Are you missing opportunities because you're not using your entertainment lawyer?
If you're like most people, you don't think much about having a lawyer on your side until you need advice, or to make or defend against some kind of threat. But having an experienced entertainment lawyer on your team can do much more for your career or business in the entertainment industry if you take advantage of all the ways you can use your lawyer. Here, in no particular order, is a list of ways you might not have thought about to use your lawyer to full effect:
1. As a resource.
Lawyers are extraordinarily well-connected people. We know hundreds or thousands of other professionals, service providers, vendors, and clients. Chances are, if you're looking to connect with someone to help you with a particular need, your lawyer will know whom to refer you to. If not, ask your entertainment lawyer to dig into the question a bit. We're also skilled researchers and can leverage those talents to finding the right people, and checking their background and bona-fides.
2. As a representative.
It goes without saying, that if you're faced with litigation or arbitration, you're best served by having an experienced trial lawyer representing you. But, even if you're a saavy businessperson, and an experienced negotiator yourself, it's wise to have a lawyer representing you in your negotiations, too. At least in those negotiations which aren't an everyday part of your core business. Entertainment lawyers are skilled negotiators, shrewd analysts of other parties' motivations, needs, and goals, and most importantly, we often bring a degree of objectivity to the process. The result can be a more fruitful negotiation than you'd manage by yourself.
3. As an advisor.
We are, after all, called “Attorney and counselor at law.” Don't hesitate to seek your lawyer's advice about almost anything that confounds you. If we don't know we'll either tell you so, or research the answers.
4. As a source of information.
Your attorney can be an amazing source of useful information. Not just about things in our specific practice areas, but also on a host of other subjects. Most attorneys love to learn, so we're constantly reading, studying, researching things that interest us, and in many cases, those are the same things that interest our firends, clients and colleagues. You might be surprised at the information we have at our fingertips. It can't hurt to ask.
5. As a teacher.
Being a lawyer is, in a lot of ways, like teaching. A trial lawyer's role, after all, is to help a judge or jury understand the facts and the law that apply to a partcular circumstance, incident, or transaction. Similarly, transactional attorneys need to help the parties understand the background, facts, law and the nuance of perspectives that apply to each deal.
Many attorneys also teach formal classes. I myself teach advanced courses in business law and theatre law, and I guest lecture to film and theatre students regularly. I've even developed an online learning program for theatre producers.
But, even lawyers who don't teach in a formal environment can help you. Like other enterrtainment lawyers, in my work with filmmakers and theatre producers, I'm often called upon to use my expertise to help clients learn new skills and approaches to their work.
6. As a sounding board.
Lawyers are trained to analyze complex situations. We're the guys that invented (or at least perfected) the phrase “On the other hand”. We're also really good at evaluating the pro/con aspects of business situations. We can usually spot issues, angles, and perspectives that are worth considering when wrestling with a thorny question. Why not spend a few minutes with your attorney next time you're confounded by a choice or confronted by competing opportunities?
7. As a referral source.
Attorneys are well-connected. Not just to other lawyers, but to professionals in all fields. We move through the world making acquaintance with people of all backgrounds and skills. Need a referral to a good physician? Accountant? Trainer? Contractor? Plumber? House Painter? Ask your lawyer if he or she knows anyone. Odds are, he will.
8. As an advocate.
Ultimately, the role of a lawyer is to advocate for our clients' interests. Formulating the strongest and most persuasive arguments in favor of a particular position is the thrust of an attorney's training. Need help crafting your approach to a lobbying effort, making a bid for a contract, or whatever? Bring in your lawyer for a brainstorming session. You'll be impressed with the outcome.
9. As a draftsman.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. If you need a contract drawn up, use a lawyer. Sure, you can do it yourself, but unless you draft this kind of deal every day, chances are your lawyer will do it faster and better, and you'll sleep better at night knowing things were done right.
Entertainment industry deals are constantly evolving, and usually involve a complex web of rights, permissions, clearances and warranties. The fact is, pitfalls abound for the unwary, and even the most experienced producers and executives encounter trouble when the documents haven't been prepared correctly.
But even the simplest agreements can benefit from a lawyer's involvement. Sometimes, the most dangerous part of a contract is in what it doesn't say. Your lawyer knows how to make sure the contract says everything it should, and nothing it shouldn't.
10. As a conscience.
Not sure whether what you plan to do is the smart, safe, and moral move? Ask your lawyer. You may not like the answer, but it'll surely be better than hearing about what you should have done, after it's too late. Your lawyer can also often help you pivot things just slightly to stay on the right side of the law.
11. As a confidant.
What you tell your lawyer in confidence stays confidential. Attorney-Client privilege is sacrosanct. So, get it off your chest. Tell your lawyer what's going on. It helps. Really!
12. As a reality check.
Your lawyer is in the trenches with clients like you, and in other business sectors each and every day. Tapping into his or her perspective can be hugely beneficial, if you just take the time to ask. Most people don't, so this can be a tremendous competitive advantage.
13. As a protector of your stuff.
Lawyers are required to assure the safekeeping of client's property placed in their custody. While it's unethical for a lawyer to participate in covering up evidence, it's appropriate for us to preserve and protect important papers, securities, money, etc. by holding them in trust.
14. As a protector of your freedoms.
This probably conjures images of a defense lawyer in a criminal trial, and that's certainly one way that lawyers protect client freedoms. But even in ordinary, non-criminal matters, entertainment lawyers are charged with protecting client freedoms. For example, writers and producers in theatre, film and television may be confronted by threats to their freedom of speech and expression. They may be exposed to threats of injunctions, or of being required to produce documents as evidence in other people's lawsuits. Clients may find that new or proposed legislation would impact their ability to make a living or continue in business. Regardless of the threat faced, your entertainment lawyer is part of the solution.
15. As an enforcer.
Needless to say, if someone isn't playing by the rules, they need to be brought into line. Whether it's as simple as a phone call, or a cease-and-desist letter, or as complex as a full-blown lawsuit, your lawyer's involvement will go a long way to ensuring a successful outcome.
16. As a juggler.
Lawyers are really good. I mean really really good at keeping lots of balls in the air at one time. Let us help you do the same by handing off projects so you don't have to think about them as often.
17 As a ringmaster.
Does it feel like running your business, your career and life is like a three-ring circus? Get a lawyer onto your team, and get rid of some of the headaches. Whether it's a matter of managing people, projects, publicity, or just keeping you aprised of risks and benefits as you move from project to project, having a lawyer on call will give you tremendous piece of mind.
18. As a mouthpiece for messages you don't want to come directly from you.
Have you ever had to deliver some bad news that you feared would sour an entire relationship? Could having your lawyer deliver the news take the personal feelings out of the situation and leave the friendship or family relationship intact?
In an ongoing business relationship, especially in the personality-driven entertainment industry, it's important to keep the business part of things somewhat separate from the day-to-day work, so your creativity isn't hampered. Lawyers are good at strategizing the delivery of bad news, threats, etc., to ensure the most positive outcome possible.
19. As a backstop.
You know there have been times where you've wanted the recipient of a letter or email you're sending to know that you have a lawyer, and you've brought him into the loop on a situation, right? Well, go ahead, cc: your lawyer. It'll make you feel better and maybe command a degree more respect from the other guy. Why not?
20. As a friend.
I hope you'll think of me as your friend, or better yet, Family. I've got your back when you need me, so give me a call. I'm always glad to help.
Happy new year!