Attorneys by Pamela A. Schechter, Esq.

I have been writing articles for several months on various topics having to do with legal and business issues pertaining to animation. It recently occurred to me that one of the subjects I am most frequently asked about are attorneys. How do I find an attorney? How do I know if an attorney is qualified? What is the role of an attorney for an animator? What does it cost to hire an attorney?

Finding any attorney is not a difficult task. Just open the telephone book and you will see hundreds listed. However, finding an attorney who will do quality work is another matter. Attorneys specialize in certain areas such as trusts and estates, litigation, corporate law, bankruptcy and entertainment law. The type of work you want the attorney to perform dictates the type of attorney you will hire. If you need an attorney for a task having to do with any facet of the entertainment industry, you should hire an entertainment attorney. This might sound self evident but many people don't follow this simple idea. In addition, if you are in animation, make sure the attorney you hire knows all about the industry and has represented animation clients in the past.

Most people find attorneys through recommendations. Word of mouth is the most popular strategy to locate an attorney. Another method is to contact a bar association and ask for recommendations. Industry organizations also have lists of attorneys that they give to members. Find out all you can from the source making the recommendation. In addition, you should meet with the attorney in person, prior to hiring him. Make sure you ask for a free initial consultation. You don't want to end up with an unexpected bill.

During the initial meeting with the attorney, you should ask about the attorney's education, how long he has been practicing, the kind of work he does, and who his clients are. Trust your gut instinct. If there is something about the attorney that bothers you, then don't hire him. During any legal process, especially in the entertainment industry, you are going to be working very closely with your attorney. Therefore, you must have confidence in him and feel comfortable with him.

You should obtain the names of clients who you can contact as references. Find out if they were pleased with the services provided. An entertainment attorney must know the language of the industry. Does the attorney returns telephone calls within twenty-four hours? Is he accessible and responsive? The answers to these questions are very important.

Attorneys who specialize in the entertainment industry either go to court to litigate or they prepare and negotiate the details of agreements and analyze legal situations to protect their clients. I have been representing people in the animation industry for several years. Typically, I am hired when my clients need a contract negotiated, or an agreement drafted. Perhaps the client wants to form a corporation or limited partnership. Copyright and trademark issues often arise or clients need advice having do with the animation industry.

Once you have decided to hire a specific attorney, he will usually draft a retainer agreement for you. This agreement defines the relationship between you and your attorney. The agreement will state how much the attorney gets paid and when. It also will define what out-of-pocket costs the attorney will charge back to the client. It will state the conditions of payment. In addition, the exact tasks the attorney will be expected to perform should be clearly defined. Both the attorney and client receive a copy of this agreement.

Attorneys charge fees on an hourly rate or a percentage basis. The hourly rates in the United States range anywhere from $75.00 to $500.00 per hour. Rates of most entertainment attorneys in New York and Los Angeles are as follows: Partners-$150.00-$300.00, Associates-$100.00-$150.00, Paralegal-$35.00-$55.00. In some cases, the attorney will ask the client to pay a retainer fee upon the signing of the agreement. The hourly fees are charged against this retainer amount.

In the entertainment and animation industries, the biggest mistake I see people make when it comes to hiring attorneys is they decide not to hire one. They feel they can take care of the legal issues themselves. The most important single suggestion I can make is to retain the services of an attorney, the moment you feel you need one. Trust your gut instinct because it is almost always right.