Shaun Miller Reveals How Following His Creative Passions Unexpectedly Led To A Dream Career

Sarah Lynch

In the February issue of BucketOrange Magazine, we catch up with Shaun Miller – Melbourne-based veteran entertainment lawyer and film aficionado to talk about running a solo practice, his best law hacks for musicians and how he accidentally fell into a dream career.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you wanted to become a lawyer …?

“I am Melbourne born and bred.  I wanted to be a lawyer from about the age of 12 even though, as it turned out, I had no idea what the day-to-day working life was to be a lawyer in Australia.  Maybe I made the mistake of watching too many episodes of LA Law in the 1980s!

I got the marks to get into law school at Melbourne University and so that’s where my legal career began.  Even though I loved the arts, I made the conservative decision to combine my law degree with a commerce degree.”

You have over 15 years of experience in film and entertainment law. Did you always want to run your own entertainment law firm, or is it something you stumbled into?

“Life unfolds in unpredictable and often surprising ways.  But then again, I like to think that ‘a compass will always find its true north!’

Previously, I was a partner in a city-based law firm in its Media Department.  I then took that experience (and my clients!) as well as my love of the film industry and my business knowledge from my commerce degree and, hey presto, I found myself running a sole practice law firm specialising in film and entertainment law.  Even though I stumbled into running my own law firm, on reflection, I was actually always heading that direction.

Who does Shaun Miller Lawyers cater to …?

“Shaun Miller Lawyers predominantly acts for production companies that make feature films, television series, documentaries, shorts, animations and web series.  Generally, I do not act for writers, actors or directors because they tend to be represented by talent agents (as opposed to lawyers).

My point of difference is that I charge clients on the basis of ‘value and expertise’ as opposed to ‘time based billing.’  That way, I am able to give a fixed quote for the legal work from the get-go and there are no hidden surprises for the client.  I’ve found that ‘time based billing’ encourages lawyers to work slowly and inefficiently in order to rack up legal fees, and that’s not fair to the client.

My other point of difference is that I don’t charge separately for mobile phone call charges, printing documents or photo copying.  Those charges are all included in the fixed fee.

My ultimate point of difference is that I belong to ‘AA’, which means ‘Always Available’ – clients can ring me or e-mail me at any time of the day or night and chances are I will respond immediately.”

What has been your favourite project to work on and why?

“My favourite project to work on turned out to be the short animation by Adam Elliot called Harvie Krumpet. The film ended up winning the Academy Award for best short animation in 2004 and so it always has a very special place in the list of projects that I have worked on over the years.”

What is the hardest aspect of running a sole practice law firm?

“That there is no one to delegate work to. It all falls on me. But that suits me because I am in complete control of the legal work for the projects that I am working on.”

What has been your proudest achievement …?

“My proudest achievement is going to the film festival premieres or cast and crew screenings of the films that I have done the ‘legals’ on and feeling that I played a small role in getting the film made.  Seeing my name in the end credits always gives my ego a bit of a boost as well.”

In your experience, do you think more young and creatively-minded lawyers would find fulfilment in pursuing a career in entertainment law? If so, what is one piece of advice you would give someone who is looking to get into the entertainment law industry?

“If you have a creative-bent, it is always going to be more fulfilling working with people in the creative arts than working with the ‘corporate suit’ types. My advice to a young person wanting to get into the entertainment law industry would be to get some direct experience in the film or television industry, for example, by doing some short filmmaking courses or working on a film set (even if it’s just as a runner or helping out with the catering) or working for a local film festival (even if it’s just as a volunteer).”

That way, you have a much better understanding of the ‘language’ of your clients (industry lingo). It will help the film contracts that you end up working on make more sense.”

What is your ultimate dream that you would like to achieve through your work?

“I don’t have an ‘ultimate dream’ that I want to achieve through my work other than to help my filmmaking clients get their films onto big and small screen by making sure all of the contracts on the film are drafted correctly in order to avoid disputes down the track.  As I’m doing that already, I guess that’s my ‘ultimate reality’”.

Do you have a favourite expression, saying or philosophy?

“One of my favourite expressions is: ‘If you want to stand out, then don’t fit in!’ – in other words, you should celebrate what makes you different and tread your own path.

Another favourite expression is: ‘I work well in a team, as long as I am the only person in the team!’ – in other words, I want to keep my law firm as a sole practice law firm.”

You can learn a lot about a person by knowing their taste in music. Do you listen to music while working or to get fired up before going to court? If so, what artists or albums help you to lawyer at your best?

“I love listening to music while I’m working.  I have very eclectic taste – the music I listen to depends on my mood and what I am working on.  But if I really want to get motivated, nothing beats the Bob Marley song with the lyrics: ‘Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don’t give up the fight.’”

Do you have a favourite legal series or movie?

“In the 1980s and 1990s it was LA Law. In the 2000s it was Boston Legal and in the 2010 it’s The Good Wife.”

We have been featuring a PopLaw series on copyright protection for musicians. In your experience representing Australian musicians, what is one law hack that every musician should know?

“If you think something is worth stealing, then someone will think it’s worth protecting. 

Even if you only steal a 10 second riff from another song to include in your song, the copyright owner of the original song will probably bring legal action against you for breach of copyright. Just ask Men at Work who were sued for including the riff from ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ in their famous track ‘Down Under!’”

“Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ. 

In other words, musicians are much more likely to be sued for alleged breach of copyright if their song is a big hit. Funny that!”

🍊 BucketOrange Magazine / February 2017.

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