Unauthorized Practice of Law – Entertainment Lawyers?

LicenseMost entertainment attorneys represent clients from states where the attorney is not licensed.  Isn’t that the unauthorized practice of law?

Recently I received an email from an attorney interested in entertainment law.  The question essentially had to do with whether he, an attorney licensed in and practicing in State A, can represent an individual who lives in State B in negotiations with a record company in State C.  This is an excellent question and I dare say there might be some difference of opinion as to the answer.

If one really wants to be thorough the I would suggest that research of the laws and cases in all three states is called for.  The unauthorized practice of law statutes are generally focused on the protection of that state’s citizens and talk about whether an unlicensed person is practicing law in their state for valuable consideration or soliciting their citizens for such legal representation.

Reality:  I do not know any entertainment attorneys who only represent clients who live in the state in which the attorney is licensed and has his or her primary law office.   Most have a national clientele.  As one very successful entertainment lawyer replied when asked the question: “I am practicing law in Tennessee regardless of where my client is”.  In truth he was.  He was even sitting at his desk in Tennessee when he answered the question.  He was not going into the jurisdiction where his client lives to practice law.  The client either comes to Tennessee to see him and/or conducts most if not all of his or her business with the attorney by telephone, email, video chat, text message or some other form of electronic communication.

Caveat.  I am not talking about making a court appearance in a foreign jurisdiction.  Clearly one not licensed in that jurisdiction may not do that (with some exceptions like small claims court, etc.).  However, most states make arrangements for an attorney from another jurisdiction to appear in their courts if properly introduced to the court by an attorney licensed in that state.

The question of traveling to another state to solicit clients is probably risky as is physically going into another jurisdiction to negotiate the terms of an agreement.  To the best of my knowledge most of the entertainment attorneys I know do not do either of the foregoing – but some do.  In my case (and the case of most of the entertainment lawyers I know) my out of state clients have initiated the contact with me in my home state, either in person or by some electronic medium, and all negotiations and transactions are conducted while sitting at my desk in my office which is in Tennessee.

I do not claim to be an expert on this subject.   If you are concerned I would suggest that you conduct your own research on this question and confer with a knowledgeable professor if you are still a student or know any law professors.  And I definitely will appreciate it if any practicing entertainment attorneys who read this would also comment and confirm what I have said or correct me please!


  1. I had a chance to look into this. I noted that many states have specific “athlete agent” registration, such as here in Ohio under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4771 (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4771).

    I didn’t find anything analogous to this for musicians. The state where my potential client lives is in Missouri. I called the Missouri Legal Ethics Counsel, and they told me that from their perspective, as long as I’m doing the work from Ohio and am licensed in Ohio, they don’t require any licensure or registration in order to serve a musician client. Obviously, if I appear in court or do a mediation or something like that, I would have to check with the local rules of those courts and maybe get pro hoc vice admission.

    The most interesting part of the phone call with Missouri was that it took 2 minutes. The woman I spoke with knew the answer off of the top of her head without putting me on hold or consulting anybody. So, I’m guessing that this has become the norm in most, if not all, states: As long as you’re licensed in one state and do the work from that state, you can serve clients from all over.

    But, you can never be too safe, so I’ll probably call each state individually as clients come!

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