Hiring AN ATTORNEY
number of trade secret situations may lead you to seek an attorney’s advice.
Attorneys have various specialties and you will need to select a lawyer who
is qualified to provide the advice you need.Generally, an attorney
knowledgeable in intellectual property law or business law can answer most
trade secret law questions. Intellectual property attorneys are familiar
with copyrights, trademarks, right of publicity and to some extent with
media disputes based on defamation and the right of privacy. Business
attorneys are familiar with a range of business issues including trade
secrecy. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a lawyer whom you trust but who
works in a different field—such as the lawyer who masterfully handled your
friend’s house purchase.
In addition to specialties, some intellectual property
or business lawyers focus on litigation. Not all intellectual property
or business attorneys are litigators. Litigators usually bill on an
hourly basis, though sometimes they may take a case on contingency.
Under this arrangement, if you win, the attorney receives a
percentage—usually one‑third to one‑half—of any money recovered in the
lawsuit. If you lose, the attorney receives nothing.
Finding an Attorney
The best way to locate an attorney is by referrals
through friends or others in your field. It is also possible to locate an
attorney through a state bar association or through a local county or city
bar association. Check your local yellow pages and ask the bar association
if they have a lawyer referral service. If you are having trouble finding the right lawyer or law firm
you can look online to give yourself more options. When interviewing an attorney, ask
questions about clientele, work performed, rates and experience. If you
speak with one of the attorney’s clients (for example, another website
owner), ask questions about the attorney’s response time, billing practices
How to Keep Your Fees Down
Most attorneys bill on an hourly basis ($150 to $300 an
hour) and send a bill at the end of each month. Some attorneys bill on a
fixed fee basis. That is, you pay a set fee for certain services—for
example, $5,000 for a license negotiation.
Here are some tips to reduce the size of your bills:
Keep it Short. If your attorney is
being paid on an hourly basis, then keep your conversations short (the
meter is always running) and avoid making several calls a day.
Consolidate your questions so that you can ask them all in one
Get a Fee Agreement. We recommend
that you get a written fee agreement when dealing with an attorney. The
fee agreement is a negotiated arrangement establishing fixed fees for
certain work rather than hourly billings. Read it and understand your
rights as a client. Make sure that your fee agreement includes
provisions that require an itemized statement along with the bill
detailing the work done and time spent, and that allow you to drop the
attorney at any time. If you can’t get fixed billings, ask your attorney
to estimate fees for work and ask for an explanation if the bill exceeds
Review Billings Carefully.
Your legal bill should be prompt and clear. Do not accept summary
billings such as the single phrase “litigation work” used to explain a
block of time for which you are billed a great deal of money. Every item
should be explained with the rate and hours billed. Late billings are
not acceptable, especially in litigation. When you get bills you don’t
understand, ask the attorney for an explanation—and ask the attorney not
to bill you for the explanation.
Be Careful if You Engage a Law Firm.
If you sign a fee agreement with a law firm (rather than a
single attorney), be careful to avoid a particular billing problem
sometimes referred to as multiple or “bounced” billings. This occurs
when several attorneys perform the same work. For example, two attorneys
at the firm have a 15 minute discussion about your case. Both attorneys
bill you. To avoid this, make sure that your fee agreement does not bind
you to this type of arrangement. If you are billed for these
conferences, send a letter to your attorney at the firm explaining that
you only want that attorney to work on your case and that you should be
contacted before work is assigned to another attorney at the firm.
Watch Out For Hidden Expenses. Find
out what expenses you must cover. Watch out if your attorney wants to
bill for services such as word processing or administrative services.
This means you will be paying the secretary’s salary. Also beware of fax
and copying charges. Some firms charge clients per page for incoming and
outgoing faxes. Other firms charge a per page copy fee which surpasses
any commercial copy center. Look out for these hidden expenses in your
Don’t Take Litigation Lightly. As a
general rule, beware of litigation! If you are involved in a lawsuit, it
may take months or years to resolve. Some go on for decades. It often
costs $10,000 or more and the only ones who profit are usually the
lawyers. If you’re in a dispute, ask your attorney about dispute
resolution methods such as arbitration and mediation. Often these
procedures can save money and they’re faster than litigation. If those
methods don’t work or aren’t available, ask your attorney for an
assessment of your odds and the potential costs before filing a lawsuit.
The assessment and underlying reasoning should be in plain English. If a
lawyer can’t explain your situation clearly to you, he probably won’t be
able to explain it clearly to a judge or jury.
What Is a Retainer?
A retainer is an advance payment to an attorney. The
attorney places the retainer in a bank account (in some states, this must be
an interest‑bearing account) and the attorney deducts money from the
retainer at the end of each month to pay your bill. When the retainer is
depleted, the attorney may ask for a new retainer. If the retainer is not
used up at the end of the services, the attorney must return what’s left.
The amount of the retainer usually depends on the project. Retainers for
litigation, for instance, are often between $2,000 to $5,000.
Mad at Your Lawyer?
In many states, such as California, a client always has
the right to terminate the attorney (although this does not terminate the
obligation to pay the attorney). If you don’t respect and trust your
attorney’s professional abilities you should switch and find a new attorney.
Beware, though, switching attorneys is a nuisance and you may lose time and