Entertainment Lawyers & The Music Business (How To NOT Get RIPPED OFF)
How to Hire a Music Attorney
Music attorneys provide a variety of services for musicians. They can review or draft contracts, represent you in a lawsuit, or help shop your music. To hire a music attorney, you need to get referrals and then meet with a number of attorneys for consultations. Picking an attorney is never an easy decision, but you should listen to your “gut” and pick someone who you feel comfortable with and who charges a reasonable fee.
Getting Referrals for a Music Attorney
Determine why you need an attorney.Different attorneys have different specialties and you need to hire one that understands and feels comfortable with your legal issue. Before you start your attorney search, think about the legal problem you have. Are you about to sign a record deal and you want someone to look over a contract? Do you have questions about how to legally sample music? Are you being sued, or are you suing, for copyright infringement? Each of these legal issues involves a different area of the law.
- If you have a contracts question, you will want to hire a transactional contracts attorney. However, if you are in a contracts dispute, you may need to hire a trial lawyer as opposed to a transactional one. In general, transactional attorneys draft and execute documents while trial lawyers handle disputes.
- If you have a copyright question, you will want to hire an established intellectual property attorney. Intellectual property attorneys work with copyrights, patents, and trademarks all the time and will be able to help you with your issue.
Ask other musicians for referrals.To start your attorney search, you should get as many referrals as you can. One good source of referrals is other musicians. Ask them if they would recommend their lawyer and ask why. If the lawyer sounds like a good fit, then write down the lawyer’s name.
- Also ask musicians about the attorney’s fees.You probably won’t know initially what is considered a high fee, so don’t discount someone right off the bat if the fee sounds high.
Ask other people in the music business for referrals.You should also get the opinion of other people such as music managers and people who work for record labels. They are probably familiar with music attorneys and can give you some names.
- Don’t hire someone simply because a record label recommends the person.For example, you might have received a recording contract from a record label. The label then tells you to go meet with a certain lawyer to discuss the contract. Instead of hiring this lawyer automatically, you should always conduct your own attorney research to reach a conclusion.
Contact your local or state bar association.A “bar association” is an organization made up of attorneys. Most bar associations also run referral services, where you contact the bar association and they refer you to one or more lawyers.
- You can find your nearest bar association by visiting the American Bar Association’s website. Click on your state.
Look at music business directories.You can also get the names of music attorneys by looking in music business directories, such as the Recording Industry Sourcebook. Some magazines, such as Music Connection, also print directories of music attorneys.
- You might also be able to find lawyers who will work pro bono. For example, the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York City maintains a directory of organizations that provide legal advice to low-income musicians.
Get referrals at a music business conference.You can also connect with lawyers at music conferences, e.g., SXSW. One advantage of meeting lawyers in a social setting is that you can tell right off whether you connect with the lawyer.
- Attend panels where lawyers are speaking and participate in different “mentoring sessions” that conference attendees can sign up for.
- If you like a lawyer, briefly explain that you are looking for a lawyer and get a business card.
Researching the Attorneys
Look at a lawyer’s website.Lawyers today should have websites. You can find the website by typing in the lawyer’s name and their location. As you look at the website, pay attention to the following:
- Does anybody work alongside the lawyer? A lawyer who works in a larger firm with other attorneys can often provide more services for clients. However, a lawyer who works in a smaller firm can provide more individual attention.
- Is the website neat? Does it look professional or amateurish? Are there typos and grammatical errors? A lawyer who doesn’t take the time to create a professional website might not be careful when representing you.
Review the lawyer’s music experience.Lawyers should also list their experience on the website. Check to see how much music industry experience they have. Look for representative legal matters listed. Does the lawyer handle mostly music contracts? Or has the lawyer done a variety of work for musicians?
- Also check the website to see how much of the lawyer’s practice is devoted to musicians. Some lawyers might specialize in music matters while others do a variety of work.
Read online reviews.There are many websites where clients can post reviews. For example, reviews can be posted on Google+, Yelp, Yahoo, and Avvo. You can find these reviews by typing in the lawyer’s name and city into an Internet search engine.
- Avvo is a site dedicated to the review of attorneys.Therefore, it can be a great place to analyze attorney reviews. A majority of lawyers who are hired by the public will maintain and check their Avvo profile regularly.
- Take online reviews with a grain of salt. For one thing, anyone can post a review online. For another, people who are disgruntled tend to be more motivated to leave a negative review than a person who had a positive experience.
- Nevertheless, you should look for patterns. For example, if several people complain that the lawyer is hard to get ahold of, then there might be a legitimate problem.
Research the lawyer’s disciplinary history.Every state's bar association investigates potential attorney misconduct. For example, a lawyer might divulge a client’s confidences or steal money from clients. The state bar will investigate and then punish the lawyer if the allegation is true.
- You should check whether a lawyer has been punished by the state bar in their state. To do so, visit your state bar's website and type in the attorney's name and/or bar number. Within their profile will be their history of discipline.
- Do not hire a lawyer with a history of discipline if you can help it. If it is your only option, make sure you do your research and feel comfortable hiring the lawyer to help you with your case.
Narrow your list.You probably won’t have time to meet with every attorney for a consultation. Instead, you should try to narrow your list down to three or four. You can schedule consultations with your finalists.
Attending a Consultation with the Attorney
Schedule a consultation.Once you have narrowed your list of lawyers down to three or four, you should call each lawyer and ask for a consultation. Most lawyers offer consultations for free or for a reduced fee. These may last only 15 minutes or so, but you can get a good sense of whether you and the lawyer are compatible.
- Be sure to ask about the price of the consultation.Don’t assume all consultations are free. If you have little money, then you don’t want to schedule a consultation with someone who charges too much.
- Also ask the lawyer if you should bring anything to the consultation. For example, if need to hire a lawyer to review a recording contract, then you should probably bring your copy of the contract.
Think about what you want from the lawyer.Before showing up for the consultation, you should take some time to write out what you exactly want from the lawyer. Your consultation will likely be short—15 to 30 minutes.You won’t have a lot of time to search for words.
- Also, a lawyer will be more impressed if you can clearly state what you are looking for. Just as you want to hire a lawyer who is clear in their thinking, lawyers want clients who are clear about their needs.
Create a list of questions.There should be time during the consultation for you to ask questions. You should avoid asking any question that can be answered by looking at the lawyer’s website. For example, the website should state where the lawyer went to law school and when he or she graduated. Common questions include:
- How many years has the lawyer practiced music law?
- What percentage of the lawyer’s practice is devoted solely to music issues?
- How does the lawyer communicate? Email? Telephone? Will the lawyer personally return phone calls or does he or she have an assistant return calls?
- How much does the lawyer charge? Also what is the fee arrangement like? If they shop your music, do they charge only a percentage or also upfront costs?
- Is there any music law issue the lawyer doesn’t handle?
- If you are meeting to hire a lawyer to shop your music around, then ask about your chances. The lawyer should be honest with you.
Arrive on time.Lawyers are busy people, and you should strive to arrive on time. If you find that you are running late, then call the lawyer’s secretary and say when you plan to arrive.
- The lawyer might have to cancel your consultation if you are late. Ask if you can speak by phone or reschedule.
Take notes.Show up to the consultation with a pen and a notepad and write down notes about what the attorney is telling you.Don’t be embarrassed—the attorney should be impressed that you are taking the consultation seriously.
- Also, shortly after the consultation, write down your impressions of the lawyer. Pay attention to how you felt during the consultation. Were you comfortable? Did you get answers to your questions or did the lawyer hesitate?
Narrowing Your List of Attorneys
Gauge how comfortable you were with the attorney.You will be working closely with whatever attorney you hire, so comfort is important. Think about whether the lawyer’s personality was compatible with yours. Did you hit it off? Did you think the chemistry was good?
- It can take quite a while to find a lawyer you are comfortable with, so be honest in your assessment. It’s okay not to feel chemistry with any particular lawyer, even if other musicians rave about him or her.
- Also think about how comfortable you were asking questions. In order to participate meaningfully in any legal decision-making, you need to understand the issues. This means you will need to ask your lawyer questions. If you felt too intimidated to ask questions, then the lawyer might not be a good fit for you.
Analyze the lawyer’s communication skills.A good lawyer should be a good communicator. He or she will represent you in contract negotiations or in court, so you want a lawyer who speaks well and can build relationships with other people.Think about how confident you would feel having the lawyer speak on your behalf.
Avoid bad attorneys.There are some attorneys you should flat-out avoid. If the lawyer did any of the following in your consultation, then you should probably cross the person off your list:
- Avoid lawyers who guarantee that you will be famous. Actually, the lawyer has no idea if you’ll be financially successful and, in any event, the lawyer has no power to guarantee success. It is unethical for lawyers to guarantee certain results, so you should avoid a lawyer who makes these kinds of promises.
- Avoid lawyers who are too aggressive. Some lawyers want to come across as more powerful than they are. They might tell you not to sign a recording contract with a record label but not have any good reason why other than vague promises that they can “get you a better deal.”
- Avoid attorneys who hesitate to discuss legal costs. An attorney should be up-front about how much you need to pay for their services.
Trust your gut.Once you have reviewed the notes you took during and after your consultations, you should make a decision about which attorney to hire. If you didn’t like any of them, then you should start over and get more referrals.
Hiring the Music Attorney
Call the lawyer.Once you have made a decision, you should call the lawyer and tell them that you want to hire them. The lawyer should tell you what next steps to take.
- You can also send an email to any other lawyer that you met with for a consultation. Keep the email short. Thank the lawyer for meeting with you but say that you have decided to hire someone else. You do not need to give a reason why.
Read the fee agreement.The lawyer should send you a fee agreement which spells out what you will pay. This agreement may be part of an “engagement letter” or it may be separate. The engagement letter usually explains the scope of the lawyer’s duties and your responsibilities as the client.
- These agreements are contracts between you and the lawyer, so you should read them closely before signing.
- Be sure to tell the lawyer if you disagree with anything in the fee agreement or the engagement letter. Call up the lawyer and see if you can come to a compromise.
Sign the fee agreement.Be sure to sign only after you agree with everything in the fee agreement (and the engagement letter). Send the signed original back to the lawyer and keep a copy for your records.
- You may also have to pay a “retainer,” which is a sum of money you deposit with the lawyer to make the relationship official. As the lawyer performs work for you, they should first deduct from the retainer before billing you.
Work closely with your lawyer.Your attorney-client relationship can only be successful if you work closely. Always try to stay in touch with your attorney, and update him or her on new developments.
- If you ever have a problem with your lawyer, speak up. The lawyer might be unaware of any issue and will appreciate you bringing it to their attention.
Video: Why You Should Hire an Entertainment Lawyer
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