“Do you have experience in the photography industry? With photographers?”
“Do you prefer to resolve disputes in a courtroom or across a mediation table?”
“Will you do most of the work on my problem or case?”
“Are you representing other clients that could be in conflict with my business?”
“What will be your response time to my inquiries?”
“What is your preferred client communication method?”
“What is your billing policy?”
“Are you willing to negotiate fees?”
“Are you active in your profession and the community?”
“Are you willing to refer my legal issue or case to a specialized attorney?”
You may not like it, but as a professional photographer operating a business, having the support of an attorney is absolutely crucial. This is especially true if you’re making a living as a full-time pro with either a separate studio or working from your home. Even if you’re a part-time pro, then you’ll still want to establish a relationship with an attorney in case you need his or her advice. You may not need it often, but you’ll be happy you have him or her on your side when it’s necessary.
Attorneys are trained for the adversarial environment of the courtroom or the negotiating table; so when you’re ready to choose one to represent your interests, you shouldn’t pull any punches when it comes to asking them the tough questions to make sure he or he is the right attorney for you. It’s likely that whatever reason you need an attorney will be a sensitive issue and one that could have a significant impact on your business and future, so the attorney you choose must be someone you can truly trust.
Put your candidates in the witness box and cross-examine them with the 10 tough questions in this PhotographyTalk article.
You want an attorney who is familiar with the specific legal issues and challenges that confront photographers. These could include copyright, or intellectual property rights; liability claims because of accidents in your studio or on location; client contracts; etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for references of other photographers the attorney has represented. Contact them to determine how well the attorney has helped them resolve legal problems.
Attorneys that have more experience in the courtroom and like to do battle there may not be appropriate for most photographers’ legal problems. There’s nothing wrong with selecting that kind of attorney, but typically most of your legal “battles” can be resolved in private negotiations without having to appear before a judge and/or jury.
Many attorneys employ paralegals to perform some of the more standard casework, while others may rely on paralegals to do much, if not most, of the work. You should know your candidate attorney’s approach. Involving another person, even though he or she is a paralegal, could require more of your time and a bigger fee, and could cause confusion.
Finding an attorney with experience representing photographers is important, but you probably don’t want one that is representing your competitors. If the other photographers shoot a totally different genre than you, then there might not be a conflict of interest, e.g., you’re a wedding photographer and another photographer shoots wildlife for magazines.
Many legal problems that professional photographers face could occur suddenly, and require immediate attention or advice. Make sure you know how quickly the attorneys you’re cross-examining will return your calls, or whether you must explain the reason for your inquiry with a paralegal first.
Many attorneys will have somewhat strict client communication protocol. Some may prefer the phone, while others typically only respond with an email, or only return calls during a specific time of the day. Again, because you may need your attorney’s help quite quickly, it’s important to know how he or she will return your inquiry, so you’re prepared to receive a response as soon as it is communicated.
Attorneys may bill for their time in any number of ways. Some may bill for periods of time as short as 10 minutes, while others will bill you for a minimum of an hour, even if you only talk for 15 minutes. Others may quote a total cost to take care of a relatively common legal matter. You also want to be fully knowledgeable about charges for expenses, research and a paralegal’s time.
You certainly don’t want a cut-rate attorney, but you may be more comfortable with one that is willing to be flexible with his or her fees. Although your time has an affixed value, too, you may be able to reduce legal costs by doing some research yourself or picking up documents instead of paying additional fees for a paralegal to do this work.
The only way an attorney can do an optimum job for you is if he or she is being continually educated in the legal profession. Don’t hesitate to ask if they attend legal seminars or courses to stay current with the latest issues. You’ll also be better served if your attorney is active in the community, as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the local bar association and other professional or community organizations. This adds significantly to his or her understanding of your business and the local business climate.
No businessperson, including professional photographers and attorneys, wants to give business to others; but the law can be so intricate and confusing that you want an attorney representing you that won’t hesitate to bring in a specialist to advise you on the finer points of law.
Legal advice and representation is much like insurance: You don’t know how valuable it is until you need it badly. That’s why you should be willing to give any attorney you are thinking of hiring the “fifth degree” to determine if he or she is the right one for you.
Image credit: nyul / 123RF Stock Photo
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