The Golden Rule regarding lawyers: ‘Never use anyone but an Entertainment Law attorney.’ Don’t use Uncle Bill, the real estate lawyer. Don’t hire your next door neighbor who is a public defender. Don’t hire an attorney who works in the medical profession.
Entertainment Law is a specialty field. They are used in film and television for talent, producers, writers, anyone who is in need of legal advice. Musicians are also part of the entertainment industry and when you need a lawyer in this business, you need someone who knows the film and music industry inside out.
Attorneys in the music business need to know about recording contracts and should be able to advise clients about the copyright laws. They are very much involved in structuring the deals that may come your way, and have a lot to say about shaping an artists’ business life.
One major thing to look for is a lawyer’s relationships in the industry. Lawyers have evolved into one of the most powerful groups in the music industry. They end up seeing more deals than anyone else, and have more knowledge of what’s “going down” around town. Record companies, for instance, can’t ignore phone calls from important lawyers, nor can they afford to treat them shabbily since they’re going to be dealing with these lawyers again and again. A knowledgeable lawyer with good relationships will get your deals done quicker, and will get you the best deal that can legitimately be had. Here are some other aspects for you to consider when “shopping” for a lawyer:
Does he or she have expertise in the music business? Make sure that the lawyer you are hiring is an entertainment lawyer with at least some experience in the industry.
There are basically three ways attorneys in the music business charge their clients:
1) Hourly Fee. Some lawyers charge on an hourly basis. The rates range from $125 per hour for new lawyers to up to $450 or more for more established, reputable lawyers.
2) Percentage. Others charge a percentage usually between 5% and 10%. If the lawyer takes a percentage, make sure to get a complete explanation of how it is computed; each firm is different!
3) “Value Billing.” Some lawyers do something known as “value billing,” often with an hourly rate or retainer against it.
A retainer is a set monthly fee that is either credited against the ultimate fee or it’s a flat fee covering all services. Value billing means that, when the deal is finished, the lawyer asks for a fee based on the size of the deal and his contribution to it. For instance, if the lawyer had very little to do with shaping the deal, and only wrote the contract, the band should expect a fee that is close to an hourly rate. On the other hand, if the lawyer came up with a clever concept or strategy that made the band substantial sums of money, or if the lawyer shaped or created the deal from scratch, he may ask for a much larger fee. If your lawyer does value bills, you should get some idea up front what it’s going to be, so that there aren’t any rude surprises.
Also, ask your attorney if -- in addition to fees – there will be charges for any other costs such as long-distance phone calls, messengers, photocopies, faxes, etc.?
A Final Tip: Ask the lawyer for references of artists at your level of experience, and check them out. Does he return phone calls? Do they get deals done in a reasonable period of time? (Reasonable in the music business is not going to be anywhere near the speed you would like. It’s not uncommon for a record deal to take four or five months to negotiate, especially if you’re a new artist and can’t force the record company to turn out a draft quickly. Four to five months is a realistic time frame, but if it goes beyond that, someone isn’t doing their job.)
If you're getting ready to sign a deal with a producer, promoter, record label, recording studio, band or distribution company you may need someone to look over your contract or give you legal representation. Many people do not know when they need legal representation or opt out for the low cost approach of doing it themselves and end up losing more than it would have taken to invest in legal representation. There's no need to ever wonder how you can keep from getting screwed in a deal when the guy across from you has more skill, experience, knowledge or power. By getting an attorney that knows the business and your rights you can prevent a lot of legal issues that may arise in the future.