Each year the National Association of Broadcasters selects a small group of people to take part in their year-long Broadcast Leadership Training program. Participants travel to Washington D.C. one weekend a month for a year to learn the ins and outs of media management and ownership. Topics include everything from engineering to valuing properties to management of personnel.
Thankfully, I am one of the chosen participants this year! I have already learned so much in our two months together. I have left each weekend feeling smarter and energized to tackle whatever projects I have back at home. You can learn about this program and the National Association of Broadcasters by visiting this link HERE.
One of our sessions this past week touched upon areas of the law that media entities must consider. The topic covered lead to a discussion in the non-classroom hours about finding good legal counsel. The questions posed by my fellow classmates made me realize this is an area that is rarely discussed.
How do you know you have a good attorney? What should you look for in an intellectual property attorney? Do you want one main person or do you want a specialist in each area? Here are my tips for finding a good intellectual property attorney along with questions you should ask before retaining them.
- Intellectual Property is legally equivalent to brain surgery. Hire a specialist.
How long have they worked in the area of intellectual property law? I think this first question will tell you a great deal about where their mindset is and their skill level. Did they just decide to help you out because they have always been interested music, film, pop culture and/or advertising? Or, is this something they have intimately studied for many years now?
Believe me, I eat, sleep and breathe copyright and trademark law. I love it. My peers, some of which are readers/commenters, do too. It’s all we do. The word “obsession” comes to mind. Most days we’re still confused and can spend hours debating the minutia. And, there is a lot of minutia.
No area of the law is simple. However, unlike areas of divorce, bankruptcy and real estate, intellectual property deals with creations of the mind. You cannot easily point to them on a map or hold them in your hand. This leads to subtle intricacies not found in other areas of the law.
Your attorney friend can learn how to draw up a will, can call some folks and figure out your divorce, and figure out how to do your house closing. But, when it comes to intellectual property, do yourself a favor and find someone who has been doing it for many years. You wouldn’t go to a general care physician and ask him to perform heart or brain surgery on you. The area of intellectual property is the legal equivalent to brain surgery. You Better Call Saul when it comes to most things, but Saul is not your man when it comes to intellectual property issues.
Here are some further questions to ask:
- Will you personally be working on my intellectual property issue or will you assign it to someone else in your office?
- If you are assigning it, how involved will you be?
- What is their experience with intellectual property issues?
- How many trademarks, copyrights or patents have you filed?
- How many trademarks, copyrights or patents have you defended?
- How much transactional work do you complete each year related to copyrights, trademarks and intellectual property law
- Understand the fee.
It’s not wrong to ask how they arrived at their fee. Lawyers are not inexpensive. However, intellectual property rights have the ability to earn you a great deal of money. It’s not an area where you want to skimp.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Is their fee based upon years of experience or is it what their law firm requires?
- If they are not personally working on your file what is the fee if they were to work on your file?
- Is your issue special to you that will take a lot of time researching and responding to?
- Is this something more of a routine nature in intellectual property law?
- How time intensive will the project be?
- Ask for References.
It is totally okay and acceptable to ask for names and contact information for one or two clients. You wouldn’t go to a specialist doctor without checking out their credentials. Of course, the attorney will have to check with said clients before giving out their contact information, so do not be turned off if there is a day or two delay in getting you the information.
In my experience, any attorney who is worth the fee they are charging will not mind this question. They will in gladly work to get that information to you.
Some questions I would ask of those current clients are:
- How long has Attorney X handled your intellectual property issues?
- Do they just handle intellectual property issues for you or do they handle other areas of the law?
- How quickly do they respond to your phone calls and emails?
- Why did you decide to use them? Was it because they are the only person in town or was it because you felt like they were the best?
- Do you feel like you have received competent advice?
You have spent a great deal of time creating your copyrightable product and/or establishing a brand thru your trademark. It has a lot of value. It is an extension of you. It is special. It is unique. It is not something to simply be trusted to anyone.
My last piece of wisdom is – you get what you pay for. It might be expensive on the front-end, but will be worth it in the end. Take the time and spend the extra money to find a true specialist in this area.
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