Lawyers are expensive. But at some point in your music career you’re going to need one. Choosing to avoid using one just because of finances can lead you into some very sticky situations. As a general rule of thumb, if you are making a deal with someone who is using a lawyer, you should have one too. So when the time comes, here are some tips you’re going to want to take into consideration.
Recognize Your Needs
First and foremost, you need an Entertainment Lawyer who specializes in music. Although they may speak legalese, a Personal Injury lawyer won’t know music business law. Second, you need to decide if you need someone to join your team, or if this is only a one-time contract. If it’s a one-time contract, your main concern should be with how knowledgeable they are. There are a lot of “standard” music business contracts, and a good lawyer will know them like the back of their hand. Ask them about your particular need and see if they have any experience with it.
If it’s a new team member you seek, you need to think beyond the deal that inspired you to finally find a lawyer. Lawyers can be a very powerful part of your team. For music lawyers to avoid going broke, they have to work with a lot of different parts of the music business world. And you can pretty much guarantee that anyone who is going to a lawyer is doing something at least somewhat significant. Lots of lawyers like to put their clients in touch with each other when they see a good opportunity. You’ll want to pick the kind of lawyer who will keep your long term goals in mind. Don’t pick someone just because their rate is lower.
Once you’ve decided which path you’d like to take, start asking all of your music contacts if they have any recommendations. Nothing speaks louder than firsthand experience. If your friend worked with a lawyer and has nothing but glowing reviews, it means that they are likely doing their job right. On the other hand, if they mention that the lawyer is really bad at communicating, and often doesn’t respond for weeks a time, it’s wise to steer clear.
*Important Note* DO NOT take the recommendation of the person on the other end of your legal issue. Even if they have the best intentions at heart, it can still lead to a conflict of interest.
A lot of people don’t realize that a good portion of a lawyer’s career is public record. Bar associations are responsible for regulating legal professionals. Each jurisdiction has its own rules, but they all are put in place to make sure lawyers are acting unscrupulously. For example, if you live in California, you can look at The State Bar of California and find out when they became a lawyer, if they are still active, or if they have had any disciplinary/administrative actions taken against them. Just Google something along the lines of “YourCityName bar association” and you should have what you need in no time. And of course, don’t forget to Google the lawyer. You’d be surprised how much is out there!
Lawyers are notorious for being elusive. Don’t let that stop you from asking questions though. If you’re unsure about anything, be sure to ask. The reason you are paying a lawyer is because they have knowledge on matters that you don’t. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself, and speaking to a professional is one of the best ways to do it. As long as your questions are relevant, there is no reason they shouldn’t be willing to answer them.
If at any point you are unsure about their answer, whether it’s because you just didn’t understand it, or if you feel that they may have given you a wrong answer, don’t be afraid to do some more research. Although it’s no replacement for a hired professional, services like Avvo.com are great ways to at least get started in your quest for proper legal advice. And once again, Google is a great way to gain some more insight. Just be careful to check your facts.