7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Business or Intellectual Property Lawyer

  1. Paul Newman in "The Verdict"

“The right attorney makes the difference” claims Avvo.com’s homepage, a popular legal directory. But with over 1 million licensed attorneys in the United States, including almost 178,000 active in California, how do you know which one is the best business and intellectual property law firm to handle your legal issues? Ask your prospective counselor at law these 7 questions.

Hire The Best Entertainment, Business and Intellectual Property By Asking:

  1. Do you have experience with my specific situation and industry? While two attorneys may be licensed by the state bar, their expertise and style of practice can be vastly different, in some cases to the point of making them legally incompetent in an unfamiliar area of practice. Case in point: with nearly exclusive practice in intellectual property and new media entertainment law, including business transactions and licensing deals, my practice does not handle criminal defense cases, ever. My knowledge of criminal law is limited to the CA Bar exam, no cake-walk, but no substitute for an experienced, seasoned criminal defense attorney. Make sure your attorney has specific experience with your situation and industry. 
  2. Do you typically work with small businesses and startups or clients that are similar to me? If the law firm works primarily with large corporate clients, the attorney may have difficulty working on your situation in an effective manner, both in terms of budget, and expertise. Most law firms know the exact demographic of the type of business clients they serve best. Ask your prospective advisor if their firm typically works with business clients that are similar to you in the relevant aspects pertaining to your legal matter. 
  3. Do you accept flat fees? Many startups and growth companies operate on a tight legal budget. For some of these legal and business affairs, flat fees are appropriate and can help clients avoid surprise when budgeting legal costs. However, in other instances, hourly billing is the best practice for both the attorney and the client. Contingency fees are also a viable payment arrangement, limited in business matters mostly suited for plaintiff’s litigation lawyers. Speak openly with your attorney about fees, get on the same page, then let your attorney deliver his or her expertise to your matter.
  4. Do you have any clients who could create conflicts? Find out if your prospective attorney is working for other clients such as competitors or former business partners, who could pose a potential conflict of interest. If so, problems could arise, and you may not feel comfortable sharing competitive information with the attorney.
  5. Are there any ways to reduce the costs for your services? Not only will the attorney inherently want to provide you some type of discount, but some “leg work” on the clients’ part usually can’t hurt but is very case specific. I say usually because these circumstances are fact based and dependent on the legal matter and the client’s resources and expertise or knowledge on the subject.
  6. How do you typically communicate with clients? The days of fax and mail communications are pretty much over. While nothing is better than in person meeting in most cases, a plethora of communication tools are available to facilitate today’s attorney – client communications. Subject to security and privacy considerations, many platforms from email and cell phone to text messaging, document sharing platforms, video conferencing and chat options are available to allow clients and their lawyers to communicate and share contracts or court documents. Before hiring the best business and intellectual property law firm for your legal issues, ask about communication options such as by cell phone, online chat, dropbox, and other platforms that you may prefer.
  7. Do you offer free consultations? Most lawyers will offer anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour of free consultation to a client. A free initial consultation, by phone, video conference or in-person can benefit both the attorney and client, particularly in business contexts where counsel works closely with executives and owners of the company. The questions in this list, and substantive subjects about the legal matter at hand should be discussed during the consultation to allow the client and attorney to get to know each other and ensure the best fit to handle the company’s intellectual property protection and business contracts.

Attorneys work closely with company executives and producers in handling some of their most sensitive legal and business affairs, with fiduciary duties to be competent and professional in effect at all times. As a business and intellectual property attorney, my clients often become my colleagues, my bosses, and my friends. In this context, there is no doubt selecting the wrong attorney for intellectual property protection and legal & business affairs also makes the difference.

Prep note: An attorney’s duty of confidentiality attaches to initial consultations even when the attorney is not subsequently hired. Therefore, conversations with a lawyer you are thinking of hiring, but haven’t yet hired, are still confidential and privileged subject to a conflict of interest check. (See Question #4 above).

About the Author:

David N. Sharifi is a Los Angeles intellectual property and business attorney concentrating in digital media law, startups and mobile publishing. David can be reached at 310-751-0181 or david@latml.com.

Disclaimer:

The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship. All trademark are the property of L.A. Tech & Media Law Firm or their respective owners. All rights reserved.

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