July 28, 2021 Poplaw

Lawyers of the Rich and Fantabulous

Jeff B. Cohen
Respect your client’s talent, journey, and fortitude but don’t
be overwhelmed by it.

Respect your client’s talent, journey, and fortitude but don’t be overwhelmed by it.

Urilux via iStock

A celebrity is a person who works hard all their life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.

—Fred Allen

As a transactional entertainment attorney, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to represent several celebrated and influential individuals. Being a lawyer is challenging, which is why we are “practicing” law and not “perfecting” it. But, when you are representing high-profile clients, there are some additional challenges. Here are some tips in dealing with the prominent and preeminent to help you when representing the Rich and Fantabulous in your chosen area of law.

Respect Your Client’s Talent; Don’t Be in Awe of It

But enough about me, let’s talk about you . . . what do you think of me?
—CC Bloom/Beaches

I heard this fantastic piece of advice at a speech given by late, great legendary Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub. He discussed it in the context of working with Brad, Julia, George, and Matt (first names should suffice) while putting Ocean’s 11 together. To learn more, check out his fantastic autobiography, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.

If you are in awe of your client, you can’t help them. Your client pays you to be a trusted counselor and advisor, not a fan.

Respect your client’s talent, journey, and fortitude but don’t be overwhelmed by it. An actor’s unique skill set may give them greater leverage in a negotiation as their abilities are in high demand, but otherwise, the laws of legal physics still apply. And that’s where you are the expert.

Your Most Important Job Is to Tell the Truth

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
—Henry David Thoreau

People have a habit of telling celebrities what they want to hear. Influential figures often get their way, creating a bubble of disinformation, which is ultimately detrimental to the client’s economic, legal, and artistic well-being. If your clients don’t have accurate information, they can’t make the best decisions. A series of minor mistakes can compound into an avalanche of career-destroying calamity. Six watertight compartments had to flood to bring down the “unsinkable” Titanic.

How many stories can you recall of prominent folks going under because they were surrounded by sycophants riding the gravy train off a cliff instead of slamming on the brakes?

We are in a unique position to pop any potential disinformation bubble. We need to level with them so they can make the best decisions. If you cannot convey the unvarnished truth to your client, you are not their attorney. You’re something else.

Maintain Your Identity

I think you only really feel like an outsider if you’ve been an insider.
—Sade

Representing famous folks can be profitable and can make you the cool kid at lawyer cocktail parties, but don’t let who you represent become synonymous with who you are. Stars in the galaxy and stars in entertainment are prominent celestial bodies that can exert tremendous gravity on all the planets circling their orbit. Like the Earth revolves around the Sun, it’s easy for your life to start revolving around a mega-client.

In a way, this is the life we chose and part and parcel with being advocates. But, always keep something for yourself: your interests, your hobbies, your passions, your family, your sanity. It will allow you to maintain perspective and be a better counselor.

Two fantastic books—The Man Who Seduced Hollywood (which, in part, explores Greg Bautzer’s representation of Howard Hughes) and Johnny Carson (which details Henry Bushkin’s representation of the talk-show icon)—are great examples of the challenges in representing a high-profile client.

Fame is a powerful, insatiable, carnivorous beast. It has a funny propensity to devour everything around it. Don’t let your identity be one of the hapless consumed.

Entity:
Topic:
The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Jeff B. Cohen is a cofounder of the entertainment law firm Cohen Gardner LLP in Beverly Hills, but you may know him as “Chunk” in The Goonies. He is the author of The Dealmaker’s Ten Commandments: Ten Essential Tools for Business Forged in the Trenches of Hollywood, published by the American Bar Association.