Legal fees for entertainment projects in Los Angeles are costly and daunting. But they’re necessary to protect valuable intellectual property, deal with big risks of creative enterprises, and help filmmakers and their associated talent excel. Still, what would it mean to artists in the movie industry, especially innovative auteurs working with smaller budgets, if they could get needed legal counsel at no cost?

 Just such assistance is available from Entertainment Law students at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Under the close supervision of five seasoned and expert attorneys in the field, the aspiring counsel, in a highly competitive course, “Entertainment & The Arts Legal Clinic,” seek to hone their skills and capacities by providing production legal and business affairs services for entertainment clients, including: drafting clearance reports; personal service agreements for producers, actors, and other principal crew; location agreements and releases; and documentation of underlying rights and chain-of-title.

 Jay Gendron, a former Warner Bros. executive and Showtime consultant (see full bio below), sat down recently with Biederman Blog Editorial Board member Carla L. Martin to discuss his work overseeing Southwestern’s Entertainment Law clinic (full disclosure: she’s participating in it this term):

Question: What kind of client approaches the clinic, and why don’t these creatives turn instead to many Entertainment Law practitioners in town?

 Answer:  A typical client who approaches our clinic is one with a low-budget production, either for TV or film, who can’t afford to add $20,000 or $30,000 in their budget for legal and business affairs related to their production needs.

Q: Does the clinic take away business from Entertainment Law practitioners, particularly in LA?

A: Not really. What happens is that a lot of times we get matters that lawyers say, “This client can’t afford me,” simply because their hourly rate is just too high. Or, lawyers can’t take these clients on due to a conflict of interest. We have certain clients who have accounting issues with studios, and other attorneys don’t want to take on them on as clients because they have accounts or relationships with those same studios. We are independent, so we can take on those clients and do the work for them, and for free.

Q: To be fair, the USC Gould School of Law runs an “Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic,” the UCLA School of Law has a “Documentary Film Legal Clinic,” and Chapman’s Fowler School of Law operates an “Entertainment Law Clinic.” They differ in their services and  potential clientele. How is Southwestern’s program received in a pace-setting, industry town like LA where professional relationships can be so key and creatives swap information among themselves so robustly?

A: The whole Biederman Institute has a strong Entertainment-legal presence in this town, and the clinic’s success flows from that. So many of our clients discover us through word-of-mouth, typically one client will talk to other filmmakers and then they reach out. We aren’t lacking for clients. In fact, some of our clients have their movies, with our logo at the end, available now on Amazon and on Netflix, and another client’s film is being considered at the Cannes Film Festival. We are very proud of this, and hopefully we will get the word out.

We also just received generous support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the 2018/19 academic year.

Q: Have there been any notable outcomes or success stories, for clients and students involved from services provided by the clinic?

A:. We have at least 10 former students working at studios or agencies or with law firms that we may refer matters to.  A high percentage of our students who work within the clinic find successful placements just a couple of years after working in the clinic. For our clients, many of them find distributors and we are proud when that happens, too.

 

Q: What sorts of challenges do aspiring lawyers in the clinic encounter, and how might these challenges not only be helpful but also shed light on useful approaches for practicing Entertainment lawyers?

A: There are five [experienced and working] attorneys sitting here most days, and we often have fundamental differences on how to handle many of the issues that come our way. On any given day, you can witness conflicting views from these different attorneys, but this is a great learning experience. Students can draw from those discussions on how they want to approach a problem, and they realize that they should have the confidence in their own view because there isn’t just one way.

You also learn how to deal with new clients, most associates never get the chance to do that. Here, you speak directly with the clients and you get to decide whether or not you want to take on a client almost every week.

Q:  How much money roughly might the clinic save clients with the services it offers?

A: On any given film, it can range depending on the size of its budget. Most of the legal services we provide to them for free would be billed by a law firm at their full rate ranging anywhere from $10,000-$20,000, or even from $20,000-$30,000.

Q: You mentioned the working professional colleagues besides yourself at the clinic. Can you tell us a little more about them?

A: Sure, they include:

Q: If creatives are interested in working with the clinic, how do they get started?

A: They can contact me at jgendron@swlaw.edu

Prof. Gendron spent more than 20 years at Warner Bros. Television, most recently as vice president of business affairs, where he served as the primary point person for negotiations for writers, producers, directors and actors for the world’s largest supplier of prime time scripted television. In this position, he handled all aspects of television business affairs including network license agreements, rights acquisitions and A-Level overall writer/producer agreements.

 Prior to that, he was vice president of legal affairs, and oversaw all legal aspects of production, rights acquisitions, co-production agreements, distribution agreements, negotiation/drafting of contracts, and garnered court approval of minors’ contracts. He also drafted seminal development, license and termination agreements for The WB network.

 Before he joined Warner Bros. in 1991, Gendron was the director of legal affairs at Lorimar Television. There, he served as production counsel, primarily handling network license agreements and clearance matters. Earlier in his career, he was an attorney with the firms of Leopold, Petrich & Smith and McCutchen, Black, Verleger & Shea. While in law school, he was editor of the Duke Legal Research Program. He also took part in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Advocacy Project and served on the Moot Court Board. He earned his bachelor’s in government-international Studies, at University of Notre Dame, and his juris doctor at Duke University.

 

Photo credit: @Southwestern Law School