An organization that puts on an event for 35,000 people in the middle of nowhere requires considerable legal knowledge about contracts, trademarks, constitutional issues, property, criminal situations, employment, and just about any other kind of law imaginable. Fortunately, the Burning Man community is chock full of lawyers.
In 2005, Burning Man recruited several new attorneys and law students to our legal team, expanding the team to over 25 qualified volunteers from several states. Their specialties cover general practice, litigation, real estate, intellectual property, criminal, employment, and constitutional law. With all of these professionals at hand, the Burning Man Project has the luxury of second (or even third) opinions about complicated legal issues.
A common misperception is that Burning Man lawyers deal mostly with liability issues. Dangers in Black Rock City are addressed by the Playa Safety Council (with members from the Black Rock Rangers, Emergency Services, Department of Mutant Vehicles, and Gate/Perimeter), working with the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) and various law enforcement and health agencies. Furthermore, the Project educates participants about how to stay safe at Burning Man. Finally, the ticket waiver informs all participants of the risks they will encounter at Burning Man. Consequently, the community’s lawyers get to work mostly on other (more fun) legal issues.
Many of the legal issues arise in routine annual operations. The legal team helps with updating contracts with outside vendors, negotiating agreements for books and movies about Burning Man, enforcing Burning Man’s trademarks, and ensuring compliance with employment laws. Each year these projects become easier, and the final documents become more fine-tuned.
Other legal issues are not so routine. In both 2004 and 2005, lawyers advised the Project leadership that Pershing County’s new festival ordinance contained some unconstitutional provisions that threatened the event. Some bulldog attorneys in our midst would have loved the chance to litigate the issue, but the team worked together to reach an amicable settlement agreement with the county.
Also in 2005, the organization examined some legal issues relating to the Black Rock Rangers. The Rangers play a unique role in Black Rock City. They are definitely not security guards, although they fulfill some similar functions. Nevertheless, the legal team’s research indicated that the Rangers face no major legal worries. They are trained to help make Black Rock City safer by using what the law calls “reasonableness,” otherwise known as common sense.
Participants and staff members occasionally ask for advice about legal issues related to Burning Man. When possible, the team gives advice. Otherwise, the team usually gives a referral to a competent attorney (oftentimes another Burning Man participant).
Whether dealing with routine issues such as updating vendor contracts, or battling unconstitutional ordinances, the legal team works year-round to ensure that Burning Man is operating within the bounds of the law. When it comes to legal issues, nothing major to report is a good thing. Such is the case in 2005. Undoubtedly there will be legal issues in 2006, but nothing that our team cannot handle.