Friday 27 August 2010

End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act and Impact on Law Practice

In a recent blog post ‘End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act’  I mentioned some of the current challenges facing those of us that run law firms.  These include the need to become deeply multidisciplinary, and also to provide the more innovative solutions the market needs in order to drive down costs. 

In my area of practice – which is Internet and IP law – ‘multidisciplinary’ essentially means having a solid grasp of IT.  So, although like most growing businesses, I am constantly preoccupied with thoughts about what services to offer and who to employ, there is this underlying essential requirement that any staff hired should be highly IT savvy. 

One of the advantages of being a regulated law firm is that there is no shortage of highly motivated and talented ‘would be’ lawyers constantly knocking on the door in search of work experience.  However, surprisingly few of them offer the level of IT competence we ideally want to see in candidates.  Being in their early 20’s I would have thought they would emerge from their studies extremely proficient in IT, but that is rarely the case.  The level of knowledge of Outlook, Word, Spreadsheets, and other applications often leaves much to be desired, and as a small law firm we simply do not have time to train people up in these areas.  They need to be able to hit the ground running.  I've learnt that a distinction in the LPC, or a First in Law, is generally not indicative of suitability to work in a fast paced environment like ours where the ability to multi task, to be practical, learn fast, and have common sense, are more likely to lead to success. 

Similarly, the ability to write is such a key asset to be able to offer an online business such as Azrights – but this is unfortunately not a skill generally evident among those who are aspiring to become lawyers.  

Therefore, offering advanced IT or writing skills would stand out from the crowd of CVs.  My advice to ‘would be’ lawyers, for what it’s worth, is to acquire these skills and once you have them highlight your abilities in your CV.

Currently law graduates offering work experience in related areas, such as journalism, marketing, PR, internet marketing or web design are more attractive than those who just offer law, regardless of class of law degree. So instead of focusing purely on legal knowledge and learning - which is actually rarely a unique selling point given the level of competition out there among law graduates - it is better to acquire these wider skills.  In my view, this upskilling, and acquring a good understanding of marketing, would enable a law graduate to stand out from the crowd and stand a good chance of getting a training contract in this fiercely competitive market.

The world of law is indeed changing rapidly, and the sooner this is reflected in the education ‘would be’ lawyers receive the better for everyone.  Those finding it difficult to get a toe hold in the profession, would also benefit from reading Richard Susskind's books and the article by Stephen Mayson both of which are hyperlinked in my earlier blog post mentioned above.  An understanding of the market forces that are changing the face of the legal world will help the new generation of 'would be' lawyers to understand the type of skills they may need to acquire. 

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Bye-bye London?

Jane Lambert has been celebrating, via the LinkedIn Ipso Jure group, a recent decision of the Intellectual Property Office hearing officer in Manchester, Richard Wragg v Mike Donnelly (here). Her satisfaction was not just because she triumphed on behalf of her client but for the reason that this was the first such hearing to take place outside London.

Right: the Old Corporation Court Room, Malmesbury -- a worthy venue for proceedings before the hearing officer?
On this issue she explains how easy it is:
"The issue is canvassed first with the other side in correspondence and then put to the court at the case management conference.

In my experience the difficulty lies not so much in persuading a judge or hearing officer to sit outside London as in persuading local administrators to free up one of their courts.

Donnelly was heard in the immigration tribunal. As we now have new civil court centres in Manchester and Liverpool it should be easier to get a trial on the Northern Circuit. Space in Leeds and Newcastle is still tight".
Thanks, Jane. If the cost and inefficient use of time caused by litigation in distant venues can be trimmed down or avoided altogether, so much the better.

Monday 16 August 2010

Trading Standards: worth a try?

I've recently been in correspondence with a trade mark owner who has been trying to protect her trade mark against infringement by a far larger company. Since she has limited resources for civil litigation, she has been trying another route -- making complaints to local Trading Standards offices in the hope that they will leap into action in order to remove infringing goods from the shops.

I understand that, while it is possible to secure some success in this manner, it is by no means easy. A complainant has to be able to persuade that there is indeed a valid trade mark and that it is being infringed, and it can be hard to keep the attention of TS for long enough to get them to understand what is required of them, since they are generally under-resourced themselves and they are much more interested in things like tainted foods, stolen goods, actual counterfeits and so on, and don't particularly want to spend their time doing what they feel is the job of the civil law.

Any comments, suggestions, experiences?

Sunday 15 August 2010

Free Community Trademark Representation

This post was provoked by the IPkat post on the OHIM decision to defer allowing community trademark applicants from outside the EU to use their services without the aid of a professional representative. The current rule is that the non-European applicant needs to be represented even if his application has no issues that require the intervention of a representative.

Anyone regardless of nationality can apply for a CTM and its not difficult to do online. It can be expensive if you get it wrong and professional advice can help you avoid mistakes and add considerable value, but for those entrepreneurs with confidence why should they not flash their credit card. The difficulty as I see it is that the European entrepreneur does not have a similar privilege to do the same in the rest of the world. If WIPO thinks its worth taking up, then compulsory representation for out-of-territory applicants could become a thing of the past but, until then, I do not see why OHIM should go unilateral.

There is a suggestion that professional bodies object to the removal of the restriction because it denies them work. For that reason I am prepared to represent an out of state applicant who needs a representative for free. This is not costless and it is an invitation to treat. The claimant of such free services must:
  • provide sufficient information about themselves and the application so I can identify them for regulatory purposes
  • agree to my terms of trade which contain a fair hourly rate for any professional services that may be needed, though there will be no fees if the CTM registers without any intervention on my part except the the taking over of representation, and a limitation of liability
  • be prepared to sign an authorisation promptly if requested
  • stay in touch for the next 10 years so I can forward any correspondence that arises such as a third party cancellation action.
In return I shall
  • notify OHIM that I am your representative
  • enter details of your trademark application into my docketing system
  • forward correspondence by email only
Any other OHIM representatives offering similar free services to out of state DIY applicants is invited to add their offer in a comment.

I have already done this. A recent requester declined to provide any further information to identify himself and that is essential.

Many European trademark professionals would like advising on trademarks to  be a reserved legal activity, but at present it is not. It is therefore important for applicants seeking assistance to have some way of checking that a representative conforms to some code of conduct. You can only do that on a state by state basis and the UK regulator  IPReg does not pull its weight at the moment by providing a list of regulated firms so you might do better to choose a solicitor whose status you can check. For more information on representation see the OHIM page.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Flying Solo, or United?

The Review of the UK Private Practice Intellectual Property Sector, August 2010, has just been published. It is compiled by recruitment consultant Pete Fellows (Director, Fellows and Associates) and can be found here. This blog's constituents may be interested to read this little extract from it:
"2010 has been the year for flying solo with an amazing array of new firms entering the market. Yorkshire in particular has been a hotbed for this kind of activity but there are examples across the UK. I also expect that given the successes and failures amongst the established firms in 2009/10 to see perhaps one or two acquisitions/mergers in the coming year. Opportunities abound for firms wishing to expand their reach by a sound acquisition strategy".
I'm just wondering who this "amazing array of new firms" flying solo might consist of -- and would they recognise themselves from this jurisdiction?