Firms foresee more business from WGA strike

Entertainment law firms, especially those at the top echelon, foresee changes wrought by the strike but not a reduction of work. On the transactional side, the nature of the deals has already shifted. On the litigation side, the adage that bad times tend to be good for business seems to be holding true.

Larry Stein, of Dreier Stein & Kahan, who is known both for talent-side litigation and television contract re-negotiations, said that “strikes only increase the need for legal services,” a sentiment echoed by several top litigators. On the transactional side, said Stein, “you won’t be negotiating a series deal, but there will be new kinds of programs — reality and talkshows — to be created by transactional lawyers.”

Bonnie Eskenazi, a partner at full-service entertainment firm Greenberg Glusker, said both the litigation and transactional sides of the firm are busy. “It’s too early to say how much litigation the strike will generate,” Eskenazi said, “but we have been very busy advising clients about their rights because of the early confusion.”

On the transactional side, said Eskenazi, attorneys are working overtime to get deals done. “Studios wanted to stockpile scripts and our writer clients wanted to get paid before the deadline.” With the strike now on, Eskenazi said the firm is expecting another wave of activity on behalf of producers and directors of nonscripted television projects. Finally, she added, the firm is continuing to work on nonwriter talent deals for actors, directors and producers in anticipation of the end of the strike.

On the indie side of the business, Stephen Monas, of Business Affairs Inc., which represents financiers, producers and distributors, said he expects a downturn in some business but an offsetting upturn in others.

“I expect we’ll see a big slowdown in writers’ deals and screenplay option agreements, which represents 10% to 15% of our business. We expect to replace the writers’ deals with more financing and production work. The independent productions don’t usually have the luxury of last-minute rewrites so we expect these projects to go forward based on the scripts that are in place.”

Of course, a really long strike could completely change the rosy outlook. Law firms don’t hire and fire based on relatively minor outside events, Stein said. But he warned, “It would be a whole different ballgame if the strike lasts a year.”

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