Michigan Law grads blaze their own trail

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

When Travis Rimando and Brandon Weiner graduated from the University of Michigan Law School last year, they could have taken the traditional route to a good-paying job at a prestigious law firm.

With student loans in the six-figures, that would have made sense.

Instead, the two formed Creative Rights, a nonprofit practice that offers creative clients affordable legal representation and support services.

For a yearly membership fee of $100 for organizations or $50 for individuals, Creative Rights will take on the legal issues of the creative community, which includes artists, journalists, community-based organizations.

"We understand we face a lot of challenges," said Rimando, a former deejay and a native of northern California. "But we believe so much in what we're doing, and we've found such great people who support us, that even though there's that kind of scary moment... we're going to do all we can to make it work."

While Rimando and Weiner hope for support from angel donors, grants and foundations, they've taken part-time jobs while growing their list of clients.

"We're blissfully optimistic," said Weiner, 31, with a smile.

They've kept close ties to faculty, administrators and current and former students at Michigan Law. And they laugh about still hanging out in the law library, doing research.

But the structure's not set up to support an endeavor like theirs.

"Whereas Career Services could give a hand to someone going to a firm, we had to find our own answers to a lot of things," said Weiner, who grew up in Flint. "Which is good and bad because there are a lot of question marks."

Rimando originally went to law school to become an entertainment lawyer or agent, as a way to stay connected to music. Weiner, a Flint area native, is a musician who'd also been a videographer and designer.

When the two met, they realized they were kindred spirits who each wanted to blend their love for the law and music and the arts.

One of their goals is to change the perception of legal services. They're trying to make it affordable, and broaden the reasons that artists and those in the creative community would seek out a lawyer - which traditionally is during a crisis.

"We're trying to get in at the beginning of the creative process, and get more into the development of the business model before those decisions were made," said Weiner. "We want to counsel artists on all the options that are open to them, because artists tend to overestimate the restrictiveness of the law, and worry that something's not going to fly when in reality it will. You just have to figure out the right way to do it."

They also want to change the perception of lawyers as people who say no to everything.

"One of our mottos is, `We say yes,'" said Weiner. "Coming from our own artistic backgrounds, and then going through law school, we think we're in a good position to be an interpreter for both sides."

Their clients are emerging artists, new start-up businesses or non-profits who can't otherwise afford legal services. These are the people who are essential for the growth of the creative community in Michigan, they say.

With no need for an actual office yet, the two start every work day at a local café, where they'll talk about the day ahead, which may include meetings with clients or perspective partners, research, and writing.

It's not unlike a typical day at a law firm, they figure.

"It's a dream job," says Rimando, "but it's stressful nonetheless."

"I was up til 3 last night working on our web site," said Weiner. "It's not something I really want to be doing, but there's no one else to do it."

It's essential to their business model that they're part of the creative community, so many evenings are spent in a theater or gallery.

The two have also formed law clinics. One is through the Neutral Zone teenage youth center in Ann Arbor. Through presentations, discussions and activities, the Creative Rights clinic provides youth with legal information that will help them in their artistic endeavors. Topics have included entertainment law contracts, copyright basics, and fair use.

Creative Rights has also partnered with artist and U-M architecture professor Catie Newell, who is advising a thesis class of 13 master's degree students in architecture. The Creative Rights Clinic will help students doing research on the their legal issues, making suggestions, and coming up with creative and innovative options for them to implement their projects.

As inexpensive as membership to Creative Rights is, some artists don't see the need - at least at first.

When Weiner told a musician that his band would pay $100 per year for legal services, the musician said they couldn't afford it when all they had was $1,000.

"But a week later, they came back and said, `Yeahhhh, this whole starting-a-business thing is a lot of work. We don't know what we're doing.'"

They signed up.

Creative Rights clients also include Catie Newell, a visual artist and architect; Charlie Lacroix Art Brokerage, a pop-up art gallery; Care of Editions, an experimental music label based in Berlin; Hush, Love, a pop band; artist Robb Todd; muralist Katherine Craig and North End Studios, a Detroit-based artist collective; and several others.

Rimando and Weiner spent three months working on their organizational model, business tasks, and 5013c application, which was recently approved.

And now they're more than eager to secure the funding that will enable Creative Rights to flourish.

"We're based in Ann Arbor, but our long-term goals are really to be involved in Detroit," said Weiner, noting that other Michigan cities are on the radar. ""As much as people like to bang on Michigan, we saw it differently. We saw it as the land of opportunities. This is the wild, wild west in a lot of ways for the creative community, for the legal community. Because there's been such hard times, people are getting that much more creative about finding solutions and are open to solutions and really out there with entrepreneurial efforts."

"We're sort of blazing our own trail," said Rimando. "It feels good."For more information about Creative Rights, call 734-531-8555. Or go to www.creative-rights.org.

Published: Mon, Apr 2, 2012

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