney
You worked really hard to secure the deal, and they finally sent over the contract. Congratulations! As you looked over the contract, you might have thought to yourself, “I can negotiate this without an attorney!” After all, I perpetuated the deal, and did all the legwork, why should I pay the additional cost?
Attorneys, (especially with regards to the entertainment business) are responsible for a lot more than just looking over contracts and giving their clients insight on the law. In my 20-plus years of experience, our entertainment attorney has always been very much involved in shaping our deals in a way which moved our careers forward. A lot of our successes could not have been achieved without the help of our attorney. Let me be clear, if you do decide to do your deal without consulting an attorney, you’re asking for a world of trouble. With that in mind, it only makes the best sense to really take the time to find an attorney that you're comfortable with.
Here are 4 tips for choosing an entertainment attorney.
1. The Attorney's Approach
Some attorneys are more personable than others. I think it's extremely important for you to be able to have an attorney that understands who you are, and what you are seeking to accomplish with your career. I've experienced the straight laced business attorney. These are the folks that basically treat you like walking ATM, charge you for every interaction, and seek to have large retainers. These attorneys don't really care how you're doing, they want to get right to the point. They only get back to you based on what they deem to be important to themselves and their practices. Is it wrong per se? No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s just my preference for an attorney to be slightly more personable. When you’re new to the business, you’ll have a ton a questions, the straight laced types can sometimes project an energy that may intimidate folks from asking important questions out of the fear of looking foolish.
Then there's the more social attorney. These attorneys are still about the money but, they have a way of making you feel more important. They return your calls very quickly, and they treat all inquiries (no matter how big or small) pretty much the same. Additionally they add more of a personal touch. The thought process here is an attorney becomes part of your team. This is the person that you're going to rely on for a great deal of business decisions in your career. This is a person that you want to develop a very good relationship with, and you sort of want to be able to trust these attorneys with your business, as it can impact your life.
Some time ago, we were doing a lot of deals with an attorney. Over time he gained our trust. When we got the news that their mother had passed away, we made it our business to support them during their time of loss. Now some would say, that this type of interaction was too personal, but as I see it, the people we do business with can often impact our personal lives and families. When a member of my team had a similar loss, that attorney was there right with us, driving almost 2 hours to NYC to support the team. He didn’t have to do that, but his gesture was appreciated, and our business bond was cemented.
The next thing to look out for is whether or not the attorney is connected. You want to ensure that you're working with an attorney who is connected and respected throughout the industry. This is important because you want to be able to leverage those relationships. There have been plenty of instances in our career where our attorney has connected us with mutual clients and we were able to work together and make some deals happen. If you’re considering an attorney who is new in the game, and they aren’t really connected throughout the industry, it can't slow down your process. It's just something to consider, it's not the end-all be-all, but it but should be something that you think about when making your selection. We had one particular situation early on in our career. We had just finished receiving a platinum record for Big Pun, and we had produced several records with Wu-Tang' Clan’s Raekwon The Chef. We also had some unreleased Nas records along with a few more artists. During that time our attorney was able to use his publishing connections to secure us a publishing deal. Its instances like these that basically support the notion that the more connected your attorney is, the better your chances are for getting into more deals and helping you to create more business opportunities for yourself.
3. What's the Cost?
So with all that said, what's the cost? Well, it varies. Early in our career we paid upwards of $250 an hour for an attorney to go over our business deals. When we got to our current attorney, his fees were more liberal. The current norm for attorneys these days are centered on charging a percentage of the deal. We've seen percentages as little as 5%, while others have had percentages as high as 10%. Depending on the involvement of the attorney and depending on the way that they structured the deal, they may ask for a larger fee. There are rare cases where they may secure a percentage for the life of the deal, (which we would probably recommend against unless the deal was totally and completely perpetuated by the attorney). There are some instances where you can negotiate fees based on results. Meaning, the more successful a deal is the percentages can increase.
4. Conflicting Situations
One thing to watch out for is potential conflicts of interest. While we do want our attorneys to be connected and those connections can help you with deals, they do have the potential to be a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest basically can occur when an attorney basically represents both sides of the deal. So in situations where you have a connected attorney you just have to be on the lookout for this. A possible solution is, you can elect to use a different attorney for that particular deal, or you can essentially waive the conflict of interest and let the attorney work the deal for both parties. It's all about how comfortable you are, and if the deal works for your best interest.
With all the information that we lined out, I hope that you are able to see that is definitely to your benefit for you to have an attorney rather than not having one. I see a lot of new producers and artists essentially giving their music away, selling beats with exclusive rights away, and basically doing deals with no legal representation whatsoever. Not only is this a recipe for disaster, you're truly selling yourself short. When it comes to music production, no two pieces of music are the same. You may have that one track, which you sold to someone online for exclusive rights and no other legal paperwork, and that record can turn into top 10 smash. Not only will you lose out on the windfall of potential royalties, but in some cases you may not even be able to get the credit for the production to help you jumpstart your career. So it's very important to ensure that you insert an attorney into your dealings whenever you can to help mitigate the potential losses that can occur in this business.
Good luck out there. Keep grinding.