How to Work with a Creative Lawyer
by Sue Basko
Most people think of a lawyer as someone they go to when there is trouble: a DUI, injury, or lawsuit. A lawyer for creative people is just the opposite: you come to us when things are going well, when you are doing creative and good things in your life.
I’m a lawyer for creative people. That means I work with people who make music, make films and videos, people who write stories and screenplays, independent journalists, people who run websites, people designing apps or games. I work with designers, artists, songwriters, record labels, show hosts, live show and festival producers.
Many people only go to a lawyer when there’s trouble: a DUI, a lawsuit, an injury, they need a will. For a DUI or other crime, you’d see a criminal defense lawyer. If you are injured, you’d go to a personal injury (PI) lawyer. If you need to make a will or trust, you go to a Trusts and Estates lawyer. There are many other areas of law in which lawyers tend to concentrate their practices, such as Employment law/ ERISA, Corporate law, Tax law, Patent law, Medical malpractice law, Environmental law, Health law, and on.
People come to a lawyer for creative people when things in their lives are gelling, when they are doing what they love. If a person plans to turn their creative activity into a moneymaking venture, or if they want to protect their creative assets, then it is time to see a creative lawyer.
Creativity + sound legal advice in a timely way = Productive Creative Career
My areas of law and experience include these and more:
Audio/ Sound design
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
Music rights and royalties
Pornography/ Indecency/ Obscenity
Radio and TV shows
Social Media law
Software as a Service
Subpoenas/ Warrants on social media/ isps
Terms of Service
How to Work with a Creative Lawyer:
1) Get Acquainted. You and the lawyer have to get to know each other a bit to see if you want to work together. I select clients usually over a course of emailing back and forth. I only work with people where I think there is a good fit between what they need and what I have to offer. I am looking for clients who are honest and fair with others, who are very comfortable working on the computer and via internet, and who have a broad world view. I only work with people who I think have substantial creative talent, who are able to take direction, and work well with others. People come to me because I have skills, knowledge, and experience in a wide range of creative fields.
2) Plan to Pay. When you are planning your project or business, budget for legal help. In most creative projects, legal work will be 10% to 25% of the budget. I make it very easy for clients to come to me, by not requiring credit checks or retainers. I simply require payment in advance. That way, my clients get the best help for the least expense, and I don’t spend my time being a bill collector. It is extremely expensive and difficult to become a lawyer, and even moreso to develop special legal skills. Lawyers need to be paid.
3) If you need Free Help: If you can’t pay or are on a limited budget, you need to state this upfront, and see if the Creative lawyer is able to help you anyway. I make a judgment call as to what the person really needs. If a person tells me about a project where they are paying for the other services, but want free legal help, I suggest they rework that budget to be fair to me. At any given time, I have clients I am helping for free. These are people where I like what they are doing and where I think my skills are well-suited to what they need.
4) Don’t Misuse a Lawyer. Some people try to use a lawyer to get an approval for a questionable or illegal thing they plan to do. They’re trying to get a lawyer to find them a loophole or a way to do something that is unfair or illegal, and then plan to blame the lawyer when their scheme backfires. I don’t work with such people. If you plan to screw someone, I am not the lawyer for you. Keep away, thanks.
5) Get to Know You: I have many questions for my clients. I need to know who they are, what they are doing, what their goals are, etc. Be prepared to tell me a lot of things. Be prepared to show your records. Then, be ready to answer more questions. I need to know about you and what you are doing.
6) Let Me Help You: Please come to me with an open mind, willing to communicate. I think of things you probably haven’t thought of. That’s what I’m good for. Sometimes, there may be issues that are more serious than you were thinking, or solutions that are easier than you thought.
7) Follow Through. If I tell you to do something, do it. If you need a lawyer who will hold your hand and do everything for you, expect to pay a lot. If I tell you to file a report with a certain agency or to remove something off your website, and you fail to do it, then you are making it so I cannot help you.
8) Let Me Make a Plan for You. I can lay out what you need now, what should be goals over the next months, and what should be long-term goals. For example, if you have a website, maybe now you should register a trademark, and over the next month, have me write a Terms of Service. Then we may need to get music and photo clearances, and write contracts for you to use on a regular basis. Then over the coming year, you will need updates on the Terms of Service, registration on some copyrights, employment contracts, and a few additional trademarks. Legal work is a constant need. but it ebbs and flows.
9) Don’t Wait! Don’t wait till you have big trouble and things are falling apart. If you are forming a company, partnership, band, record label – get legal help asap. And if you are being asked to sign a contract, get a lawyer involved.
10) Don’t Undo my work or go around my back. If I’ve written a contract, you don’t get to change it. If you want to change it, you need to talk to me. If I am working on a deal, you don’t get to sabotage it by going behind my back. If you do these things, you are what is considered a nightmare client, and you get dropped. This is like going to a doctor for a surgery and bringing your own scalpel and doing your own little surgery while in the waiting room. Ridiculous, right? Lawyers don’t put up with it. If you are a know it all, do-it-yourself-er, then do it yourself from the get-go and don’t trouble a lawyer.
11) Do lawyers kill the deal? Some do. I try not to. My goal is to treat everyone fairly. I try to honor everyone involved. Usually when I write a contract, people are happy to sign it. I believe in win-win situations. I believe I am best helping my clients’ creative plans if I write contracts that lead to happy, healthy, long-lasting relationships with other valuable, honorable, talented people.
12) Contracts I write: I have a specific style of writing that I use in contracts. I write contracts that are clear and easy for regular people to understand. I also write contracts to be fair to all, and to honor all the parties. I am starting to see contracts that I wrote being used by others, circulating, and coming back to me, especially in Hollywood. My "style" of contract is catching on. I think this is great!