Handshake deals (known as “oral contracts” in the legal industry) have long thrived in Hollywood. If, for example, an agent agrees to represent an artist in exchange for a percentage of that artist’s income (known as a contingent fee), that agreement would be considered binding even without a written contract. Whether the same can be said of attorneys seeking a percentage fee was recently up for debate in Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against his former attorney, Jake Bloom.
The dispute began last fall when Depp sued Bloom for allegedly collecting more than $30 million in fees, despite the absence of a proper contract. Bloom countersued Depp for breach of contract, citing their 1999 handshake deal. Depp’s attorneys pointed out that California law does not recognize oral contracts, but Bloom’s attorneys maintained that the contract was ratified when Depp continued to accept legal services. Moreover, they pointed out that Depp continued to accept legal counsel from Bloom and his firm after settling his lawsuit with his former management company – a lawsuit that included allegations that the company had failed to maintain proper written agreements.
This last point Judge Terry Green found to be a point in favor of (rather than against) the need to maintain written contracts. Continue reading