At DeGeorge Law LLC we get asked a lot of really good questions.  We want to answer some of them here and will be adding to this section from time to time.

Piazza San Marco. Venice, Italy. ©Tim DeGeorge 2012.
Piazza San Marco. Venice, Italy. © Tim DeGeorge 2012.

Q: What is a copyright and why do I need it?

A: A copyright refers to the copyright ownership that comes with each original work of art created by a person.  You don’t have to do much to get copyright ownership.  All you need to do is to create something that is fixed in a tangible medium.  Not only does it mean putting your art onto paper, but it could also mean adding it to a word processing document or a line of code in a computer program.  It is oil on canvas as well as a composition in a photograph you have taken.  You get this copyright ownership the moment you create something and put it into a form someone can see.  However, there are ways to record the creation of your work that could give you better protection from those who would like to use your work without your permission.

Q: First things first, why is it so difficult to talk to an attorney and get a straight answer?

A: That is because whenever an attorney speaks to a client or potential client, the words he or she uses may have legal consequences.  Asking an attorney a “quick question” may elicit the most odd responses by the attorney.  This is because every question asked to an attorney if relied upon may affect a person’s legal rights or responsibilities.  There is no such thing as an easy answer to a legal problem. Consider that any legal question could invoke years of case law, federal and/or state law and maybe an international treaty or two.  Often the questioner really just wants to know what they should do or how they should respond.  Again, that requires the attorney to take time to consider the possible scenario’s that could apply.  It is hard to give a correct answer without considering what is at stake.  When you hire an attorney, you should get undivided attention and legal advice with options beneficial to your unique situation.  Hiring an attorney helps assure you get the personal attention you need to resolve your legal issue.

Q: Why can’t I find an attorney to take my case even though I know I’m in the right and deserve my day in court?

A: This is an important question.  Before an attorney undertakes representation of a client for a case, the attorney must evaluate many aspects of the potential case first.  Facts of a case are critical and will ultimately determine if a case truly exits.  Facts though, are only a portion of what the attorney must consider regarding whether or not a case is viable and can move forward.  Many individuals and businesses have very real cases based on the facts alone, but yet, attorneys may not be willing to take the case.  This is confusing for most potential clients.

Two other aspects of a case are just as important as the underlying facts: 1) Damages and 2) Case costs.  These are financial aspects of a case.  First, it is important to understand the difference between attorney fees and case costs.  Attorney fees are monies paid to the law firm for attorney and staff expertise/time to work on the case.  Case costs are very different.  Costs are direct expenses required for things like expert witnesses, depositions, investigators, court filing fees, appraisals, research fees, witness fees, subpoenas, etc.  Each and every case has attorney fees and case costs.  Attorneys can be paid by the client on an hourly basis as the case moves forward or even on a fixed fee basis.  Sometimes, attorneys will agree to undertake representation on a contingency basis.  Contingency representation generally means the attorney will work the case (investing the time and/or the attorney’s own money for case costs) and will wait to get paid at the end of the case — provided there is recovery for damages at the end of the case.  The attorney who agrees to a contingency fee, usually based on a set percentage of the recovery, gets paid attorney fees at the end of the case AND gets paid back for all of the case costs required and advanced during the case.  With bigger cases, the case costs can be substantial.

About damages.  Damages are only given in terms of money compensation when harm has occurred.  Harm can be to a person, a business entity, or to property, including intellectual property.  Damages are considered in different categories depending on the type of case.  Economic damages are damages that are more easily calculated such as the amount of money lost from an inability to work or the amount of medical bills.  Non-economic damages are commonly known as pain and suffering.  Damages can be recovered for past, present and future.  In intellectual property cases statutory damages are calculated under federal statutes (law). Punitive damages may be assessed when the court wants to punish or deter certain behavior of the litigant or to make an example out of the litigant, having a rippling effect throughout an entire industry.

When a potential client requests representation, the amounts and kinds of damages are evaluated along with the case facts.  Often, case facts can be profound and personal for a litigant, but damages may be very little.  It may not always make financial sense to pursue a case for client if potential recovery will not result in adequate compensation for the client.  Recovery in a case should compensate the client, cover the client’s case costs and cover the attorney fees. The financial viability of a case is important.

The attorney has to evaluate several aspects of a potential case before agreeing to undertake representation and should explain the evaluation to the prospective client.  Always consult an attorney as soon as possible for an evaluation of your potential case because there are critical legal deadlines where you must act or you lose the ability to ever file a claim.