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Da Curse of the Billy Goat

May 1, 2007 in Culture / History, IP Issues by snark

The original Billy Goat Tavern location was “born” in 1934 when Greek immigrant, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, purchased the Lincoln Tavern. Billy Goat bought the tavern for $205, with a check that bounced but was later repaid with sales from the first weekend. The tavern was located across from the Chicago Stadium (now United Center) and attracted mainly sports fans. Sianis became known as “Billy Goat,” when a goat fell off a passing truck and wandered inside. Sianis adopted the goat, grew a goatee, acquired the nickname “Billy Goat,” and changed the name of the bar to the Billy Goat Tavern.

Infamously associated with da curse of the Billy Goat, the Billy Goat Tavern is famous now for bringing together some of the biggest names in the trademark lawyer game. Above are Ron Coleman, Marty Schwimmer and John Welch, who got together for a meetup with other trademark law bloggers this week in Chicago. Go Cubs!

Update: John Welch, who grew up in Chicago and is a died-in-the-wool White Sox fan, let us know through Marty Schwimmer that our apparent support for the Cubs really got his goat. ;-)

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Trademark Protection for Lawyers

June 16, 2006 in IP Issues by snark

It’s been a while since we discussed lawyer names on the Wordlab blog in a post titled Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, where we wrote:

Law firms that take a unique surname of a founder, and add an s to that name, create a brand built upon the law firm’s tradition, and establish an identity that is distinctive yet consistent with how the firm is often well-known in the profession and the community: Torys, and Gowlings, and Mallesons, and Blakes for examples.

Business-minded lawyers name their law firms with their customers in mind–not to assuage the partners–and thereby protect their investments in the business. Better to have a partnership interest in a law firm with a strong brand than to have one’s own name listed with many other partners on a “shingle” few customers can remember. The classic parody of traditional law firm naming is Jerry Seinfeld trying desperately to remember the name of the firm where the beautiful lawyer, Vanessa, works; repeating the mantra “Simon, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim & Taft” over and over.

Smart lawyers approach law firm naming from a customer-facing point of view, rather than a partnership perspective. Many leading law firms are building lasting brands with great individual names with respect to their own legal traditions, such as Skadden, and Osler, and Venable, and Stroock, each with a memorable domain name and a remarkable website.

Noteworthy amongst the Nifty Fifty recognized by Internet Marketing Attorney is Morrison & Foerster, better known by the moniker MoFo, with an award-winning website that communicates the distinctive and memorable brand of this outstanding law firm.

Incidental to those branding concerns, the legal issues of lawyer names as trademarks have come up in a few lawsuits between lawyers recently.

In an article on Law.com, we learned of the recent case where an individual attorney sued his former partners to prevent them from continuing to use his name in connection with the firm. Senior U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro found that prominent intellectual property attorney M. Kelly Tillery was not entitled to an injunction, and not likely to succeed at trial, in a dispute with his former firm that would have forced the firm to completely eliminate all uses of the departing lawyer’s name and all mention of his court victories.

Specifically, Shapiro found that Tillery’s name is not entitled to trademark protection because it has not acquired any “secondary meaning.”

“The recognition of individual lawyers’ names as trademarks without a strong showing of secondary meaning could hinder the creation of new law firms (since, unlike other businesses, law firms are traditionally identified by personal names and not fanciful trade names) and the ability of individuals to practice law in their chosen field without changing their names,” Shapiro wrote.

Tillery, she said, “has cited no precedent granting trademark status to a lawyer’s personal name, used only in connection with his individual legal services, and the court could find none.”

Although a person’s name may serve as a trademark, Shapiro found that “they are considered ‘descriptive,’ not inherently distinctive marks, so they are treated as protectable trademarks only upon a showing of distinctiveness and secondary meaning.”

Tillery, she said, failed to meet the test for showing that his name deserves trademark protection.

“Although Tillery has used ‘Tillery’ as his personal last name all his life, it does not appear from the record that it was ever used in connection with a business or a product except as part of the name of law firms with which he was associated since his third year of practice, i.e., Leonard Tillery & Davison and then Leonard Tillery & Sciolla,” Shapiro wrote.

“There is no evidence that he commanded a particularly large share of the market, or that he made substantial efforts to advertise his own legal services separately from the law firms’,” Shapiro wrote.

In short, he failed to have a blawg to establish his name as a trademark apart from his personal name used by the law firm to offer their legal services.

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Pit Bull Lawyers Muzzled

March 27, 2006 in Branding, IP Issues by snark

Motorcycle Injury Lawyers Pape & Chandler have come to the end of a very short leash. Today, legal arguments advocating their rights to use the image of a pit bull in law firm advertising were refused to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, as legal beagles like to call the alpha dogs of the federal judiciary.

f/k/a EthicalEsq has the poop, including this sound bite.

I’m afraid the professional Dignity Police have too many allies on the Supreme Court bench — or maybe, consumers and the First Amendment have too few. Treating the public like fools and acting pompously self-important (and above mere commerce) is not the way to win respect for the legal profession.

It’s really too bad that lawyers who know how to communicate effectively with their customers are muzzled by a self-regulated profession that is so out of touch with reality.

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Lawyers.com Denied Trademark

December 27, 2005 in IP Issues by snark

You might enjoy this year’s Blawg Review Awards for law bloggers and everyone interested in the best blawg brands. It’s a surprisingly entertaining read, not just for lawyers but for everyone interested in law. And there’s lots of good stuff for anyone interested in naming and branding, too.

Overlawyered got the award for Best Name for a legally-oriented blog, but it looks like there’s competition heating up in this category as the Greatest American Lawyer and the Ruthless Lawyer are looking to establish domain name dominance.

This year’s Blawg Review Awards are judged and decided solely by Themis. You may agree or disagree with her decisions, and we trust that some of you might have a lot to say about these Blawg Review Awards on your own blogs. If you would like to acknowledge other award-worthy blawgs, by all means don’t hesitate to invent some new award categories and wield your authority like a law blogger by giving awards to your personal favorites—maybe even giving yourself the award you deserve.

One of our favorites is Marty Schwimmer, a leading trademark attorney, whose weblog The Trademark Blog could get an award for the Most Descriptive Name for a Trademark Blog. But hey, Google loves it.

In other news for lawyers, and naming and branding specialists, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently denied Lawyers.com its application for trademark of that domain name. Apparently, it took twenty-nine pages to explain this seemingly inevitable result, but you can read a nice short post summarizing the decision on the TTABlog. Get it?

On a related note, Professor Bainbridge (whose eponymous law blog ProfessorBainbridge.com® picked up a Blawg Review Award for Best Eclectic Blog) recently announced that his blog name is now a registered service mark. So watch out.

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The Trouble With Lawyers and Advertising

March 16, 2005 in Branding by snark

Lawyers don’t have a clue about branding.

Some don’t advertise at all. They’re “too professional” they say. Others insist that, in order to be a successful professional these days, you have to run your practice like a business. Here’s where it gets a bit fuzzy for most lawyers. They don’t really know what business they’re in.

Most lawyers think of the legal services they offer as the business. So, to them, running a law practise as a business means “selling” legal services, and advertising those services is a necessary evil—and necessarily evil. It’s not surprising that lawyers who advertise their “services” often do a disservice to themselves, and the profession.

Believe it or not, most lawyers don’t understand that the professional services business they’re in is the business of the Trusted Advisor. Trust me, this book should be required reading for law students. It might be too late for lawyers.

In 2002, Robert A. Clifford, Chair, Section of Litigation of the ABA, put it in words a smart lawyer might understand.

We live in a world based on trust. Every day we are forced to trust strangers. We trust the school bus driver to get our children to school, the airline pilot to get us safely to our destinations, the hospital staff to administer the proper medication, the police officer to enforce the law, the other motorists not to drink and drive. Sometimes, though, we are let down. Lawyers are among those who can jeopardize trust, whether by not fully communicating the frailties of a case to the client or not being upfront about a fee. In any event, the lawyer becomes just another in a long line of those who do not follow through on a promise, and, with that betrayal of trust, however small, the entire profession suffers a bit.

Certainly lawyers are advocates for their clients, but, first and foremost, they are counselors. Maybe more than in any other profession, people turn to lawyers for their advice, their logic in seeing through a problem and perceiving issues, and their decision-making ability after examining all the options and likely consequences. Although consumers describe lawyers as greedy, manipulative, and corrupt, they also say that lawyers are educated, intelligent, knowledgeable, hard working, aggressive, outgoing, well spoken, and confident. These are traits they admire and even would like to emulate. It is on these virtues that those in need of legal services rely. On the basis of these strengths, each of us must formulate a plan to do our jobs better. We discussed and debated that very issue in the second part of the Town Hall Meeting April 25 in Faneuil Hall during the Annual Meeting.

Public confidence in our profession is critical in doing our jobs right. We must live up to that great responsibility, and how we handle it is what distinguishes us as true professionals. Lawyers must earn the right to be trusted once again.

Lawyers, as a profession, will never gain the trust of the public as long as they continue in their business practices to advertise like car salesmen and political candidates and talk like pirates.

This piece was written as a Guest Blogger’s post for the entertainment of lawyers and law students on Evan Schaeffer’s Notes from the (Legal) Underground, a lawyer’s weblog with a difference. It’s not so stuffy.