Entertainment Law Ethics
Entertainment law is a highly competitive area of practice, involving a myriad of roles and various players. Marketing, advertising, selling, networking and deal-making are common business activities for agents, managers and lawyers. As a result, lawyers often resemble agents and managers in their roles with entertainment clients. Lawyers are, however, distinguishable from agents, managers and entrepreneurs in that lawyers must conform their conduct to high ethical standards governed by codes of professional behavior.
Lawyers are also highly educated and trained, and must pass a difficult, multi-day examination before being licensed to practice law. After being licensed, many states require lawyers to continue their legal education and gaining, including a course in legal ethics and substance abuse, in order to be in good standing. Also, lawyers belong to a profession that is committed to performing public service.
Lawyers' achievements are often overshadowed by criticism that they are self-interested, greedy and incompetent. In addition, a high number of grievances and malpractice claims are filed against lawyers, including entertainment lawyers [FN3], A lawyer's violation of the code threatens his or her reputation, license, and livelihood.
Lawyers' reputations depend, in large part, on their ability to build and maintain ethical relationships with clients, lawyers, judges and the public. Terms such as fiduciary, counselor, mediator, arbitrator and advocate, reflect the critical and powerful roles that lawyers perform in commercial transactions and dispute resolution systems. The high standard of living that many lawyers enjoy evidences the significance and value society attaches to legal services.
Attorneys who aggressively represent clients in litigation or transactional matters often test the limits of permissible professional conduct. Entertainment lawyers, for example, test such limits when they acquire an ownership interest in their clients' enterprises and seem to become advocates of their own self-interest instead of protecting their clients. Given the highly competitive and entrepreneurial nature of the entertainment business, it is not surprising that entertainment lawyers are the subject of complaints before disciplinary authorities and the courts. It is incumbent that entertainment lawyers - all lawyers - work within the codes of ethics and to continue their legal education.
John P. Sahl and Kenneth J. Abdo, Entertainment Law Ethics, in Counseling Clients in the Entertainment Industry 223-292 (Practising Law Institute 2003).