Kickstarter New Terms of Service

Kickstarter Logo

Kickstarter Logo

In case you didn’t hear, Kickstarter announced that it’s revising its terms of service. The changes will apply to projects launched on or after October 19, 2014.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform. People can launch a project they need funding for and backers and pledge a specified amount of money to support it in exchange for a benefit listed on the project’s page. The creator has to state their fundraising goal and deadline on their project page and backers only have to pay if the goal amount is reached.

Kickstarter provides a forum for people needing funding and potential backers to find each other. They don’t really get involved beyond that. Kickstarter makes to guarantee that the creator will follow through on their obligations to complete the project and they stay out of disputes between creators and backers except to assist law enforcement with fraud investigations.

In the new terms of service, Kickstarter still doesn’t get involved in disputes but they provide guidelines regarding what should happen if a creator can’t complete their obligations. The new terms say, “If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers.”

When a project is funded, it creates a contract between the creator and backers. If the creator doesn’t perform as promised, they’ve breached the contract and must amend the wrong. I think these new terms are an acknowledgement that Kickstarter realizes their users are beginners in the business world, and so it’s helpful to provide this additional information and guidance for situations when a creator can’t follow through after being funded.

Hat tip to Kickstarter for replacing the legalese in the previous terms of service with everyday language. The new verbiage and the layout of the terms are much more user-friendly and appropriate for your audience. I wish more sites were like this.

If you’re interested in talking more about the legalities of using Kickstarter or website terms of service, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Arizona Drone Law Basics

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There has been a lot of controversy and questions around unmanned aerial vehicles – aka drones. According to Amazon, you can get one for under $100 and they look really cool. If you equip a drone with a camera, the potential footage is amazing. Improv Everywhere used one this year to shoot part of Black Tie Beach 2014. Apparently there’s a way to attach a beacon to yourself and have your drone follow you, which could make for amazing footage if you’re involved in a hobby like surfing or rock climbing.

I’ve been getting questions about the legalities of having a drone in Arizona. So I did some research and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Arizona does not have any drone-specific laws at this time. You can legally fly a drone, with or without a camera, Arizona; however, there are some guidelines about that. You have to keep it under 400 feet and you can’t fly it within five miles of an airport without permission.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the use the drones for commercial purposes. That means you can’t make money from your drone. You can’t sell services that include using a drone – like a video production company or a realtor who wants to use a drone to shoot footage of properties that are for sale. It also means you can’t run ads on the videos you shoot with your drone and post on YouTube. I have friend at Fox 10 Phoenix and he said the station has a drone but they don’t use it because they make money by sharing videos of newsworthy stories.

If you injure a person or their property with your drone, you will be responsible for paying for the damages. This is same rule that applies if you’re playing catching with a friend and you accidentally hit your neighbor with your ball or throw it through their living room window.

There have been discussions about whether the City of Phoenix will create city ordinances around drones. I think drones should be dealt with at the state level, not the city, especially a metropolitan area like Phoenix where there’s not space between where one city end and the next begins.

One of the challenges that I expect will emerge related to drones is related to the fact that it’s not always easy to tell who is operating a particular drone. Unlike remote-control aircrafts, you don’t need line of sight to operate a drone. If someone violates the FAA rules or any law with a drone, it may be difficult to identify the operator.

This is an emerging area of law that I will keep an eye on. The FAA’s rules regarding hobbyists’ use of drones are expected to be released in 2015. You can learn more about the FAA’s guidelines for drones here.

Fellow Phoenix attorney and overall nice guy James Arrowood is also following developments in drone law. He did a fantastic interview on PBS about this topic recently.

If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

The Real Cost of a Social Media Misstep

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was talking with some non-lawyer entrepreneurs lately, and I asked them what they thought would be the worst case scenario if their company broke the law via their social media, and they both responded that they would have to take responsibility for their mistake, apologize, and do some damage control. While I appreciate that these business owners appeared to have integrity and good intentions, I internally cringed that they both assumed that saying, “I’m sorry,” should be enough to fix a problem.

I want to share some numbers for the costs a business could easily face if they violate a law with their online posts.

Trademark Infringement – Cost of Rebranding
Think about how much time and money you’ve spent selecting the name for your business or product, your logos, your slogans, your domain, and your website. Now, how would you feel if you had to do it all again? That’s what could happen if you select a name for your business or product that’s already been registered by someone else in your industry. In the best case scenario, they’ll send a cease and desist letter and demand that you rebrand. In the worst case scenario, they’ll sue you for infringement, and you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.

This is why I suggest companies check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Database for registered trademarks to verify the name or slogan they want to use hasn’t been claimed by someone else.   I’m also an advocate of registering your trademark as soon as you can afford it, so no one can restrict your use of your own name or steal it from you.

Illegal Social Media Policy – at least $10,000
Every company needs a social media policy, but employers need to understand that a federal law called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that protect union activities also apply to employees talking about their work – even in public online forums. If you fire an employee for violating the company social media policy and it turns out your policy violates the NLRA, you could be ordered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to pay the ex-employee back wages, damages, and offer them their job back. My friend who works on these cases says if you have to pay the ex-employee $10,000, you got off easy.

Copyright Infringement – $150,000 per Work Copied
Many business owners don’t understand that they can’t use any image they find via a Google Image search. There are even marketing “professionals” who will tell you that you can use any image you find online as long as you give an attribution and a link to the original. Both of these are excellent ways to commit copyright infringement. And photographers are becoming more savvy about protecting their rights so if you use their work they may send you a bill or a lawsuit instead of a cease and desist letter or a takedown notice. In the worst case scenario, you may face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image you used without permission.

Be careful if you outsource your content creation that your contracts clear state that the writer or artist who creates your content also indemnifies you if you are ever accused of copyright infringement because of something they created for your site or posted to your social media.

Defamation – $2,500,000
Defamation generally requires making a false statement about a person to a third party that hurts the person’s reputation. When I do talks about social media horror stories, I talk about a case where a blogger was sued for defamation because of one blog post and was ordered to pay him $2.5 million. 1 blog post. $2.5 million. (The case is currently up on appeal but I don’t think it looks good for her.) This is when little words matter because it’s easy to think you’re stating an opinion but your phrasing creates a statement of a fact – and if it’s a lie, it could be defamatory. Think before you post and check your sources.

ruthcover smallerPlease note, these numbers do not include legal fees you could face in addition to damages if you’re sued because of your social media posts. The legal issues listed above only scratches the surface of what wrongs a person or company can commit online. The good news is most of these problems are preventable with education and diligence. I strongly recommend you stay abreast of what laws apply to your social media postings and developments in this area of law.

If you need a legal resource for laymen on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to blogging and social media. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Works

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I got a message from a photographer friend who said a company is using many photographers’ work on their site without permission. He investigated the company’s copyright policy and was astonished that they make people provide six things to get an image removed. He sent me the link. Here’s what they require:

  1. Information reasonably sufficient to permit us to contact the complaining party (e.g., address, telephone number and email address);
  2. A physical or electronic signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyrighted work(s) that is/are alleged to have been infringed;
  3. An identification of the copyrighted work(s) you claim is/are being infringed or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site;
  4. Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity, and information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the material;
  5. A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material is unauthorized; and
  6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

When I saw the list, I smiled. This is how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) works. When you send a DMCA takedown notice, you have to tell the web host who you are, which of your photos is being used, where they can find the image on the alleged copyright infringer’s site, and you have to promise that you’re telling the truth. If you provide this information, they are required to remove the image from the alleged infringer’s site.

This is what disturbs me about this situation. This company uses many images on its site. As an outsider looking in, it appears that they at least suspect that infringement is happening and their way to dealing with it to remove the infringing images when they’re notified. I would not be surprised to learn that this company outsources their content creation so they wouldn’t know if their use of an image was violating someone’s copyright. I hope they have a policy to fire contractors with a track record of copyright infringement.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice is only one option when a photographer suspects their work is being used without permission. Some photographers opt to send a bill or file a lawsuit against them instead.

If you want a resource that explains the legalities of copyright and social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Response to Go Topless Day 2014 in Phoenix

2013 Topless Freedom Day by rahmmason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

2013 Topless Freedom Day by rahmmason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m a big advocate for equal rights – whether we’re talking about gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I firmly believe that the law should apply equally to everyone and I’m grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court supported that ideal when they decided that “separate is not equal” in 1896.

Last weekend, I participated in the third annual Go Topless Day Protest in Phoenix. The purpose of Go Topless Day is to bring awareness to the fact that there in gender inequality under the decency law in my places (Phoenix included). Since men are allowed to be shirtless in public and women are not, everyone covered their areolas at this protest because women are required to. If we want to say that men and women are equal then everyone should be able to be shirtless or everyone should have to cover up.

About three dozen people showed up for the event in Phoenix, as did the press. I was interviewed by Fox 10 – who tried to be creative by doing a Garden of Eden thing – which made me look more naked than I really was. We gathered at Steele Indian School Park and marched up and down Central Avenue where we were met with lots of honks, cheers, and people taking photos. Fox posted a link to their footage on Facebook, and the last time I checked, it had over 1,100 likes and over 600 comments.

 

This is an issue about equality, not sexuality. How can we tell women and girls that they are equal to their male counterparts and then treat them differently under the law? I reached out to my elected representatives recently about this issue and was disappointed when none of them responded. They’re all up for re-election this November and I’ll keep that in mind when I’m filling out my ballot.

By requiring women to cover up, I think it promotes the objectification of women and the notion that women should be ashamed of their bodies. I shared some of those thoughts earlier this year on my personal blog.

I wanted to share some of the reactions to Fox 10 Phoenix’s coverage of the event as well as my thoughts. (I corrected the grammar and spelling mistakes.)

Ok, walk around topless. But don’t get mad when I look at them.
Looking is fine – especially if you can be discreet about it. Ogling and leering is not.

Hey I don’t want to see either, man or woman, keep the shirts on.
That’s fine. All I want is for the law to be the same for men and women.

I don’t need my son seeing women walk around topless.
I’m sure there are lots of things you don’t want you kids to see that are legal.

I’m a woman and would rather not go topless.
Ok. When women were given the right to vote, we didn’t force you to do it. We just gave you the option. There are lots of things that I can legally do but I choose not to because I don’t like it – eat sushi, wear flip flops, and listen to heavy metal music are on my list – but if you want to enjoy them, go right ahead. Plenty of guys choose to keep their shirts on and so can you if the law is changed.

I will go along as long as there is an age and weight limit to it.
Will you support age and weight limits for men too?

Those women who want to walk around topless are going to attract perverts and sex offenders. They need to keep their shirts on for their own safety.
They are asking to get raped and or assaulted.
You’re kidding, right? No one deserves to be sexually assaulted regardless of what they’re wearing.

A woman’s breast is still considered to be an object of sexuality and till that changes – things will never be equal.
This is a great point and that as a society we need to examine how objectified women are.  Don’t look at anyone as if they only exist for your visual or physical enjoyment. They are a person, not a piece of meat.

While they are at it, have them sign up for the draft. Silly women, they don’t realize we have it so good.
I’d support making everyone sign up for the draft at 18 years old. If I want gender equality, I can’t pick and choose which laws change.

To those who claimed that the people who participated in this event are pot heads, hoes, or have no morals, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Special thanks to Fox 10 Phoenix, Downtown Devil, and the Phoenix New Times for covering this event and thank you to the Phoenix Police Department who kept us safe during the protest.

If you want to follow this issue in Arizona, check out Topless AZ on Facebook. You can also chat with me about it by commenting below, connecting with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+YouTube, or send me an email. If you want more information about Carter Law Firm, please visit the homepage.

More Unsolicited Advice for Law Grads in Professional No Man’s Land

Empty Montreal Apartment by Reuben Strayer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Empty Montreal Apartment by Reuben Strayer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week I put out a post about networking tips for new law school grads who are working on their job search while waiting on their bar results. A few days ago I got an email from a law grad who is in this professional no man’s land. She said she’s been trying to network with various lawyers via email and she hasn’t received a response from any of them.

Her email happened to come in while I had some down time and I responded with “give me a call right now.” I think that scared the hell out of her. But a few minutes later my phone rang, and I gave her some off-the-cuff suggestions. Here are some of the ideas I shared with her and some others I’ve thought of since then.

1.  Make sure your email has a clear call to action. Are you asking a question, are you requesting a meeting, what do you want? If you’re looking for advice, be clear about the type of advice you’re looking for. This student was asking for “any advice” which is pretty broad. I suggested she might want to rephrase it and ask the next lawyer “What’s one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your legal career?”

2.  Be thoughtful about your subject line. One of the challenges facing people who send unsolicited emails is inducing the recipient to open the message. Think about what it might take to get through that lawyer’s impulse to delete any email from someone they don’t know.

3.  Ask your career services office what lawyers comes to their events. Those lawyers have a track record of wanting to meet and help law students so they’ll likely help new grads too.

4.  Tap into you network and ask a lawyer you know to introduce you to a specific person you want to meet that they know. You can also ask your contacts if the know the type of lawyer you want to me – i.e., a lawyer who does probate work at a small firm.

5.  Look for lawyers who are active on social media, teach CLEs, and blog. I suspect these lawyers are more likely to talk to strangers via email.

6.  Connect with lawyers you want to meet on social media and look for mutual interests. This could be your “in” with them. For example, if you’re a runner and a lawyer you want to meet is also a runner, ask them how they balance the demands of their job with their training schedule.

7.  Social media could also give you a hook to get into their good graces. For instance, I’ve been following The Namby Pamby online since law school, which included posts about his preferred snacks. If he wasn’t an anonymous lawyer, and I lived in the same city and wanted to meet him, I would send him an email that said, “Can I have 15 minutes to bring you a box of Cheez-its and ask what a typical day is like for you?”

Being in professional No Man’s Land is hard. You may send out dozens of emails before you get a response. Focus on quality, not quantity. And don’t forget about the value of following up. The person may miss your first message in the shuffle of a busy day but your second message may peak their interest or remind them that they meant to respond to you.

And as this one recent law grad learned, if you send me an email, I’ll probably respond. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+, and/or YouTube.

Important Money Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Piggy Bank Awaits the Spring by Philip Brewer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Piggy Bank Awaits the Spring by Philip Brewer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been listening to, and loving, The Mistake Podcast, hosted by Peter Shankman and Peter Keller. Each week they interview a successful business owner or C-level executive about their biggest business mistake and what they learned from it. Shankman and Keller started this podcast earlier this year and I’m really enjoying hearing about others’ experiences building their businesses. Ironically enough, I usually listen to The Mistake Podcast during my morning run.

Some of the mistakes featured on the podcast have been about poor money management. I wanted to share these people’s mistakes with you so you can learn from them instead of repeating them.

Now, I’m not a financial expert or an accountant, but I’m lucky that I had a fantastic business mentor who showed me how to read and analyze my financial reports during my first year in business. I also have an awesome accountant who takes care of me and my business from a tax perspective. So, I’ll share a little about how I manage my business’ financials.

Understand Your Business Cycle and Cash Flow Needs
Gary Kanning of 420 Science, a business that makes “stash jars” learned the hard way how important it is to understand your business’ financial reports. He’s in a business where there a cycle over the course of the year with periods of high volumes of sales and lower volume months. Lots of businesses have this type of ebb and flow and it’s important to plan ahead so you’re not short on cash or inventory when you need it.

One of the gems from Kanning’s interview is never assume that everything is OK. If you’re the owner, it’s your responsibility to check your financial reports like your profit and loss statement and cash flow report to see where your money is coming from, where it’s going, and watching for patterns so that you can be ready when there’s a natural drop off in business.

One of the benefits for me as a solo business owner is it’s all on me to do everything. The only work related to the business’ finances that I don’t do myself is my taxes. Every week, I pay my bills. Every month, I have a two-hour meeting with myself where I pull my reports from Quickbooks and analyze  how the business is doing, look back on whether I achieved the goals set for the previous month, and make plans for the future.

More Profit = More Taxes
Amanda Steinberg is the founder of Daily Worth, a financial media company that educates women about personal and business finance. She’s also a serial entrepreneur. She had the fortunate experience of growing one of her businesses from $300K to $800K in one year, and she wasn’t ready for the $90K tax bill that came with it. She recovered from this mistake and learned a lot about the financial side of running a business.

If you’re an entrepreneur, there’s a good chance you pay quarterly taxes. That amount will be based on your financial performance the previous year. If you have a substantial jump in financial success, you could be writing a big check come April 15th despite paying your quarterly taxes. If you are having this type of success, you may want to talk with your accountant about what that will mean for you tax-wise so you won’t be caught off guard.

I meet with my accountant twice a year. I sit down with him when I drop off my materials for him to do my taxes and I meet with him every December to discuss how the business did for the year, to determine if I should do a spend down before the end of the year, and he gives me ballpark figures on what I can expect to pay in quarterly taxes and for my annual taxes the following year. Since I’m paranoid, I increase this amount on my projected financial reports and plan accordingly. If it ends up being less, I’m pleased; but I’d rather be prepared to pay more than worry about my cash flow.

I’ve said it many times – a good accountant is worth their weight in gold, and yes, every business owner needs one. But your accountant can only help you if you give him/her accurate information about your business, so maintain an open line of communication.

If you want to chat or commiserate about the joys and challenges of being an entrepreneur, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+YouTube, or send me an email. You can also subscribe to the firm’s monthly newsletter. If you want more information about Carter Law Firm, please visit the homepage.

Unsolicited Advice for Law Students: Expand Your Network Beyond Lawyers

Photo by Sarah (Rosenau) Korf from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photo by Sarah (Rosenau) Korf from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I was in law school, the career service office did a good job of regularly having events that brought different types of lawyers to the school to meet students. I’m actually going to a new student/alumni event at my law school this week. (Yes, I’ll be wearing my signature Legal Rebel high tops.) A lot of firms also hosted mixers at their offices and invited law students – usually 1Ls – to visit at the beginning of each year.

Meeting local lawyers is a great way to learn about different areas of practice, the local legal industry, and to build a network of contacts that can help you find internships and a job after graduation. These will hopefully be people who will eventually refer work to you, but if they’re in the same area of practice, they’ll only refer cases that they can’t take or don’t want to take.

Many law schools don’t stress this, but it’s imperative that you have a life outside of law school – for personal and professional reasons.  This is especially true if you plan to live where you’re going to school after you graduate.

1. It’s important to remember what typical life is like. From what I can tell, the lifestyle of a law student or lawyer is not normal.

2. You’ll need things in your life that help you stay balanced and healthy – recreation, hobbies, exercise, spiritual life, etc.

3. Get involved in the community that you think will be your future clients. Understand what their lives are like – on a professional and personal level. And don’t “network” in the shake hands/exchange cards kind of way. Form real friendships with these people. This is your community – be part of it. Someday you may be in the running to become a partner or you may open your own firm and you’ll want a strong network of connection to build your book of business.

4. You never know where you’re going to discover a niche. You may become the go-to lawyer for football fans who need help with their child support arrangements or members of your church who get in car accidents. I never would have considered flash mob law as a career path until I got involved in the flash mob community.

5. Lawyers are everywhere. It may be easier to meet a lawyer at a legal networking event, but you’re more likely to form a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with one if share mutual interests. Some of my best lawyer contacts have come from introductions made by my non-lawyer friends. One of my favorite fellow lawyers is a guy I met at the dog park. We both have basset hounds.

One more thing – as you network with people, you’re going to need a way to keep track of your contacts. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a stack of business cards of people you met once and after a few months you won’t remember who’s who to do any effective follow up. You can probably make due with a spreadsheet, but I recommend getting a contact database like ACT! by Sage. It’s the only way I can keep track of my 1850+ contacts (only 333 of which are lawyers).

If you want to chat with me more about effective networking,  feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+YouTube, or send me an email. Or if you really like me, tell your school you want them to be part of The Undeniable Law School Tour – happening in the spring of 2015.

Unsolicited Advice for Law Grads in Professional No Man’s Land

TransparencyCamp 2012 - #tcamp12 social network graph [1/2] by Justin Grimes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

TransparencyCamp 2012 – #tcamp12 social network graph [1/2] by Justin Grimes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I feel for new law school graduates who are in professional limbo. You’ve taken the bar exam but you won’t have results for weeks. You’re starting to look for jobs, but you know a lot of firms aren’t interested in you until you’ve gotten your law license.

If you haven’t secured a job, now is an optimal time to network with lawyers who practice in the type of firm you want to work at or in the area of law you hope to practice. If you started building some of these relationships prior to graduation, reach back out and invite these people to coffee or lunch now that you’ve re-surfaced after the bar exam. (Congrats on taking the bar exam, by the way. That thing’s a bitch!)

If you haven’t formed relationships with the lawyers you hope will become your professional friends and colleagues, there’s no better time to start conversations with them. You want to be top of mind when they hear that their firm or a friend’s firm has an opening for a new associate.

I got a painfully awkward email from a law grad in No Man’s Land this past weekend. I know how hard it is to try to strike up a conversation from nothing but there are ways to make it easier. His email inspired me to share some suggestions to help him and others be more effective when trying to network online.

1.  Start the email with “Dear Mr./Miss.” I will tell you to call me “Ruth” in my response but it’s a sign of respect and decorum to start out by calling the person by their title and last name, bonus points if you know that I am a Captain in Starfleet.

2.  Don’t ask for a job in the first email. Unless the firm is actively hiring, don’t ask about job openings or say that you want to work for me. You want to be building friendships, not working the legal job phone tree. Ideally, you want to build a network of friends, who happen to be lawyers with similar interests, who will come to you when they hear of an opening, not the other way around.

3.  Tell me where you went to law school. If you don’t say what school you graduated from, I’ll assume you’re ashamed of it and I’ll wonder what else you’re hiding.

4. If you tell me you’re “keenly interested” in an area of law I practice, bolster that statement with information about classes you took on the subject, work experience, or even books, blogs, or situations you’ve followed – something that shows your statement is sincere.

5.  Finish your LinkedIn profile. Before I respond to your email, I will look you up on LinkedIn. Make sure your profile at least has a decent photo of you, states where you went to law school, and any internships, clinics, or clubs you were involved in. It’s ok if it doesn’t say what type of law you’re interested in – I know lots of grads will take any job they can get. It would be great if you could get recommendations from your internship and clinic supervisors, but that’s not always possible.

6.  If you’re on Twitter and the person you want to meet is on Twitter, follow them and look for opportunities to converse with them. Ditto for LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube. Feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+, and/or YouTube.

When you send an unsolicited email, ask for a meeting with the person – coffee, lunch, or even just a 20-minute visit or video chat. (If I do coffee with you, I’m probably giving up at least an hour of my day so often times a short visit or video chat is preferred for a first conversation.) If you’re interested in an area of law they practice, ask about what a typical day/week of work is like. Ask them what kind of life they have outside of work – that may open the door to talk about mutual interests/hobbies. Afterwards, send a thank you note and do some type of follow-up within thirty days – send a useful article or just chat with them on social media.

If you’re interested in resources to supplement your job search, I recommend the following books:

I don’t envy anyone who is in post-bar exam No Man’s Land. It was a stagnant time in my life where my professional future was in limbo until I had bar results. I hope you’re enjoying your down time and building towards your professional future.

How To Trademark Your Own Name

0688 Pittsburgh - Senator John Heinz History Center by Klaus Nahr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

0688 Pittsburgh – Senator John Heinz History Center by Klaus Nahr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently a friend posted on my Facebook page, “I’m considering trademarking my name. Can I do that?”

Yes you can, but it’s a little complicated. Let’s start with some trademark basics.

There are five ways to describe a potential trademark: fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive or generic. Fanciful, arbitrary, and suggestive marks can be registered on what’s called the primary registry of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as soon as you’re using them in commerce. When yo have a registered trademark, no one can enter the market in your industry and use your trademark or something confusingly similar to it. Generic marks can never be registered. Descriptive marks fall in between these two groups.

Descriptive trademarks describe the product they’re attached to. If you have a descriptive mark, you can put on the USPTO’s secondary registry when you start using it in commerce, but you can’t bump it to the primary registry until have “acquired distinctiveness,” which typically happens after five years of continuous use.

When you name your business after yourself – i.e., John Smith Graphic Design (and your name is John Smith), you have a descriptive trademark. If you’ve only been in business for a short time, the USPTO doesn’t want to give you the exclusive rights to your name in your industry – thus all the other John Smiths who are graphic designers couldn’t call their companies, “John Smith Graphic Design” or something similar to it. They make you wait until you’ve been in business for five years before giving you nationwide exclusivity over your company name in your industry.

So can my friend register a trademark for her name? Probably, but I’d have to take a closer look at her situation to determine how long she’s been using it as a trademark and whether someone else has already registered the same name in the same industry.

If you have any questions about whether you can register your desired trademark, feel free to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, or send me an email. You can also subscribe to the firm’s monthly newsletter. If you want more information about Carter Law Firm, please visit the homepage.