My first job as a young associate was with a transactional entertainment law firm – we did not go to court. When a client found himself or herself in a legal dispute our amazing boss would negotiate a compromise 99% of the time – at least that is the way it seemed to me. In my two years at that firm we had one client actually go to court. In that situation we engaged outside counsel on behalf of the client to file suit and I accompanied the litigator to the court. As it turned out the other party did not show up and my client got a default judgment. That is the extent of my litigation experience!
It is not an exaggeration to say that as a young lawyer I did not realize that entertainment attorneys go to court. Seriously. The firm I worked for made deals (primarily for artists) and drafted and negotiated the contracts supporting those deals. It was not until I left that powerful law firm and struck out on my own that I realized that quite a few entertainment lawyers go to court.
When I am asked advice about becoming an entertainment lawyer I usually suggest, among other things, that the lawyer or law student to whom I am speaking consider not only deal making and transactional law as a career but to be open to accepting entertainment litigation cases. Doing so increases the options and possibly the income – especially in the early days of solo practice.
My friend, Sawnie “Trip” Aldredge is an excellent transactional entertainment lawyer as well as a litigator. I asked Trip to be a guest blogger for me. I am pleased to post what Trip has to say about being an entertainment law litigator and hope that this will be of some benefit to you. Here is his post:
“Daddy’s a litigator, those are the scariest kind of lawyer”—Cher in Clueless
When I first started practicing law, my partner and I basically took any case that came in the door while we built our entertainment law practice. So, while we were learning to negotiate record deals and publishing deals, we were also doing divorces, landlord-tenant cases and the occasional criminal misdemeanor case. I had been in the legal clinic in law school and found that I had really enjoyed the whole courtroom experience – which actually surprised me.
Gradually, other lawyers started referring music litigation cases to me. At first, these usually involved representing defendants in no-win situations but over time the cases became better and more rewarding – from royalty disputes to management breakups and ultimately to copyright and intellectual property litigation. As in every other aspect of the law you learn by studying what other people have done before and by actually doing the work.
Having the ability to actually litigate cases has really helped my practice. I believe that when you truly understand what goes into trying a case, whether from the plaintiff’s side or defendant’s side, and when you have an understanding of how a court is likely to handle a matter, it makes you a better advocate for your client. As a litigator, I have developed a sense of when it is appropriate to file a lawsuit and when it makes sense to back off and try to negotiate a settlement of a dispute.
There are some significant downsides to trying to be both a transactional lawyer and a litigator. It does not happen often but sometimes companies don’t want to deal with me on a contractual matter because I have sued them in the past. I reconcile this by knowing that if I had to file suit against this company or this individual then I was zealously representing the interests of my client – and at the end of the day that is what we as lawyers are supposed to do.
It is also sometimes difficult but not impossible to run a litigation practice as a solo attorney. The big firms will always outnumber you when it comes to man power. However I have had a number of mentors over the years who have shown me that one can indeed merge a litigation practice with a transactional entertainment law practice and I can tell you that I am rarely bored.
In my opinion, the music business is becoming more adverse; that is more and more companies are turning to litigation to resolve their disputes, often involving matters of first impression. I can sense that knowing what goes into trying a lawsuit will become increasingly important in years to come.
Be sure to check out Trip Aldredge’s Music and Law Blog. Thank you Trip.