PORTLAND, Maine — For Ezekiel “Zeke” Callanan, the timing is just right to start a law firm that focuses on art and entertainment law. The licensed lawyer and UMaine Law graduate said he started Opticliff ESQ in June as a way to help artists that have been seeking more legal counsel as the statewide support for the creative economy improves.
“I’m attracted to people who have a vision, a desire to live a certain kind of way,” living and working as an artist, Callanan said, “and those are the kind of people I love to work with.”
Callanan said his experience as legal counsel and supporter of Portland’s creative economy has shown him the demand for such services is there — at least enough to get him started.
“I’m not entirely sure I can sustain a business based on these kinds of people alone,” Callanan said, but he thinks it may be possible in two years if the city’s creative economy continues to improve.
Callanan said the firm’s main focus is to help artists set up LLCs and open company bank accounts, but he is open to providing any kind of legal counsel a client seeks. The major goal, the lawyer said, is to educate artists about the legal process of running a business and helping them understand how to grow it.
“It’s all about leveraging your assets,” the lawyer said. “How can you make this bigger?”
Positive reports of Portland’s creative economy, including a recent survey commissioned by the Creative Portland Corp. that found the city’s nonprofit arts organizations generated $49.1 million in 2010, were one of the influencing factors for Callanan.
But it was also the frequency of artists he provided advice and referrals for at the Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a nonprofit organization he co-founded in 2008, that led him to start the firm.
“It shows me it’s a growing economy sector and that shows me there was a need for [legal] services,” said Callanan, who remains with the Maine VLA as a board director.
Jennifer Hutchins, the executive director for Creative Portland, said Callanan is a good example of someone who wants to work in Portland because of the small and friendly community-based nature of the city, despite better business opportunities out of state.
“There’s something about this city that makes him want to figure out how to make this work,” Hutchins said.
Callanan, who’s also a board director for Creative Portland, said he wants to be clear that his firm is not just for artists and entertainers. So far, Opticliff ESQ’s clientele includes a traditional mix, including a doctor and a man who works in direct sales, and artists the firm was built for, such as Connor Smith, a filmmaker based in Damariscotta.
But attracting artists is the major focus, Callanan said, especially given the proliferation of affordable online publishing tools such as Bandcamp and Etsy that have made it easier for them to run their own businesses.
“This changes the whole game for intellectual property law,” the lawyer said. “They’re doing things that only big companies used to do.”
Because of this change, Callanan said artists often run their business without any specialized knowledge of the legal aspects.
Smith, a filmmaker and one of the lawyer’s clients, agrees: “There’s a thing about artists; they have all these beautiful ideas, but they have no idea about the legal aspects,” said Smith, who recently started his own production company to continue his work on corporate videos for Lie-Nielson Toolworks Inc. in Warren.
The Damariscotta filmmaker said Callanan helped him through the process of creating an LLC and opening a company bank account. Smith added that Callanan is affordable and approachable, only charging a flat fee for services instead of an hourly rate.
“It’s nice to be able to give him a call when I have a quick question,” Smith said.
Callanan said he understands many artists run on a low budget, which is why he will help prospective clients determine if they need legal counsel in a free consultation. And if they do, the lawyer said he will help them figure out how to pay for the services.
“I’m not interested in convincing someone they need a lawyer just to pay my bill. That doesn’t build a relationship.”