Lots of things are going on in the writing world these days. Instead of reiterating everything here, I’m going to link you to posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch on The Business Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. Read the comments on both posts, or even better, read all of Kris’s Business Rusch posts and Dean’s Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows series. If you’re a writer in this brave new world of publishing, you’ll be glad you did.
This post grew out of a comment I made on Kris’s column (linked above). A lot of writers are considering hiring an IP lawyer these days instead of or in conjunction with hiring an agent to review and negotiate a NY book contract. I’ve worked as a litigation paralegal for *mumblemumble* years, so I have a ton of experience with lawyers. I didn’t realize how intimidating it could be to sit on the client side of the table until I had to hire an attorney myself years ago to deal with probating my mom’s estate.
I’m here to tell you that hiring an attorney doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Sure, lawyers happen to have expertise in a subject matter that a lot of writers don’t, and that can be intimidating. You can cut down on the intimidation factor if you keep a few things in mind when you decide to hire a lawyer.
1. You can shop around for an attorney just like you would for any other consultant you’d hire for your business. Hourly rates differ, same with amounts of retainers. Some attorneys don’t ask for a retainer at all. Some attorneys offer a flat, set amount based on the type of work instead of number of hours worked. If the attorney you talk to gets miffed because you tell him you’re going to talk to a couple of other people before you decide who to hire, chances are that’s an attorney you don’t want to hire.
2. Likewise, you don’t want someone who talks down to you or whose office staff is rude to you. A lot of people are used to rude behavior from legal and medical professionals, but you don’t have to put up with it. There are more and more intellectual property attorneys out there to choose from. Hire one you feel you can get along with.
3. If you don’t understand something your attorney’s talking about, make her explain it to you. People who work in the legal field tend to forget that not everyone speaks legalese.
4. If money’s tight (and whose isn’t?), discuss payment plans up front so you know what the attorney expects from you and the attorney knows what she can expect from you. If the attorney bills by the hour, you can ask for a cap on the number of hours you authorize the attorney to work on your behalf and ask for notice when you’re getting close to that cap. That way you can decide if you need her to keep working even over that cap, and you won’t get hit with an unexpectedly high bill.
5. Along those lines, discuss what you want the attorney to do. Simply explain contract terms? Suggest alternatives? Negotiate on your behalf? It’s best for both of you to know what each other’s expectations are from the beginning.
6. If the attorney’s not doing the job you hired her for, fire her and hire someone else. Any retainer agreement or engagement letter you sign with an attorney should allow you to fire the attorney without having to cite a reason. What? An attorney’s going to make me sign an agreement? Some will. Make sure you know what you’re signing and if you don’t understand something, ask.
7. Make sure you hire an attorney with expertise in whatever area of law you need help with. I work for a litigation attorney. When I needed probate work, I didn’t ask my attorney for help but went out and hired an attorney who specialized in probate law. If you need an IP attorney, don’t settle for help from the transactional attorney who filed your incorporation papers. Hire an IP attorney who has experience dealing with book contracts. You’ll pay less in the long run because the attorney you hire will already know the ins and outs of that particular area of the law, which means things get done quicker.
How do you find an IP attorney? Laura Resnick has a list on her website. Ask friends who’ve used an attorney whether they had a good experience, and if they did, ask for the name of their attorney. If the first attorney you talk to is too busy to help you within the time frame you need, ask her for a referral.
And above all, remember attorneys are just people. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They’re in the business of helping people just like you.
I hope these hints help. If you have some of your own that I haven’t thought of, leave me a comment.