As a former IP law firm shareholder and senior corporate lawyer, I know all too well the expense required to start and maintain an IP law practice. Not only are IP lawyers of all levels of experience paid handsomely, but so are the highly skilled paralegals, docket clerks and administrative professionals traditionally required create the infrastructure needed to handle the myriad of details involved in an IP law practice. Of course, this expensive infrastructure must be sustaining, so while a lawyer serves today’s clients, her eye must also be on finding the next client because payroll and rent obligations don’t take a holiday when clients do.
This “feed the beast” nature of the IP law practice model was a primary reason that I decided several years ago that I would not again work in the traditional practice of law. How could I? The standard legal service framework required me to build and maintain a business model where the product offered is obtaining patents for clients. However, over the years I discovered that often the client does not need the very product that sustains the IP law firm business model. What I perceived as an inherent conflict between my business interests and those of my clients made it impossible for me to continue practicing as I had for many years in the traditional model. Instead, I moved in a different direction in becoming an IP Strategist where, for the last 5 years, I successfully built a business model where I could focus on building and maximizing IP value for my clients independent of any need to build and maintain the expensive “bells and whistles” of a functioning IP law practice. In other words, I have figured out how to get paid for saying “no you don’t need a patent.”
Certainly, clients appreciate the ability to provide IP advice given independently of any need by me to generate legal fees from patent drafting. Nonetheless, many clients have expressed disappointment when I cannot provide them with additional patent services beyond that of IP strategy consulting when we do determine that a patent is the right course of action. Even though I choose my referrals very carefully, when I have to bring lawyers with more traditional legal services models in to service my clients’ patent drafting needs, I have found that the normal pressures of maintaining an IP legal services business appear. As a result, costs to my client start inching up even though I worked to avoid this at the front end of the engagement. I strongly believe that the cost of obtaining IP legal services is too darn high, even at law firms that portray themselves as being willing to use “alternative billing” structures. Put simply, the IP legal services model is broken and tweaking of billing structures and the like can only amount to the proverbial “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Continue reading →