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. If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity. This article does not constitute or create a lawyer-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 act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.
Hopefully you've read my most recent article where I explained how to choose the right attorney for you. Even though you now know what qualities to look for in an attorney, you may still wonder whether hiring one is possible if you are on a tight budget. As I discussed last time, don't try to handle the matter yourself, and having a non-music or non-entertainment lawyer handle your matter is less than ideal because only a lawyer experienced in music and entertainment will know the specific nuances that pertain to your situation. While the best solution is still to hire an experienced music attorney to handle your situation, here are three less costly options for independent musicians to get their legal needs met.
1. Ask the lawyer you want to work with if there's any flexibility on payment policies
After finding out the lawyer's customary rate, you can ask if he or she can do the work on a flat-fee basis, has discounted rates for independent musicians, or has a payment plan where you can pay the fee in installments.
You can also ask if the attorney would be willing to work on a percentage basis, but know that many attorneys will only work on percentage for high net worth clients. Don't expect the attorney to work for free or try to sell him or her on the premise that the attorney will somehow make a lot of money once you're famous. The music industry is a speculative business, and a new client without a proven track record will often not produce a return on a lawyer's investment of time and skill.
If your matter involves a lawsuit (most often for copyright infringement or breach of contract), you can ask the attorney if he or she works on a "contingency," meaning that the attorney doesn't get paid unless he or she wins your case. There are some lawyers who still work on contingency, but most don't. Keep in mind that even if an attorney does work on contingency, you will most likely still have to pay court filing costs, which can be expensive on their own.
2. Use a reputable online legal resource
Usually, I advise non-lawyers to proceed with extreme caution when downloading or using templates from the internet because these templates are often poor quality and usually not designed for independent musicians. Plus, drafting changes to template agreements without proper legal training can often lead to unforeseen consequences that could be detrimental to your income, copyright ownership, and career.
Here is the exception: in my dealings with many independent musicians, I saw that many musicians needed but didn't have access to resources to meet their legal needs due to cost or other prohibitions preventing them from hiring an attorney. Therefore, I started Indie Artist Resource (currently only available for California residents) to offer template contracts, intellectual property registration services, and legal consultations all specifically designed to address the unique needs of independent musicians.
Despite the varying quality of most online templates, I'm confident in recommending the templates and services from Indie Artist Resource, as I have personally developed all of the templates with the needs of independent musicians in mind, and I oversee all operations of the business, including handling the consultations. While the nature of template agreements means that a template isn't tailored to each individual user's specific needs, some protection is better than no protection – and I'd rather see a musician using a well-drafted template than proceeding without any agreement in place.
3. Contact a legal clinic for the arts
There are some nonprofit organizations that offer free or low-cost legal services to musicians. You can research online whether your state has such an organization and contact the organization to see if what they offer meets your legal needs. Some of the lawyers at these organizations are very competent attorneys who service high-level clients and enjoy volunteering their time to help independent musicians. Of course, others are newly licensed and may or may not be reputable. I cannot comment on the caliber of service you will be getting because it depends on which state you are in, the quality of the organization, and the attorney handling your case. However, if you want to work with someone on an ongoing basis throughout your matter and you can't afford regular attorney's fees, then this might be a good option for you to investigate.
Erin M. Jacobson is a practicing music attorney, experienced deal negotiator, and seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights. Her clients range 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.