Veteran Auction-House Attorneys Join Forces to Create a New Art Law Group Catering to an Increasingly Professionalized Art World

Former Sotheby's legal counsel have banded together to form the new law firm Olsoff, Cahill, Cossu.

John Cahill.

With the boom in the global art world over the past few decades naturally comes a simultaneous increase in the number of high-stakes legal disputes that test questions of ownership, authenticity, and liability. Now, a powerhouse group of art lawyers are teaming up under one roof to take on the growing demand.

Art lawyers John Cahill and Jonathan Olsoff, who both recently departed Sotheby’s auction house after it was acquired by telecom magnate Patrick Drahi last year, are joining forces with art specialist Paul Cossu to form the firm Olsoff, Cahill, Cossu LLP, operating in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Zurich.

The partners have also formed a strategic alliance with London firm Joseph Hage Aronson LLP. Hage has worked with high-profile artists such as Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter, as well as the Francis Bacon estate.

“The art world and even the art market has long had a fairly laid-back culture when it comes to using legal tools,” Cahill told Artnet News. “For many collectors and even dealers, ‘getting too legal’ took away from what is meant to be primarily about the art.”

John Cahill

John Cahill.

But that has changed in the three decades that he and his partners have been practicing law, he says. “There have always been a lot of risks in the market—ranging from true ‘bad guys’ to innocent mistakes—but those have grown with increased regulation (both in the UK and in the US) and more complex transactions,” he said. “Sophisticated financial arrangements have entered the art market; the numbers and risks are bigger across the board, and everyone in the art world—collectors, advisors, dealers, and even artists—need to understand the risks and get the right tools.”

The firm aims to become a destination for clients seeking advice and insight about art-related issues including transactions, litigation, and legal counseling that are often unique to the art business. In addition to legal services, Cahill said the firm plans to launch an ancillary company to supply support services including due diligence research, insurance, shipping, copyright clearance, escrow services, transaction structuring, financing arrangements, and anti-money laundering checks.

Olsoff previously worked at Covington & Burling and Skadden Arps, and then spent two decades at Sotheby’s, eventually becoming worldwide general counsel. Cahill served as general counsel at Phillips and later as executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Sotheby’s (in a deal-making, non-legal role).

Cossu has spent his entire career in private practice, most recently as a partner at Pryor Cashman.

Also joining the firm as a partner in Los Angeles is Aimée Scala, who left a longtime photo editor position at Artforum to begin her legal career in New York with Cahill Cossu, before building a fine art, entertainment, and intellectual property practice in LA.

Meanwhile, attorney Pamela Grutman will be based in New York focusing on tax, estate planning, nonprofits, philanthropic, and artistic legacies.

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