Finding an Intellectual Property Lawyer

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If you become involved in a intellectual property dispute, are having trouble getting your work registered, or simply want some advice from a professional about an intellectual property issue, you will want to consult a lawyer—but not just any lawyer.

What to look For

You want an intellectual property lawyer who:

  • knows the intellectual property field well
  • is willing to acknowledge your competence gained from using this book, and
  • is honest and conscientious.

Nolo’s Lawyer Directory

Nolo (www.nolo.com), the publisher of this book, operates a national lawyer directory that provides in-depth profiles of attorneys, as well as verification that each lawyer is in good standing and that each lawyer promises respectful services. The directory includes many intellectual property attorneys. Note, it is often not necessary that the intellectual property attorney you choose is in your local area since many intellectual property actions—for example, appealing from an intellectual property objection—can be done from anywhere in the U.S.

Find a Lawyer Who Knows the Intellectual Property Field

Intellectual property lawyers usually advertise on the Internet and in legal journals as intellectual property specialists able to handle patent, trademark, copyright, and trade-secret cases. Because each of these fields is increasingly becoming a complicated legal world all to itself, in fact the ads may not always be accurate—most intellectual property law specialists tend to be very knowledgeable in one or two of these areas and only passingly familiar with the others.

Keep in mind that patent lawyers are a "subset" of intellectual property lawyers because they must be licensed to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is not the case for trademark and copyright attorneys. For this reason, it is common for patent lawyers to be far more knowledgeable in that area than in trademark law, even though both patents and trademarks involve practice before the USPTO. Similarly, some lawyers specialize in trademarks and do little or no patent work.

The point of knowing this, of course, is that you want an intellectual property lawyer who really knows your area of need in intellectual property, not someone willing to brush up on copyright or trademarks at your expense.

Find a Lawyer Who Is Willing to Acknowledge Your Competence

In addition to satisfying yourself that a lawyer is competent, you want to find someone who is reasonably congenial to work with. You don’t need us to tell you that lawyers tend to look down on laypersons when it comes to the lawyer’s area of expertise. Which means that many of the lawyers you initially encounter are likely to be turned off by your expertise. Fortunately, however, some lawyers are willing to respect their clients’ knowledge and know how to work with it rather than against it. It is this type of lawyer you should be looking for.

You can find a lawyer who isn’t intimidated by a competent client if you:

  • articulate exactly what you want the lawyer to do, and
  • carefully monitor the lawyer’s reaction.

If you get a whiff of, “Don’t tell me what you need, I’m the lawyer,” go on to the next name on the list. If the response appears to respect your self-help efforts and admits the possibility that you are a competent human being, make an appointment.

Find a Lawyer Who Is Honest and Conscientious

If you are just seeking advice, then you needn’t worry much about the lawyer’s character. But if you are looking for someone to represent you, the human being you are dealing with becomes paramount. The best analytical intellectual property lawyer in the world can bring you to financial and emotional ruin if he or she lacks the ability to understand your needs and to represent you with your best interests in mind.

Honesty

While some would argue that there’s no such thing as an honest lawyer, we maintain that it is possible to have honest dealings with your lawyer. Start by clearly understanding that the lawyer’s financial interest—to run up lots of billable hours over a period of time—is the opposite of yours—which is to arrive at a fast, cost-efficient, and reasonably livable resolution of the problem.

Once you understand this, you’ll also understand that it is essential that you and your lawyer agree up front about what the lawyer is to do and the amount of control you are to have over the lawyer’s activities. Rule One is that the lawyer is working for you, not vice versa; and Rule Two is that you have a right to understand the reason for every minute of the lawyer’s time that will be billed to you.

Conscientiousness

Your lawyer must be willing to agree to have you regularly consulted on all phases of the case and to promptly return your phone calls. Although nothing leads to a ruinous relationship faster than bad communication, too few lawyers keep their clients well posted. Lawyers faced with complaints about their lousy client-contact habits often reply that many clients call or expect too much. But because the client is paying for the lawyer’s time, this seems like a pretty weak excuse. Our experience tells us that the usual reason lawyers don’t return phone calls is that they have neglected some facet of the case and simply don’t want to face the client.

Your lawyer must also be willing to follow through on your case to its completion. This one is tricky to monitor, because it involves predicting the future. However, as long as good communication is established at the outset, there’s an improved chance that your lawyer will give you good service.

Find a Lawyer Who Is Open to Dispute Resolution Alternatives

In recent years, many lawyers have discovered that there often are better ways to resolve disputes than the old “haul ’em into court” technique. The two most common of these alternative approaches are arbitration and mediation. When you search for an attorney, make sure that the attorney is fully up to speed on these private, fast, inexpensive, and often successful techniques and is willing to help you explore them as a potential way to solve your problem.

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