Intellectual Property - Why You Should Choose the UK
How to Choose an Intellectual Property Lawyer
You might need an intellectual property (IP) lawyer if you are filing for a patent or trademark, defending yourself in a copyright infringement case, or negotiating royalties for the novel you wrote. You can find a qualified intellectual property lawyer by gather referrals and meeting for consultations. Before hiring someone, make sure to get a fee agreement in writing.
Identify your type of intellectual property.There are several types. Although some lawyers will handle legal issues involving all types, some lawyer will specialize in one or two. You should identify which type of intellectual property you have:
- Patents.Patents are granted by the federal government and confer the right to make, use, sell, or import a product exclusively for a limited amount of time. For example, if you invent a new oral treatment for breast cancer, then you can patent it.
- Trade secrets.This is any information that is valuable, such as a secret recipe or process for making or doing something. Trade secrets aren’t patented. Instead, they remain valuable because they are secret.
- Trademarks.A trademark is a word or symbol that distinguishes your goods or services from another business’. For example, the word Coca-Cola and the symbol are both trademarks of the Coca-Cola Company.
- Copyrights.A novelist has a copyright in her novel, and a photographer has a copyright in his photo. Copyrights are available for works of original authorship.
Ask another lawyer for a referral.Lawyers are a good source of referrals since they know the reputations of other attorneys. If you used a lawyer for a criminal matter or to buy a house, for example, then ask them if they can recommend an intellectual property lawyer.
- Fully explain your situation to the lawyer. He or she might see a hidden wrinkle and realize you also need to talk to someone who specializes in First Amendment issues or another area of law.
Contact your nearest bar association.Bar associations are organizations made up of lawyers. Many provide referrals to the public. You can find your nearest bar association by searching on the American Bar Association website: .
- Usually, your bar association should have a phone number to call or an online database you can search.
- If you call, tell the person you need an intellectual property lawyer.
Search online databases.Some of the more reliable databases include Lawyers.com, Nolo, and Martindale-Hubbell. You provide information, such as your location and your legal issue. The database then produces a list of attorneys who meet your requirements.
- If you specifically want a patent lawyer, then you can download a zip file containing the names and addresses of all 33,000 active registered patent attorneys: . Plug in your address and find registered patent attorneys in your area.
Get a referral from another creator.You might know a creator who has recently used an intellectual property lawyer. Ask them if they would recommend this person. If so, then write down the name.
- For example, if you are a writer, ask another writer what lawyer they use.
- Avoid asking friends or family, unless they’ve used an intellectual property lawyer. Instead, they will likely refer you to someone they know who doesn’t practice IP law at all.
Look for low cost legal help for artists.If you are an artist with an IP issue, then look in your nearest city for attorneys who volunteer to help artists.About half of all states have volunteer services that provide low-cost legal help.
- Search online by typing “your city” and then “volunteer legal services arts.”
Researching the Lawyers
Study the lawyer’s website.Run a quick Google search and find the lawyer’s website. Spend a few minutes analyzing the website for the following information:
- The lawyer’s specialty.Lawyers should list representative cases they have handled recently. Check to see that the lawyer has done intellectual property work in the specialty you need help with. For example, someone who focuses on patent applications might not be the best choice if you have a copyright lawsuit.
- Advanced degree.Many law schools offer a master’s degree (LLM) in intellectual property. Look to see if the lawyer has one. Of course, lawyers don’t need an LLM to practice IP law, but this credential shows the lawyer is dedicated to the field.
- Board certification.Some states grant certifications in intellectual property. For example, Florida lawyers can get an IP certification if they demonstrate sufficient experience, take continuing legal education courses, pass an exam, and receive positive reviews from peers and judges.
- Size of the firm.Some lawyers work as solo practitioners while others are members of a firm. A larger law firm is ideal if you have a very complicated legal issue.
- The website’s layout.Does the website look professional? If not, then the lawyer might not be the kind of detail-orientated advocate that you need. Check for typos and poor grammar.
Check the lawyer’s disciplinary history.Each state has a disciplinary commission that investigates complaints about lawyers.You can find your state’s commission by looking online. At the state website, search for the lawyer by name. A full disciplinary history should pull up.
- Also check the USPTO’s Office of Enrollment and Discipline at . This website will have disciplinary information for registered patent attorneys.
Read online reviews.Many websites collect online reviews of lawyers. Check Yahoo, Google+, and Yelp. Don’t accept these reviews uncritically. Often the people who are angriest are the most motivated to leave a negative review.
- However, look to see if more than one person makes the same complaint. For example, several people might complain that the lawyer didn’t understand intellectual property.
- Also check how old the reviews are. Newer reviews might be more representative.
Narrow your list.You want to meet with lawyers who are sufficiently qualified to handle your issue and who look professional. Narrow your list to three or four attorneys. You won’t have a lot of time to schedule consultations with more than four.
- If you don’t think any of the lawyers are qualified, then go back and get more referrals.
Attending a Consultation
Schedule consultations with a few lawyers.Call up the attorneys and ask if you can schedule a consultation. Your initial meeting will usually last 15-30 minutes. Ask how much it will cost.Some lawyers might offer a free consultation, while others will charge a fee.
- You probably will speak to an assistant or secretary. They might ask you some questions to decide whether your issue is one the lawyer can help you with.
- The lawyer may also send you a questionnaire to fill out and return before the consultation.
Prepare for the consultation.Lawyers are very busy, so get as organized as possible before your consultation. Make sure to do the following:
- Copy relevant documents and put them in an order the lawyer can understand.If you’re being sued for copyright infringement, then have a copy of the complaint and summons to show the lawyer. Also have a copy of your work and the work you allegedly copied.
- Write down a summary of your issue in a few sentences. Be as brief as possible. However, remember to be honest. Your consultation will be confidential.
- Dress well. You’ll feel in control and be less intimidated by the lawyer if you look professional.
Ask questions about the lawyer’s experience.At the consultation, you want to fully understand how experienced the lawyer is with IP issues. Don’t waste time going over information you can find from the webpage (such as where the lawyer went to school). Instead, ask the following:
- How much of their practice is devoted to IP issues? To copyright (or patent, trade secrets, etc.) specifically? Get a breakdown of the types of cases they handle.
- Have they handled issues like yours before?For example, if you are a band negotiating a contract with a studio, you’ll want a lawyer who has negotiated that type of agreement.
- Based on their experience, what is the likeliest outcome? For example, if you are applying for a patent, does the lawyer think it will be approved?
Discuss the lawyer’s fees.Some lawyers are flexible when it comes to how much they charge and the different billing methods they use. You should certainly discuss fees before leaving your consultation. Try to cover the following areas:
- Does the lawyer charge an hourly fee? If so, how much?
- Do they use alternative billing arrangements, such as a flat fee or contingency fee? With a contingency fee, the lawyer agrees to be paid only if you win. They get a percentage of the amount you win.Contingency fees are used when you bring a lawsuit, not when you defend yourself in one.
- What else will you be charged for? For example, does the lawyer charge for photocopying, mailing, and research fees?
- Will the lawyer provide you with an itemized bill?
- Will the lawyer use other lawyers and paralegals to do the work? If so, how much do they charge?
Ask how the lawyer communicates.Effective communication is critical, and attorney-client relationships often break down because of poor communication. Make sure to ask the lawyer how they communicate.
- Do they prefer email or a phone call? Can you stop in to talk if you have a problem?
- Who will return your phone call? Will you talk primarily with an assistant, or will the lawyer call you?
- How long do they wait to return calls? A lawyer should respond to you within a business day.
Identify red flags.Law is a highly-regulated profession, so most lawyers should be reputable. However, some lawyers are in over their heads, and you should pay attention to red flags. Avoid a lawyer that exhibits any of the following:
- Doesn’t understand your legal issue. The lawyer might lack sufficient experience in intellectual property or might be too busy to give you their full attention.
- Is rude or intimidating. The lawyer could be stretched to the max.
- Guarantees a result. There are very few 100% guarantees. If you want to sue someone, avoid a lawyer who guarantees you will win. Likewise, avoid a lawyer who guarantees your patent will be approved.
- Has a messy office with papers all over the place. You want a lawyer to keep your client confidences. A lawyer who leaves client files out in the open is probably not sufficiently careful.
Choose a lawyer.If you didn’t like any of the lawyers you met with, then go back and get more referrals. However, if one or more were acceptable, then consider the following as you make your choice:
- Your comfort around the attorney. You will likely be working closely together, so you shouldn’t hire someone unless you feel comfortable.
- How well you understood the case. You want a lawyer who doesn’t speak down to you but who helps you understand the legal issues. You can’t make decisions as a client if you don’t know what is happening.
- The reasonableness of the fee. There is no reason to hire someone you can’t afford, so confirm that you can pay the fee.
- The lawyer’s experience. Don’t hire someone unless you have confidence in their abilities.
Sign an engagement letter.Call up the lawyer and tell them you want to hire them. They should send you an engagement letter to sign (also called a “fee agreement” or “fee retainer”). Read this document carefully. It should explain in detail what the lawyer will do for you and how you will be billed.
- If you don’t agree with something in the agreement, then call up the lawyer. Don’t sign until you agree with everything.
- After signing, keep a copy for your own records.
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