A star’s best friend may be his lawyer

Ian Pearson November 13 1978

A star’s best friend may be his lawyer

Ian Pearson November 13 1978

A star’s best friend may be his lawyer

In entertainment, some of your clients are extraordinarily egotistical,” New York lawyer Allen Arrow was explaining. “Imagine a 21-year-old man with millions of fans and the ability to buy anything,” continued Arrow, who has represented the Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry, among others. “The rewards are instant, but it’s a difficult life. It takes a lot of patience and care to handle such a client. The entertainment lawyer has to be a combination of manager, agent, friend and psychiatrist.”

But mostly, he has to be a lawyer like other lawyers; a tennis tan is fine, but no grabbing the mike to do a duet with ol’ buddy and client Paul Simon. That was one message, and the general impression left by a no-nonsense seminar (at which Arrow was a keynote speaker) presented by the Ontario Branch of the Canadian Bar Association on the representation of athletes and entertainers.

Organizer Peter Steinmetz and panel

moderator Jerry Grafstein, two Canadian lawyers who have taken the plunge into this new and lucrative field, expected about 70 to attend; instead, 250 lawyers and law students crammed a Toronto hotel ballroom to consider topics such as “Techniques and Opportunities for Reducing the Star’s Income-Tax Liability.” It was a group better attuned to guest speaker and hockey impresario Alan Eagleson than The Eagles, but the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually in Canadian entertainment and sports revenue were inducement enough to attract lawyers to the business of stardom. And, for a first-year law student immersed in fiduciary relationships and causes for restitution, the legal entanglements of Fleetwood Mac or Bette Davis ( Warner Bros. vs. Nelson, 1937) are heady stuff.

Judging by the sober tone of the seminar, however, it’s unlikely that Volvo loads of QCs will descend upon under-

ground clubs in an effort to unearth the hot new clients. Only Frederic Gaines, an L.A. entertainment lawyer whose firm represents John Travolta, Diane

Keaton and Johnny Carson, showed signs of having been grazed by stars, with his perfect Warren Beatty coiffure and a tailored turquoise corduroy jacket. But even Gaines projected a sombre lawyerly personality free of hip pretensions.

“A star is used to being surrounded by subservient people,” said Gaines. “A lawyer can’t be that way. You have to be close to your client but you can’t let the egos get involved.”

The urge to move on from negotiating contracts to marketing T-shirts, however, is strong. “When you have to give a star advice on business, you’re awfully tempted to handle it yourself,” said Grafstein, whose firm counsels Sylvia Tyson and Glenn Gould. “Someone like Alan Eagleson has become so occupied with the business side that he’s had to hire another lawyer to take care of his client’s purely legal problems.”

The entertainment lawyer handles the more mundane aspects of a performer’s career such as contract negotiations, royalty rates and merchandising rights. Agents and managers handle the day-to-day affairs of the star. What separates entertainment and sports from other areas of law is the vulnerability of the client, who is generally not interested in legal matters. Chats about cross-collateralization may not interest a singer like Meatloaf.

Some lawyers will confess to a more than financial interest in the area. “Underneath every entertainment lawyer, there’s an element of ham,” says Jerry Grafstein, who reveals that he once wrote a song called L-O-V-E that Spells Love for a summer camp musical. Steinmetz, a lawyer who specializes in the recording industry, handling the legal problems of Triumph, Marc Jordan, The Good Brothers and The

Irish Rovers, agrees. “You’ve got to like the product. I’ve got a thousand records in my living room. You see me now in a dark suit, but I really enjoy hanging around the clubs to see my clients. You’ve got to see those guys on their own level.

“I went into law for security and independence,” says Steinmetz, “but it’s turned out to be what I’m interested in. I’m so deeply into the recording industry now that I’ve got some trepidation approaching a corporate transaction.”

Lawyers such as Alan Eagleson who become full-time agents are still a rare breed in Canada. But he may have competition soon. By the afternoon session of the seminar, one middle-aged, bluesuited attorney had quietly moved aside his Financial Post to study the entertainment section of The Toronto Sun.

Ian Pearson