Digital professionals may want to instruct a specialist tech lawyer to help mitigate any legal and regulatory risks associated with a project they are undertaking. This might include an IT systems implementation, online marketing campaign or some kind of research and development.
Most large organisations benefit from an in house legal department to offer help and advice, especially with IT contracts, the protection of intellectual property and software licensing. Smaller companies don't usually have this luxury.
An in-house lawyer tends to specialise in corporate and contractual law but prefer to outsource IT-relevant issues to specialist law firms. These tend not to be high street practices, although this is beginning to change as legal services are becoming more competitive and the digital economy matures.
Instructing a tech lawyer and the firm
I think there are four important elements to consider before you instruct a tech lawyer: (1) the nature of your project, (2) budget available and (3) the lawyer's own track record on law relating to the legal challenges that you have identified in your project. Where applicable, you should also (4) assess the overall track record of the law firm they are working for.
What does this mean?
You want a lawyer and law firm to give you the very best advice. Do your own due diligence to ensure that the firm has knowledge and experience in the kind of subject matter relevant to your project. If you are working with an in house legal team which will eventually instruct a specialist lawyer to work on your behalf make sure you give them a clear scope of the project. Involve them from the start so that any potential problems can be resolved quickly.
A lawyer is not cheap, but cheap is not always best. You will be constrained by a budget which will reflect the nature of your project and the legal advice that you receive. For example, you may decide that legal risks could involve heavy litigation (particularly over a patent, product design or copyright) so you will want to consider a lawyer with a good track record of winning these kinds of cases.
Good law firms will always provide you with information about how they expect their clients to engage with them. You are in control, so spend time evaluating their services and find out about their successes. They should always give you a free initial consultation to discuss your legal concerns with them. A good lawyer tends never to give you a set fee but they should explain to you their fee structure and how any work will be divided up between senior partners, partners, associates and trainees.
Like any business to business contract you need to manage your relationship. Make sure you get the names of two single points of contact: a lead contact and a secondary contact should the lead be unavailable.
Complaints against lawyer or law firm
It is always better to try and resolve any disagreements you have with the lawyer or law firm by contacting them first. Each firm will have a designated complaints handler. If this fails, you may want to consider dispute resolution where the contract with your lawyer allows.
It's preferable to add a dispute resolution clause into your contract with the law firm so that an independent party can hear your grievance if you fail to reach an agreement with the firm directly. This could save you time and money in the long-term by avoiding the need to go to court.
You can also consider making a complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
- Financial Conduct Authority (for law firms providing financial services)