Despite all the jokes about lawyers, most of us are relieved to have legal representation when we need it. In the IT consulting world, you might need an attorney to help you with contracts, service level agreements (SLAs) and licensing agreements; development, distribution, and use of IT and intellectual property assets; registration and protection of domain names; employee Internet, e-mail, and technology use policies; and many other issues.
As the IT field continues to expand, there are more attorneys and law firms than ever specializing in IT law. But finding the right one can be a challenge. And be prepared—you may have to travel. Many of the best attorneys in the field are located near major technology centers. Here’s some advice from legal experts, as well as a list of online resources to help you choose the right lawyer.
Look for upcoming articles that will discuss retaining the services of an attorney to help you draw up a contract with a client, determining whether you’re paying a fair price for legal services, and how an attorney can help you avoid being sued.
Begin your search by checking with peers for referrals
The best way to find legal representation for your consulting business, experts say, is by word of mouth.
“Ask other consultants or firms that are doing business similar to yours who they use and who they recommend,” said Larry Roberts, an attorney with Roberts and Associates in Nashville, TN. “Also, ask them who not to use and why. Never judge a lawyer by the size of his Yellow Pages ad or how good his TV commercial was.”
In addition to asking for personal referrals, be sure to check legal directories online. Larissa Lidski, a professor of media law at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law in Gainesville, FL, recommends the Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Locator, which contains more than 900,000 lawyer and law firm listings. These listings are organized by city, state, country and/or province, and include cross-references and indexes of lawyers or law firms alphabetically and by area of practice.
The Lawyer Locator is simple to use. If you type in “Information Technology” in the “Use More Specific Terms” box, you’ll find attorneys and firms specializing in computer law, Internet law, Information Technology, intellectual property, software licensing, and trade secrets law, among other specialties.
Here are some additional online resources that can help you find an attorney in your local area or one who specializes in your field:
- Lawoffice.com provides profiles of more than 800,000 lawyers and law firms, in addition to profiles of international counsel, corporate counsel, and U.S. government attorneys.
- FindLaw.com is aWeb portal focused on law and government, with access to a library of legal resources for legal professionals, consumers, and small businesses.
- The Computer Law Association is an organization that provides publications, online news, and links to other sites with information about technology law.
- Your local bar association can help you find lawyers with the expertise you need. You should be able to find your local association online or in the Yellow Pages.
Narrowing the field
Once you have a general consensus from several people you trust or you’ve gathered enough information from other resources, you should ask for an initial consult with the attorneys or firms on your short list.
“An initial consult with the ones you have narrowed down should allow you to interview them and gauge their expertise in the field that you need legal advice and representation on,” said Lidski.
You should not, however, let an attorney’s fee scare you away from your top choice. “Don’t choose a lawyer by his hourly charges thinking you are going to save money,” advised Ralph Losey, a computer law attorney for Katz, Kutter, Haigler, Alderman, Bryant & Yon in Orlando, FL. “The lawyer you got at $150 an hour may not be as experienced or knowledgeable as the $300-an-hour attorney and may charge you for five hours to go over your contract, while the $300-an-hour attorney may have only taken an hour to go over it and make recommendations.”
Losey also noted that many attorneys specializing in IT law are located near major technology centers, such as California’s Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin, TX. “You might have to travel to another city to get the expertise you need.”
How did you find a good attorney to represent your consulting firm? What questions did you ask to evaluate candidates? Post a comment below or send us a note.