Entertainment business veterans launch firm to serve evolving legal field

The Westboro headquarters of Ottawa’s self-professed “biggest and best” entertainment law firm, with its bare concrete floors and quasi-warehouse feel, looks more like it should be home to a software or gaming startup than a legal practice.

As it turns out, that’s exactly the vibe Edwards Professional Corp. founder Mark Edwards was going for when he and colleague Byron Pascoe went searching for a place to set up shop this spring.

“We kind of had this idea that it would be a place where people could just drop in, have a cup of coffee, make a couple of phone calls, use the Internet, whatever,” says Mr. Edwards, looking relaxed in a casual shirt and jacket while lounging on a sofa during a recent interview with OBJ.

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Mr. Edwards and Mr. Pascoe are currently the only employees of Edwards PC. But that still puts them at the front of the pack in the burgeoning field of entertainment law, or “creative” law, as they like to refer to it.

They just moved into their new, stripped-down digs in June, where they also share space with a video development company and Big Jump Productions, a local animation firm that also happens to be one of their clients.

Animation is one of the key sectors of the local entertainment industry Edwards PC has targeted, along with films, television, music, software and gaming. Among the firm’s major clients are Carte Blanche Films, an Ottawa television production company.

While much of the pair’s work consists of standard legal fare such as drafting employee agreements, each sector of the entertainment business faces its own unique set of legal issues, says Mr. Edwards.

“There’s a language to entertainment law – in fact, there are different languages that you have to learn for each area,” he says.

A piece of music, for example, usually has at least three different sets of people involved in its creation and production – the songwriters, the performers and the record company – and each has different legal rights and interests.

“Some of the most famous litigation in the entertainment industry in the past 25 years has been around music and who created it and owns it,” Mr. Edwards says.

The tax credits available to animation production companies are different from those offered to television and film producers, he says, offering another example.

To help startups gain a foothold in Ottawa’s growing gaming sector, he and Mr. Pascoe have also put together a “starter kit” designed to guide young companies through the process of incorporating a business and issues such as partnership agreements.

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Pascoe have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, which they say is vital to helping them stay on top of an ever-evolving field of legal expertise.

“The experience of actually working in these industries is something that we bring,” says Mr. Pascoe, who spent eight years producing TV and digital comedy programs before attending law school. “We know what the issues are.”

Mr. Edwards thinks that knowing what it’s like to be in a producer or animator’s shoes helps him make what can sometimes be a stressful process easier for clients. It can also save them money in the long run, he adds.

“I think it helps to focus the advice on achieving a result,” he says. “Legal services don’t exist in the abstract – they need to be cost-effective solutions to specific problems. Sometimes, it’s this balancing of what’s the right legal answer and what’s the right business answer.”

After earning his law degree from Queen’s in 1983, Mr. Edwards spent more than a decade as a civil litigator before turning his attention to the entertainment business. He helped launch one of the city’s top animation companies, Amberwood Entertainment, in 1997, then spent some time as managing director at Fuel Industries before founding interactive gaming enterprise CrowdWave in 2007.

When he decided he wanted to be a lawyer again, Mr. Edwards says, he knew there was really only one field for him.

“I didn’t want to go back to litigation,” he says. “The only other thing I knew was entertainment and software law. It kind of chose me. It’s where my interests are – it’s where my friends and colleagues and connections are. I just can’t imagine practising any other area of law.”

Still, he admits it’s not the most lucrative field he could have chosen.

“There’s a sensitivity to cost in this industry,” he says. “There’s not a lot of cash to be spent on legal services. You have to make your services affordable and customize them in a way for that segment of the market.”

And although he often deals with actors’ agents, he says he rarely gets to meet any celebrities in person.

“The Ottawa industry is not filled with super-famous people,” he concedes with a chuckle.

That’s fine by both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Pascoe, who say business is going well enough they’re thinking about bringing another lawyer on board in the fall.

“It’s quite a fun thing to work on a project from a legal perspective and help these producers solve some of these problems, and then fire up your computer or turn on the television and watch the show – and hopefully see your name at the very end of the credits,” Mr. Edwards says. “You kind of get to be part of that process.”

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