EXCLUSIVE: Writers who canned their agents this weekend and are thinking of enticing their lawyers or managers to negotiate new deals for them while the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents fight it out over a new code of conduct, better think again.
“The word that is going out all over town to entertainment lawyers is ‘pencils down,’” a prominent Hollywood attorney told Deadline in a phrase repeated today as counsel face the new reality with the pitched stance between the WGA and the ATA.
That edict comes despite continuing assertions from the Writers Guild that lawyers or managers can essentially be deputized to perform most of the duties that agents used to before the mass firings started on April 12 after talks between the Guild and the ATA finally stuttered to an end.
The full measure of the Guild demanding that members fire their non-Code signing agencies on April 11 won’t be felt for several weeks. Which meant at the studios today it was still business as usual as reps and lawyers worked drilled into on-going deals – for now.
We hear some agents are willing to finish pacts for their writer clients who have to take a risk of being possibly punished by the WGA. We also hear that some lawyers are negotiating new pacts and plan to continue to do so.
It is part of the confusion that is dominating the business right now, with clarity in very short supply.
Lawyers and personal managers in both LA and NYC today walked into offices that had become professional purgatories due to the overwhelmingly approved anti-packaging Code of Conduct and the firing of agents that writers began on Friday evening. A state of affairs that could see both writers and agencies, who have been fighting against this, finding new work in the industry grinding to a standstill in the coming weeks.
A standstill that legally looks to be ensured by the laws of the Golden State and the Empire State.
“No person shall engage in or carry on the occupation of a talent agency without first procuring a license therefore from the Labor Commissioner,” the California Talent Agencies Act states. While a handful of lawyers and others have attempted in the past to the procure work for clients without the involvement of an agent, they have almost always come out the losers when such actions have been challenged under labor law.
“The WGA has no right to anoint anyone as a de facto agent to do anything for any of its members that an agent would do,” another heavyweight Tinseltown lawyer said. “If they want take their members down the garden path, I suggest they re-read relevant New York and California law,” he added
For lawyers in particular, working without a franchised representative could, despite what the WGA has said last week, result in a complaint to the State Bar. All complaints have to be followed up with an investigation and could become a disbarment – which is not what any attorney wants, no matter how much risk they are willing to take.
In that vein, many literary managers spent hours consulting with attorneys on Monday trying to figure out what they are allowed and not allowed to do. “It’s all Wild West now, there is no clarity on anything,” a prominent manager said.
Because of that, some managers are afraid to perform even simple, everyday tasks a manager does, like setting a meeting for their client. Many believe that doing that without being partnered with a franchised representative, which only agents are, could lead to them being sued.
At the same time, with the Talent Act staring lawyers in the face and no one sure what stance the WGA will take next, those legal firm pencils are very far down in town right now.
So far down that a scribe even tried to put together his or her own deal, we’re told that they would be hard pressed to find a reputable lawyer or personal manager who would be willing to take the potential disbarment or legal risk involved in even offering them advice. Rendering things all the messier, if the issue is in relation to a past or current deal, the likes of CAA, UTA, ICM Partners and UTA still do actually represent their writer clients – even if they were fired in the past 72 hours.
As for new deals- “Forget about it, the whole situation is too toxic,” an influential attorney proclaimed. The same lawyer dismissed the advice from the WGA that federal law actually allowed such a process as “the misplaced thinking of amateurs who are hurting their members with disinformation.”
Last week, the WGA fired back at the ATA’s assertion that it would “take appropriate action as needed, against any person engaged in unfair competition, to protect the lawful interests of its members.”
“The agencies are attempting to intimidate attorneys and managers to stop them from performing work they routinely do,” the WGA said on Friday as the hours ticked away to the firing of agents and a situation that will surely be played out and resolved in the courts rather than around the conference table anytime soon.