Lawyer’s Corner: Do I REALLY Need a Lawyer?


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QUESTION: “Do I REALLY Need a Lawyer Involved to Start a New Project with a Friend When I Can’t Really Afford One?”

You just came up with a great idea for a project or a business idea with a friend and you both can’t wait to get started on it. All you can talk about is the nuts and bolts of fleshing out the idea, but isn’t there really something else you should work out with this person first? Once you think you’ve got the next great idea, is there an important first step to take with your friend BEFORE you get into things like working on the project?

Any time you enter into a working relationship with anyone, especially with friends or family members, you need to set the expectations and the respective responsibilities of each of the parties. When business and friendship are mixed, they don’t always work and the working relationship needs to be clearly outlined. In the entertainment business, you are creating work and exploiting rights that have to be protected. By discussing your expectations and putting them on paper, you can get a clearer idea of what everyone is seeking from the relationship and even try to manage those expectations. Sometimes by going through this process, you may decide that the person with whom you want to work with is not the right person or maybe you need to change the course of the project altogether. You may even come to the conclusion that you don’t even want to go forward with the project at all.

Many times, having such conversations about compensation and responsibilities, especially with a friend or with a family member, may be uncomfortable. Aside from this discomfort factor, unless you’re an attorney and know entertainment and business law inside and out, you’re likely to not know some of the very important legal details to starting a project or a business. That’s where a lawyer may be helpful. Someone with experience in the entertainment business who can help you navigate the issues that may be coming up that you had not even considered, could be vital in this process. Then it’s not you, per se, who is bringing things up. And if you are considering working with a friend or a family member, having an attorney discuss the various issues may help prevent jeopardizing your relationship. The attorney can think of issues that are unforeseeable to you and also come up with creative solutions ahead of time to situations that may come up later.

Some clients say that attorneys may be expensive or unaffordable.  Also, some clients think why should anyone invest money in hiring an attorney so early in the process when the project or the business may never even go anywhere?  What if something goes wrong with your relationship or there is a disagreement?  If you don’t have a mechanism for resolving issues from the beginning, then it may be too difficult to try to resolve them by the time you are faced with them.  Spending money upfront to prevent problems down the line is much cheaper than getting into trouble and then having to figure a way out, not to mention the emotional grief that you could be saving yourself from. Perhaps you may even have a business or a project that takes off and is quite successful, and may have to work with third parties who may not want to compensate you or give the due credit.  I can’t imagine that after all the work and time that has been put into a project to make it successful, anyone would be comfortable in not having the credit or the financial compensation that is rightfully theirs.

It’s a wise decision to spend the time to explore your options for legal representation. It may be beneficial to speak to trusted friends and family members who have referrals for you.  You may then want to talk to several attorneys and talk to them about different fee and compensation arrangements. It would be helpful to build a relationship with an entertainment law professional early on who can help and protect you in your journey.