File Under: Understanding Your Legal Rights,

Musicians enter into signed agreements all the time for recording studios, gigs, licensing deals, rehearsal spaces, t-shirt manufacturers, equipment rental, and online services and websites. Many of the contracts you deal with as a musician can be handled on your own. But although there are some common legal mistakes you can avoid, sometimes you need an attorney such as bigger deals, or custom contracts. When you hire one, you will want to do it effectively, and keep these costs down.

Attorneys typically charge by the hour and their fees vary depending on where they practice and their expertise. This can cost you anywhere from $100-400 an hour, and those hours can add up. So, when hiring a lawyer, plan ahead so you can focus them on the advice you need and limit the amount of time-consuming work they will need to do for you. If you can do some of the legwork upfront and know what you want them to do, you can speed things up and save yourself some money.

Here's how to save money using an attorney:

  • Be Specific About What You Want Them To Do
    As Dan Hetzel, an entertainment lawyer based in Chicago told us, “Just like when you take your car to the mechanic, if you don’t know what you want them to do, you’re at their mercy to figure it out.” Although sometimes you do need an expert to determine your needs, if you can save 30-40 minutes of their billable time by telling them exactly what you need them to do review the agreement, prepare an operating agreement for the band, help with registering your copyrights, and so on.

  • Be Upfront About Time And Budget
    Don't be shy in telling the attorney how much money you have budgeted. Set boundaries on their time and tell them upfront. Also, once a lawyer is hired, they’re working for you. For instance, if you hire them to look over a contract for a venue, photographer, or other agreement you need looked over, tell them you want a brief phone call and get all the details in half the time.

  • Bring all the paperwork
    If you’re setting up a business, you can save a lot of billable time by doing the routine paperwork yourself rather than asking the lawyer to do it. Instead, direct the attorney to focus on the legal work (preparing the operating agreement for the band for instance) and fill out and bring all the necessary paperwork to the meetings.

  • Be Prepared and Give Them Context To Save Time
    Give the attorney enough of the back story about the agreement, dispute, or opportunity. Tell them what you want out of the deal and what you’re worried about so the attorney knows what your goals are. That way the attorney can review the agreement focusing on your thoughts and concerns in mind rather than have to re-do anything later because of factors she was unaware of.

Finally, if your funds are truly limited but you need expert legal help, don't be shy about asking the attorney at the outset if he or she might be able to help you for free. Attorneys typically have a set amount of pro bono (non-billable) hours they target each year and they may just want to help a musician with those hours.

Note these ideas are useful for more than attorneys and can be used to get the most out of other advisors and professionals on your team which charge by the hour such as accountants, IT professionals, and consultants. In our article The 3 Secrets to Making a Successful Music Business we talk about the formula for businesses everywhere:

How Much You Make - How Much You Spend = How Much You Keep

Professional help can be one of your largest business expenses, and using these services intelligently and inexpensively as possible maximizes what you take home at the end of the year.


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Photo credit: Wesley Fryer