The Glamour of Entertainment Law
Mixing Glitz and Wits in a Niche Practice Area
The sometimes dry or rote topics of contract law, labor disputes, and financing mechanisms become more alluring if one’s clients just happen to be folks who are movie stars, playwrights, directors, and studio moguls. Lawyers with a yen to serve the theatrical may find entertainment law a worthwhile pursuit as a practice area. Someone, after all, has to do the paperwork to make sure that the creative who demands bowls stocked solely with certain colors of M&Ms candy in his trailer is so indulged.
But beyond servicing the creative whims of the talent, entertainment lawyers take on some very serious subjects: protecting the interests of the clients, whether in performance deals, in publishing contracts; in licensing and merchandising arrangements. After all, someone has to provide legal advice to the George Clooney's and Saoirse Ronan's of the universe.
Clients, Dramatic and Not
Entertainment law practice is not limited to actors, though. Other talent like musicians, writers, reality TV stars, and magicians needs legal assistance, as do others involved in other ways in the entertainment field: producers, directors, bookers, promoters, agents, film studios, and the venues themselves. Sometimes, everyday people become accidental celebrities through all sorts of varied circumstances: they are accused of crimes and are subjected to high-visibility trials (e.g., convicted killer Jodi Arias, acquitted murder defendant Casey Anthony who had been accused of killing her daughter), they are in a celebrity’s sphere in some way (think Charlie Sheen’s goddesses or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s nanny), or they are romantically involved with one (Amal Clooney, married to actor George; Nancy Shevell, wife of Beatle Paul McCartney).
A Mixed Practice
Legal issues can involve contracts and dealmaking generally, of course, but also royalty disputes, copyright infringement, labor and employment disagreements, tax law, libel, and privacy. Choice of law specifications in contracts can also be important in entertainment law matters as they may, of course, affect the outcome of any subsequent dispute that arises.
Celebrity clients may also seek legal advice from their entertainment lawyers on more personal matters: nondisclosure agreements with nannies, personal assistants, and other hired hands; concluding real estate deals; drafting prenuptial agreements and postnuptial ones; representation in divorce; help with the fallout from leaked personal videos or hacked emails; dealing with stalkers.
An entertainment lawyer, of course, should demonstrate sufficient self-restraint when dealing with big-name stars as clients; those clients are entitled to the same confidentiality to which people who are not household names are entitled. What is different is how many people might be tempted to leak information and how many people might be interested in obtaining it. Sure, allow yourself to be starstruck in private if you happen to have a big-time entertainment law practice; take extra precautions to preserve your clients’ privacy should you be so fortunate. Remember that there has been some very real fallout for celebrity lawyers who mishandled client information.
Not Just VIPs
Not all clients in an entertainment lawyer’s roster need be household names. Clients may be trade unions or agents or venues themselves.
Practice is not limited to Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York, although those three cities are home to many prospective clients. Stagehands, production locations, or venues might be located anywhere.
Know the Industry
As in other areas of the legal practice, lawyers will be vastly helped by knowing not just the law but also the industry in which their clients work. As with other fields, there’s a lingo associated with the entertainment field. Lawyers might find themselves bargaining for back-end points for actors, negotiating movie options for book authors, or discussing whether a client is “above the line.”