South by Southwest, the annual conference known as SXSW that’s underway this week in Austin, Texas, bills itself as a celebration of “the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.”
But amid the startup hopefuls, the indie starlets and the rockers, there’s plenty of room for lawyers. In addition to the usual networking opportunities, the conference is once again hosting Continuing Legal Education (CLE) sessions, and they’re free for those who pay the SXSW admission of $1,250.
“If they didn’t have excellent [CLE] programming, you be tempted to go to something else” at SXSW, said D’Lesli Davis, a partner at the Dallas office of Norton Rose Fulbright who will sit on a panel titled “Lawyers Gone Wild: Learning To Play by Ethical Rules.”
Nels Jacobson, aka Jagmo, organizes the CLE sessions. Before going to law school, Jacobson created rock posters for 30 years and also has promoted touring acts, including U2, REM, B.B. King, and King Sunny Adé. He also served as the original art director for SXSW.
Some of the scheduled CLE topics this year are obvious for lawyers serving the SXSW crowd: “Artist Legacy Planning & Protection” or “Big Legal Battles Over Rights in Bands’ Names.” But there are some unusual offerings too, including “Cyber Extortion: Doing Business with Crooks,” which will feature an FBI agent and a Reed Smith associate from Houston.
Wallace B. Jefferson, the retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, who is now with Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend in Austin, is scheduled to serve on the “Lawyers Gone Wild” panel along with Norton Rose Fulbright’s Davis.
“The music industry poses many potential conflict situations and ethical concerns for the entertainment lawyer,” the listing for their panel states. “This panel of distinguished attorneys is out to prove that legal ethics is not an oxymoron.”
According to Davis, the panel will present three hypotheticals and raise questions about common ethical issues for lawyers in the entertainment industry, such as competency.
“Everyone wants to do this work, but how do you know if you have the competencies for it,” said Davis. Representing artists requires knowledge about copyrights, royalty streams and tax, among other things, and she said she and her fellow panelists will address “how much do you need to know?”
They will also cover contingency dealmaking, since lawyers in the entertainment business often represent clients who have little money and who want to get a deal done quickly and, therefore, may propose offering the lawyers a share of the profits.
Also frequently, one attorney is asked to represent both sides of a transaction, Davis said. “All of these raise ethical questions, which are made more difficult by the culture of the music business. They want to get things done fast, the easy way, not the hard way,” she said. But such scenarios can eventually be costly for lawyers when years later the only big pot of money available is their malpractice insurance policies, and plaintiffs pursue them, she said.
As for his part, former Justice Jefferson seems ready to rock. “I expect the panelists will have a lively debate and we hope to engage the audience with questions and comments,” he wrote in an email.