Dr. No is not only the name of a famous James Bond film, it is the would-be trademark of a dietary supplement company located in San Francisco, it describes a certain kind of politician, and most importantly, for purposes of this inaugural post for Duets Blog, it describes a certain brand of intellectual property lawyer. One we have a hard time relating to at cocktail parties, by the way.
The underlying personal brand promise for this lawyer is to say “no,” early and often, believing an enormous hourly rate is still justified by citing a multitude of technical and valid legal reasons in support of the unhelpful answer. He is obsessed with saluting to the Parade of Horribles. He is typically part of the problem, not the solution. Perhaps repeated frustration with this kind of Dr. No is what motivated one cartoonist to brand (uh, jab) the “trademark attorney” as “the most basic figure,” at least in the world of Art.
In our world and experience, clients don’t much care to hear all the reasons for “no,” they want, and are willing to pay for, help in legally getting to “yes.” So, in Dr. No’s world, instead of quoting Renee Zellweger’s famous line “You had me at hello” in the film Jerry Maguire, Dr. No’s clients find themselves saying, all too often, “You lost me at no.”
Seth Godin artfully reminds us in his “Looking for yes” blog post how important getting to “yes” is, especially when “you’re out to provide a service, or organized to deliver a product . . .” Unfortunately, too many lawyers think of themselves as “licensed professionals” with a license to repeat “no” and get in the way, forgetting they are selling a service, too. The world would be a better place if more lawyers adopted Mr. Godin’s sage advice.
Why might a lawyer not follow this advice? Laziness? Arrogance? Incompetence? Fear? Maybe.
In the legal world, some believe it is simply easier to say “no,” as there is never a shortage of possible reasons to support “no.” Telling a client “no” is considered by Dr. No to be safe advice. After all, clients can’t get into trouble if they don’t act, and if they disregard the “no” advice and get into trouble, Dr. No can always remind, “I told you so.”
Actually, neither avenue paves the way for a strong attorney client relationship, much less an effective collaboration. If clients are paralyzed by a lawyer’s advice, they can’t succeed. If a lawyer has to pull out the “I told you so card,” that ought to be a brief representation. Some things are best left unsaid.
Does all this mean a lawyer must be a “rubberstamp” or “doormat” to avoid having Dr. No branded on his or her forehead? Does it mean that a lawyer can never utter the words “no,” “nein,” or “negatory”? Uh, no, no, no, and no. Whew!
In our world, it really comes down to trust in the attorney/client relationship. Trust is earned over time with advice that proves helpful. Intellectual property lawyers who demonstrate an ability to know a client’s business well enough to be part of solutions (not simply issue-spotters) are valuable to any organization and deserve a place and important role wherever the creative process occurs. Dr. Nos are a dime a dozen.
If you are a lawyer and you find yourself getting in the way more than facilitating the process, you need a regular dose of Duets Blog. If you have no formal legal training and your intellectual property lawyer prefers roadblocks over intelligent collaboration, join our conversation on Duets Blog.