The Legal Side of Fashion Blogging: When Is It Time to Hire an Attorney?

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Note: I am not an attorney, and this blog post is not meant to constitute legal advice in any way. Please contact your lawyer with any legal questions.

As bloggers, we're very often bootstrappers too. We do everything on a tight budget, stretching our resources until they nearly snap. But the honest truth is you can't bootstrap everything. Sometimes, you need a professional. And anything that has to do with the legality of your blog is definitely one of those times.

For most of you, this article will probably be a few years ahead of where you are right now. I'd been blogging for years before I reached the point where I needed to seriously consider hiring legal advice. But when it's time, it's time, and you shouldn't put off the decision for not knowing where to start or what to do. Though I'm in touch with a phenomenal attorney right now, this is basically the article I wish someone had written for me.

What's the magic line for knowing if you need legal advice or not?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Some issues you can handle on your own, even if they'll take a lot of your time and resources. But some issues should absolutely be run past a trained set of eyes first. How can you tell the difference? My personal rule is to always contact an attorney when there are costly repercussion for my blog. Stated another way, when there's a possibility that not contacting a lawyer will cost me more money (or grief!) than contacting one, I get in touch with my attorney.

…when there's a possibility that not contacting a lawyer will cost me more money (or grief!) than contacting one, I get in touch with my attorney.

For me, that meant when it was time to file as an LLC in my state, when it was time to federally register the trademark for my blog (and also when I'm protecting that trademark), and when I began making contracts for my own business and reviewing contracts from other businesses. Legal writing (i.e. “legalese”) can be extremely complicated and extremely dense, and there's no shame in getting help with translating it if you need it (after all, you should never sign a contract without being aware of all the potential consequences first). In addition, if you're ever threatened with a lawsuit of any kind, it's time to contact an attorney. I admit it – I bootstrapped for a long time. But as my blog grew, it reached a tipping point where I had to make sure my metaphorical house was in order.

How can you find an attorney?

If you're not lucky enough to have a friend or family member who's a lawyer and willing to work with you, you'll have to schlep with the rest of us and go attorney shopping. When you're looking for an attorney, start by asking your personal network of friends, family, and business contacts if they have any recommendations first. You may have a friend who just hired an amazing attorney, but you won't know unless you ask.

As bloggers, finding an attorney who specializes in small businesses, creative professionals, or internet businesses is ideal. The intricacies of working online are still an unknown to many legal professionals, so finding an attorney who's well-read and up to date on the unique needs of blogging is critical. Don't just stop at contacting one attorney; call several. And don't be afraid to ask questions about their previous experience working with people like you, and about their fee structure (for example, if you're filing for a trademark, is that a flat fee or will they bill hourly? How much will the final cost be?). See if any of the attorneys you're interested in write blogs of their own, and don't be afraid to request an initial consult (or coffee meeting!). You'll hopefully be working with this attorney for awhile, and this person will be representing your business in a professional and legal capacity. Take some time to learn about each other over a conversation.

What should you do once you've found the right attorney?

Once you've found an attorney that's a good fit for you, you'll likely be asked to sign some paperwork. This paperwork can be called a legal services agreement, an engagement letter, or an attorney/client contract for representation and professional services (among other things). This contract explicitly states the terms of your working relationship so read it carefully, and don't be afraid to ask questions if something seems unclear or confusing. Your attorney may also want to get “up to speed” on what you've been doing so far, so have samples of any contracts or agreements you've been using until now readily available. Finally, keep your attorney in the loop regarding business developments or potential issues. Your attorney's job is to be cautious (you've hired them to help you limit risk), so don't be surprised if they give you advice you don't really want to hear. Just remember that being aware of potential consequences is all part of being a more professional blogger.

I hope this article when it's time for you to look for a lawyer! Have you had to hire an attorney for your blog yet? What advice do you have for anyone who's looking? Let's share in the comments!

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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8 Responses

  1. The Redhead

    Small blogger here. Yet I’ve seen bloggers get in lawsuits over trivia matter really. Could you give us a real example as to what would be a liability??? (besides using pictures that don’t belong to you)

    Reply
  2. Jennine Jacob

    Thanks so much for writing this… it’s so important to have a good attorney on your side, even if you don’t think you need one. You never know what kinds of things pop up, even as a new blogger, ie, when you start getting contracts with brands, how do you know you’re understanding everything properly? Or how do you set up your business correctly? Or what happens when someone steals your brand identity?

    Having a lawyer has saved me so many times, and worth every penny.

    Reply
  3. Ashley "Ashe" Robison

    Cora, I appreciate that you wrote this, because it’s valuable information that bloggers rarely think about– but probably SHOULD think about more! I’ve been very fortunate to still scrape by on my bootstraps, but have many blogger friends who have needed lawyers– in securing domains, fighting trademark issues, etc. You rarely know what can happen in blogging, especially since intellectual property & the internet are such new territories together!

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Novello

    This post is a must read for any blogger. It is important to know that reaching out to a lawyer is really not that big of a deal…we should all feel comfortable doing so if the need is there.

    Interestingly enough (or boring for some I guess lol) I am an intellectual property law attorney. When it comes to my blog I am fully aware of the copyright/trademark laws that govern, and all that fun IP stuff… but I will admit that if I was unsure of the terms of a contract, or if I needed any legal advice that is outside my realm I would have to contact one of my lawyer friends.

    What I am trying to say here is that you shouldn’t assume you know everything even if you are quite knowledgeable about your rights, and the legal world of writing a blog.

    Don’t be afraid to reach out to a lawyer, we are not all that scary 🙂

    Reply
  5. Brian Igel

    Cora, thanks for writing about this. I just got back from the rewardStyle blogger’s conference in Dallas. While there, I found that blogger’s generally understand many of the issues, but they’re so scared about the fees that they decide to just cross their fingers and hope they fly under the radar.

    You can learn a lot from a consultation with a knowledgeable attorney in the space about setting up protective entities, intellectual property protection (and liability avoidance), working with agencies and managers, monetizing your blog, FTC disclosure guidelines, etc.

    Brian Igel
    Bellizio & Igel, PLLC

    Reply
  6. Sarah Mekhail

    Hey all! Such a great article. I actually solved all of my copyright questions on legal zoom and they filed all the paperwork for me. It was such an easy process and super low cost. Once I brand my logo then they will handle my trademark application as well. I highly recommend them for hassle free, non sketchy, prompt and professional service. Hope this helps!

    Reply