Game theory for entertainment lawyers: work by the laws, work by the rules: An interview with Hai Run Law Firm's senior partner Yang Shuguang
Entertainment lawyers is a special group in the legal industry.
While normal social media users look at trending topics for gossip in the entertainment industry, lawyers specializing in this field take a very different perspective: spur through the surface and focus on the core of the issue to see how their clients’ interests can be fully safeguarded. This is easier said than done, as the entertainment industry has its complex rules, asking lawyers to not only know all the laws and regulations but also to be familiar with how things work in this industry. To dance on the edge is hard, let alone becoming “the chosen one” by clients. Yang Shuguang, a partner at Hai Run Law Firm, is a winner of “ALB China Client Choice” for this year. This is his fifth time being selected in this ranking. When asked why he could keep clients’ preferences for years, Yang says: “capabilities for their recognition, and loyalty for their trust.”
BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER WHO STANDS IN CLIENTS’ SHOES
In 2014, Yang successfully defended a renowned leading artist agency in a case involving an artist's contract disputes. The case established a precedent. Before that, a lawsuit to end the contract with an agency could be lodged by practically any artist or actor and supported by the court. As a result, artist agencies’ heavy investments in artist training could never see the rewards as the artists might leave easily. Yang’s success in handling the case not only helped the agency get the court’s support, but also had a game-changing impact to China’s show business.
"Since then, agencies are more willing to keep investing in training their artists, while artists would think twice before they want to breach or end the contracts," Yang says.
As a result of his victory in that case, Yang gained a solid reputation in China's show business. In the meantime, the industry became more cognizant of the significance of skilled legal services. Later, Yang assisted his clients, including agencies and artists, in a number of significant instances that garnered media and industry attention. He is renowned for his meticulous attention to detail, outstanding client patience, and thorough understanding of case particulars.
However, just as in many Wuxia or martial arts books, real masters don't strike their swords unless necessary. Despite having a strong track record as a litigator, Yang prefers to settle disputes through mediation.
"Perhaps a lawyer can get higher fees for winning a lawsuit, but in some circumstances, winning a case may be at the cost of losing a client’s face. We don't agree with the idea of thinking about problems based on a lawyer's personal gains. We encourage our lawyers to put ourselves in clients' shoes and give careful and full consideration to their perspectives. Last year, more than one-third of the cases we handled were settled through mediation, and the results were satisfactory to both sides. Solving cases in this way can often better meet the needs of clients," Yang says frankly.
"Of course,” Yang changes his tone subtly, “not all lawyers are eager to negotiate their way to a settlement. Many lawyers are quite combative and aggressive right from the start of a negotiation, making the negotiation hard to proceed and lawsuits come the only choice. When that happens, my handling style will naturally turn sharper and let the lawsuit result tell the true winner.”
KNOWING THE LAWS AND INDUSTRY RULES, HAVING COMPETENCY AND INTEGRITY
In recent years, categorizing lawyers by industry has become a trend in the legal services market, but only truly knowledgeable attorneys may be referred to as "industry-expert lawyers." As was already noted, there are lawyers who only comprehend legal texts and are unaware of the "game rules" of the entertainment business. These lawyers are unable to adequately safeguard the interests of their clients.
Some lawyers even use the fame of their celebrity clients to promote themselves in an effort to gain recognition and popularity in media. This type of behaviour does not assist in the resolution of disputes and sometimes places their clients in needless public relations difficulties.
"Water can carry a boat as well as overturn it. In the entertainment industry, traffic is the 'water' — sometimes a trending topic can have a huge impact on our clients. Therefore, entertainment lawyers must be low-key, cautious, and sensible in their daily job," Yang says. "Many entertainment lawyers fail to realize that show business clients are a special group — they live in the spotlight. The competency and integrity of entertainment lawyers are critical in building rapport with their clients in the entertainment industry."
Since China's entertainment industry has been in a slump for almost two years and is gradually moving into the next boom period, the industry has agreed that it is in need of truly professional entertainment lawyers. "In this sector, many business opportunities go away quickly. Therefore, when negotiating, all parties need competent legal professionals to control contract and project risks," Yang tells ALB.
SOLID FOUNDATION AND CONTINUOUS EFFORTS: CONTRIBUTING TO THE INDUSTRY THRIVING
Yang has observed that many entertainment companies struggle with poor management of both daily operations and financial matters. They operate by a set of "common rules" or adhere to customary practices. As a result, there are numerous issues with its historical legacies. For the entertainment industry to transition from "wild growth" to orderly and sustainable development, the relevant authorities need to develop feasible and transparent laws and regulations urgently. Professional legal services can assist businesses in avoiding the effects of such "historical issues" prior to the introduction of new laws and regulations.
"Our team has advised many entertainment companies over the years. With our extensive experience, professional competence, quality service and dedication, we have built excellent partnerships with our clients," Yang says.
As for the achievements that have been made so far, while being grateful to his clients and proud of his team, Yang sees room for further development. "We are devoted to offering professional entertainment law services to more clients to obtain wider exposure in the industry and serve to promote the orderly growth of the industry," Yang shares with ALB.