Intellectual Property Lawyers
What to Consider When Hiring an Intellectual Property Lawyer
Intellectual property is an area of law that can seem opaque to the average person. It involves intangible assets that can be hard to value in objective terms. However, the stakes are often high in disputes surrounding patents, copyrights, trademarks, or trade secrets. The financial security of an individual or a business can hinge on the outcome of a dispute involving these rights. Hiring a lawyer thus may be critical to protect your interests. Intellectual property law consists of many complex and nuanced statutes, as well as decisions by courts interpreting them in detail. Even though you are familiar with your industry or occupation, you may not understand the full scope of your rights and obligations under the law without professional guidance.
An attorney also can help you before litigation even arises. Applying for protection from the US Patent and Trademark Office or the US Copyright Office requires close attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of the applicable laws. Without a pair of legally trained eyes reviewing your application, you might be denied protection due to an avoidable error or oversight. In other cases, you might receive a narrower form of protection than what might have been available otherwise.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or colleagues who have hired an intellectual property attorney, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience assisting people in situations similar to yours. Intellectual property law consists of four main areas: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and (less centrally) trade secrets. Not all intellectual property lawyers practice in each of these areas to the same extent. Familiarity with the relevant industry also may make a difference. For example, if you are seeking to patent a software program, you may want to hire an attorney who has helped many inventors in the tech industry. They will know how to write your patent claims in a way that explains how your program improves computer functionality or solves a computing problem. If you have been sued for integrating another author’s material in your work, you may want to hire an attorney who has handled many copyright fair use lawsuits. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to prevent you from obtaining protection for your achievements, or to expose you to crippling financial liability.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by other people involved in your matter, such as government examiners, judges, and opposing counsel, which can help resolve it more favorably and efficiently.
Often, an intellectual property lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each matter is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of positive results for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the matters in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of issue.
Some intellectual property lawyers offer a free consultation to prospective clients, while others provide a consultation for a reasonable fee. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your situation, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to describe your goals and ask how likely you are to attain them, based on what the attorney sees as the strengths and weaknesses of your position. You should not expect a precise answer, but a general impression can help set your expectations. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. Some intellectual property lawyers charge an hourly rate, while others charge a flat fee for certain types of services. You are more likely to pay a flat fee for document preparation services, such as filing a patent application, than for representation in a lawsuit, since the time required to resolve a dispute may be hard to predict. If a lawyer applies an hourly fee structure, they may outline a budget for the anticipated costs of the case. In some cases, they may even agree to cap their fees, or cap the fee for each phase of the dispute. This may be subject to later adjustments if an increase proves necessary due to unforeseen circumstances. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
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