Book Review | Designer Law School by Christine Moody | Legal lessons for design entrepreneurs

Designer Law School – Legal lessons for design entrepreneursThe following review of ‘Designer Law School’ (a book by Christine Moody) was written by Daniel Owen, a member of The Legal Forecast’s Student Executive Committee.In Designer Law School, author Christine Moody draws on her own trials and tribulations navigating the legal system to impart wisdom, in layman’s terms, to design entrepreneurs who will inevitably be required to do the same.The core theme of Moody’s book is that designers can use their inherent creativity and professional planning skills to solve legal dilemmas to which they are not typically accustomed.Of course, the inverse is also true: design entrepreneurs may hold innovative solutions for legal practitioners.  Read from the perspective of a lawyer or law student, Designer Law School is a powerful insight into how lawyers themselves might better serve creatives, designers and startup entrepreneurs.Christine MoodyChristine Moody is not a lawyer. She is one of Australia’s leading brand strategists and the founder of Brand Audits.Moody’s career took a unique turn after her once thriving business encountered financial difficulty in 2009. She was forced to undertake drastic action to prevent her companies being wound up, yet after six months of hard work, found herself $100,000 short of her financial target.Moody entrusted a property developer friend to lend her the remaining funds and to act as trustee over her home. The developer committed fraud and Moody lost the family home. Her book offers advice on addressing the intersection of law and design entrepreneurship based on her lived experience.IMG_1321Finding the right lawyerMoody treats lawyers as team members and sees the value in both a generalist lawyer to handle day-to-day legal work and the hiring of a specialist lawyer on an as-needed basis.According to Moody, the selection process for hiring legal counsel should begin with the designer creating a shortlist of candidates based on said candidates’ personality and experience-based compatibility. The shortlisted candidates should then be interviewed in person.She encourages designers to:

  • negotiate legal fees; and
  • to ask for written estimates, matter outlines and itemised invoices.

Be a great clientAccording to Moody, a great client is a proactive one. Designers are encouraged to consult their lawyers sooner rather than later, conduct their own research and form an understanding of their own matters.Moody suggests designers can increase the effectiveness of the lawyer-client relationship by preparing briefs, agendas, and questions for meetings where appropriate and by following-up with emails attaching meeting minutes and other relevant documentation.Designers should also understand how their engaged lawyer prefers to operate, and are encouraged by Moody to show appreciation for work well done.Respect the contractMoody emphasises “Contracts 101”, namely, that each contract should be respected as binding, and verbal agreements (though also binding in certain circumstances) should be avoided as a matter of good practice. Contracts should aim to capture even the minute detail and Moody advises that one should not sign a contract until 100% assured of its substance.Designers should exercise their power to negotiate after thoroughly researching and considering the short and long-term implications of what they intend to sign.Standard form contracts may also be useful in certain circumstances.Respect the detailsMoody cautions her audience to carefully read all documentation rather than assuming their accuracy, and encourages people to insert provisions for worst-case scenarios.An abundance of caution should be exercised in the drafting, proofing and signing of documents, and Moody suggests that when sent to a lawyer they should be accompanied by a ‘where-to-from-here’ email. This needs to request a follow up phone call or face to face meeting, an indication of the process moving forward and any crucial dates that need to be kept front of mind. It is also a good time to take inventory of costs to date. It is also the time to request that an additional cost estimate be provided for any out-of-scope work that has emerged.Understand IP issuesAs a designer, the first step in dealing with an IP matter is understanding the various subsets of IP law and how they fit into the bigger picture of your matter. It is important to recognise that trademark, copyright and designs are all subsets of the bigger category of intellectual property law.IP ownership should be decided for each individual project, noting that particular mind must be paid to the different obligations imparted to designers dependent on whether they are operating as an employee or an independent contractor.It is important not to assume the legitimacy of the IP attached to any material received from a third party. This applies to all sorts of materials ranging from photographs to illustrations, videos and other similar works. The most effective way to combat this risk is to utilise a standardised form that protects you. It should be native to your business and essentially becomes a modus operandi for whenever you deal with the IP of a third party.While it is true that it is any third party’s responsibility to ensure they are complying with IP law in any work they produce, this is only true insofar as you are able to ensure your own protection. To this end it is important to gain approval for any material used and then establish a protocol for staff to follow in terms of how to access any documents or images to ensure ongoing compliance.Moody encourages designers to be wary of the pitfalls of third party IP and to factor the costs of legal IP work into the fee structure they present. Due to the often times unforeseen costs that can emerge in IP due diligence, Moody suggests engaging financial advice to ensure this cost does not spiral out of hand.Visualising the issueMoody approaches legal problems undertaking a free-flowing mind-dump exercise from which she progresses to identifying links, themes and relationships. Eventually, everything is simplified down into digestible pieces.This begins by jotting down every idea and concept you can imagine. Once the ideas are on the page, you can begin spotting the relationships between them. Moody uses a unique colour to link up each set of ideas. On a separate page, draw boxes and insert the issues identified in each one.Moody’s ultimate goal is to make seemingly confusing and complicated topics simple. In line with this sentiment, once all the issues are identified she further separates them into ‘can controls’ and ‘can’t controls’. The ‘can’t controls’ are dispensed with in favour of things over which she has influence. From this point she proactively begins addressing the issues, but suggests undertaking the entire visualisation process numerous times throughout the project.To this end, creating what she calls a ‘status report matrix’ can help determine the stage that each process within the project has reached and what next steps need to be actioned to edge closer to completion. This involves illustrating the progress made by shading in boxes as items on the various lists are completed (this also doubles as a form of self-motivation).As a general rule she also advocates numbering and dating all documents.Tame the paperworkMoody suggests that paperwork can be combated with organisation. This will assist in the avoidance of legal fees, which can be minimised if the client understands fee structures and takes the initiative to complete the work that can be done and present the instructions to the lawyer in clearly. Moody also advocates for the establishment of a robust and synchronised digital and hard-copy filing system.Moody herself sets aside one day per week for filing and makes the process more enjoyable through attractive stationary and fun work strategies.A final suggestionPerhaps Moody’s most valuable offering is the idea of prioritising fun to maximise effectiveness. She suggests viewing every task as a project and quarantining issues into manageable portions.After her own financial ordeals she prefers to see the lessons in what has happened rather than the negatives, and follows her ‘emotional flow’ rather than resisting it. This means accepting the days where she doesn’t feel like pushing herself or when her energy is low. She advocates for days of ‘white space’ that she calls ‘no decision days’ that allow her mind time to rest and recuperate. Conversely, on days where she feels motivated, or even angry, she embraces the idea of harnessing this energy and channels it into greater productivity.In many ways this strategy flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which typically suggests trying to avoid negative emotions at all costs. But then again, nothing about Moody’s story has been conventional and by approaching the law from the unique perspective of a designer, she has offered an approach to legal problem solving that manages to be as refreshing as it is original.Designer Law School