Scott Landsbaum: The Toy Lawyer?! What’s the Toy Lawyer?? tBR Person of the Week
Well, it’s either that inflatable lawyer you bop to get out your frustrations, or it’s me, Scott Landsbaum. I’ve worked in the toy industry for over 20 years helping toy and premium companies, inventors, agents and consultants.
People often ask me what’s the most cost-effective way of working with a lawyer. If you’re not accustomed to working with attorneys, hourly billing can be off-putting and concerning. Here’s my advice for getting the most from your lawyer: First, hire a lawyer who knows your industry (a big theme here!). You don’t want to spend a lot of your lawyers’ time and your money educating them about how your business works. In addition, that learning curve means your lawyer isn’t being as efficient as they would be in their own area of expertise. You don’t want me to set up your family trust, that’s for sure. Second, understand your lawyer’s style. Do they fight every point or do they strategically target key issues. If your attorney is determined to contest every sentence, your deals will take longer and cost more. Last, and this is a mistake I see over and over, talk to your lawyer early in the deal. Often a client thinks they’re saving money by waiting until the paperwork shows up. But by not bringing their lawyer into the early negotiations, they can get locked into a mistake that’s difficult to unwind or omit a key deal term that now needs to be added at a time when the other side thinks the deal is done. You’ll get the biggest bang for the buck at the early stages of a deal.
And what’s my Number 1 piece of advice for getting a great deal? It’s not a legal lesson. It’s a life lesson: Choose the right partner. There simply isn’t enough lawyering or contract language that can make up for choosing the wrong partner in the first place. Whether that’s because the company had a reputation for not paying (and, surprise, they’re not paying you), or because they didn’t have the right experience or commitment for your item/line/company, there won’t be a legal solution that makes up for the lost time, opportunity and money. As in other areas of life, your choice of a partner may have the biggest impact on whether you succeed or fail.
In that vein, you might wonder what’s the hardest deal I’ve ever done? You’d probably guess it was with Disney or Mattel (well, there’s one with Mattel that comes to mind), but truly the toughest negotiations are with people who don’t understand the industry and won’t accept its norms. I once had a novice game inventor ask my client for 50% of the revenue as a royalty and then didn’t understand why we would object. In another instance, a not-well-known artist sought studio-level licensing terms. In these cases, the difficulty is both the amount of industry education involved in the negotiation and the fact that this person is now permanently unhappy with the deal. And it’s not always that persons fault. Sometimes they are working with an attorney who doesn’t know our industry and is giving advice that is not tailored to what we do.
I started in the toy industry over twenty years ago at Equity Marketing, which then made most of Burger King’s Kid’s Club premiums and retail toys including Scooby-Doo and licensed figures. The best promotion Equity did while I was there was a five piece Chicken Run toy set that combined to make the plane the hens used to fly the coop. I was constantly impressed by what we could achieve at QSR premium price points. My most humorous moment as an in-house attorney there was finding out the creative department hired a nude model to let the creatives stretch their wings. That was good for an afternoon of scrambling with our HR department.
My time at Equity taught me two important lessons that have stuck with me all these years later. First, coming from a large international law firm, it served as an important transition from being an isolated lawyer dispensing legal advice to becoming part of the business team responsible for achieving the company’s goals. This meant really learning the nuts and bolts of the business and working closely with marketing, finance and operations to balance the risks and rewards of various options. It provided great inside knowledge of the toy and promotions business.
The second great lesson from my time at Equity is how nice people in the toy industry are. Again, that’s something that has stuck with me all of these years later. Sure, we all come across the occasional screamer. But as an industry I’ve found that toy people are consistently nice and caring and willing to share and help each other. I think that comes from two places. Fundamentally, we’re all working for children, to make them happy and to help them grow and thrive. For a business, it’s hard to imagine a better goal than that. Also, as big as the toy industry is, it’s really a small family. We all end up working together at some point. And these relationships have been a key to the success of my own business.
When I started out on my own, my first clients came from the contacts I made at Equity. Those clients referred me to new clients. People who changed companies took me with them. Companies across the table on one deal hired me for their next one. Now, almost 20 years later, I have a wonderful roster of clients that include toy, game and premium companies, inventors, agents, and consultants. I’m grateful for all them. Yes, it’s super fun to work in a creative industry and to help in a small way to bring really interesting and entertaining products to market. But it’s these relationships that I cherish and that are the backbone of the toy industry.
Thanks for taking the time to make it all the way down here. We can’t meet at toy fair this year, so please reach out. I’m always happy to talk with toy people and help if I can. Be well.