Quality, empathy, diligence

Nowadays, IP Draughts charges slightly more than the “bob” (shilling, or 5p) he charged when in the Cub Scouts

In recent years, IP Draughts has worked on several projects where, before his firm was involved, there had been difficulties. It might be technical difficulties with the work, or a lack of care in executing it, delays, poor relationships, bad communications, or misunderstandings. In some cases, it wasn’t obviously anyone’s fault – it’s just a fact of life that things can go wrong.

Taking over messy projects can be stressful.  There are often pressures of time, attitudes may have hardened, and people are looking for a quick fix. Sometimes the problems have been caused by a sub-optimal approach by the client. It can be an uphill struggle to get people to trust and listen to you, and to change their approach to one that is methodical and sensible.

But there are rewards when the project is successfully completed, and people appreciate the efforts you have put into sorting out the mess.

Often, those efforts come down to a few points that may seem obvious in hindsight.

  • the academic who is perplexed about why things are taking so long, and who can be “turned around” by following up quickly on emails, explaining what is happening, and demonstrating that you understand their frustrations and are trying to get things sorted.
  • the executive who thinks “the lawyers” are creating complications, and who can be persuaded of your value when you do some creative drafting that addresses their concerns, or explain why an issue is difficult to resolve.
  • the client who is doubtful about the value that lawyers bring, and who receives regular updates from you, and notes of advice that are written in a non-lawyerly way and are easy to digest and understand, while also being careful and well-considered.

Often, the qualities that help you get the job done, and help persuade people you are doing a good job, include the following:

  1. Technical quality. Consistently thinking through the legal, commercial and drafting issues, and providing work to a high technical standard.
  2. Empathy and communication. Listening to the client and demonstrating that you understand their priorities and concerns. Telling the client what you are going to do and then reliably doing it. Communicating in a clear and straightforward way. Treating people, on your side and the other side, in a consistent, reasonable manner.
  3. Diligence and thoughtfulness. Working hard to get the job completed in a reasonable timescale. Being focussed both on the immediate task in front of you, and the bigger picture of the client’s objectives.

Do these things a few times, and many clients will become loyal. In the last year, IP Draughts has received praise from clients for several people within his firm, after they have produced good work product in difficult circumstances. This has been very welcome, particularly after stressful negotiations.

Not all clients, of course. Some people just don’t care about legal issues, are not people-focussed, or have very specific requirements (e.g. they want the support of a legal rottweiller).

Zoom and Teams have helped to get things done. In past years, IP Draughts might have met perhaps 10-20% of the people he dealt with, and spoken by phone to most of the rest. In the last few weeks he has seen many more people than usual, typically having several video calls per day. He had a video call this week with someone he last met 10 years ago, and has been working with periodically throughout that time.

While not quite as good as meeting them face to face, a video call does help to establish trust and camaraderie. For our line of work, Zoom and Teams are fast becoming indispensible. So much so, that he now has 3 Zoom accounts – the firm’s account, a personal one, and a third for use in online training via UCL Laws.

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Is Mr Pettifog for real?

IP Draughts has received several enquiries recently, asking whether Mr Pettifog is a real person.

IP Draughts would like to reassure readers, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, that as far as he is aware (but without having conducted searches or investigations) no member of his firm, past or present:

  • has conspired to hack a Zoom call;
  • has issued a press release criticising the Chief Justice of the USA;
  • has attempted to become a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court;
  • has committed fraud;
  • has been recorded referring to the UK government as “stupid” or to newspaper journalists as “oiks”;
  • has been appointed as a government envoy to Nigeria;
  • has acted for a US patent troll;
  • has lobbied fellow freemasons to secure appointment as a UPC judge;
  • has hacked the SRA website to change the firm’s diversity statistics, so that they refer to the firm being “populated entirely by left-handed sociologists from Kazakhstan, who had been privately educated in Switzerland”;
  • has a Great Uncle Adolphus, who provided a quote for the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company about the latter’s product treating his piles;
  • has refused to attend unconscious bias training, on the grounds that he was fully aware (and proud) of his biases;
  • has been rusticated from Denbigh Technical College in the 1950s for “inappropriate conduct with a teddy bear”, thereby calling into question whether he is, in fact, entitled to practise law;
  • has tried to claim expenses for a taxi ride to the opera house in Milan, to pick up some confidential client papers that he had accidentally left in the bar there, arguing that this was his temporary office; or
  • has thrown any trainee’s work product in the fire, in disgust at its poor quality.

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Filed under &Law Updates, Humour

International patent law specialists

Not a bad group to be in…

The latest edition of IAM Patent 1000’s rankings of patent law specialists has just been published.

IP Draughts and his Anderson Law partner Lisa Allebone have been recommended in IAM for several years, in the category of UK transactional experts, and we are pleased that we have been recommended again.

It’s good to see that there are a few new names on the list. Though, due to the long lead time before publication, some others on the list have retired since IAM did this year’s research, eg Edward Nodder of Bristows.

A quick scan of other jurisdictions reveals that some of IP Draughts’ friends and colleagues in other countries have been recommended, or re-recommended. Pam Cox of Chicago, USA, Denis Schertenleib of Paris, France, and Christine Kanz (Germany) are leading examples.

 

 

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Filed under &Law Updates, Intellectual Property

Comic book contracts

There is a view, held by some who are involved in contracts, that there should be  visual illustrations in many contracts, particularly those involving consumers or other non-specialists.

This view is aligned with a view about how universities should teach – that people learn in different ways, and the traditional focus on words and theory disadvantages those who think better in numbers or images, or who learn better when they see the practical aspects. So far, IP Draughts gets the impression that universities pay lip service to this idea; on the whole they don’t do much about it. He would like to see contract law taught through examining contracts, but this practical approach is probably too radical for leading law faculties.

Anyway, back to visual aids. IP Draughts was interested to read about an initiative in Australia, where a large engineering company called Aurecon has generated a standard employment contract in the form of a “comic book contract”. The complete contract can be found here. It appears to have been designed by a company called Creative Contracts.

Reading this contract, and looking at the pictures, several points occur to IP Draughts. First, the use of cartoon-like images is prevalent in consumer advertising in the UK, e.g. it is used by domestic gas companies. This advertising provokes a negative response in IP Draughts, based partly on the attitudes of his (non-intellectual) parents and grandparents, who were disdainful of attempts to treat them and others as children. Perhaps this says more about IP Draughts’ family values than about the merits of the use of cartoons.

Next, much (perhaps a majority) of the Aurecon “contract” is not really a set of contract terms. It describes the company’s values and processes, as well as setting out some very abbreviated contract terms. It probably wouldn’t comply with the requirement under English law that an employer must set out certain core terms in writing – typically done in a schedule to the contract – e.g. when did the period of continuous employment start. (This is relevant when calculating statutory payments for redundancy.)

IP Draughts honed in on the IP terms. Text appears above the following image (original is better quality):

The text reads as follows:

We own any intellectual property rights in things you create in the course of your employment. You help us to apply for any needed patents and to protect our intellectual property.

IP Draughts is always interested in new ways of communicating ideas. His impressions of the above examples are:

  1. Does the image increase the reader’s understanding? What is it trying to say? Looked at analytically, rather than impressionistically, it doesn’t convey much, other than someone handing to someone else a big book with the title “IP + Patents”. What does this mean, in relation to IP ownership?
  2. The accompanying text skates over the surface of the complexities of IP. It uses several terms that have legal meaning, and which may not be clear to the typical reader: intellectual property rights, things you create, course of your employment, patents, and intellectual property. IP Draughts would be interested to hear about the thought process that led to this choice of words and image, and whether it was intended to make the terms legally binding. The choice of words seems to be “legal lite” – using legal terms of art but avoiding definitions – rather than fundamentally redesigning the language to fit a simplified, non-legal approach

Similarly, there is an image linked to some text that requires the employee to “respect” the company’s confidential information. A separate image (of putting various electronic items in a cardboard box) requires the employee to “remember” that their duty of confidentiality “extends beyond the duration” of their employment.

A question that runs through IP Draughts’ mind is that there is a trade-off between simplicity and legal effectiveness, and he wonder whether the company has written down what this trade-off should be. Is the intention to focus, say, 80% on simplicity and only 20% on legal effectiveness, recognising that the company may lose employment disputes as a result, but thinking this risk is worth taking for the benefits of a simplified contract?

Contracts of this kind are experiments, and not yet part of the mainstream. IP Draughts’ view is that the drafter/designer needs to work really hard to make the meaning clear when the text is so abbreviated. Without seeing the design specification for this contract (if there is one) it is difficult to say, but IP Draughts doesn’t think this is a good template, at least when it comes to complex legal issues such as IP and confidentiality.

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Filed under Contract drafting, Employment