As much as we attempt to avoid legal issues in our writing careers, there are times when consulting a publishing lawyer is a necessity. Maybe you are a victim of a publishing scam or accused of defamation. Maybe you need advice on a publishing contract or your manuscript vetted for legal concerns prior to publication.
If you find yourself facing a legal issue that is beyond what you or your agent can resolve and you do not know where to find competent legal counsel, here is a list of resources to kick-start your search. If you are not sure you need legal advice, do a little digging though many of the self-help resources first (e.g., The Writers’ Legal Companion, The Writer’s Legal Guide, or The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook). You will gain a better grasp of the problem and know what legal help to request when exploring the resources below for assistance.
Your literary community is always a good place to start when searching for an attorney who specializes in publishing law.
Ask your writer friends, especially those who are published authors, if they have had legal issues similar to yours. How did they resolve the problem? Did they hire an attorney? Who did they retain? Were they satisfied? Were the legal fees reasonable? Are they willing to disclose how much it cost to resolve the issue?
On-line writing groups and organizations are another great resource (e.g., writing oriented Facebook groups, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America). Or pose a question to a writing blog you follow (e.g., Writers in the Storm, The Book Designer, Jane Friedman, or, of course, this blog Sidebar Saturdays).
Remember to keep an open mind. Is the referral coming from someone you trust, or a writing acquaintance? Someone’s personal experiences and grievances, including bias, always informs a recommendation. The old “grain of salt” idiom is worth remembering before you make your decision.
State Bar Associations
Lawyers practicing in a particular state are regulated and represented by state bar associations (and sometimes city bar associations as well). One of the services a state bar typically provides for its members is a directory of attorneys practicing in the state. You can search the bar directory for lawyers specializing in publishing law or the area of law you need.
For example, the California State Bar provides not only a searchable lawyer directory, but also the ability to find free or low-cost legal help. Some state bar referral services charge an initial consultation fee (e.g., the Chicago Bar Association charges $30 which goes towards the operating costs of the referral service). Make sure you are clear before moving forward what fees the lawyer charges for representation and what the fee covers.
The American Bar Association has an online lawyer referral network where an attorney from your state will evaluate your situation for free or a fee (and then a cost for proceeding beyond the evaluation).
If you cannot afford a literary lawyer, there are other options for free or low-cost legal help. Below is a list of a few programs and organizations that offer legal advice to writers about their professional concerns. Some of these organizations you must join to benefit from their legal services. An internet search on “lawyers for the arts” in your state should find organizations that provide free or low-cost legal help (like those below for California, Texas, and Chicago, or listed in the link for No. 7).
- The Authors Guild
- California Lawyers for the Arts
- National Writers Union
- Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts
- Lawyers for the Creative Arts (Chicago)
- National Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
- Volunteer Lawyers Organizations (listed by state)
If you belong to or know of other organizations that provide legal guidance or referrals, add them via the comments. We would love to know.
One last reminder — before retaining an attorney to represent you, it is your responsibility to vet their experience and determine if they are knowledgeable enough in the area of law you need. A little up front due diligence on your part will help find the right lawyer for you.
Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Use the resources above to find and consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation. See the disclaimer link in the footer of our website for more information.