IP Legal Costs: A Open and Honest Guide
Let’s cut to the chase. It’s time to be open and honest about legal costs.
The cost of legal services is a pain point for most clients.
We’ve all been there. You need help from someone, you’ve done the research, and you’re convinced of an option, but there’s one thing you need to know before you take “the plunge” – how much is it going to cost?
But no one tells you.
It happens a lot in professional services. But especially in the legal industry.
You ring up and have a long and awkward conversation with the cost elephant in the room.
It feels unpleasant and in the end you either:
- move forward feeling like you’ve been railroaded; or
- you walk away having well and truly wasted your time.
Well, what I can tell you is that we hate those conversations too.
We’d much rather be talking about what we will be doing to help you and your business achieve your commercial goals. That’s what we’re here to do.
First impressions are important in any line of business, and we do not want the beginning of our relationship with clients to be marred by that uneasy feeling.
For that reason, we’ve written this guide to blow the lid off legal costs and give you everything you need to know to understand:
- what drives legal costs up
- what drives legal costs down
- where we are on the cost spectrum and why
Let’s get started.
What can drive legal costs up
So, what is it that makes legal costs so expensive when you go to certain options out there?
There is no doubt about it, Instructing certain firms in the market will be an expensive exercise.
It is important to be aware of a few things across the industry that can drive legal costs up, whilst you’re assessing your options.
1. Larger business overheads
Many law firms out there are big businesses. Massive businesses have significant running costs known as overheads. Legal fees often reflect this.
Servicing offices worth hundreds of millions of pounds (whether mortgaged or rented), as well as maintaining huge rosters of staff, is not cheap.
Of course, the premise of this is that a larger organisation offers value to the end client in the form of a higher grade of service.
2. Individual and departmental targets
Many law firms famously operate with a “partner” structure, which in essence means that senior members of the legal structure are remunerated handsomely on the basis that they meet certain fee targets on a quarterly or annual basis.
These kinds of fee targets are placed on individuals of a certain seniority, as well as their teams. As a result, this can be perceived as an incentive to increase the realisation of fees.
3. Requirement to instruct outside help
The legal field is as wide in its scope as it is complex in its depth. Or in other words, it is a field that is full of specialisms. You might think of it a bit like doctors. When seeing the doctor, if something is complex and specific, you will probably be referred on to a consultant who can help you with that body part.
The same goes for law. As a result, “priced in” to certain firms is the cost (and time) of instructing a specialist (e.g., a barrister or specialist lawyer) outside of the firm who knows more about the issue you have.
Other things that might increase legal costs:
- Old-fashioned business practices
- Large teams unnecessarily working on cases
- An “everything on the clock” approach to charging clients
The more expensive options on the market often ensure that a job is completed quickly. However, in certain circumstances a more cost-efficient option may be preferable to clients – after all, businesses of different sizes have different sized legal budgets and requirements.
What can drive legal costs down
On the other hand, there are, of course, cheap options out there. In fact, some are very cheap.
So, how are they able to offer the same thing for bargain basement prices?
Well, as much as it is important to understand what can inflate your bill to astronomical proportions – the same goes to understand how companies can charge very little.
1. No regulation
Most legal services within the UK are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which oversees the conduct of regulated solicitors. The SRA act as a monitor for fees and ensure proper compliance with the industry’s required standards.
There are, however, some providers who are not regulated, but provide some peripheral legal services – i.e., assistance with trade mark registration or “registering” copyright*.
As these organisations support less regulated professionals with practising certificates they can operate at a cheaper cost. The trade-off is, however, a lack of professional expertise on hand – or regulatory oversight.
It is a legal requirement for regulated solicitors to hold professional indemnity insurance.
Professional indemnity insurance provides a layer of economic protection for clients should a legal case go wrong, indemnifying the firm and the client in certain circumstances.
Unregulated and “bargain” services have no requirement to have professional indemnity insurance, and as a result, do not have to pay insurance premiums.
3. Less people involved in service delivery
In contrast with expensive services, the cheapest services may save expenses by having fewer people involved. Furthermore, cheaper services may not have as many highly qualified professionals undertaking or supervising work as those in more expensive law firms – allowing them to charge less.
Other things that might decrease legal costs:
- Use of “one size fits all” templates for legal applications, letters, agreements, and contracts
- Automated or “soft-touch” client care and support
- Non-specialist lawyers attempting to work in specialist areas
When all this is factored in, quite ironically, the cheaper options – whilst cheaper initially – can end up more expensive in the long run, especially in technical areas. This is because a lack of substantial support can result in lower-quality legal work and a lack of a safety net for when things go wrong.
An example: registering a trade mark in the UK
Ok, so let’s look at an example of the range of legal costs in action – from the most expensive to the cheapest available option.
Registering a trade mark is a commonplace legal task in the area of intellectual property.
Let’s consider the registration of a trade mark for goods, in a single classification in the UK.
Expensive option – from a multinational general law firm
Fee range: £2000-£5000 (if successful at the first instance).
An example scenario:
Your trade mark is reviewed by a senior member of the team, as well as junior members who conduct a range of due diligence on the proposed brand.
A clearance search is undertaken which produces a lot of information for you to review in a meeting, but it is decided that you can go ahead with the application.
This is then passed on to a trade mark attorney who prepares the trade mark application and specification.
The application is submitted, and your trademark is registered within the next 6 months.
Cheap option – from an online legal service provider
Fee range: £150-£500
An example scenario:
You arrive on a web portal which allows you to search your proposed trade mark.
You submit the proposed trade mark and there isn’t anything that is the same.
You then complete the online form to continue with the application, entering most of the information yourself into the specification and application.
This is then received by the team who review it quickly with a cursory search and submit it – then taking payment.
The trade mark is reviewed by the trade mark examiner at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) on absolute grounds and passes (if it can function as a trade mark according to the legal rules).
The trade mark is then published in the trade mark journal, allowing existing owners to oppose its registration if they deem it too similar to theirs.
If an opposition is not received (or effectively defended) then the trade mark is then registered within 4 months of being applied for.
(Delays in the process can extend this period significantly, and any legal support required during this process needs to be instructed separately.)
Where do Virtuoso Legal’s legal costs lie, and why?
So, now we know what can make IP legal costs expensive or cheap, where does Virtuoso Legal place on the scale?
Ultimately, we are not cheap – nor are we outlandishly expensive.
Most of all, we are committed to doing a great job for clients at a reasonable price.
Some facts about us:
- We are not a large team, nor do we operate with overheads associated with a prestige office.
- We do not operate in a partner structure and instead remunerate the team in proportion to the value they consistently deliver to our clients.
- As IP specialists we have 99% of the expertise and experience “in-house”, increasing the quality and speed that we can turnover work – and reducing the need for outside help.
- We are regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority, which means that each member of our team must abide by the standards set by the SRA.
- We are covered by professional indemnity insurance, meaning that our clients are protected from adverse outcomes under specific circumstances.
- We are a human-driven operation, with highly trained and approachable legal professionals available at the end of the phone.
- We only charge for work that “moves the needle”. You can speak to us without fear of being charged for every and any interaction.
- Whilst we can help deal with issues as they arise, we do not want to be “reactive”. We’d prefer to empower clients to avoid issues before they have a significant impact.
We believe that this offers our clients the best of both worlds.
There are some costs that cannot be avoided as it relates to delivering excellent service that gets the job done properly the first time around.
There are other unnecessary costs which we have done away with that often get passed on to clients and are not reflected in the legal work they receive.
Our value promise to our clients
All this hinges on a promise we confidently make to all clients at the point we are first instructed.
Client success is our priority. This means we have optimised how we operate to give you the best service value possible – with everything we do configure squarely to achieve your commercial objectives, not ours.
This is not altruistic. We have a vested interest in client success as we want to be there for businesses as they grow and continue to be their trusted legal partner in the long run.
Our success is a by-product of partnering with innovative and growing businesses and providing them with excellent service as their business journey takes them to new heights.
We succeed because our clients do.
We hope that you have found this article informative and feel more empowered to make a choice about who you instruct for support as a result.
If you would like to speak to our team, click the button below to be taken to a form where you are able to provide some information about yourself and what you need help with.
* There is no legal requirement to register copyright in the UK to achieve protection over original creative works (e.g., videos, written works, music, images etc.).
** Our fees for registering a UK trade mark in a single class range from £1000-£2000, depending on the complexity of the search required. Crucially, we view and undertake this task as the creation of an asset whose value within the business moving forward far exceeds its cost of registration.