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A Lawyer's Guide to Burning Man: 5 Things You Should Know

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on August 22, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We're quickly approaching that magical time of the year called Burning Man, when progressive artist-types leave town for a week. (Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, that means you can finally get a table for brunch in under an hour.)

If you're a lawyer headed out to the Nevada desert -- or even if you're staying put -- you may have some burning questions about the legal environment at Burning Man.

Even if you don't, here are five Burning Man facts that lawyers may appreciate:

1. They Probably Don't Need Attorneys at Burning Man.

If you didn't know already, Burning Man is, among other things, an experiment in organizing a society. One of its "Ten Principles" is the removal of "commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising"; in other words, it's a gifting economy. That removes 90 percent of the reasons to have practicing lawyers inside the community. (Though as we'll see, they still need them when it comes to the burners' interactions with the state.)

2. You Assume the Risk of Exposure to Nudity.

You'd think that a week in the desert culminating in burning a giant wooden effigy would lead to injury. And you'd be right. To that end, of the 23 paragraphs in Burning Man's "terms and conditions," four are liability waivers, and one of those requires acknowledgment that you might be exposed to nudity.

3. Where Are the Police?

Everywhere. Because Black Rock City is on federal property, the Bureau of Land Management is ultimately in charge, which means federal BLM rangers patrol the place, as well as the Nevada Highway Patrol and local sheriffs. In the tradition of making its own city, however, BRC employs volunteer "Black Rock Rangers" who mediate disputes between the denizens.

4. It Might Be a Place to Drum up Business.

California attorney David Levin -- aka the "Burning Man Barrister" -- provides free legal advice at Burning Man, though it sounds like it's limited to how to deal with police. Levin told The Associated Press in 2010 that undercover agents "have asked male Burners for drugs, drug-sniffing dogs, and their handlers have roamed camps, and armed officers have 'snooped' on revelers at dances." Like I said, the people might not need lawyers for the transactions amongst themselves, but if they get caught with LSD by federal rangers, they're going to need a real lawyer.

5. Burning Man Itself Has Some Hot-Shot Lawyers.

Just because there's no laws in BRC doesn't mean there are no laws in the Burning Man back office. Burning Man doesn't like it when its trademarks are misused. "We do have lawyers, paid and volunteer, and an entire media team," Burning Man's communications director told SF Weekly in 2010.

So who's the lucky lawyer who landed a gig as Burning Man's general counsel? That's none other than Terry Gross, a noted intellectual property and Internet law attorney, of Gross Belsky Alonso in San Francisco.

Editor's Note, August 25, 2015: This post was first published in August 2014. It has since been updated.

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