New Zealand Law Society - Dominion Law – Chris Hocquard

Dominion Law – Chris Hocquard

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

Chris Hocquard is a lawyer with a somewhat unique business, as he mostly represents musicians and entertainers.

"Over my career I've acted for almost everyone at some point," he says.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn't wear a pin striped suit, preferring to dress casually in trendy jeans and top, and a five-o'clock stubble loosely giving the impression that he is a sort of outlaw lawyer.

Chris Hocquard 

And when interviewing Mr Hocquard, there's little talk of core law principles but more about how he has used law to fuel his true passion, music and the musicians he acts for.

Admitted in 1987 after studying law at Victoria University, Mr Hocquard says he wasn't interested in what he describes as "normal old law" and had his sights set on something different.

"I wanted to do something with a law degree that's creative and enjoyable rather than just do law," he says.

However he did practise that so-called "normal law" at Macalister Mazengarb.

"At the time one of the senior partners there was the chair of the Broadcasting Commission and I thought that might get me into entertainment law, but I ended up mostly doing conveyancing work in the Porirua office," he says.

Mr Hocquard then grabbed a backpack, as many young people do, boarded a jet plane and continued to follow that elusive dream, firstly in Canada, then the United Kingdom.

"I knew people playing in [rock] bands but mostly worked in local authorities dealing with child abuse as part of a prosecution team," he says.

After a few years in the UK, Mr Hocquard returned to New Zealand with the firm intention of becoming an entertainment lawyer.

"What I worked out really early on was that life and work balance is so important. When I was 16, I was told that in the future there would be more and more leisure time, less work and that technology would take over a lot of jobs.

"They were wrong by a long shot because it's [technology taking over] only happening now, but back then I looked at what I like to do in my spare time and it was going out and watching bands in bars and venues so I decided to combine the two and make a living out of legally representing musicians and entertainers," he says.

At the time, Mr Hocquard says, no-one had created a law firm specialising in entertainment law, and armed with a vast amount of experience in conveyancing and wills work, he set up a small business that only did this work specifically for entertainers.

"To supplement my income as the entertainment side of the business grew legs, I did normal law work for unusual or creative people and still do. We will still buy and sell a house for Dave Dobbyn if he wants to but if someone walks off the street and asks how much for your conveyancing, these days I'll probably give them someone else's phone number."

As the business reputation became more established, it became less about houses and wills and more about the "interesting stuff", he says.

"Creative people are the way they are because they look at the world in a different way to everyone else. Unsurprisingly – they need something different from a lawyer."

Dominion Law is a hop-skip from the Auckland CBD in the trendy suburb of Kingsland. It was founded in 1995 and over the past 20 years, the firm which includes partners Tim Riley and Gervais Laird, has represented 99% of people involved in the entertainment industry.

The trio cover entertainment and new media, film and television and areas of commercial, financial and intellectual property law affecting some of the country's most well-known creative people.

What does an entertainment lawyer do?

"I try and help people who are creative survive in a world that doesn't necessarily understand and appreciate creative people. It likes the rewards of the creative sector but doesn't necessarily reward the players.

"It's about trying to commercialise these people, trying to help them be able to stick to what they do and make a living out of it and have a career – that's it in theory," he says.

Musicians in New Zealand have never really imitated the success of overseas artists in that there are no multi-million record sellers.

The few exceptions are Neil Finn who is rumoured to earn $1,000,000 dollars a year through royalties from Don't Dream It's Over that reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in 1987.

"It's played on classic rock radio and if you get on that radio loop where that song is going to be played for the rest of your life, that's where the earnings are," he says.

There's also Lorde, who became an overnight millionaire by topping the charts with Royals in 2013.

"Lorde will probably be in the same situation. Royals will become a classic hit of the 2000s and will continue to generate income forever too," he says.

Mr Hocquard represents Lorde's song writing partner, Joel Little and the pair co-own a record label company called Dryden Street.

The record company has the Nelson duo Broods on its books. Their pop album Conscious has been top of the New Zealand music charts.

What does an NZ-based entertainment lawyer do for Los Angeles based Joel Little?

"It's actually very simple. It's about drafting agreements. Joel is now a producer/song writer, so he goes into the studio with someone. They'll work together and come up with a few songs.

"They'll say: 'let's record them'. The management and record companies will say they'll pay a certain amount of money and a contract will be generated. It's very simple, it's bread and butter law I do but there is a lot of it," he says.

Joel Little has come a long way from his more humble beginnings as a singer and guitar player for pop punk band Goodnight Nurse. He won a Grammy for his song writing with Lorde with Royals.

"That's put Joel up near the top tier of songwriters in the world to work with, so he is having his moment, definitely," Mr Hocquard says.

On the back of the Grammy success, he and Joel Little quickly unleashed Broods onto the music industry through their record label, Dryden Street.

"It's about timing, and it made sense to capitalise on the Grammy success," he says.

Is being an entertainment lawyer a life laden with late nights and airports?

There's a network of around 20 entertainment lawyers operating around the world, but Mr Hocquard doesn't live a life of hotels and chauffeurs.

"I made a conscious decision that I was going to be New Zealand-based. I'd already travelled extensively in the 1980s and when I came back from overseas, I was having a family. The entertainment lawyers that travel between London and Los Angeles are the ones that do most of the work," he says.

He says Sydney is where he'll travel to regularly and LA perhaps once a year, mostly for networking and a holiday.

"I don't really deal with other New Zealand lawyers. Most of what I do with entertainment law is working with lawyers from Sydney, London, LA or New York.

"There are plenty of better ways of making a living as a lawyer than doing what I do, but as I said, I made a lifestyle choice a long time ago.

"These days, young smart lawyers will probably see what I do as something they'd like to be involved in, but then they'll see they can make three times as much money practising an aspect of law that pays a helluva lot better.

"It's a lifestyle decision. They can earn that big money but they may not have the same experiences I get to have," he says.

Mr Hocquard has a legal practise, a record label, a digital distributor business, along with a record management company that pushes singles and EPs.

"The first single we released by Kids of 88 nearly topped the charts. We ended up making an album and securing a deal in Australia. We also tried to get them into the United States. It nearly worked," he says.

Other artists who have been successful include Australian Jared James, who sold 250,000 singles.

"We don't make any real money. It gets poured straight back into the business but I do get to learn how to try and break an artist outside of New Zealand," he says.

Mr Hocquard is a lawyer who enjoys taking a risk, which is what he did with Amplifier, a music site he closed down last year.

"It was like a forerunner to iTunes in that it sold digital downloads of music. It ran for about 12 years and that was about me trying to understand how digital would affect music. The best way of doing that sometimes is to start a business," he says.

Advice to musicians aspiring to be signed

"Don't sign a record deal for the rest of the world in New Zealand. If you do, you'll never get out of New Zealand. The reason classic bands such as Mi-Sex and Dragon made it is because they left and signed in Australia," he says.

But he admits internet technology has helped push New Zealand artists to a much wider audience, through social media and other digital channels.

Mr Hocquard admires integrity in an artist and for that reason. Tim Finn has been the client he respects most.

"Tim Finn is so old school. He has never compromised anything that he has done. My exposure to some of the best music producers in the world was because they wanted to work with Tim.

"He is revered by artists throughout the world, yet his profile is not at the same level of his brother Neil Finn," he says.

But Mr Hocquard says you'll never hear a Tim Finn composition attached to a commercial advertisement.

"He just won't do it. Just think how many times he could have sold for example I See Red to beer company, Lion. They could've used it to market their beer.

"He's that ultimate artist, a musician who writes a song because it's a song, not because he sees it appearing in an advert or a movie.

"He has never compromised his music. A couple of years ago he told me he probably wouldn't make another pop record, and he hasn't. He said I've done that now. But who knows, he might still have an album left in him," he says.

Recently Tim Finn embarked on musical theatre in Australia with the show Ladies in Black which he wrote all music and lyrics to.

Lawyer Listing for Bots