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Ray Allen, 36, is the first general counsel of Black Rock City LLC, the San Francisco-based nonprofit behind Burning Man, an annual event perhaps best described as Woodstock for the visual arts. The 18-year-old festival, which always ends with the immolation of a gigantic wooden “man,” takes place in the Black Rock Desert, a federal Bureau of Land Management property in Nevada. Participants build, occupy, and then dismantle a five-square-mile “city,” full of huge art installations. Despite the remote venue, attendance has grown steadily and in 2004 topped 35,000. Although Burning Man has no commercial sponsors, it now has a $7 million budget, 25 full-time staffers, and a Nevada ranch with a fleet of vehicles. The increased size has prompted wrangles with local government. Allen says his job is to resolve the political and legal issues in a way that doesn’t harm the event’s unique character. When did you discover Burning Man? I heard about it from a co-worker in 1996, rented a car and went. I was blown away by it; it was a life-changing experience. I couldn’t stop going. What was it that you loved so much? It’s such a free place. There’s no social baggage. All the rules are just gone. It’s a barren, flat desert, and you go out there and create this new culture. How did you become its GC? I graduated [from law school] in 2002 and went to Arter & Hadden [in Los Angeles]. I was working 80 hours a week, and I totally hated it. In 2003 the firm went bankrupt. I was actually happy about it. Three days after I left L.A., I heard Burning Man was looking for a government relations and legal person. It was an amorphous, new job, but 220 people applied. You beat them all? It just kind of all worked out. I felt like I’d had this really bad karma; my father and brother had both died in the previous few years. It was time for the karma to turn around. You handle all of Burning Man’s legal work alone? I’m the only full-time, in-house lawyer. But we have people beating down the doors to volunteer for us. I have a “legal list” –eight pro bono attorneys I e-mail for help on different matters. What’s your workplace like? Our office is crazy, a really fun place. It’s in a warehouse space [in San Francisco]. We’re very business casual, and Fridays are costume days. People come dressed as cowboys or aliens. What are some of the most legally interesting parts of your job? One of the things I do is deal with Burning Man’s free speech rights. We pay the Bureau of Land Management a huge permit fee. But the Black Rock Desert is also within Pershing County, a depressed, repressed area. The county commissioners passed an ordinance requiring a permit [and fee] from us, which is basically the legislative equivalent of double-dipping. [Burning Man has opposed the ordinance and will learn the outcome of the dispute this winter.] Anything else? I’m also involved in Fourth Amendment issues. We give participants a survival guide explaining that at the event their camp is their temporary home, and they have the expectation of privacy as long as they’re not overstepping the bounds. We want to prevent illegal arrests or searches and seizures. But with so many people, it would be chaos without some infrastructure and rules. Catherine Aman is a reporter with Corporate Counsel magazine, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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