Paying Attorneys Fees with Story Rights

D.C. Bar Rule 1.8© says,

” © Prior to the conclusion of representation of a client, a lawyer shall not make or negotiate an agreement giving the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account based in substantial part on information relating to the representation.”

Florida doesn’t have a similar rule, but there is case law. The most notorious case involved a 17 year-old, Tina Mancini, who was working as a stripper in Ft. Lauderdale and committed suicide. Her mother was put on trial for child neglect—she drove her daughter to work—, represented by Kenneth Whitman, who coincidentally had an office down the hall from mine and a Jaguar with North Carolina plates in the building’s basement. The dead girl’s mother had no money to pay Whitman’s fees, so she paid by ceding the story rights to him. Her conviction soon followed.

I think the way the Bar came out finally is that the principle is you should not have interests that could conflict with those of your client. That is, a story may be better if the client pleads guilty or is found guilty, or is even executed (see, Capote, In Cold Blood). An attorney is in a position to achieve a result that’s good for the story but bad for the client. This rule makes eminent sense.

There are many State laws which prevent a criminal defendant from writing about his crimes so as to profit from them, but I can’t recall any law which prevents a lawyer from from writing about a case he was involved in. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi is the most prominent example I can think of, but there are probably many others if I bothered to do further research. Robert Shapiro, one of the late O.J.’s “dream team” lawyers, wrote a book called The Search for Justice about the case.

If I were to sell Hotel Arbez, I’d change names and venues, though I’m not sure there’s a hotel anywhere else with a national border running through the dining room. German soldiers were not permitted to go above the seventh step in the hotel, because everything above that step was in Switzerland.