You need a lawyer, but how can you afford one? The market price for intellectual property lawyers in Seattle where I live is about $300 an hour. Even a simple dispute can run into thousands of dollars.
I know. I fought the Tolkien estate in federal court over my Lord of the Rings chronology, Untangling Tolkien. I've had some legal training and have a knack for intellectual property law, so I did most of my own defense--not generally a good idea. I used lawyers little and late, but my legal expenses still ran to about $4,000. And fortunately I won, with the estate bailing out rather than face an embarrassing defeat at the summary judgment stage and the judge dismissing their lawsuit "with prejudice."
My reasoning throughout had been that even if I spent three times as much as an experienced lawyer might coming up with sound arguments, I'd still come out ahead: $300/3 being $100/hour. But most people don't have my knack for legal arguments. What can they do?
One thing they might consider is a website weirdly named Shpoonkle:
The site exploits the fact that, with the down economy in the U.S., a lot of lawyers are desperate for work and some are probably saying: "better $50/hour than nothing." The site vets lawyers at least at the level or having no professional actions against them. Then it allows you to post your case and have them bid for your services. Given my attitude toward lawyers, having them pursue my business sounds good.
I'd suggest reading the links to articles about the website in the press, forming your own opinion about it, and perhaps bookmarking it for when you might need it.
My suggestions, based on more experience in a legal dispute than I wish I had, are these.
- All lawyers aren't equal. Some are extremely capable and others are losers. Take care who you hire and drop them if they don't meet expectations.
Lawyers vary in how aggressive they are. If you've got a tough case against a tough opponent, you'll need one with guts. If you're more likely to mediate and settle out of court, find one who's a good negotiator. The website apparently include a category that lets you hire a mediator/arbitrator and, in the right situations, a good one can work wonders, saving a lot of money.
In some cases, the evidence is so overwhelmingly in your favor, that any legal dispute is unlikely. Stolen ebooks sold on Amazon is a good example. You might take care of that yourself, but sometimes it may be worth the expense of having a lawyer write the letter to make the pressure a bit greater. In those cases, hire the cheapest lawyer you can find, as long as he can write a decent letter.
Don't be afraid to take a young lawyer just out of law school if he/she seems smart and motivated. In those cases, however, you might want to work out a deal where you don't pay them (or pay them much) for research that a more experienced lawyer wouldn't need to do.
A major disclaimer: I've not used Shpoonkle myself and have the good fortune not to need their services at the present time, so I can't speak from any experience with them. That said, the real issue probably isn't the quality of the service they provide, but the varying abilities of the lawyers who may be interested in your case. Take care. There are new and good lawyers left out of work by the Great Recession, but there are also losers out there that can do you more harm than good.
If you've got experience with lawyers as a writer, feel free to post them and any advice you might have here.
--Michael W. Perry, Seattle