Pro Bono Focus: Referral Panel for Artists

As attorneys, we often run into potential clients who cannot afford legal services. One potential resource for your clients in need of legal assistance with their invention or artistic work is the California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA).

CLA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping artists utilize and navigate through the legal system. With its four offices throughout California, including Santa Monica, Sacramento, San Francisco and Berkeley, CLA recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and is the third oldest organization of its kind in the United States.

Formerly known as Bay Area Lawyers for Arts, this service started as a group effort between attorneys and artists who saw a need to help artists. Since then, the program has grown substantially and has been instrumental in helping artists throughout California.

CLA’s mission is to “empower the creative community by providing education, representation and dispute resolution.” CLA carries out its mission in a number of different ways, including a lawyer referral service, educational programs and an alternative dispute resolution service named Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services.

Lawyer Referral Service

CLA’s lawyer referral service consists solely of attorneys knowledgeable specifically in arts-related issues such as copyrights, employee/independent contractor rights, organizational taxes and contract drafting, review and organization. Certified by the State Bar of California, CLA’s referral service is able to refer a caller to an attorney anywhere in California, not just within a limited geographical area. According to CLA’s website, this service annually refers approximately 1,200 Californian artists and arts organizations to panel attorneys.

The cost for a referral to an attorney is $35. However, if the client cannot afford this  fee, CLA offers a pro bono program that qualified clients can rely on to waive the administrative cost. Robert Pimm, CLA’s Director of Legal Services, states that the majority of callers need pro bono or Moderate Means services.

Pimm advises that they have a large attorney panel which consists of private attorneys, large firms and even corporate legal departments.

Educational Programs

This year alone, CLA has organized over 60 educational workshops. Upcoming programs include topics such as publishing agreements, trademark protection and even the ethical issues for a law firm’s web presence. For a list of upcoming programs, check CLA’s website at http://www.calawyersforthearts.org/calendar.

Mediation Services

CLA offers mediation services for arts or entertainment related disputes. Pimm advised that although there are numerous mediation services available throughout California, CLA established its own program entitled Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services (AAMS), which focuses solely on artist-related issues. CLA received a grant from the Endowment for the Arts to begin this program because research concluded that traditional programs caused artists severe stress, which hindered their creative abilities.

To be included on the AAMS’s panel of mediators, you do not have to be an attorney, but you are required to attend a special training to learn about mediations that involve artists. Pimm states that mediators have reported back that this training was effective and the ideas learned have helped settle non-AAMS mediation cases.

AAMS mediators are located throughout California. The fee for mediation is determined individually with each party. There are volunteer mediators and fees are based on a sliding scale depending upon the household income or organizational income or budget of a party.

California Inventors Assistance Program

In October 2012, a program known as the California Inventors Assistance Program (CIAP) launched as part of a mandate in the America Invents Act. CLA, as well as other companies, were instrumental in the steering committee that was organized to launch this project. This committee worked closely with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to develop this program.

The purpose of the CAIP is to provide pro bono legal services to help financially struggling inventors, entrepreneurs and artists navigate the patent application process. CLA is the program administrator for this initiative in California and is therefore responsible to process the pro bono intakes with the help of the USPTO.

For more information about CLA, or to volunteer as an attorney, visit the website at http://www.calawyersforthearts.org/.


Samantha Sepehr, Former Director of the Elder Law Center, is a Partner at Steele, George, Schofield and Ramos, LLP, located in Walnut Creek.

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