All lawyers may have an advanced degree behind their names, but lawyers and law firms aren’t one-size-fits-all. With any professional service — your accountant, your insurance company, your bank — you choose the service provider not only because it’s the right fit for your business needs, but also due to more subjective considerations such as your personality and values.

So what happens when your company has an IP portfolio with a firm that just doesn’t seem like a good fit anymore?

Maybe it’s a personality conflict. Maybe it’s something bigger, such as missing important deadlines or a lack of experience for your evolving IP needs. Still, you fear you’re in too deep; it seems like too much of a risk and hassle to change firms.

Is it truly too late to find a different solution? How do you know if it’s worth the effort to make the switch and, more importantly, how do you go about doing it?

Why Should You Switch Lawyers?

Changing lawyers or law firms is not uncommon. Our firm frequently consults with prospective clients who are looking for a second opinion. The reasons I see clients looking to change firms typically come down to a handful of issues.

  • Conflict in communication style: Effective communication is everything in the law and if your preferences clash in unworkable ways, you may want to look for a firm with a more compatible communication style.Sometimes, this conflict arises due to a change at the law firm with a new attorney taking over the work. Or, the conflict may arise due to a change in the client, with a new CTO or Director of Engineering not meshing with their attorneys.Other times, the conflict may come down to basic reasons like the firm being unwilling or unable to use updated technology to communicate.
  • Work product is produced at a slower rate than desired/instructed: Everyone gets swamped and attorneys and law firms can go through phases of managing workloads across a team. But work product consistently delivered past a stated deadline can create unmanageable delays for a client.
  • The firm doesn’t have expertise in the information you’re seeking to obtain: If there’s one deal-breaker for your current attorney, this is probably it. Intellectual property can run the gamut from software to mechanical devices to biotech and pharma and it can be critical to work with an attorney having the appropriate background.Whether the attorney has the expertise necessary should be apparent during the initial consultation. However, over the course of time, an attorney may not keep up on the changing technology or industry trends, the expert attorney may leave, or the company may pivot to a new technology or enter a new industry via acquisition.
  • Inadequate work: Whether it’s a miscalculation during the course of a litigation, a critical missed deadline, or a repeated legal error, a firm’s inability to properly address the client’s needs in an effective and efficient manner are frequent reasons we see clients seeking new counsel.Ultimately, you have the right to change law firms for any reason you like. However, even with the above situations, sometimes the best course of action may be to work things out with your current attorneys as institutional knowledge of how a client operates and why past decisions were made can be difficult to replicate.At the point where you’ve discussed the specific issue(s) you’re having with your current firm, proposed and requested workable solutions to resolve the problems, and are still seeing the same or similar issues, seeking new counsel that’s the right fit for your current needs is the proper course to take.

4 Do’s and Don’ts to Keep in Mind When Switching Lawyers

If you’re ready to move on, your goal is to fill in the gap of your current service with a firm that is more suited to your needs. Here are four things to think about:

  1. Where are you now and where do you want to go?
    When switching firms, take into account not only the work you’re currently looking to move but also consider what legal work you intend to pursue in the future. Ensure that the firm can handle the current and future work, and if not, ask yourself if you’re fine engaging a new firm for the new work.For example, if you’re looking for someone to manage and enforce your current trademark portfolio but also intend on seeking patent protection for new products you’re developing, ensure that the firm can handle this future IP work. Or, you may be shopping for yet another firm in the near future.
  2. Overall feel
    Your personal preference is always a valid consideration when choosing a service provider to partner with. Is cost and attentiveness a top-level consideration? Or is the glitzy downtown office needed for your brand? Maybe you’re most comfortable with a solo practice?Whatever your comfort level, ensure that the firm is not only right for you right now, but also is right for you in the future.
  3. Meet with several firms from personal referrals
    When deciding to change law firms, obtaining referrals of firms from trusted, unbiased sources is a great route to take. Ideally, compare at least two firms. When you meet with them, ask them specifically how they handle the types of situations you’re having grievances with at your current firm.
  4. Meet at their place
    If possible, meeting with a potential attorney in person and at their law firm is a great way to get a sense of how their firm operates and can provide a strong sense towards understanding whether the firm will be a good fit. Remember, you’re engaging the firm and not just the attorney.

Just as important as the reasons to change attorneys are the reasons why you shouldn’t change:

  1. Don’t fire your attorney when you’re mad
    Anger limits your reasoned decision-making ability. Yes, it may still make sense to move along after your anger has subsided. Just get to that point first before making any rash decisions.
  2. Don’t switch for a friend
    Unless your friend is truly a better choice for your needs, I would not advise changing law firms and losing the institutional knowledge associated with a prior firm solely based on a desire to work with a friend.
  3. Don’t switch for a lower rate
    Unless the lower rate comes with an improved legal staff, saving money typically shouldn’t be the only deciding factor.
  4. Don’t switch until you have a new attorney
    A lapse in representation can create legal headaches larger than the ones you’re currently dealing with.

The Step-by-step Guide to Making the Switch

Once you’ve decided it’s time to move on, there are several milestones along the way.

  1. Letter of engagement
    Your new attorney will craft a letter of engagement outlining the terms of your representation. If there was an issue with your prior firm that you want to ensure your new firm addresses in a specific manner, you can spell this out in the initial engagement. For example, this is a great place to ensure specific projects will be performed on a flat-fee basis.
  2. Inform your current counsel that you’ve decided to move on
    Typically, this is handled by your new attorney to ease the transition to the new firm, but there are reasons why you’d want to be involved with informing your current counsel that you are transitioning your IP work to a new firm. These reasons can range from having a personal relationship with an attorney at the firm to continuing to utilize the prior firm for other types of legal work. You can have a discussion with your new attorney to determine the best method of informing your past firm how to move the work.
  3. Coordinate due dates
    Your case(s) may have quickly approaching due dates that your new firm may not be able to meet. Your new firm will ensure that any deadlines they are unable to meet will be handled by your prior counsel. Dates that are further out can be handled directly by your new attorneys once they are up to speed on your matters.
  4. Transfer paperwork and e-files
    This transfer is also handled with communication between your past law firm and the new attorneys you’ll be working with.

Even if a reason to switch firms hasn’t been identified, as your company and IP needs evolve, it’s a good business practice to check in with other firms to see how they operate.

At the very least, you may be able to improve your relationship with your current firm (and your bottom line) by implementing services or technology learned through a discussion with another firm. Other times, you may realize that you didn’t know what you were missing.

Regardless of the response, even if you are happy with your current situation, these discussions can lead you to a better relationship than what you are currently involved in. Carefully consider the possibility of staying with your current firm first; then decide if the situation warrants a change.

Questions about protecting your intellectual property? Schedule a consult.