Who does your lawyer or agent work for?

When I was an actor in the early 1800s (ok, not that long ago, maybe the 1850s), every one of my friends (and myself included) desperately wanted an agent.  We sent out 100s of headshots, went to pay-to-meet classes, and so on.  Landing an agent was like getting the Head Cheerleader to go to the Prom with you.

And just like landing the Head Cheerleader, it usually wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be (please – no letters from the Head Cheerleaders Union or anything – I do acknowledge that my last statement was a sweeping generalization).

A lot of my writer consultation clients come in drooling for an agent as well.

And even up and coming Producers are desperate to find the right lawyer to rep them and their show as they head out into the world.

I’m not dismissing the work that agents/lawyers/managers and other reps do, mind you.  At the right point in your career, these folks (and there are really good ones out there) are essential for you to climb up to the next rung of success on the ladder of your career (and tomorrow I’ll talk about my secret for getting an agent).

But what happens is that because most people put them in that Head Cheerleader category, the relationship starts off a little wonky.

I worked for an agent for a while, and I was always shocked to watch super smart actor/business people (actors are running their own business after all), speak to their agents (or not speak, actually) . . . all doe-eyed, listening and doing everything they say.  Even when it wasn’t the right thing for them!

“My agent said I should take the job/turn it down/not audition/audition/move to LA/Chicago/Mexico.”

Same is true for producers and their lawyers.

“My lawyer said I should offer this/walk away/give more/say no.”

When I hear people make these kinds of statements these days, I always say . . .

“What do you want to do?”

You’d be surprised how many times I hear . . . again . . . “Well my agent/lawyer/manager thinks . . .”

Ahem.  What do YOU think?

You should 101% listen to your representation.  That’s why they are there.  Just like the President listens to his cabinet.  Just like a Chairman of the Board should listen to his/her board members.

But at the end of the day, who does your representation work for?


They work for you.

You pay them.  So you call the shots.

So when faced with a decision that is going to affect your career, get all the opinions you can, from your agents, lawyers, parents, shrinks, whoever . . . and then find a quiet place and make the decision that you want to make.  (Use the 10/10/10 rule to help you – ask yourself “If I say Yes, how will I feel in 10 minutes?  How will I feel in 10 months?  How will I feel in 10 years?)

And if your agent or lawyer doesn’t agree with you and wants to drop you because you want to make a different decision than they would?  Guess what, they weren’t the agent or lawyer for you in the first place.  Sayonara, muchacho!

It’s hard, I know, I’ve been there.  It took a long time for you to get people “on your team,” and you don’t want to lose them.  But this is your career.  Not theirs.

See, the thing about agents and lawyers is . . . they have other clients.

So if something doesn’t go your way, they’ll be ok.

But you?  You at least want to know that you made the decision you wanted to make, so you’re not regretting it for 10 minutes/10 months or 10 years.

Because, well . . . how many clients do you have?


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  • Thanks Ken for providing a timely reminder, along with a well-balanced approach to this topic. As writers that believe in the value of having an agent, we also are clear that this should be a symbiotic TEAM-type of relationship.

    We understand this is a business decision for all involved that in terms of financial terms, boils down to.. “How could this partnership generate mutual compensation?” (and of course on artistic terms… “Do we share the same passion and vision for our written words?”)

    As we get ready to take our latest play up to New York and expect to meet potential agents during the run, the “prompt” you give us is that we’re not looking to date the “Head Cheerleader”… We’re looking for a partner that believes in CHEERING our work… Thank you again, as we get closer to taking this journey!

  • rob brown says:

    Excellent advice – in fact, it is the premise of our new musical – all advice is from someone else’s perspective – and all advice – even from those that love you the most – is shaped and tempered by self-interest.
    Live and die by your own decisions.

  • Well said, Ken! As a lawyer, I frequently have clients who want me to do their thinking for them. I prefer to stay in the role of advisor, counselor, and sometimes, teacher. Clients need to make the final calls, but often just passively follow their “team”. I like the 10/10/10 rule approach. I, going to use it when counseling clients on tough decisions.

  • Thanks for the all-iimportant reminder. Whenever I defer to someone else and don’t step into my own creative authority, I regret it. But it is a spiral path — I seem to have to learn this lesson over and over!

  • George Rady says:

    Here! Here! We have the same (well, somewhat the same) in the IT/Wealth Management world…

    Bottomline (and don’t fool yourself) your Agent is IN it for the BUSINESS! A piece of the action… and if YOU aren’t generating any action… well… the more time the agent spends with you – for you – is time that would be better spent working to get someone ELSE that part-for-a-fee. They will take advantage of those who want to believe that this is an “Art” and do not want to muddy themselves with the Ugh! Business… but NO one is more “butts in seats” than an agent… the more people you stand to pull in… the more marketable your are… the more your agent will LOVE ya… even if you can’t act (Ricky Martin or some Olympic Medalist)

    The other consideration is that 10/10/10 rule…

    You’re Agent’s primary interest is to make the most money that can… if that means they think you are short term (Ricky) they will talk you into doing “Evita” and grab the big chunk up front… regardless of what it ends up doing to your credibility… but IF they think you are Long Term… they may take more interest in keeping the projects realistic… but you have to be careful that they may be pushing your from project to project just to “churn” their fees… even if it would be better for you to STICK with a production that would better stand to highlight your talent… rather than dillute it in piecemeal productions for short runs (but more frequent fees)

    Finally – they really are dumb to talent! Like most “experts” they are just as after the fact as any “expert” i.e. once your score a hit and become successfull – THEN they do the 20/20 and recall how they knew all along… when the fact is they don’t know anymore than directors or producers or acting gurus… WHO will catch on and tickle the public fancy. (Not talking about basic skills and competence – but ACTING or WRITING that – played directly to an audience – demands attention that the experts seemed to somehow miss…

    So I think the “agent” comes along AFTER you have already staked your claim…when they sniff $$$ and then you should use them and they will use you… because it IS a business!


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