By Joey Scavuzzo
If you’re in the market for an entertainment attorney in the music business… Congratulations! You’re on the rise, finally getting paid for your craft and need someone in your corner looking out for your best interests. Few make it this far, but mo’ money, mo’ problems, right?
Anyone can find an attorney today. Google exists. But the bigger questions loom: what are the payment options, what should you expect to pay and is it reasonable? The barriers to this knowledge are high so let’s tear them down and empower you with all the information you need.
What are music attorney fee payment options?
According to California Legal Forms – Transaction Guide, Matthew Bender, a leading publisher of legal analysis and research information, explains that entertainment attorney fees are typically paid in one of four ways:
- A retainer
- An hourly rate
- A combination of an hourly rate and a percentage of your gross compensation
- Contingency fees based on gross income.
What should you expect to pay for a music attorney?
When it comes to an hourly rate, Donald S. Passman, author of All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Eighth Edition, states, “Most lawyers in the music business don’t charge on just an hourly basis. For the ones that do, the rates are from $150 per hour for new lawyers, up to $600 or more for biggies.”
Since many entertainment clients can’t afford to retain an attorney on an hourly basis, they and their attorney instead often agree to a contingency fee arrangement.
Kenneth Abdo, a partner at the firm Fox Rothschild LLP along with Jack Saul, a professor of law at University of Akron, note in their article Entertainment Law Ethics, “A customary contingent fee ranges from 5% to 10% of the defined gross compensation of the client and rarely exceeds 10%. The exact percentage depends, in part, on the client’s record for commercial or critical success and the likelihood that the lawyer’s efforts will be successful. For example, it is reasonable with a superstar to take a lower percentage of the gross compensation and with a new or “baby act” to insist on 10%. Successfully shopping a new artist to a recording contract with a small, local, independent record company is a situation in which a lawyer might charge 10% of the artist’s gross compensation.”
This is further supported by LAW AND BUSINESS OF THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES, Fifth Edition, by Donald E. Biederman, et. al. (the prevailing text used in law schools), stating, “A customary contingency fee ranges from 5% to 10% of the defined compensation earned by the client and rarely exceeds 10%.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t. There is no case law or precedent defining a specific ceiling. For example, it is common for contingency lawyers in personal injury cases to take 33.33% and employment lawyers to take 40% of the total amount recovered. 
And this leads us to our final section…
Is your attorney’s fee percentage reasonable?
According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC), the ethical code governing attorneys, Rule 1.5(a)(1)-(8) states the attorney can consider the following criteria in determining a reasonable fee: “the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; the amount involved and the results obtained;, the experience, reputation, and the ability of the lawyer performing the services required; and whether the fee is fixed or contingent.” In fact, some lawyers may require a retainer or deposit payment in addition to a percentage of the deal.
What that says is that music attorneys have a lot of flexibility and protection when it comes to charging their fees. Simply put, an attorney with years of experience and a proven track record can, legally and ethically, charge higher rates.
So, when hiring a music attorney, you want a specialist, someone experienced with music contracts. They will understand the nuances of any deal. And you should want a professional who regularly deals with agents, managers, producers, and record companies. Like entertainment attorney Gordon Firemark says, “Their relationships with executives… can mean the difference between an average deal or a favorable one.” But you should expect to pay a premium for this expertise.
 Donald Passman: All You Need to Know About the Music Business; https://books.google.com/books?id=smbiogvIt9AC&pg=PA50&dq=charge+on+just+an+hourly+basis&hl=en&ppis=_c&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi5p8G2_cfoAhUdJzQIHYCLCbYQ6AEwAXoECAIQAg#v=onepage&q=charge%20on%20just%20an%20hourly%20basis&f=false
 Kenneth Abdo & Jack Saul, “Entertainment Law Ethics” https://law.marquette.edu/assets/sports-law/Entertainment%20Law%20Ethics%20%28Abdo%20%26%20Sahl%29-C1.pdf
 Donald Biederman: Law and Business of the Entertainment Industries: Fifth Edition (2001) https://books.google.com/books?id=hKguqdfT3eMC&pg=PA18&dq=the+defined+compensation+earned+by+the+client&hl=en&ppis=_c&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjOrqH7_MfoAhV2GjQIHc3zBvwQ6AEwAHoECAYQAg#v=onepage&q=the%20defined%20compensation%20earned%20by%20the%20client&f=false
 Hutchinson and Stoy, “Everything You Need to Know About Contingency Fee and No Win, No Fee Lawyers https://www.warriorsforjustice.com/everything-need-know-contingency-fee-no-win-no-fee-lawyers/
 American Bar Association; Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.5, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_5_fees/
 Wallace Collins, “How do you know When you need an Entertainment Lawyer?” 2015. https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2015/05/13/how-do-you-know-when-you-need-an-entertainment-lawyer/
 Gordon Firemark, “Assembling a Winning Team: The Entertainment Lawyer,” 2004. https://firemark.com/2004/05/24/assembling-a-winning-team-the-entertainment-lawyer/