I think we’ve all seen the cop shows where the perp buckles in the interrogation room and says, “I think I’d like to see my lawyer now.”
And he knows he needs them, because he knows he’s caught. But when do you need yours? And do you even need one? Let’s see if I can help find an answer for you.
The answer is yes, and no (don’t you just love it when I help?).
On the “yes” side, they can protect you to the furthest extent of the law, but it’s not cheap. Entertainment lawyers’ prices can range from an associate who has just passed the Bar exam charging a measly $145/hr to their bosses charging $500/hr to much, much more.
On the “no” side, until you are about to sign something because your show is getting picked up you may not need one. If you are signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) or Submission Releases and you can get an experienced agent to look at it and they should be able to see any glaring items you may want to avoid.
The nice thing about an agent as opposed to a lawyer is they don’t get paid until you do. Unless, you happen to get a lawyer who works on contingency, but they usually will only take you as a client once your show is near the point of being picked up. And then, they typically take 5% of whatever you earn.
If you are at the point where production companies are willing to look at your show you have probably met some agents at festivals or conferences, and they can usually handle the paperwork at this point. If by chance you have not met an agent yet, talk to some of the people you know and ask if they have an agent and if they would be willing to give you a referral. This is generally the best way to get an agent and/or lawyer.
However, if that fails, you can simply call an agency, tell them you have a show that a production company wants to look at and you’re wondering if you should be having them sign an NDA (agents tend to like it when some of the work has already been done for them).
So the simple answer is yes, you will eventually need a lawyer, but until your show is close to getting made an agent can probably handle what needs to be done.
Or, if you want to avoid the whole thing, go back to school and become an entertainment lawyer. I’ve heard that’s where the money is (just kidding – mostly).