The Lawyer’s Approach – Sword vs Magnet

Every competent attorney with more than a few years experience has three or four legal skills they are great at. A “superpower”, if you will.

And that legal superpower can be anything, given the attorney’s background, interest and disposition. Any given skill can be very narrow in scope, for example, drafting and prosecuting patent applications for German car companies, litigating and winning asbestos cases, drafting appeals for defendants on death row — or broad, the ability to write a will, win lawsuits, get criminal charges for a client reduced because of a great working relationship with the district attorney etc.

In the early days of law school I was astonished at the number of diverse career paths.

For example, the concept that an area of law existed that was dedicated to governing ships and the waterways, oceans etc (maritime law) was mind-boggling, to someone who never contemplated that before. Sports law? You can become an attorney and just represent football players? That’s a thing? Wow! I went to law school without reading the brochure, so to speak, I had little idea what I was getting into, I just knew that I had hit the ceiling of what I could do in drum corps and it was time to do something else. I thought all lawyers went into court, and that’s what it was.

Speaking a foreign language is something I would have never considered a legal super power until I got out of law school and saw a client landscape populated with people from everywhere.

Point of fact, my first film client was a Japanese director who wanted to shoot a horror film in the United States with an Japanese and American cast and crew. So I became a producer and lawyer and we made the movie (Death Ride).We didn’t make the next Blair Witch or anything, but we successfully shot a movie with a team from two countries and it was an incredible learning experience.

Which brings me to my skill set.

First and foremost, my primary legal skill set is the ability to close a deal —with “any” participants to a transaction, regardless of who they are, or where they are from. And I generally leave all of them feeling respected happy and wanting to work together after the contract is signed.

Take 4 screenwriters from 3 countries, a flawed contract, a big fight between all of them including lawyers, and a new opportunity that will pass if they cannot get on the same page — I’m the lawyer you bring in to close that deal.

In a sense, I have no idea how I do this, it’s 100% instinct at this point.

But I go into every deal with the ‘knowledge’ I can close it, and if I can’t – it can’t be done.

Please excuse me if that sounds arrogant, but that’s the mindset. I’m out to find a win for both sides. Often these deals are complicated, especially when the parties have a different culture, language or expectations.

Experience can be a factor as well, with the most difficult transactions sometimes involving parties who are new to TV or film or music, and have unrealistic expectations.

The best example of this is seeing a first time composer bring post-production of a movie to a halt (my call) over our definition of net profits. The production had to stop, you see, because it was (legally) faced with the possibility of removing our music and starting over, aka, reason #1 to ensure your producers get contracts signed before someone starts work, a rule that was not followed in this case. Happily, we got it all worked out, and the profit definition didn’t change.

So essentially, I see my role as as a “magnet” – I bring people and ideas together. I protect my client, and I negotiate with the end goal and result being the formation of a team of sorts.

Which isn’t how I saw being a lawyer at the beginning of the journey, two decades ago. Back then, I saw the role of one of a “sword,” standing near the client and protecting her or him from legal dangers and bad peoplee.

And that approach didn’t serve me well, especially in my first negotiation.

Now, truth be told, I wasn’t so nice because opposing counsel did something that wasn’t in compliance with legal ethics. The deal got signed, it was a good contract — but I made people mad, and nearly got my client fired at the same time. Which is not a win.

But over time, as my skill set improved, I began to use less of a “sword” and more of a “magnet” in my work. A litigator might reverse that equation, but for transactional law, if you’re not holding the magnet, you’re doing your client a disservice.

But in transactional entertainment law, when the contract is signed, if all sides to the transaction are happy, if they all feel respected, the deal is fair — the project will usually succeed.

Contrarily, you can sign the best contract in the history of contracts (whatever that means) — but if one or both sides to that deal feel angry, disrespected, taken advantage of, or ripped off when the deal is done — the project will suffer, if not likely doomed to fail and/or be a miserable experience.

Transactional law is a win-win game, it has to be.

Thanks for reading.


p.s. This is the University of San Francisco campus, where I went to law school

(loved it!)

One thought on “The Lawyer’s Approach – Sword vs Magnet

  1. Thanks for sharing, Lee! It’s cool to get a snapshot of your professional journey, and to be able to hear about some of the various legal positions and approaches that are out there, from an insider’s perspective (even if in bite-sized form). I dig it!

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