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Designing with Lawyers

When I agreed to write (words of wisdom, hopefully) for Designers Circle’s Design Blog, I had no idea of the scope of Designers Circle and the people included in the circle. I feel I am in the best of the best, and at a recent event at Facings, I felt at home with the Millennials  as well as Old Farts. Most people think of me a “the photographer” but I am a designer; I always have been, and I always will be.

Speaking of wills, when a review of our family trust came in the mail, I was struck by the specialties we all have in the giant gumball machine. Included in the stack of papers was an estate planning book written by our estate planning specialist, yet in the foreword there is a disclaimer that all the information in this book needs to be verified by our “personal” planner, a lawyer of course, who will interpret our will, and re-plan what happens to the remains of our estate should my wife die before me. If I go first, the solutions will be hers to solve, I assume. However, I can hire a specialist to certify my wishes that will be performed when I die, but then, statutes may have been changed for the location I have my estate . . . You can see where this is going if you can see in the dark, or have magic powers to clearly state exactly what, when, where, why and how, upon your death, t, u, v, w, x, y, z will be performed “As You Wish.” Yes, even the Princess Bride may influence these wishes. It made me wonder what happened to the hand written Last Will and Testament; oh yes, lawyers, of course.

While we all sign or agree to legal contracts, I began to amuse myself with the contract I might have with a design lawyer at my side specializing in Creative Design. Of course my client would have their own design specialist lawyer making sure my design had no previous version copyrighted and protected under intellectual property laws (my thought existed before your thought kind of stuff). Of course. my Creative Design Specialist lawyer would need to verify and make sure any and all ideas I came up with during the course of our meeting, whether or not executed were original, or at the very least, unique to this project. Wow, a double entendre? Executed as in killed and/or/both executed as in actually made-constructed-finished? I need a court- legal opinion, Your Honor.

Since the beginning of 2015, having lost ten grand to a “Bad Client” who can afford to be right, I look seriously at everything I design I need to protect as much as I can afford to protect, so I can at least pay my legal bill. OMG! I almost forgot the Treehouse; but it is in legal mumbo jumbo with City, County, State, and now Federal Flood Control with homeland security managing the documents. It is 12 feet off the ground but in a flood zone! Go figure. Lawyers and laws! The client has abandoned it for now, and so must I; no billable hours except by lawyers!

Design is an esoteric thing where the process may be protected, but usually the final product is the only part protected, and then how can I be sure the other lawyer spewing legal terms at my lawyer over who thought this design up first, and then all the rights intellectually acknowledged since the beginning of declaring “All This Is Mine” by the first person who decided they were more fit to rule others than be part of a team. 

I know I have had original thoughts and designed things I had never seen before, but maybe it had been designed and built before, and I had not seen it! The speech by Melania Trump, with words written by Michelle’s speech writer, may have been written well before that, and if indeed before we could document our words. Who would know?

A couple of years ago, for five days I walked around with a lapel mike recording my spoken words as well as those I spoke with. Because I did not alert them to my recording their voices, I cannot use any of the recordings for any purpose, and if I did, I might be libel for invasion of privacy, depending on how much money the person has to hire a lawyer unless you are married to one! After listening to a weeks worth of recordings, I realized my original ideas happen while not talking. I’d need a brain scanner/recorder to prove my brain was working and I was creating something that had never been created before.

Yes!! You are correct; I’d need a staff of lawyers with all sorts of specialties, plus the ability to research all ideas ever thought up all the way back to the first napkin drawing. Suddenly I was really angry at all the design classes and art books (da Vinci is at the top on my inspirations) because all the inspirational artists who came before me thought of creations I am now using as a foundation for MY original thoughts! Are variations legal? Who would know?

So there is no original thought! Leonardo da Vinci “imagined” these things from angels giving him the freedom to imagine beyond the boundaries of the physical world. If I were an angel filled with creativity, I’d keep looking for that da Vinci type person who would be inspired by my inspirations; I’d keep bugging these dreamers, pestering them all the way to the client’s house! And if three of them “came up with the same idea at the same time” I’d know it was me and not them who had the original idea. Who would know?

Why all these extra words? Actually it seems often a client will come to me with wanting a copy of what they saw in a magazine, “but with a few changes, like this drawer wider, and with … …” As I have said before, if a client is not sure of what they want, I always ask them to describe what they DO NOT WANT, to save us the design time, and lawyer billable hours.

I have always been committed to creating the best solutions I can imagine, with the client’s needs being met. Now I need to add a plan to get paid, or my lawyer(s) will descend like vultures! Yes, I have found lawyers who will work toward a common goal and defer their fee until there are rewards of a successful suit.  But suing a client is still a waste of time and energy, not to mention money. It is not creative to me; it separates us into right, wrong, or deep pockets.

Maybe I’ll revise my commitment! Damn the client! I’m seriously thinking of recreating my woodshop where I built dreams, pushed the limits of materials, devised templates and jigs to do amazing things, and had the happiest moments in my life, especially with my children, grandbabies and friends.

On the flipside, I need to wait until my lead-lawyer gets back to me about the liability and insurance.
I’ll get back to you after I pay my legal bill.


Photographer, Writer, Poet, Publisher, Architect, Industrial Designer, Grandfather, Mentor, Friend, Philosopher, and Furniture Builder. I love to travel as much as possible on a crooked path leading into unknowns. The camera and the computer are my favorite tools, although a pencil and a blank page can do as much explaining as a 1000 words. Because I am color blind (protanopia, red-green blindness) I cannot mix paint colors successfully, so most of my art is created from photographs or pencil. While visiting Monet’s gardens last fall, I became acutely aware of the vividness of the colors in his gardens, and the lily pond. I realized because of the moisture in the air, there is a natural sun filter softening the shadows. This simple natural filter changed my perception of color, photography, and painting. I have a new tool to add to my arsenal: soft light! It allows colors to be vivid because the darkness of the shadows in not competing.

I am living in Moon Valley, Phoenix, with my wife, Adrienne Gill and can be contacted at PeterBurt@soaringimages.com

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