Lawyers! Out of State or L.A.?



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  • Lawyers! Out of State or L.A.?

    Recently, a couple of my scripts have been gaining some good attention from producers. Some have asked for my lawyer to submit the scripts...

    Here's the thing... I do not have a lawyer or an agent... yet! As of today, I have inquired about the services of a local and reputable entertainment attorney in here in Seattle. Her firm deals with entertainment, copyrights, writers/publishers contracts, etc. She asked me to call her next week to discuss "hourly rates" for future contract reviews and (or) drafts. She also stated that we could "consider a percentage agreement" for when a script options or sells.

    My question is... is it better to have a local entertainment attorney or one that is based in L.A.?

    Also, what questions should I ask from a screenwriting perspective? And what is the normal, reasonable percentage rate for a lawyer? And is that the way to go?

    Any info would be great. Thanks.


  • #2
    out of curiosity - what prompted the companies to ask you to submit your script through a lawyer? Did they tell you to find a lawyer? How did you make first contact, through a query?

    anyway - a local attorney could handle the submissions for you, but they shouldn't charge you any money just for that. I would suggest agreeing to an percentage, standard is five (5), to be paid from future option money or sales. Having them "review contracts" at an hourly rate is a waste of time, their job is to negotiate the best deal possible for you before that stage and just as important, enforce the terms of that contract.

    The advantage of getting an LA attorney is that they might personally know the producers to which you're submitting. They might also be more familiar with screenwriting contracts and the going rates for scripts in your budget range. Also, they are in a better position to make sure you get paid on time, or at least within reason.


    • #3
      Here's my advice:

      I'm going to guess that a Seattle copyright lawyer has experience doing software licensing, and not necessarily doing entertainment work. If I were you, I definitely wouldn't want to be paying this lawyer to get up to speed on entertainment work. You'll be paying her to learn about guild agreements and typing up style agreements.

      Unless she's represented a writer before, don't agree to an hourly rate. Even if she's willing to work for a fee and eat a lot of her costs of learning the ropes, she might later decide that her time is better spent doing work she knows rather than learning how to do something she might never do for anyone else.

      The other side of this is that people generally give you better service the more they see you face to face. You could find a reasonably-priced lawyer in LA who is utterly competent, but because you're far away, might put you on the bottom of his or her list of things to do.

      So, tough call. Definitely go for the % deal (see if you can cap it at something reasonable).


      • #4
        Most people probably wouldn't agree...

        ...but I wouldn't worry about personal relationships between potentially adversarial parties. There are many good reasons to get a lawyer in LA, but I wouldn't worry about trying to find one who has a relationship with the producers. You don't want one who can't get along with people, but sometimes, if they know the other side better than they know you, that wouldn't be a good thing.

        But something that is helpful: if your Seattle law firm has a LA office, that would be VERY helpful.

        If your Seattle lawyer ever had to sue (or think about suing), they'll need to hire a CA attorney to get an opinion on the law. If it's someone from an unaffiliated office, that person will send a bill which your Seattle lawyer will probably charge you a mark-up on it. If it's from a lawyer in the LA office of the same firm, there probably won't be a mark-up.

        Incidentally, technically, because your contracts will almost definitely be governed by CA law, your Seattle lawyer is going to tell you that she can't give you a legal opinion on them and that she can only tell you how WA law would treat the contracts (unless she's a CA lawyer too, or there's a CA law in her office). She'll give you the choice of having to pay to get the advice of a CA lawyer, which you'll probably decline (unless it's included in the flat % fee) -- and in that case, you might have been better off going straight to the CA lawyer in the first place.


        • #5
          Re: Most people probably wouldn't agree...

          If you start paying lawyers an 'hourly fee', you will be broke very soon and still won't have a script deal.


          • #6
            calling a spade a spade

            You wrote "Recently, a couple of my scripts have been gaining some good attention from producers. Some have asked for my lawyer to submit the scripts.."

            Let's be honest. What you did was send a query and they responded with "Please have your agent or lawyer submit the script."

            1) If your scripts did indeed gain attention from producers, why would they request a lawyer submission when they already have the script? Right?

            2) If they are getting "good" attention, they should be helping you with possible referrals.

            BTW, "Please have your agent or lawyer submit the script" is often times a polite rejection. It's their way of saying "We know you are probably unrepped and can't afford a lawyer."


            • #7
              And in that case...

              ...they aren't going to give a Seattle law firm any more credibility than if you sent the script yourself, I suspect.


              • #8
                "You don't want one who can't get along with people, but sometimes, if they know the other side better than they know you, that wouldn't be a good thing"

                that doesn't entirely make sense to me, but let me clarify the original statement that prompted it anyway-

                an LA lawyer might know the producers from having done business with them or just having crossed paths with them around town - which would be a good thing.

                as opposed to an out-of-towner who fall to last on their phone sheet.

                By personally, I meant "face to face" in this context. Maybe this will start a thread on Hollywood semantics. We can try to define the word "friend" as well as what it menas to "know" somebody.


                • #9
                  I mean, if they're looking forward to working more with the producer in the future, and not with the writer, they might not push hard to get you the best deal possible.


                  • #10
                    Recently, a couple of my scripts have been gaining some good attention from producers. Some have asked for my lawyer to submit the scripts...
                    This seems contradictory. If you mean your queries have gained attention but they haven't yet read the scripts, which they would like you to submit...

                    Then this has nothing whatsoever to do with negotiating a deal, all you want to do is circumvent a polite brush-off and get your script through the prodco's door.

                    It's unlikely that they specified that the script should be submitted by an entertainment attorney, or even by a lawyer who's passed the CA bar exam, and you have no need for either at this stage.

                    All you want to do is find the cheapest way of jumping the assistant's hurdle to garner a read. That should cost you no more than $15-30 for use of a firm's stationary, which is preferable to ten percent of a low-ball offer fielded by an entertainment attorney who's desperate enough to agree to work for a percentage on the basis of what could simply be an indirect "no thanks" (it's not such an unusual request, could well be the line they give to all unrepresented writers to limit the amount of submissions.)

                    IMO, you only need to contact an entertainment attorney if the company makes an offer and I don't think it's worth paying extra to have a well-known entertainment law firm present a barely solicited script on behalf of an unknown writer.

                    If they have asked for a lawyer to submit the script, as sometimes happens, and you really would like to get read by the company but can't get around this proviso, then ask the lawyer who finalised the deal on your house, or whoever you can find who's reasonable, to send your script along with a covering letter on company letterhead for a single FIXED FEE. Put your personal contact details on the actual script, not the lawyer's, and instruct them to pass on any messages/correspondence directly to you and not to negotiate anything on your behalf.

                    If the producers have actually read one of the scripts and want to ramp up negotiation, consult the directory on this site and find yourself an actual entertainment attorney who's willing to represent you on a percentage basis.

                    But if your aim is simply to get the script read, it hardly matters if they moonlight in the fire lane so long as they charge a small fixed fee and their letterhead appears vaguely credible to the person opening the prodco's mail in the mornings.


                    • #11
                      yeah - the "hourly fee" would freak me out.

                      this is a question for BillMartell who sells without an agent. i'm sure he's got good suggestions for you.

                      you can also ask the attorney Mark Litwak here: