How to find the right legal representation

A respected copyright expert, Claude Brunet is a member of the International Literary and Artistic Association (ALAI Canada) and the International Copyright Society (INTERGU). In 1994-95 he was chairperson of the Copyright SubCommittee of the Information Highway Advisory Council Secretariat. At press time in 1997, Brunet practiced with the Montreal law firm of Ogilvy Renault.

Choosing the Right Lawyer
As a songwriter, you want a lawyer who is familiar with copyright matters, as well as all aspects of the music industry. In Ontario, there is an organization called Artists Legal Advice Services [(416) 367-2527] which provides legal advice and educational services at no cost to Ontario artists of all disciplines. In Quebec and other provinces, your provincial Bar Association can provide names of lawyers working in your area.

The Right Timing
The best time to look for a lawyer is at the start of your career, as soon as you begin dealing with the business aspects of the industry and before you sign any agreement. Standard contracts include the artist/management agreement, the music publishing contract and the artist agreement between record company and recording artist. Every clause, comma and word in these agreements can bind you for a very long time. And because the terms of these agreements vary from three to five years or longer, it's essential to make the right choices by carefully assessing each business proposal being made.

Attitudes to Avoid
Two attitudes annoy me: Artists who trust absolutely no one, and artists whose egos are so overblown that they've lost all ability to recognize a good agreement for what it is. An agreement is based on trust. Interests must be put in common in any contract relationship. It's a two-way street. There must be something in it for the manager, the publisher or the producer, as well as for the artist.

When a client comes to me and says, “I've been offered this interesting contract, but I don't know how to put things on paper,'” then I think I really can help him because I can see that he means business. Then it's just a matter of establishing the rules of the agreement, your manager's commissions, your anticipated revenues, your respective responsibilities and the like. It's your lawyer's responsibility to make things clear for you. The best personal lawyers are those who end up being an artist's guide or advisor. The best agreements are those that fully satisfy all parties involved and pave the way to long-lasting relationships.

A Word About Rates
Various factors enter in the pricing of legal services: the complexity of the case, the time involved, the level of expertise required, the fee structure established by the provincial Bar, etc. Certainly, good legal representation can be costly, and can cover legal advice provided to the artist, the writing of the agreement proper, and negotiations with the other parties-manager, publisher, producer-up to the signing of the agreement. Clients who do their homework and read their agreement carefully will be making fewer calls to their lawyer and save themselves some expense that way. There are also many young lawyers who are just building their practices who will give you excellent rates. The trick is to ask around, knock on doors and check out the best services at the best prices.

(Interview by Ève Méthot.)