An Attorney for Creatives: Joey Vitale’s Unique Approach to The Law

Legal business for creatives can be complicated. Like, really complicated. There’s a good chance a lot of us have neglected crucial legal elements of our business simply because we don’t know where to begin. Fret not, Gems! Joey Vitale of Indie Creative Law is here to rescue us with his unique approach to being an attorney. Being a graduate of From Struggle to Shine, it has been an absolute pleasure watching him grow his presence on social media and his connection with his audience.

Joey was gracious enough to take the time to answer some of my questions to help give all of you a better understanding about what he does and why his passion is an asset to all of us:

So, tell us what exactly it means to be “an attorney for creatives”? How do you differ from regular attorneys?

Ha, I get these questions a lot! When I tell people that “I’m an attorney for creatives,” what I mean is that specialize in working with creative entrepreneurs and small business owners. This includes artists, handmade sellers, coaches, bloggers, photographers, and basically anyone who created a business around an artistic or right-brained passion. If you are so passionate about something that you couldn’t help but build a business around that passion, then you’re my ideal client!

There are lots of “business attorneys” out there—attorneys who focus on business formation, trademarks, business contracts—and that’s also the type of work that I do. But the way that I practice law is radically different.

For many creatives, the idea of talking with an attorney is super intimidating. They view attorneys as expensive, difficult to understand, and not very concerned with the success of their business. And many attorneys don’t really understand creatives or identify with their pain points.

As a creative myself (I was a graphic designer in a past life), I get creatives and speak their language. I’ve worked with so many of them that I know what keeps them up at night. I’m a pretty approachable person, and my clients really value that. I’m able to explain laws in a way they understand, and I’ve built flat-fee packages and subscriptions with creatives’ needs and budgets in mind. This way, we can work together to make sure the biggest “legal holes” in your business are covered.

What struggles prompted the transformations and specific choices that ultimately lead you to where you are now?

Hmm. Well, the struggle that started it all was in December of 2015. I told my parents that I’d be moving from St. Louis (where almost my entire extended Irish-Italian-Catholic family lives) to Chicago. Their first question was “Do you have a job there?” I didn’t. I was a courtroom attorney at the time, and I was just starting to confront the reality that litigation wasn’t a good fit for me (I’m not a fighter). Honestly, I felt like I had no control over my life. Telling my family that I was moving made everything real for me—that I would in fact be moving, that I didn’t like my current job, and that I didn’t want a similar job when I got to Chicago. That set into motion a series of events—meeting another attorney who would become my mentor and boss and who advised startups all over the world (cool, right!?), co-founding a startup of my own, and ultimately deciding to create my own law firm and work with the best clients ever.

As far as choices go, there are three main ones.

(1) After struggling with whether or not I’d leave the practice of law entirely, I decided that I did indeed want to be lawyer. But! I wanted to be the lawyer that my target market needed me to be (approachable, informal, transparent) and not the lawyer that other lawyers told me I had to be (prim and proper, unable to make mistakes, and intimidating).

(2) I decided that my law firm would really focus on the basics and not chase the sophisticated work. Here’s the truth—most creatives are just looking for a foundational layer of protection for their business. By focusing on the basics, my clients get what they really need.

(3) I decided to throw away the traditional notion of “marketing” with my business. When it comes to getting clients, I now focus on two things: sales goals and telling stories. That shift alone has been huge for my business. Major props to Allyn Lewis for help on this!

What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

“Joey, you’re defining your target market too narrowly.” – Some business coach wanting me to pay tens of thousands of dollars for his services.

Um, no. Worst advice ever. You can’t get too narrow with a target market. It’s just impossible. The more you drill down and narrow who your audience is, the better! When you niche down to where your job is a “perfect fit” for you, then there’s no competition because no one is doing it like you.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Oh boy. I wish I could tell you that I have my time blocked out during the day to handle the different areas of the business. I’m not there yet, at all!

I’m working on a consistent morning routine. This is still very much “under construction,” but it includes an hour of free-writing time. I use that time to write out things that later become blog posts, email newsletters, important tasks, etc.

As the sole owner of my business, I like to think about my responsibilities in two buckets. In one bucket is time working “in” the business: working on client projects—being a lawyer. In the other bucket is time working “on” the business: planning and executing business goals—being a business owner. I haven’t gotten it down to a science yet, but I’m trying to wear my lawyer hat in the mornings and my business owner hat in the afternoons. And I really want to get to a place where I finish work for the day by 6pm. Not there yet!

I love the everyday moments of your life you share with your audience. Why is letting them in on your story important?

Aw, thanks, Allyn! I’ve learned—from you—that telling my stories is crucial. Sure, I’m the only attorney I know who runs a law firm the way I run it. But the quality of my law firm isn’t what attracts people—it’s connecting with them on a personal level that really starts the relationship. Sometimes my stories will relate directly to legal concepts. Sometimes my stories connect more generally with them as entrepreneurs working their way up from side-hobbyists to business owners. In both cases, these stories allow me to really engage with my audience. And these stories keep me genuine—they make sure I’m identifying with my followers’ pain points and addressing areas of the law that they’re most concerned about.

What’s the most common legal thing that most creatives screw up?

Oh that’s a hard one! I think copyrights and trademarks cause a lot of headaches for creatives.

If you’re a creative, your creativity is your greatest asset. (Duh!) In the legal world, creativity lives in a space called “intellectual property,” and two huge concepts there are copyrights and trademarks.

Creatives tend to get really tripped up by copyrights and trademarks. And I don’t blame them. It’s confusing! You want to protect what you create, and you do that through copyrights and trademarks. But the distinction between the two is complicated. And while you do get “automatic” copyright and trademark protections just by being creative, these automatic protections are pretty weak. In order to put really strong shields around what you create, you want to think about registering copyrights and trademarks.  Creatives often don’t think to register trademarks or copyrights until it’s too late. And, sometimes, they get worried about trademarks and copyrights too soon in their business, when in reality they don’t need to worry about it just yet. In either case, they tend to spend a lot of time and energy struggling with this instead of reaching out to an attorney for advice.

I tackle the distinctions between copyrights and trademarks a lot in my Facebook group, Friends of JCV LAW. If you have questions about these issues, that group is a great place to start!

If you could only give one piece of advice or one tool, what would it be?

Prioritize a positive mindset. Don’t let limiting beliefs affect yourself or your business!