Lawyers are famous infamous for saying “no.” Clients rarely want to hear that answer, but part of fulfilling a lawyer’s obligations sometimes requires it.
When I was a kid, I played with G.I.Joes. I recently delved into the recesses of my guilty pleasure pool and pulled up the new GI Joe movie on Netflix. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Most enjoyable for me, and probably many males my age who also saw it, was the nostalgia it conjured up in my mind. I saw characters, planes, tanks, and toys I hadn’t thought of for years.
It inspired a bit of an Internet walk down memory lane. Soon after beginning that walk, I stumbled across an interesting story regarding some Hasbro trademark issues. One of the GI Joe character’s names (I can’t remember the name, so I’ll just call him OLD NAME) apparently presented some trademark problems with another toy with the similar name OTHER NAME. GI Joe re-released the character with a NEW NAME, and developed a story line which revealed that NEW NAME was more than just a re-branding; it was in fact, a new character, a twin of deceased OLD NAME!
While reading this, I imagined what the lawyer advising Hasbro had said. I wondered if it was something like, “look, OLD NAME may infringe OTHER NAME. We have to get rid of that character.” If that was the case, then did marketing, or the creative department, or whoever it may have been, realize that the situation could be fixed differently? The question probes at whether lawyers should simply give legal advice or tailor their counsel to the client’s situation, becoming not just involved in the decisional tree but helping a company develop and strive toward a more successful future.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say this problem was turned into an opportunity, but I would argue that the solution was a very creative one that considered a multidisciplinary approach. This solution saved manufacturing costs while still turning out a product (by not having to design and create a new character and all the associated molds), it addressed a legal problem, and it helped establish a new storyline that could be woven into the various movies, comics books, and lunch pails on which GI Joe appeared. The result could have been much different. The lawyer could have said, “No, we can’t have this character anymore,” and the character, its molding process, its story arc, everything could have dropped from existence. And what a loss that would have been to the GI Joe universe.
In the end, whether you are a lawyer or a client, when the answer is “no,” try to see how that conclusion doesn’t have to be the end of the story.