It's a frequent question . . . "Do you offer free consultations?"
The answer is, "I'm happy to spend some time answering general question for you over the phone." Beyond that, Patent and Trademark law quickly gets into providing substanative legal advice. Sometimes that advice is, "don't proceed," but it is still legal advice which creates a liability (you can seek recourse for bad advice). My answer requires knowledge, training, and often some research to answer. Once we're giving legal advice and often blocking out a portion of time in our schedule to meet with you, just like a doctor's appointment, well, we need to be compensated for our time and advice. The information is often worth what you're willing to pay for it.
There is plenty you can do for free. You have the opportunity to research me ahead of time and even call and talk to me on the phone for a bit to ask some broad questions. I put all my information out there for public viewing on this website. You can see video presentations given at lawyer continuing education classes, SCORE groups, and inventor groups. You can read some of my articles on patents, and see every single patent issued for my clients. There's even a detailed patent guide with lots of free information on the process. There is the same for trademark filing and the trademark process itself. You can come in knowing lots about me and the patent / trademark system, to make an educated choice. I put it all out there for people to view because if I were choosing an attorney to hire, i would want all this information.
He's another example of why . . .we charge a consultation fee for patent and trademark consultations:
Believe it or not, without asking for a consult fee, we have no idea if an hour of our time in Manhattan (which has it's own associated costs) would be a waste of time. I have had people that sound similar to this man, but do, in fact, pay for services. So further reasons for the consultation fee are that serious people in business are willing to pay services - after all, we credit the consultation fee towards further work anyway. A consultation fee also weeds out crazy people . . . most of them, anyway.
Here's another real example. (This one is less literal as you'll see):
If you're sure you're going to make $50 million, you won't give away even 1% ($50,000) to your attorney. We don't charge nearly that much for a patent. If you're willing to give 1% away, then you're making a really bad business decision or your chances of such wild success are really low. Either way, we'll just take the consultation fee and you keep 100% of your company.
If a lawyer is really willing to take a chunk out of your earnings, it's because he's financially better off for doing so. For example, in personal injury law you're giving up a large percentage of a payout for your pain and suffering because you truly can't afford it. It's a different calculation. These cases settle and the money passes through the lawyer's hand first. On the other hand, you're in business to make money and not to give it away which means you're probably not that serious about making money and it's not an investment we're going to make in you.
At a consultation, I am going to give you a formal legal opinion. You are going to tell me your idea (and/or name to protect), and I am going to give over to you my legal expertise. Psychologically, we're both better off if you're paying. You will have a vested interest in the result and find it worth something, and I am being compensated for my legal expertise. It's a fair exchange for both parties and we both benefit. Sometimes the answer is a flat out, "no, that's not patentable" or "someone has that trademark already." In that case, I've just given you valuable information that saved you a whole lot of time and money on something that would have gone no where. The consult fee is worth it, even then!
The reality of the situation is that getting really good at being a Patent Attorney takes years of practice and not everyone can do it. Patents are a specialty within law requiring a further bar exam. I know of no really good Patent Attorneys that don't charge for their time. If you found one who does, there's a reason for that. He or she is either just starting out or isn't busy for a reason. You should be serious about your business and you want an attorney who is going to take you seriously. Free advice is worth as much as you pay for it. We don't charge that much for a consultation and will credit it towards further work. It does show you're serious, take us seriously, and we can get down to doing some serious business.