I’ve been reminded a number of times in the last week that people Don’t Like Lawyers.
This confounds me.
No, seriously, it does. I understand that people usually need lawyers during rough portions of their life, but I’ve rarely heard as many jokes about oncologists as I hear about lawyers.
And yes, there are lawyers that are jerks. But there are also kittens who are jerks. People still like kittens.
Now, I’m not saying you have to like lawyers. But like doctors, dentists and bartenders, in certain situations it is better to have one, than not.
Particularly if you are working in an field where understanding your rights in a legal relationship can impact the amount of money you make, future opportunities you’ll have and industry recognition.
Like, you know, art.
No one prepares for jobs to go sideways or for agreements to get complicated, but you can prepare to be able to positively deal with those situations should they arise.
When freelance work has become regular or the opportunities you’re being offered are more enticing, take some time and find yourself a lawyer. Finding a lawyer can be a lot like finding a doctor: it’s better to do it when you don’t need one.
Before you think I’m trying to drum up business for lawyers: nothing I’m suggesting should cost you a dime! Talking to lawyers does not cost money. If it did, I would be rich. I am not rich. Just like you draw and it doesn’t cost anyone anything, lawyers talk and it doesn’t cost anyone anything. (If an attorney charges a consultant rate for a meet and greet, ask them to waive it and if they don’t, find another lawyer.)
Do not be afraid of lawyers! We are just nerds with different interests.
If you don’t know where to start & you don’t have friends or peers to ask for references:
- Call your local State Bar Association (that place that licenses lawyers to practice in your state) and ask if there is an Entertainment Law section or Arts Law section in your state. Sections are like nerdy club houses for lawyers: we get together and talk about advancements in that particular area of law as if we were discussing our favorite bits of dialogue in “Chain of Command.” If your state has a section that deals with entertainment or art law, find out if they have a web page and who the officers of the section are. Call one of the officers and tell them you’re gathering information about what resources are available for artists in your area. They will talk to you. I promise. Lawyers love to talk.
- If you live in California or New York, start with your local county bar organization instead of the State Bar. It’s usually as easy as Googling “Multnomah County Bar Association.”
- Still not believing me and too intimidated to call an attorney? Ok, do everything I just said, but ask about the Young Lawyers Section or New Lawyers Section and see if they have an arts or entertainment practice section. Young lawyers love to talk to people even more than your Average Joe lawyer.
- Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is an organization specifically designed to help artists establish positive, productive, healthy relationships with the law. They’re there to help you from yourself. They’re NY based, but have some good information on their website. Mine it to figure out for what purposes you might want to work with an attorney.
- Stop using Wikipedia’s entry on Fair Use to determine if you’re OK to do a parody of the Little Rascals. Please. Just stop. It’s about as useful as sending in that damn turtle drawing to the Art Instruction Schools to learn how to draw.
Treat finding a lawyer the same way you’d treat finding another professional: ask friends for references, ask the professional to provide you with names of current or former clients you can speak with, and don’t pick someone you feel uncomfortable taking your clothes off in front of.
I know that last one is more appropriate for doctors, but lawyers get to see a lot of your life. The good ones know that and respect it; the bad ones don’t. I want you to go with a good one.
Interview attorneys: ask them how often they’ve done the type of work you’re looking for;
explain the kind of relationship you’re hoping for (advice only, agent/lawyer, problem solver partner, etc.) and ask if they do that;
ask about their rates and in what increments they bill (6 minutes is common);
ask about their retainer fee and what that means (if you want to have the attorney available when you call, a retainer fee is common, but really, it’s more common in a criminal law or personal injury situation; an entertainment lawyer should agree to take you on as a client without a retainer);
ask the attorney to tell you about their best and worst client situation, listen, ask more questions; and
never ever ever put yourself in a place where you need an attorney and don’t have the time to do these things. Because it sucks.
So go out there and find yourself an attorney you like. It shouldn’t be that hard; I’ve found a number of artists I like.