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For the love of art

According to the 2006 census, explains recent McGill Law graduate Keith Serry, the average Montreal artist makes about $29,600 per year. According to the Canadian Bar Association, he adds, the average hourly rate for a lawyer in Canada is $254.

“It doesn’t take long to put those two numbers together and realize there’s a gap.”

About two years ago Serry and some classmates met in his living room and starting talking about how to bridge that gap and make sure that artists have access to the legal advice they need as they build their careers. The result? La Clinique juridique des artistes de Montréal (CJAM), an officeless “virtual organization” made up primarily of law students from all of Montreal’s law faculties, that provides free legal information to the city’s artistic community.

Before coming to Montreal in 2005, Serry helped establish a musicians’ lobby group in Ottawa. He had found that successful musicians tend to make their living by holding on to the most valuable parts of their business – intellectual property and publishing rights.

“But to do that,” says Serry, “you have to know what those things are and you have to take advantage of them. What we do is try and give artists the basic tools to understand how to go about exploiting their talents in a way that, hopefully, enables them to make a living from those talents.”

To this end, CJAM offers three main “service lines”: fact sheets written in plain language on legal issues of interest to artists, workshops for organizations such as festivals, art faculties and art non-profits, and monthly information sessions where artists discuss their legal questions in person and receive information from one of CJAM’s trained jurists a few days later.

Sounds like pretty heavy stuff for volunteers (“satisfaction of a job well done, and the occasional cup of coffee” make up their compensation), but Serry, a self-described law geek, says “part of the reason we’re doing law in our spare time is because we really like it.”

 “We came together around a love for Montreal and its artistic community,” says Serry. “We’re all people who are convinced that art makes a really valuable contribution to our city, and who are also fortunate enough to have skills as jurists. We all think that Montreal is best served by the arts being vital and alive, and we can apply our juridical skills to make that happen.”

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