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Band alleges law firm had conflicts of interest and was self-dealing

On Behalf of | May 13, 2024 | Conflict of Interest, Duty of Care, Entertainment Malpractice, Legal Malpractice |

Entertainment attorneys have unique relationships with clients who are singers, bands, instrumentalists or other kinds of musicians. In addition to contract work or litigation, musicians’ lawyers also may have other roles like those of negotiator, agent or promoter. In this context, legal work in a fast-moving, highly competitive and often lucrative space can open the door to attorney-client relationship stressors or worse.

Legal malpractice in the entertainment industry

When a lawyer or law firm breaches its professional duty of care to a musician-client and that lapse or negligence causes harm or loss, the client may have a legal cause of action in legal malpractice and related claims. Damages could be proper for financial losses from faulty contracts, failure to secure recording or performance deals, loss of future revenue for failure to promote the musician or for any of many other unique losses.

Conflicting interests

Lawyers have a duty to their musical clients to exercise the type and level of professional care of an ordinary entertainment attorney. One type of legal negligence that musician-clients often allege is that their lawyers or law firms had conflicts of interest with the clients that diluted the lawyers’ duty of loyalty and ability to advocate vigorously.

These kinds of conflicts can be with third parties whom the attorney also represents or with whom the lawyer or firm has a business or personal relationship. A law firm or attorney has the ethical duty to investigate whether conflicts of interest would exist if they represented a new client. If so, the lawyer should not represent the new client or should first obtain a signed waiver after full disclosure of the conflict and potential problems.

Recent example of band-law firm litigation

Sublime, the Southern California ska band that last put out new work in 1996, has reformed itself with the son of a deceased original member taking his father’s place. According to Forbes, the reconstituted group may perform new music this summer at the Coachella Music and Art Festival.

In addition to touring again, Sublime’s members filed in Jan. 2024 a legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit in a Los Angeles trial court against their former entertainment law firm. Sublime alleges that the firm had undisclosed conflicts of interest and had engaged in self-dealing, reports Billboard. Allegations include:

  • Negotiating a merchandise contract for Sublime without disclosing that the other party was also one of the firm’s clients
  • Representing both the band and its former manager in the same matter where their interests were adverse
  • Arranging “producer credits and fees for themselves” in a documentary project on Sublime and billing the band for the time spent

Billboard also reports that in March 2024, the law firm filed a countersuit against Sublime vigorously denying the band’s allegations and alleging significant unpaid legal fees. The firm says that it was loyal to Sublime and did disclose any conflicts of interest.

Takeaway for clients

Any singer, instrumentalist, band member, band or other musical professional with questions about whether their legal representative may have committed malpractice or related claims should speak as soon as possible to an experienced attorney.