The first article in a 3-part series from FilmStrategy.com.
The main reason why producers hire lawyers is to avoid lawsuits. However, a good production lawyer can offer more than that. For example, she can help formulate a strategy to take the film on a successful festival run or negotiate a deal at a film market or lend a project some legitimacy or advise on how to attract and raise the necessary funding or even provide some creative feedback that could be crucial to the production’s success. But no lawyer kids themselves into thinking those are their main selling points… they know that while they can do all that and a bag o’chips, the main reason producers hire lawyers is to avoid a lawsuit (or so that the distributor or studio who buys the film avoids a lawsuit).
So hiring a lawyer should be a no-brainer, right? But the truth is it doesn’t happen. And the biggest reason why is that lawyers cost too much. Now that’s a reasonable excuse because lawyers ARE expensive. But only to a certain degree. While there are entertainment lawyers who charge up to $600 an hour, there are also lawyers, like this guy, who offers a la carte services and flat fees as well as much more affordable hourly rates. Aside from that, many times the money saved in NOT hiring a lawyer ends up being used (and more) to pay a fine or a lawsuit or a disgruntled worker which all requires a lawyer later on, anyway.
Still, because we live in a DIY age and because producers will always try to cut corners and save money, it’s to be expected that many producers might prefer to put some extra time and work into taking the proper steps to avoid a lawsuit without a lawyer. I sympathize with the filmmaker out there who really, really, really wants to get their film made but is working with a no-budget. So here are some reality checks and tips* for the guy or gal who really can’t afford a lawyer (however, all of you producers who have the money for one stop being cheap and c.y.a. the right way).