SuperLawyers Names Andrew Schauer a 2021 Rising Star
Updated: Feb 12
Some News: I've been named to Super Lawyers' list of Southern California Rising Stars 2021! Yes I know the cynical take on these kinds of awards -- and it's they do have a lot to say about what a great "advertising opportunity" it is -- but the nod actually means a lot to me personally. I wanted to take a moment to explain why.
In law school I took an entertainment business/negotiations class. It was off-campus at one of the big agencies, taught by an adjunct who worked there. One day, we did a roleplaying exercise: "Agents" and "Studio Executives" were each given an info sheet, and paired off to negotiate an actor's contract. Some parts were the same for both Agents and Executives -- for example, that the actor starred in high-grossing films -- but one thing only Agents knew was that the actor was recently released from an addiction treatment program and relying on a sobriety partner. At the end of the exercise, we all got up in front of the class and compared results. Every other Agent had gotten their imaginary client more money than I had. But I was the only one who got the Executive to agree to language protecting the actor's health, including access to (and resources for) the sobriety partner.
I received the lowest marks in the class.
The "correct" approach, according to this professor, was to get the client the highest payday and protect their reputation by not revealing the fact that they had been in rehab. I went from feeling clever and confident to feeling naive and silly. So I adopted the "just get paid" mindset.
Deep down, though, I was ashamed of that too. To prioritize money instead of people was to betray my values. I knew that mindset led to people getting hurt or worse. And I'm almost certain that my actions have at least indirectly lead to some bad outcomes over the years. But I learned quickly my professor was not the only one who lived in that mindset. It is the prevailing paradigm in the entertainment business, and I thought that meant I had to keep acting like I believed it too (at least to succeed at a high level).
Except... I didn't. I tried to convince myself. I looked for evidence that the "money-first" ethos led to good or just or fair outcomes. But the more and harder I looked the more I saw how many and varied issues our industry faces -- from sex- and race-based prejudice to "fake news" to flailing distribution strategies -- could be solved if people were just more honest. But often those who'd most benefit from being forthcoming are the ones most afraid of being "canceled" for doing so. Extrapolating that out, I started to see the best way to "zealously represent" my clients is to be honest and transparent; to try and strike fair deals that respect everyone's needs, focusing on the collaborative and artistic elements instead of just the bottom-line numbers. Ultimately, that's the reason I went solo: I knew the only person who would give me a chance to practice law that way was me.
Along my trajectory from that negotiation class to today, I realized in retrospect the main reason I netted less money for my imaginary client was that I let myself believe the addiction issue -- and being forthcoming about it -- "should" cost something. Since then, I've learned it's actually much more valuable to the other party if my side is honest. Take the roleplay scenario from my class, for example. If I'd really owned my client's addiction, I would've had some pretty compelling arguments that his recent experiences not only make his performance more valuable (because, e.g., audiences respond to authenticity and now this actor -- who was already the first choice for the role -- is equipped to deliver a uniquely authentic performance), but also much less risky to cast (because, e.g., hiring anyone for any job -- but especially high-level actors for studio films -- comes with an unknowable risk of unforeseeable problems; however, putting everyone on the same page right away regarding this deeply-affecting experience allows us to work together to proactively minimize during development those kinds of problems that can otherwise become mid-production emergencies).
Playing it that way still might not get my imaginary actor more than my top-performing classmate's. Yes, different strategies like bravado (or bullying), glad-handing, and good old fashioned luck can yield similar (or "better") results. And yes, it does take explaining (even more than I did here) to flesh these things out; and again, yes, there are many reasons why people might be disinclined to entertain the case for why your apparently-problematic client is worth more than they think. But whether they want to or not, if you are diligent and courteous you can usually make that case. Once you get it all out there, you can say, "I've laid out my facts and rationale for why this actor is demonstrably worth at least what I'm asking -- if you have any concerns or feel my client deserves less than that I'm more than happy to discuss those -- but otherwise I see no reason why this isn't a fair ask."
One reason people are disinclined to hear you make a case for your client is that film and TV dealmaking has settled into a consistent routine of paying an artist's quote + 5 percent. Like I said things like glad-handing or luck can change that somewhat, but the "negotiations" themselves look more often than not like pro-forma horse-trading. In some ways it makes sense that things have evolved that way. But the fundamental problem is: It doesn't actually look at any of what makes a given person valuable in a given role. Understanding that means you aren't waiting for the other side to tell you what they think your client's worth; it puts you in control so you can set expectations both for your client and for the party on the other side of the bargaining table of what objectively is fair, while setting the stage for reasonable discussion to resolve any differences of opinion. That in turn reflects well on the client, and goes a long way toward fostering a positive and healthy production environment.
I've gotten positive feedback on this strategy from clients and others with whom I've worked directly which has been very encouraging, but it's hard to forget that evidence is only anecdotal. My method is often at odds with conventional wisdom, too; plus there's no way to be sure whether (or how much) my clients might've earned if I'd used a different strategy.
Which brings me back to the Rising Star nod, and why it means so much to me. No, it doesn't prove I've "cracked the code" or anything -- I know for a fact more talented lawyers than me haven't received this acknowledgement -- and of course by definition being a "Rising Star" means I have an astronomical distance to travel. Still, this is indelible, undeniable proof that you can stand out in this profession and industry while practicing good faith and transparent (sometimes radical) honesty; by being collaborative instead of combative; looking past "how things have always been done" to the why; and staying true to yourself and your values. It also shows doing those things is, in fact, a viable way of doing business.
That's a hell of a lot more than I knew starting out in 2018.
My deepest, most heartfelt thanks to my family, colleagues, clients, and friends for their support and trust. Thank you as well to Reuters and SuperLawyers for the kind consideration. To everyone covered above, to everyone else, and to myself I promise: I will always do my best to do right by you, to extend you respect and understanding, and be as much help as I can be to you. Sometimes that won't look the way you want or expect -- because we see things differently, because none of us are perfect, because something unpredictable happens, etc. -- but know I am always coming from a place of trying to make things better.