From lawyer on retainer

Artists need a lawyer on retainer

toolboxArtists’ toolboxes overflow.

Whatever your medium, you have a lot of stuff in your toolbox, including the tools that are critical your work, as well as other, random things that you might use someday.

What’s missing? A lawyer on retainer.

Why do you need a lawyer on retainer?

1.  Are you an expert in contract drafting? sales tax? copyright? trademark? business planning for small businesses? licensing? the tax implication of using your living room as a studio? Probably not.


2.  Would you go to your podiatrist for brain surgery? I suspect not. While there is a frustrating and annoying slugfest in the blogosphere recommending eliminating law schools and de-regulating lawyers, people with real problems need the attention of trained and skilled legal professionals. As with medicine, preventive care is always the best.


3. My personal experience: I am a law-trained person, who had an active law license for 24 years. I was never a business lawyer and I know better than to take my own, inexperienced, untrained advice.

Lawyers can save you from your (not so) good ideas.

I am eternally grateful to Minneapolis lawyer Blake Iverson of Friedman Iverson, who saved me from the terrible potential downside of what I thought was a great idea. As I launched my food blog, susan-cooks, I wanted the blog wallpaper to be a photograph of the spines of  some of the books in my 800+ cookbook collection. His response was a fast and firm “NO!” and he pointed out that I could be sued by the copyright holder of each book that appeared in my photo. Ooops.


Having known Blake and his law partner David Friedman since they were students at the University of Minnesota Law School, I knew that they were both committed to working with individuals and small business. After he graduated, I also learned from Blake that he was interested in representing artists and musicians. “Before law school I was a musician and a writer, and I knew that I wanted to surround myself with creative people.”


When I was launching nanoscapes and Pass the Baton, I called Blake, signed a retainer agreement, and breathed easily.



Two reasons: Blake is committed to the artists and musicians under his wing, and he and David are skilled advisers to small businesses.


“Our clients have multiple projects with multiple collaborations and they need help.” To deliver that assistance, Blake and David focus on three goals:

·         to demystify what lawyers do,

·         to show that legal services need not cost an arm and a leg, and,

·         to help their clients make money.


“Consider legal services as an investment,” Blake advises. “Are your contracts causing you to lose money? Are you leaving money on the table? Are your licensing agreements good for you or bad for your wallet?”


If you are not a lawyer, how would you know?


Inquire carefully in your community and look for an attorney who represents artists and musicians as small business owners. If you explain your business model and its relative success and the amount of money that you generate, you should be able to put down a small (a few hundred dollars) retainer.



You get advice, billed by the hour (or portion of an hour) from someone who knows and follows your business. Sometimes your question will be a simple “yes or no” and you may get no bill at all. Sometimes, you will have stepped on a landmine, and you will be very very glad to have an expert at your side.



1.  Personal referral from friends and colleagues who are artists;
2.  Your local artists’ associations: lots of members will have lawyers and they will be local;
3.  Your accountant who is representing your small business;
4.  Personal referral from friends and colleagues who have small businesses;
5.  Professionals in the career or alumni offices of your local law school will be delighted to promote graduates (vet them with other artists, though);
6.  The local bar association;
7.  And finally, the ever-popular and often-overlooked serendipity method of lawyer referral and business development: tell everyone who you are (an artist) and what you are looking for (a lawyer). You will engage people in your artwork (“Oh, really? Do you have a website? Do you have a card?”) and you just never know who might be married to, related to, or a pal of the right lawyer.

Good luck!!