Entertainment law can be a little complex and hiring the right professional music lawyer can be tricky. Today we introduce to you attorney Lerae Funderburb of Funderburg Law Boutique based in Atlanta. Lerae answered some of our questions including: What is an Entertainment lawyer?, What types of lawyers are there?, When should you use a litigation attorney?, What is a conflict of interest? And more please share..
Thanks for taking time out for the interview why did you choose this career?
Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. I often tell people that I didn’t choose a career in law, it actually chose me. I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, 3rd grade specifically. But when I was in college and it was time to declare a major, the people I knew that studied early childhood education were learning about things I guess I didn’t value at the time. Seemed like they were coloring in books and reading Dr. Seuss and I didn’t think it was a good use of my college education, so instead I studied something I was interested in, which was criminal justice.
After graduating college, I worked for a year with the public defender’s office and a year with a death penalty mitigation firm. I started to feel like in order to do more, I needed more education, so I decided to apply to grad school and law school. I didn’t get into any of the grad schools I applied to and was accepted into almost every law school I applied to, so law school won by default. If you spend 3 years in law school, you take the bar, you become a lawyer, that’s what you do. So that’s what I did. I also desired the comfort and security of knowing that I was and could be my own business if I wanted to. After working for different firms, I quickly learned that if I was going to remain in this industry, I was going to have to do it on my own terms. I have been for a solid 3 years now and while it’s been a struggle on some days, the rewards are plentiful, and I am enjoying the ride.
What is an entertainment lawyer?
An entertainment lawyer is essentially a lawyer with an entertainer as a client. Our practice area is not limited to business and intellectual property, although those are our main focuses, but we represent the entertainment client as a whole, whether that means handling traffic citations, criminal cases and planning their estate.
How do you find a good entertainment lawyer?
Call me! Hahaha. Or, referrals. The entertainment business is based on relationships and who you know. I would say ask around and then do your research. See what their background, areas of expertise are, things they’ve worked on, length of time practicing and then meet them. See if there’s a connection there where you can develop a good working and trusting relationship.
Are there different types of music attorneys? Explain?
I wouldn’t say that necessarily. If I had to differentiate, it would be between attorneys who shop music for their clients and try to land them deals and ones that handle the deals once presented. But most music lawyers who shop also draft and negotiate contracts and vice versa. The other distinction, if any, I would make is between the genres of music. For example, I work almost exclusively in the R&B and Hip-Hop music genre.
What was your first venture in entertainment law?
My first venture in entertainment law was as legal production attorney for an independent film, which featured radio personality Big Boy, Kevin Hart, Quincy Harris, and Jameel Saleem. I actually started in the film industry because I took the California bar first and worked in Southern California at the beginning of my legal career. A year after law school, I attended Chapman University School of Law to obtain my Masters in Law in Entertainment and Media Transactions. And even though I wanted to be in the music industry, I built a clientele base in the film industry because there was a greater need for my services in that arena in California.
How does speaking spanish help and what other languages do you know?
Honestly, speaking Spanish has not helped as much as I thought it would when I minored in Spanish in college and did a study abroad in Costa Rica. I believed that learning Spanish would be a huge asset to any career, but I have only used it a handful of times since I’ve been a lawyer. I think if I were an immigration lawyer than maybe it’d be much more useful, but all of my clients speak English and when I’ve had Spanish speaking clients, they spoke English just as well.
What kinds of legal work does a new artist need starting out to be prepared for a successful career?
First and foremost, they need to have a thorough understanding about the music industry and know that it is a business and their career should be treated as such, starting with setting up a loan out company to contract for their services. They need to register and protect their works. They need contracts – lots of them, for every party they do business with. The rights at stake in the music industry can only be transferred by a writing, so in order to know who owns and/or controls what and who has the authority to exploit the music, agreements need to be in place. They need to be registered with any and all organizations that pay royalties. They need to have a team – personal manager, booking agent, accountant, in addition to a lawyer.
What are some of the most common legal issues with most artists?
I work with a lot of producers and most of the issues they face are artists using their music without expressly having the rights to it. They make magic in the studio session, and then the artist decides to drop the single and they haven’t discussed splits so the parties can register the proper percentages with their performance rights organizations, they haven’t been paid for the beat, and the artist goes AWOL and stops responding to any of the producer’s attempts to handle business – which should have really been done prior to the magic happening in the studio.
Should an artist use the same lawyer as his or her manager?
Artists and managers do often use the same attorney and it’s fine as long as their interests are aligned, it becomes an issue when conflict arises between artist and manager. Attorneys who represent both should consult the clients about the ramifications of using the same attorney, have them sign off on a conflict waiver, and determine at the outset of the representation what will happen in case conflict arises between the artist and manager (e.g. which client will attorney represent if any, disclosure of the conflict, etc.)
What is a conflict of interest?
A conflict of interest is when a person (e.g. lawyer) has a duty or obligation to different parties and serving the interest of one would be adversarial to the other individual. I touched on it briefly in the artist manager context where the lawyer represents both parties. Say for example, the artist wanted to terminate the management agreement for a breach, the lawyer would have a conflict of interest because representing the artist would be going against the manager’s interests.
When should you use a litigation attorney?
Litigation attorneys come in when you need to sue someone in court. I’m not a litigation/trial attorney. My practice is exclusively transactional, which means if I am unable to get the parties to settle their issues outside of court, I refer my clients to a litigation attorney who will file a lawsuit in the proper court.
Can you explain tortious interference?
You’re taking me back to law school with that question. In simplest terms, it occurs when someone interferes with the business relationships or contractual agreements between other parties with the intent to cause them economic harm of some sort. For example, if someone forces another to breach a contract they have with someone else – as in the case with Cardi B’s current and old management. Cardi’s prior manager is suing the current manager for tortious interference because they allegedly induced her to breach her management agreement and come sign with them, causing her former manager economic harm that will result from no longer receiving payments from Cardi B for managing her career.
Last words of advice or shout outs??
Hmmmm, I would advise everyone in the music business to hire an attorney sooner than later. Get everything in writing – handshake deals mean absolutely nothing! And treat your music career as a business…because that’s exactly what it is. Thanks again for your time and for having me!
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EDITOR: La Mont Reed
IMAGE: Lerae Funderburg