An attorney’s advice could make the difference for you between a successful and a nonexistent music career. Legal fees aren't cheap, but they're a worthy expense in your career progress. The cost of attorneys does vary due to a variety of circumstances, so as you plan your budget, you should keep the following factors in mind.
How are lawyers' rates determined?
A lawyer with more years of experience will typically be more expensive than someone who is newly licensed. Also, an attorney with more experience in (or who devotes the majority of his or her practice to) a certain area of law will be able to charge more than someone who only dabbles in that area. Someone who's better known in the business and has had more high-profile cases can also command a higher rate.
2. Nature of your matter (i.e., what you need the attorney to do)
One of the most important factors that dictate the amount that you will have to pay an attorney is what you actually need the attorney to do for you. A short and simple contract or a consultation to answer questions will cost less than if you require a long, complicated contract to be drafted or reviewed. If you're starting a company, you'll need all new contracts drafted, which will take more time and thus be more expensive than reviewing a five-page agreement. Attorneys tailor contracts to your specific situation, which takes the attorney's time and skill to create something specific to your needs. The amount of time needed for negotiation is speculative, as it's rare to be able to predict the other party’s agreeability to contract changes or willingness to wrap up the deal promptly.
3. Office arrangement
It may sound unimportant, but the location of an attorney's office and the type of office that he or she has does factor into the fees charged. Attorneys in larger metropolitan areas and more expensive parts of town will charge more than those who have offices in less desirable areas. An attorney who's part of a larger firm or who has a high-rent office will have to charge more to cover that rent. In contrast, an attorney with lower overhead costs may be able to charge less and pass those savings on to the client.
4. Extra fees
There are often other fees you'll be responsible for when working with an attorney, such as filing fees. Copyright and trademark registrations have application fees set by the Copyright and Trademark Offices, respectively. Similarly, a trademark search company will set the fees to conduct a trademark search. In court matters, there are filing fees required and set by the court that will need to be paid to process your case. Attorneys have no control over these fees.
Other additional fees that may need to be paid to your attorney may involve things like postage or copying costs on your behalf. These are not ordinary costs in an attorney’s business. You are paying the attorney for his or her time, skill, experience, and advice, not for secretarial matters that are the client’s responsibility. These are fees that will be incurred no matter what your attorney’s fee is, but it's important to remember that they are your responsibility so you can include them in your budget.
Fee structures vary greatly among attorneys. In Los Angeles, attorneys tend to range from about $250 to $750 or more per hour. Some attorneys require an upfront retainer payment, which is an advance against fees earned. Other attorneys will not require an upfront retainer payment, but will bill you after the work has been completed. In both of these scenarios, attorneys will keep track of the amount of time that they worked on your matter, and then multiply their hourly rate by the amount of time spent on your matter to calculate your total fee. There are also attorneys who will also work on a flat-fee basis depending on the task at hand.
Other attorneys work on a percentage basis where they don't necessarily keep track of the amount of time that they worked on your matter, but will instead take a certain percentage of the amount you receive under the deal they're negotiating for you. Alternatively, some attorneys will take a percentage, usually five percent, of your gross income. Attorneys who work on percentage usually only do so for high net worth clients, as otherwise the number of hours invested in a client may greatly exceed the amount paid to the attorney.
Some attorneys will use a client’s income and/or industry status as deciding factors in whether to represent a client. Especially at the larger law firms, many attorneys won't accept new clients who won't guarantee a certain amount of income to the firm.
Some litigators (attorneys who handle lawsuits in court) will take a case on contingency, meaning that they only get paid if they win your case, and then will take a percentage of the recovery from the case. However, most attorneys do not take cases on contingency, and will require an hourly rate and an upfront retainer. Again, these fees will vary based on the factors discussed above.
When you're interviewing a potential attorney, ask about his or her rates and fee structure to determine if you can afford that particular attorney.
How much do common musician services typically cost?
It's incredibly difficult to generalize prices of what a certain matter will cost, as it depends on all the factors explained above. I'm quite hesitant to actually name numbers since they vary so drastically, but I will do my best to give an idea of the most basic matters to provide you with a starting point. (These are general fee ranges based on examples I have seen in the industry. These numbers are not quotes of my services, an advertised fee, or guarantees of fee amounts. If you need this type of agreement drafted, it will need to be based on your particular circumstances and your attorney's best judgment.)
1. Copyright registration
Copyright registrations are usually $35 to $55 for the registration fee, plus the time it takes for your attorney to file the application. Absent complicating circumstances and including only a small group of titles, this should usually take about an hour or less of your attorney's time. There are also services like Indie Artist Resource that can register titles from $135 to $335, depending on the number of titles.
2. Trademark application
Trademark application fees are based on the number of categories (called classes) in which you want to protect your mark. For one class online, the application fee runs from $275 to $325. If you are registering in more than one class, multiply that number by the number of classes for which you are applying. Again, the application itself probably takes about an hour of time, but the Trademark Office usually requires amendments to be made later, which are again based on the attorney's time spent on those amendments. The number of amendments requested depends on the mark, other marks already registered, and the attorney at the trademark office assigned to your application. A trademark search from a reputable company starts just under $800 for a word mark and just over $600 for a logo.
3. Basic music business agreementsSomething like very basic agreements for management, producer, or band partnerships could cost $800 to $2,000+ depending on the agreement and details of your situation, or $300 to $400 for a template.
Again, all legal fees will vary depending on your specific situation, so the most effective plan of action would be to figure out what you need as completely as possible, and then ask attorneys for an estimate. If the cost of what you need is above your budget, consider a solution like Indie Artist Resource, or save up more money for the investment – and it is an investment in your career.
Do you have questions that you’d like to get answered in an upcoming “Ask a Music Lawyer” article? Please send topic requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.Please note that specific case advice cannot be given, and if you have questions pertaining to an issue you are personally experiencing, you should seek a consultation with a music attorney.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.
If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.
Erin M. Jacobson is a practicing music attorney, experienced deal negotiator, and seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights. She protects clients ranging from Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists, record labels, music publishers, and production companies. Ms. Jacobson also owns and oversees all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection offering template contracts, consultations, and other services designed to meet the unique needs of independent musicians.