What should I ask my attorney about their costs?

Attorneys and firms regulated by IPReg are required by the Code of Conduct, to ensure their clients receive the best available information about their work and costs.  Clients should be given the information they need to make decisions about their purchase of IP services both at the time the attorney is engaged and as the work progresses.

IPReg has produced a consumer leaflet with some questions that you might want to ask an attorney before you instruct them.  

Why are bills often based on an hourly rate?

Many firms will charge fixed fees for specific types of work, e.g. a trade mark filing. It is harder for them to do so for complex operations where open-ended advice work is needed. This is why you will normally be charged at an hourly rate for such work. All advisors will provide details of hourly rates and they usually log time spent on cases on computerised billing systems – their print outs can be requested.

It is often better to agree regular bills than to wait until your protection is granted and face a significant final invoice. It is common practice for advisors to request advance payments for official fees and other out-of-pocket costs that may be incurred during the protection process. These should be clearly explained and itemised if an advance payment is requested. You should also expect to be told if additional, unexpected fees are likely to be incurred as your cases progress.

You should always ask for a quote or estimate for the work you would like your attorney to do, before instructing them.

You should be clear about whether the attorney is providing you with an estimate (which is simply a best guess as to the likely cost of the work, and is not binding) or a quote (which is a fixed price offer and once accepted, is binding – though may be subject to specified variations, eg if the scope of the work changes, the cost will change accordingly).  In some cases, it can be difficult to make an accurate estimate, but a registered attorney must provide you with the best possible information about the fees involved as your work progresses so you should not receive any unanticipated invoices at the conclusion of your work.

You should also ask about any likely disbursements, which are fees incurred by your attorney on your behalf for third party agents or costs.  For example, it may be necessary for your attorney to instruct an agent in another country to file an application on your behalf outside of the UK.  That agent’s fee would be a disbursement, as would any filing fee in the relevant country.  You should not expect to see any ‘mark-up’ or additional fee applied by your attorney on top of the disbursement and you should query any cost you may be unsure of. 

Your attorney is subject to certain rules and regulations about how they keep your money.

If you have paid the attorney some money on account for future work that will be done for you, the money will remain your money until the work has been completed and an invoice raised.  As this money is your money, your attorney must protect it by holding it in a UK bank account separate to their business or office account (this might be called a “client account”).  Alternatively, the attorney may keep your money in a Third Party Managed Account, essentially an office account held by a third party who is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.  In either case, your attorney must tell you where your money is being kept and how it is being protected.  Your money must be returned to you promptly should the work not go ahead.

If you have agreed the fees and paid in advance for the work your attorney will do for you, the money you have paid will become the firm’s (or attorney’s) money and they can keep it in the firm’s office account.  This is the case even if the work has not yet been completed.  If you change your mind before the work is completed, you should speak to the attorney about the proportion of the fees that will be refunded to you.