Pro Tip: Budget for legal fees at the start of your project

One of the top best practices I can think of for anyone involved in a creative enterprise is this: budget for legal fees at the start of your project, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need to hire an attorney.

As you can imagine, I get a lot of calls from independent producers and other creative professionals who have completed a project successfully but are facing a legal challenge that is preventing them from making money on their project. Maybe someone else ripped off their artwork and they need to enforce your copyrights. Maybe an investor is making trouble and demanding repayment. Maybe they scored a distribution deal and need an attorney to review the Distribution Agreement.

If you don’t have the money to pay an attorney, it could be difficult to secure representation.

What to do then? When drawing up the budget for your project, set aside some money for emergency legal fees. I’d recommend reserving anywhere from 4%-6% of your total budget for legal fees, even if you cannot foresee any future issues for which you might need to hire an attorney.

I recognize that on a shoestring budget, 4%-6% translates into a lot of money. I also understand the drive of independent and emerging artists who stretching their small budgets as far as they can to produce the best version of their project. But it is absolutely crucial to stop treating legal fees as an indulgence and consider the budgetary line item a critically-necessary component of the overall project budget.

You may never need an attorney, and in that case you are likely incredibly lucky. For everyone else laboring to bring their artistic vision to life, legal fees are going to be a necessity, and budgeting for them at the outset ensures you have the cash on hand when you need it.

One final suggestion: if you can, consult an attorney when drawing up the budget for your project. Ask that attorney about risks specific to the exact project you are creating. An attorney ought to be able to spot many of the potential issues you might face and give you a sense of what you might pay in legal fees to prevent or resolve those issues.

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