Casey Handy-Smith is the founder and managing attorney of C. Handy Law, an intellectual property and entertainment law firm. She partners with Black creatives and entrepreneurs to build a solid legal foundation and negotiate their worth.
In this episode, Casey shares valuable advice on getting your legal house in order as a personal brand or creative entrepreneur, dealing with the inevitable legal hurdles in business, and treating your IP as an asset you can leverage into your legacy.
We also talk about Casey’s own thought leadership journey and the process of rooting into her passion, story, and lived experience to grow her personal thought leadership brand on LinkedIn.
“Things are gonna happen. Whether or not those things are just a simple bump in the road or end up being a blunder that you end up spending ridiculous amounts of money, time, and energy having to dig yourself out of really depends on what legal protections you had in place from the beginning.” – Casey Handy-Smith
Highlights from the podcast episode:
Casey’s story of becoming a guide for the people she serves
I have been a licensed attorney now for almost a decade, which is hard to believe because it feels like just yesterday, I was moving to Houston and starting Law School.
But before I ever became interested in Law, I was always very interested and drawn to music and the arts. I come from a very musically inclined family where everyone plays an instrument. I grew up as a classically trained pianist, I did regional and state competitions and played all sorts of instruments growing up in my childhood. But early on, as much as I loved the creative process, I also was always really drawn to business and entrepreneurship. I was always looking for how I could merge this love of music and the arts with my own entrepreneurial insights and desires.
Growing up, what was always preached to me was that to be successful as a Black person in this country, you could go to college, get your degree, and get a good job. That’s how you become successful, that’s how you make money. It didn’t 100% sit well with me that this is the only way to do things, especially when I looked at just the natural creativity that my own family had.
Black people in society as a whole set so many trends and influence so much of what creates our culture but so few of us get to have the opportunity to really participate in the wealth that’s generated from that creativity.
So, I’m like, “How can we participate in that? How can we have that experience from the things that are so innate and natural to us outside of just going to college, getting a degree, and getting a good job?” Oftentimes, we’re subjected to these predatory practices within different industries that take advantage of our intellectual property (IP). So, I knew early on that I wanted to explore that more and see how I could be a part of solving that problem.
Once I got to college, I learned that my undergraduate program had a Music Business Program. For me, that felt like a perfect opportunity to merge my interest in music and the arts and in the business side of things. Very quickly, my classmates and professors said that I had a natural knack for understanding the business side of things, intellectual property, and how to protect it. Outside of class, I was helping my classmates review their contracts for shows that they were doing on the weekends and helping them make some different branding decisions on things that they were wanting to grow in their creative careers.
So, that’s how I got the start into the work that I do. From there, I knew that I would need the actual technical skills to be able to really do this work and decided to focus on entertainment and intellectual property in law school, so I could continue this work of really supporting Black creatives and entrepreneurs.
And, when it comes to serving Black creatives and entrepreneurs, I wouldn’t say that there was one defining moment that prompted me to niche down, as much as it has been just my lived life experiences. As a Black woman in America experiencing less than ideal situations – experiencing times where I haven’t felt like I’ve been valued as much as other people at the table. So, I wanted to serve as a voice for my own community and help to really bridge that gap as we pursue entrepreneurship, and as we go into these bigger partnerships, making sure that we’re really getting these equitable partnerships for the value of what we’re bringing to the table.
So, for me, there was no one defining moment for niching down, but just more so my own lived experiences, and the things that were instilled in me at a young age, coming from a family that has deep roots in the South, and descendants of slaves.
It also comes from more than just lived experience, but from something we see all the time. I mean, I think most people can attest to having seen these stories or having seen these situations where this person has created something or has this initial creative idea, but everyone else around them is getting wealthy off of it while they’re just seemingly getting rich, getting just a little piece of the pie, but not actually being able to participate in the ownership of it, which is what ultimately leads to being able to build that generational wealth and that legacy through the things that you create. I want to be a part of solving this problem.
The legal protections thought leaders, personal brands, and creative entrepreneurs need
I think a lot of times when you are not in “traditional” spaces, like entertainment or other IP-heavy spaces, you don’t even think about your intellectual property as much or the value of it. So, that’s something that I talk a lot about with clients because outside of the traditional entertainment spaces, I do work with a lot of thought-leading entrepreneurs, like authors, podcasters, and keynote speakers and that intellectual property piece is just as big in those spaces as it is in the more traditional spaces like the music industry.
When it comes to things that you want to make sure you have in place at the outset:
1. You want to be protecting the actual brand that you’re creating. Whether you’re a personal brand using maybe primarily your name, or it’s a name that you’ve come up with that identifies your brand assets, like a signature course that you’re offering or your business name as a whole. So, you want to protect those sorts of things and you do that with trademarks. Trademarks protect any brand-identifying material, like a business name, a course name, logos, and slogans, which are the types of things that are protected by trademarks.
2. Then you also have the actual things that you’re creating, which you also want to protect, and you would do that through copyrights. So, registered copyrights will give you protection for a signature course, like the Kindling Collective, and wanted to really grow it you would want to protect that with a copyright registration. Well, just anything that you’re creating and that you’re putting a lot of resources into you will want to have a registered copyright for it.
Those are the foundational things that you want to make sure you’re legally protecting at the outset.
Then, of course, contracts, there’s so much of it and there are kind of two layers:
1. You have your internal contracts for your own business and brand that you would have with contractors who work with, like podcast editors, graphic designers, and copywriters. The contracts for your employees, making sure you have those in place. As well as contracts for your clients and your customers, your terms and conditions.
2. Then, obviously contracts with anyone you’re doing anything collaborative with. So, if you’re a podcaster, you want to have contracts in place with whoever you may be collaborating with in that experience, as well.
So, those are just some high-level things in terms of what legal protections you need to have in place.
Of course, everyone’s business is different and so a lot of it is going to depend on your specific business, your needs, and what your ultimate goals are. But I do have a free resource, which is just a simple five-minute business audit, where people can go and see where they currently stand when it comes to the legal things. It’s a list of questions of some of the general things you should have in place, and you can just check and see “Do I have that? Do I need to have that?” to get an idea of where you may need to be headed on your journey of getting your legal house in order.
The inevitable legal hurdles of entrepreneurship
People don’t think about how important things are until it’s too late. One thing that I talk a lot about, which you know in working through Kindling Collective, is these inevitable hurdles. As your business grows, and as your visibility increases, things are going to happen. It’s not a matter of “if they happen” or “I cross my fingers and pray hard enough nothing’s gonna happen”.
Things are going to happen and whether or not those things are just a simple bump in the road or end up being a blunder that you now are spending ridiculous amounts of money, time, and energy having to dig yourself out of really depends on what legal protections you had in place from the beginning.
When I talk to people about contracts, especially when we’re talking about negotiating and signing contracts, people get so caught up in just getting the deal done and in feeling like once we sign the contract, that’s it. But contracts are the lifeblood of those relationships, so that’s just the starting point. Once you sign the contract, this is the starting point of this relationship.
Just this morning I got an email from a past client with the subject line – which is not funny for them, but is still humorous – “New Year, New Drama”. It is a situation where we had done some employment agreements for their team, and now someone has quit unexpectedly and has started their own business with some very similar things going on. So, now there are some concerns about “is this a breach of our non-compete clause?” That’s just one example that these things are just going to happen.
Last week, I had somebody email me and say, “You know this past agreement, I just noticed that they’re still using my image, but now on new content – they’re running it on paid ads for something else. Does my contract protect me from this? What’s the situation?” So, in that particular situation, because we made sure that there was certain language in the contract during those negotiations, it literally was a matter of an email that was like, “Hey, under the contract this is what it says, you can’t do that.” The brand was just extremely apologetic and said this was an oversight, removed it, and it’s done versus a situation where she didn’t have a written contract in place and it turned into a much bigger headache.
As an entrepreneur, you already have so much on your plate and that you’re focusing on. No one wants to have to shift their energy to now deal with legal stuff. Because it’s always random. It’s always in the middle of you launching something, it’s always when you just don’t have time to deal with it. So again, just having those legal protections in place, of course, they save you money, but even more than that, they just save you energy.
How to negotiate your value and protect your intellectual property
There really are a lot of systematic hurdles that come into play just as much as those inevitable hurdles, and it does go back to the things that we’ve just been trained and conditioned to believe as women of color, that we’re not worth as much and we’re not of higher value.
So, when you go into negotiations, it’s so important to understand that human factor and realize that it’s not just the two people at the table, it’s the two people and all of their biases, and all of these systematic hurdles, and all of these thoughts that are coming into play. It’s really about having a clear understanding of what everyone’s ultimate end goal is. So understanding, of course, the business aspect of what you’re tangibly hoping to get out of this, but also looking at what are you hoping to grow from this opportunity and understanding its impact beyond just today, just the right now.
I think that’s probably one of the biggest hurdles that I face with clients, and that I have to do a lot of education on the front end of negotiations. For example, “Hey, I know that today the biggest thing you’re concerned about is this advance payment on this book deal and the general royalties here. But there are other rights that you can make a lot more money on years down the road that we want to make sure that we spend some time on.”
There’s a lot that goes into negotiations because again, you’re dealing with a lot of mindset issues that we all struggle with and that are coming to the table with you as well. I find that a lot of people not only naturally devalue what they personally bring to the table, but there’s definitely a gap in education and understanding of how you make money from IP.
It truly gets down to the basics of people not understanding this is how you can make money from your IP and it’s different in every industry. If we’re talking about music, there are mechanical royalties, performance royalties, sync licenses, and digital performance royalties. If we’re talking about book publishing, you have merchandising rights, audio rights, and TV and film rights. There are so many different ways that you can make money from intellectual property that people just simply don’t know, and there are a lot of factors that come into play.
Licensing for keynote talks and speaking engagements
Licensing is one of my favorite things when it comes to IP and contracts, because that’s really how you control your IP and how you make money from it, and how other people are going to use it.
When it comes to those keynote talks – and this is something I deal with regularly for clients who do a lot of them, and who are also going to have the recordings and their IP is going to be part of the program, the course, or the training later on – you want to make sure that you’re maintaining ownership of it. A lot of times in these big corporate contracts they try to include this work-for-hire language in there. Meaning that when you show up to do your talk, whatever you create during that talk now becomes their property, and it’s now their IP, so they can do whatever they want to with it years down the road. You don’t want that, right?
So, you want to start a negotiation for your keynote talk by making sure that if there is some work-for-hire language in there, you’re striking that out and saying “No, I’m going to own my talk. Even whatever I create for this, I’m going to own that”. Then, you want to put some parameters around how they can then use your talk and the IP that you generate from it, and that’s all licensing is. Licensing is just saying, “I own this, I’m going to let you use it, but here are the parameters for how you can use it.” and you can say things like, “you can use this talk in the future for marketing purposes, but specific to this event, and only within this certain amount of timeframe.” We don’t do things in perpetuity and that’s another big one. There’s always this “work-for-hire”, “worldwide license”, “in perpetuity” and these are all red flag words and language. So, it’s a full stop, let’s not do it. But, again, there was give and take to it, right?
You have to understand where that big company’s coming from, like their position of why they may want to own this IP or why they may want to use it later. A lot of it is for marketing their own internal purposes. A lot of it too is because of, obviously, laziness. They want to have the flexibility to be able to just take this thing and use it how they want to without having to come back and ask for your permission later. So, you want to get very specific on “What are your intended purposes? What do you foresee using this content for later?” and let’s talk about that. Let’s have a conversation about how you’re thinking you may want to use this later and I’ll let you know whether that’s something that’s going to be reasonable for me or not. Because at the end of the day, if they want to do something beyond those parameters, they need to pay you for that later. So, if it’s two years from now, and they’re like, “Oh, that talk Tania did was so good. Let’s repurpose it, or whatever.” You can say “that’s great, but you need to pay me for that because that wasn’t my talk, that was my original idea.”
You have to go into a negotiation knowing your value and also knowing that people are people. I think one of the biggest things that gets lost in negotiations really is, again, that human factor. It’s all about building relationships. Oftentimes, you’re likely going to do work with this company again years down the road. So, you want to make sure that you’re building that positive relationship from the beginning, but that you’re also setting the standard from the beginning too.
A few weeks ago, I was helping a client with a contract: a keynote speech, it was an IP issue. The big company had all this crazy work-for-hire language, and now that this particular client has become more visible, they’re charging more, and all these things, now they’re starting to question these terms. But part of the issue is that they’ve done so much work with this company in the past where they just agreed to this kind of stuff that the company is like, “Well, what’s the problem? You’ve always said okay to this. What’s different now?” Now, one thing I do is I always tell people, “Listen, new day, new rules.” But I say this to show that you do want to set a good precedent from the beginning of “this is how I operate, and this is how this relationship should go.” so, as you continue to build that relationship, and do new collaborations with the same companies that foundation has already been set.
Casey’s thought leadership journey
You have been an amazing guide in this process. When I first learned about the Kindling Collective, I literally went into it like: I want to get more visible on LinkedIn, because I knew my people were on LinkedIn and I never really used it, but I thought I should be showing up.”
I went into the Kindling Collective just very technically thinking I’d get tools on what type of posts to do on LinkedIn, how to get good engagement, and that kind of stuff – not realizing how much [thought leadership work] was going to just completely change my outlook on how I show up in the world. I didn’t realize that showing up as a thought leader is what had really been the missing piece in my business for a very long time.
It’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve discovered a lot about myself, about what my clients and customers want, and just really showing up in a more just authentic way. It just feels like a very natural journey too. I guess that’s probably one of the biggest takeaways, that it’s been very necessary, and it feels very natural. It doesn’t feel like your typical marketing type of thing. It’s like, this is my why, this is why I do the work I do, this is why it’s important, and this is just how I show up in the world.
Now that I’m showing up in this new way, I feel like the connections I’m making now are definitely a lot more genuine, and they’re connections I didn’t think I could make in the online world in such a genuine way. I will say that in the past, these sorts of connections that I’m starting to build are connections that I would normally get through physically attending conferences, speaking at events, and meeting people face-to-face one-on-one. But I’m finding that by showing up as a thought leader and really leading with my passion and my why I’m attracting just the type of people that I want to attract, the type of people that I want to be connected with. It doesn’t feel like visibility for the sake of visibility. It’s visibility but centered around a larger purpose, and it’s meeting other people who have similar desires.
I’ve been making some really meaningful connections, which has been great. I’m starting to get some really cool opportunities that are all very much aligned with things that I’ve always wanted to do. So, again, it just goes back to the fact that the thought leadership space was really the piece that I didn’t know I was missing.
Deal in a Day: Casey’s new VIP Day offer
Before I talk about my new VIP Day offer, I want to just step back for a minute to the original VIP Day that we worked on when I first started the Kindling Collective. That offer is very much a need for the clients that I serve in terms of identifying and understanding those inevitable legal hurdles in their businesses, but what I was finding is that as much as people wanted to know this information, they really wanted implementation. So, what I’ve done with that particular VIP Day is that I’ve now included the deliverables for that as a part of a signature package called Operation Legal House. This is a service where we literally go in and get you the contracts you need, get your trademark, your copyright, and we get those things in place. But you also walk away with that legal guide and that resource that says “okay, in addition to what we’ve already done for you and we’ve started this process of getting your legal house in order, here are some other things that you’re going to need, maybe in a year from now or a couple of years from now, but you at least have that clarity. You’ll know what you need to have set up so that when those inevitable things come along, those inevitable hurdles, you’re ready for them, you’re teed up, and you’re good to go”.
It’s funny when I think about it because my new offer, Deal in a Day, is actually the VIP Day offer I first ever worked on. When I was in Jordan Gill’s program Done in a Day, Deal in a Day is what I was working on and that’s what I had developed out, because as much as I help my clients with getting their legal house in order and getting these things in place, most of the ongoing work I do for clients is really that contract review and negotiation. That’s the day-in-day-out need that people have because most of my clients’ business structures are not complex, so once they have certain legal things in place they’re good to go for a while.
So, it’s those collaborative relationships they’re constantly needing that insight on and needing an attorney to review things for them. But one of the biggest complaints that clients have with attorneys is that we tend to slow things down. I mean, it’s for good reason because we want to make sure that we’re not missing things, we’re reviewing everything, that your rights are adequately protected, but then there’s also a space where attorneys don’t always operate in the most efficient ways that work for how people currently do business. So, when I was initially thinking of this VIP Day offer and building this out two years ago now, it was really about “Okay. Well, what can I do?” I already have a very tight process for how I review contracts, like me and my team follow the same process, and we also only work with people in certain spaces, so the contracts we’re seeing are the types of contracts we see all the time.
I already have a really tight process for how I handle contract review. What if I put something out there where people are still getting that legal protection that they need, they’re not missing the mark, and we’re actually starting the process of negotiations (because that’s a strategic way too of getting things out the door, it’s building those relationships early on in the contract negotiation process)? What if I created something where we could literally complete the review, redline, and get the bulk of these negotiations done in a day? Because I saw that is something that people needed and wanted, because, again, attorneys get a bad rap for slowing things down. But I get it because oftentimes, in most of these relationships, clients have already been in talks with these companies and these brands for months before the contract comes about and they hand it off to me. So, I know the last thing you really want is to have to slow down that momentum in that process by having to wait another couple of months just to have an attorney review your contract.
Casey’s dreamy vision for Black creatives and entrepreneurs
My dreamy vision would be that Black creatives and entrepreneurs would stop playing small. That they would show up in the world understanding the value that they bring to the table and understanding their innate gifts. That they start operating like those big brands that they desire to be and that they are destined to be. Because just as much as those hurdles are inevitable, so is success.
That success is inevitable. So, start planning and getting your legal house in order before those things happen, so that when they do, it’s just a five-minute email and not a five-month back-and-forth and thousands of dollars that have now been spent.
It’s really that mindset shift of showing up in the world understanding your value and understanding the importance of owning the things that you create. So that when you are presented with these big opportunities you’re entering into equitable partnerships, that really help in building that generational wealth and that legacy.
Resources from this episode:
Curious to know what you may be missing on the legal side of your business? Use Casey’s Legal Business Audit guide to help you find out and get your legal house in order.
14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your personal brand and thought leadership, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your professional audience on LinkedIn.
Connect with Casey Handy-Smith:
LinkedIn: Casey Handy-Smith
Connect with me:
LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya