Intellectual Property Rights in an Attorney’s Work-Product

48 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2010 Last revised: 27 Sep 2011

See all articles by Ralph D. Clifford

Ralph D. Clifford

University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth

Date Written: September 1, 2008


This paper addresses the main intellectual property consequences of practicing law and whether attorneys can prevent others from using their work-product. The article does not assume that the reader is an expert in intellectual property law; instead, it is designed to answer the types of questions practitioners have about their rights.

There is one primary legal code that impacts attorneys' rights to their work-product: the copyright law. (2) As a broad statement, copyright law protects how an author expresses ideas. (3) It is the system that is used to prevent others from copying a book, a movie, a musical composition, or even a computer program. (4) It is almost exclusively a federal statutory remedy as comparable state protections have been preempted. (5) As much of what an attorney does is expressing ideas in writing, the copyright system is the most important method of protecting an attorney's work-product.

To clarify the discussion of copyright law and how it applies to legal drafting, three hypotheticals will be used. In each of these cases, the drafting attorneys may feel that their rights have been or will be impinged.

Suggested Citation

Clifford, Ralph D., Intellectual Property Rights in an Attorney’s Work-Product (September 1, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Ralph D. Clifford (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth ( email )

333 Faunce Corner Road
North Dartmouth, MA 02747-1252
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508-985-1137 (Phone)

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