The entertainment industry, by its nature, is riddled with grey areas. There is little black and white, particularly with regard to new business models and technologies that don’t fit neatly into governing law and regulation. Executives in our business rely on their lawyers who play a unique role. They charge them with a particularly challenging task of providing practical, creative and effective counsel – often with high stakes and tight timelines. Answers to their questions often stand to make or break an entire business.
Whether it is software, photography, film, music, gaming or spoken and written works, creators often need their counsel’s support so that what they create is properly protected, credited, treated, monetised, attributed, and made available in ways that are both aligned with the goals of the creator and the law.
Here are three primary features of what I perceive to be the hallmarks of excellent counsel in the entertainment industry:
The key takeaway is that part of working for creative clients is being practical, adaptable, and willing to accommodate unexpected and unfamiliar twists and turns. Entertainment lawyers are called upon to counsel, not dictate. They must adapt their ways of working and communicating to fit the particular needs of the client and circumstances. Though they may be tempted to, they rarely should say “no” without presenting alternative options. Just because it hasn’t been done before is rarely if ever a reason to discourage a client from doing it. It is counsel’s work to be creative and help find the right path forward.
2. Personalised and empowering counsel
A good lawyer will clearly present a few optional courses of action with advantages and disadvantages for each, often in a memo or email. A bad lawyer will tell their client the law and leave it at that. A great lawyer will evaluate the communication style of their client, determine their values and priorities in a manner their client appreciates, communicate the appropriate amount of information about the law, business practices, practical considerations, and any other factors that should come into play and then support and counsel their client through informed decision making.
3. Solution-orientated creativity
A third and final guiding principle for entertainment lawyers is to be creative themselves! Closely related to being appropriately adaptable and proactively thorough, to successfully counsel their creative clients, they need to be creative in all areas of their practice, but particularly in providing counsel regarding non-standard scenarios, licensing arrangements, partnerships, business models, and so on.
Excellent counsel is just that: excellent counsel. Entertainment lawyers spend long hours with clients getting to know their wants, needs, secrets, fears, and dreams. They are creative. They are thorough. They are careful. They are adaptable. They pick their battles carefully, and know that sometimes they have to conquer ten additional questions along the way to help their client get comfortable with the right answer to one.
Their ability to adapt their styles and approaches, empower their uniquely invested clients, and be creative themselves in the perseverance of positive outcomes will continue to make them the valuable team members that they are.
Though they may spend a lot of their time behind a screen, in an office, on a phone or airplane, there is a little bit of them all in the awesome works their clients dazzle the world with.
This post is an abridged version of an article by International Association of Entertainment Lawyer (IAEL) member Cecily Mak. To find out more, don’t miss IAEL’s Master Class at midem 2013, ‘I Love my Lawyer! How Creative Counsel Supports Growth and Innovation in the Entertainment Industry’ (Jan 27, 14.30). A panel of experts will explain how the challenges of today’s digital entertainment are being turned into opportunities around the world.