“There isn’t a good substitute for an in-person meeting. And even more revealing than an in-person meeting is an in-office meeting.”
For many intellectual property lawyers, the search for a local associate to assist with IP filings around the world begins and ends with a quick email to colleagues asking who knows someone in a particular country. And while personal connections are important, this method probably won’t lead to the best legal services for your clients.
As we emerge from the pandemic and return to face-to-face meetings, here are several tips for vetting foreign associates. This process ideally starts overseas and leads to in-person conversations, but text chats and video calls still have value.
International and Regional Conferences
Conferences are a great way to meet new associates, make a first impression and get to know each other.
Our advice: Attend conferences, but understand that every conference is different and has its own style. Here are three major events that attract thousands of foreign IP professionals.
- INTA, the International Trademark Association, is about volume. In a good year, up to 30,000 IP attorneys attend from around the world, offering the opportunity to discover new people and reconnect with friends and colleagues. This conference has a wealth of after-hours social activities, the 2023 conference is in Singapore. The best use of your time is to meet with your established contacts at night, leaving the day free for discovering new associates.
- Another large conference is CIPAC, the China Intellectual Property Annual Conference. Here, attendees will voluntarily set up WeChat messaging groups for communications before, during and after the conference. The WeChat groups are a quick way to build contacts and find foreign associates. Lawyers who need IP help can use the chat groups, which sometimes have hundreds of members, to ask questions about a certain jurisdiction. The right answer could lead you to a new partnership.
- APAA, the Asian Patent Attorneys Association, is a relatively smaller event, attracting up to 1,500 attendees. This gives IP professionals a more intimate opportunity to discuss business in Asia. This is also a great place to discover Asian attorneys outside of China.
Meeting at conferences is great for an introduction. But an in-person visit is where you can determine whether you can trust a foreign associate with your business.
You might be surprised to see that a foreign associate behind an email, text message or video screen is different from that same person in front of you. Sometimes the first impression isn’t the best over text. For example, an attorney might come off as gruff if they write to the point. But an in-person meeting lets you see their entire personality.
As attorneys, it’s our nature to present facts and make points without any emotion, or at least try to reduce the amount of emotion or subjective content when speaking. But trust is subjective. And if you only rely on email, it will be tough to make the emotional connection needed to establish trust.
There isn’t a good substitute for an in-person meeting. And even more revealing than an in-person meeting is an in-office meeting.
Visiting somebody else’s office and seeing how their team works together reveals the character and style of a firm. You can tell if they are an old, established firm, a new, tech-focused firm, a firm that is set up to welcome local clients versus one set up just to handle instructions from overseas. You can get a sense of the clients and work a firm has depending on what their workspace looks like.
If you can’t meet in person, video calls are better than emails and texts to establish a relationship and trust.
Research, Rankings and Third-Party Services
Reading legal articles is another layer of vetting foreign associates. If they’ve shared valuable wisdom and experience in their blog posts or other writing, they might be worth working with.
IP problems are not often unique or extraordinarily complex. But if in the course of doing legal research you found a foreign associate who has already considered your rare problem, they might be a great person to contact as well.
Rankings that list the best IP firms and professionals in a certain jurisdiction are another vetting tool, but consider using them as validation of established trust rather than the reason you picked a foreign associate in the first place. Reliable sources include IP Stars, Chambers, IAM Patent 1000, World Trademark Review and Martindale-Hubbell.
A final way to find and vet foreign associates is through a paid, third-party company. While it’s better to do your own research and make a personal connection with associates, attorneys pressed for time may want to pay a service to find someone quickly.
Above all, though, consider trust. Some firms and attorneys have all the awards, or may come with a paid recommendation, but do you trust them? Taking the time to make a personal connection makes the difference.
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