I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Attorney Ashton Cooper who not only is a Legal Attorney for Family Law (amongst taking on various cases relating to Housing, Public Benefits Consumer matters etc.), he is also branching into Entertainment Law for tv, film and fashion! Mr Cooper shares his wealth of experience and knowledge within the legal profession (and beyond), not to mention, his invaluable input into making sure his model & actress daughter, Christina Cooper (who we have previously interviewed) understands her various contracts.
BUNMI: What inspired/motivated you to become a lawyer?
ASHTON: It all started when I was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
I had a professor who thought that I was more fitting to be a lawyer than a doctor. He felt that I could help more people and the need was there to be filled. I had a bad experience with police officers at a major department store parking lot while I was on my way home from work. I stopped at the store with a male friend and my female cousin.
Some Caucasian men did something wrong at the store and I assume that it was a theft of merchandise. We were not even in the store at the time of the incident; however, when the police arrived on the scene they approached us and started balking commands to us. We didn’t know what was happening; however, they jumped out and began to rough house my friend, grabbing his hair, punching him in the side, kicking him and slamming his head on the car. We didn’t do anything to warrant this “abuse.” I told my professor about it and he referred us to a lawyer to sue the police and he then said that I should be a lawyer, where my service can help those with similar issues. From there, he coaxed me to attend law school.
BUNMI: As a Legal Services Attorney for Family Law, what are some of the cases you are involved in?
ASHTON: I do more than family law matters. Family law is just one of the legal areas that are covered by my organization. We are a civil practice public interest legal organization that assist indigent clients with civil matters that are not fee generating. The area of practice includes but is not limited to, Families and Children, Protection from Abuse, Consumer, Housing, Health, Public Benefits, and Work related matters.
I have dealt with cases involving clients that are escaping from violent relationships from U.S.A. and other foreign countries, where a mother has been beaten by father and escaped from another country to avoid being killed. I have also dealt with cases involving breach of contract. As a lawyer I cannot get into specifics of a case because of the ethical concerns and privacy; however, my days are always filled with adventure and deep thought.
BUNMI: Not only are you a lawyer, but you are also the father of Christina Cooper, who might I add is breaking barriers within the modelling and tv industry! How do you make sure her contracts are legally sound and that she understands the terms and conditions of the contract?
ASHTON: The main focus here is for one to read the terms of every contract word for word, making sure that no words are missed. In contract law one must read everything on the document. You must understand the terms of the agreement, and if don’t understand it find someone that does. Today the internet is real helpful and if you do not know a word or terminology it is easy to look up; therefore, the internet is an invaluable resource today.
For me, I read Christina’s contracts and make sure that she understands them. Sometimes I have even drafted the contracts for the parties involved to cover the parties’ agreement. On other matter where I have concerns I will suggest modifications where I feel that she is not protected; however, in the modeling world or entertainment it can be real difficult to get the terms that you want. The competition is stiff and unless you are super large to get everything that you want is generally next to nil until you can build your brand.
At the moment, my main focus is to try to help Christina build her brand/name and get solid paying gigs. She does a lot of work, but sometimes does not get what she deserves; however, she lives for what she does and makes sacrifices in order to move ahead.
BUNMI: What advice would you give to creatives and people in general with regards to entering a business? How important is it to make sure you understand the terms and conditions of a contract?
ASHTON: First thing about entering a business is to make sure that the business that you are selecting is something that you really like. If you like doing something you will be motivated to do all that you can in that endeavor to succeed. You will be surprised how many people start businesses only because they believe that it will make money. However, money is not the only reason to start a business; it could land you in more problems and debt than you started with and cause failure.
People that are creative tend to rush into things without evaluating the total picture. I am constantly reviewing documents for people that don’t understand what they are doing or getting into. They feel that starting a business is just creating a name, making business cards, etc., without laying a foundation. You must lay a foundation like when a person is building a house.
The most important element of any contract is to understand the terms and conditions. Sometimes contracts are lengthy and time consuming to read, but failure to read and understand them can be devastating.
I have seen contracts where the artist is promised nothing in return for his work which has authorized a production company to use the artist work for whatever purpose that they feel like in perpetuity. To me contracts like these are despicable, especially when the artist is not given anything in exchange are not even given the right of first refusal to perform
BUNMI: As a legal services attorney for family law, I know you are now branching into entertainment law for tv, film and fashion. How have you found this change?
ASHTON: The change is good. It’s like a breath of fresh air since I have been a legal services attorney for more than thirty (30) years. I also feed on learning new things and developing new skills. Transitioning to this area of law is not that new to me because I have been representing or assisting friends and colleagues for years prior to my daughters getting into the entertainment industry.
I have two daughters, Christina my eldest, who models and acts, and Jennifer, my younger daughter who has her sights on acting and musical theater. Currently Jennifer is pursuing degrees in Biology and Theatre at Penn State University.
Both girls are talented and it’s just a matter of time for them to get a big break in the industry. I got involved in entertainment law to assist them when needed and things began to flow from there. I studied entertainment law in law school, but it was never put to use until a few years back. I am happy that I did because I am beginning to enjoy the challenges that it brings.
BUNMI: What advice would you give to legal practitioners who are thinking of changing their practice or combing their existing area of law with an area such as entertainment law?
ASHTON: My advice to attorneys entering the entertainment practice is to do it. There is a lot of work out there. It is not an easy area to get into because most entertainers are looking for seasoned attorneys that have been down the path; however, many newcomers do not have the resources to attract the attention of these experienced attorney. If the attorney continues to develop, he/she will become seasoned too. I get so many request for assistance that I have to turn it down because there are not enough hours in a day to handle everything that comes my way.
BUNMI: Do you think that there is a demand for lawyers to enter the creative /entertainment industry?
ASHTON: As I stated previously, I believe there’s room for lawyers to enter the creative/entertainer practice of law. They can start small as they grow their practice. As the saying goes, you just need one really good client that help you push your practice to the next level.
After a while you will be recognized a practitioner in the entertainment industry. I am always being asked to review contracts, draft contracts, negotiate deals, and assist with making pitches. Therefore, I believe that there is a real demand for lawyers in this area of the legal profession.