Everyone is building their brand these days. Writing articles for publication is a common form of marketing outreach which demonstrates the special expertise of the lawyer and firm. It can put the lawyer and firm name in front of existing and potential clients who read trade or specialized legal publications. In order to maximize the residual benefits authorship, it is important to carefully review the publisher’s standard contract. It might be logical to assume that the lawyer and firm retain rights to the publication, but it ain’t necessarily so.
Getting Less Than You Didn’t Bargain For
It is not uncommon for lawyers to write articles and expect no monetary compensation from the publisher. They benefit from the opportunity to showcase their expertise or special insights on an emerging legal issue. It is perhaps an overreach for a publisher to claim rights beyond the initial publication, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. The lawyer may accidentally give away all future opportunity to reuse the publication for personal or firm benefit. To state the obvious you must…
Read the Fine Print
Recently I have encountered two different specialty newsletter publishers who had approached lawyers and solicited articles for publication in their commercial trade publications. I discovered that in both instances, the publishers standard contract required the lawyer to transfer ownership of the article to the publisher.
The appalling implications of this are that the firm either has to ask for permission and possibly pay a royalty to make routine future use of the publication. This means::
- You can’t publish it on the practice group page of the intranet
- You can’t publish it on the firm’s external website
- You can’t distribute it internally to your colleagues
- You can’t forward it to your clients
- You can’t reprint it for in house educational materials
- You can’t reprint it for a client seminar
- You can’t reprint it as a marketing handout
It is important to negotiate the terms of ownership or the licensing terms to assure that the attorney and or the firm retain the right make all future marketing and educational uses of the publication. Many small publishers don’t have an in-house counsel and can not afford to hire counsel to renegotiate custom terms. If the publisher will not renegotiate the standard terms, they may agree to an addendum or side letter prepared by the author which amends the standard terms. Ideally the contract should restore ownership to the author and modify any license to assure unencumbered use of the publication for marketing and educational purposes. If the publisher won’t negotiate it may be best to explore other publishing options..