Why Are Lawyers So Expensive? I’ll Tell You Why

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There is a lot of discussion about the need for lower-cost legal fees. This is an important discussion for lawyers to have, but I think it is also important to stop and reflect on why hiring a lawyer is so expensive in the first place.

On top of the considerable cost of acquiring a law degree, malpractice insurance, business overhead, etc.—only some of which can be reduced by technology, procedures, and maybe even non-lawyer ownership — I don’t know if the public really appreciates what a lawyer agrees to do for her clients when we sign a retainer. In fact, I think some lawyers need to be reminded. It’s true that many clients just want to get out of jail or a contract or for their insurance company to pay up. But in order to do that, lawyers commit to much more.

You may have heard the story about the lawyer who abandoned his Ferrari in rising flood waters so he could make it to a hearing.

After a client signs a retainer with me, I look them in the eye and tell them “Okay, you don’t have to worry about this any more. Your problems are now my problems.” It is just a thing I say, but it is a true thing I say. My clients go home and sleep soundly for the first time in weeks or months. I go home and think about the legal issues all evening. At night I dream about my client’s case. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and pull up the scheduling order on my phone, convinced I blew a deadline. When I am at the playground with my kids, I check my email in case I get something from opposing counsel or the court. When I go out to dinner with my wife, I talk about hearings and depositions.

You may have heard the story about the lawyer who abandoned his Ferrari in rising flood waters so he could make it to a hearing. Instead of taking the time to save his car, he abandoned it in order to get to court on time. Everyone was amazed except lawyers, who were like duh. Missing a hearing is not an option. As the lawyer who owned that Ferrari said, “You can’t let the client down, no matter what personal exigencies you might have.”

Lawyers are expensive because you get a lot for your money. You get someone who will abandon their precious supercar — or regular car — in rising flood waters so he can attend your hearing. You get someone who will lose sleep worrying about your legal problem so you can finally get some rest.

Lawyers have a pretty singular value proposition. We take care of legal problems for our clients. When you sign a retainer agreement, our client’s problem basically becomes our problem. They can go back to sleeping through the night, and you start losing sleep, instead. You worry about where to find the paperwork or file the forms or how to get to the hearing while they go about their daily lives.

[N]obody thinks Facebook will really keep your secrets

This is why comparing non-legal products and services like Apple and Uber and Facebook to legal services doesn’t really work. Nobody would expect an Uber driver to absorb the cost of a parking ticket just so she can pick you up where you want. I’ve known plenty of lawyers who parked illegally to be on time for a hearing and eaten the ticket as a cost of doing business. Nobody expects an iPhone to absorb your stress and nobody thinks Facebook will really keep your secrets. Lawyers aren’t like tech companies, and they probably can’t be.

So as long as that high level of obligation is what you get for your legal fee, the fee can only drop so much. To reduce the cost of legal services past a certain point, you probably have to reduce the lawyer’s obligation to the client.

That is easy to say but another thing entirely to do. Our obligations flow from our rules of professional conduct, most of which we cannot ask a client to waive. All we can do is limit the scope of representation — generally called unbundling legal services. Unbundling can make a lot of sense for some things, but it is not a panacea for lowering the cost of legal services.

If the cost of hiring lawyers is really too great (and I am not convinced that is true across the board), we need other solutions, and they might have to include reducing lawyers’ professional obligations. So, just so we’re clear, when we talk about lowering the cost of legal services, what we are really talking about is fundamentally changing what it means for a lawyer to represent a client.

Originally published 2014-10-23.

Featured image: “a businessman holding a burlap money bag” from Shutterstock.

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  • Brilliantly stated.

  • Not to mention costs many attorneys (like me) absorb on the front end for contingency cases, which enables access for regular people to the court system. Just getting a case filed and served against a single corporate defendant in my county, for example, can cost upwards of $700. Or the court reporter’s fee in a recent trial of mine that was $15,000, which a contingency lawyer not only pays up front, but actively fights to have the client not pay by seeking fees and costs from the losing party.

    • James Jensen

      “Just getting a case filed and served against a single corporate defendant in my county, for example, can cost upwards of $700.”

      That sounds like a bargain. My lawyer charged me almost $5,000 to file and serve on non-payment for a confessed judgement in which the signer did not pay. The filing was riddle with typos, and he had my business name (the creditor) and the debtor’s name mixed up. This did not include court time. I was charged another $2,300 for that, when the other party didn’t even show up and the judgement was won by default.

      Also, my lawyer told me during the mediation that getting attorney’s fees paid was always next to impossible. He steered me towards a quick settlement in lieu of taking the matter to the police and AG where it should have gone in the first place. Lesson learned on my end.

  • Sam, this is one of the best articles I have read on Lawyerist. Although, I strongly believe there is room for improvement with how legal services are developed, the points that you make are sound and from a client perspective very valuable propositions. Cheap isn’t the goal, a win-win situation where clients are paying for valuable legal services, but also not paying for an attorney fees for non-legal aspects of their practices.

    • Patent Attorney

      The non-legal aspects have to built in – rent, employees, IT services, etc. You can’t just “not pay for non-legal aspects of their practices” or there is no practice.

      • James Jensen

        Many of us that run businesses have this same sort of overhead, and also have to pay for workmen’s comp insurance as well. Through in equipment maintenance, fleet, etc. and it really adds up. One difference is that I can’t charge my customers for travel time to their job site. One attorney I hired loved to charge me $300 per hour to travel from his office to superior court in the nearest big city at 1.5 hours each way. He would even tell me that he had a meeting in the city after my court matter, and didn’t offer to split any of the travel time between his matter and mine!

        • Patent Attorney

          We both know you build travel into your price. You wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t.

          I split those charges. Your guy may too; he’s just bad at managing client perception.

          • James Jensen

            True, but I’m realistic about the travel time and realize that it doesn’t hold quite the same value to the client as actual work. 2-3 hours of billed work covers most travel costs sufficiently, and still doesn’t approach the $300 mark.

            Glad to hear you split it; that’s fair. And I agree, he is terrible at client relations and perceptions. He didn’t have an avvo page for a long time, once he created one I can see why he didn’t. Past clients weighed in and he gets 2/5 stars.

  • Martin

    Wow, that’s powerful, thanks!

  • This is very well stated and makes perfect sense. However, the majority of potential clients won’t care as to the ‘why’. It is for the regulating bodies to care and they will not give up or modify what it means to ‘be a lawyer’….at least not in our lifetimes. This stand off is the reason the void is being filled with non-lawyer providers at lower costs and the more entrants, the more resistance by clients to pay ‘higher’ legal fees.

    • You are absolutely right. Law is a paternalistic monopoly (we’ll sell you what you need, not what you think you want). Except it is also a poorly enforced monopoly these days.

      But if lawyers chase lower fees, they are inevitably going to start shirking their obligations. There’s just no way to maintain a high level of professional service on Starbucks wages.

      (I’m already working on a post about this, actually. The disconnect between what lawyers sell and what many clients want is a significant problem that’s not solved by the advice to be more like Apple.)

      • Sam, my issue is not so much that lawyers should be ‘chasing lower fees’ but should be modifying the delivery of services (which reduces cost) AND providing what the client wants in addition to what they actually need and what lawyers are obligated to provide at a bare minimum. There is a difference there and it allows the lawyer to reduce their fees but increase their margins (which is more money in their pocket) AND it ups how much the client ultimately is willing to pay because they are receiving what they value above what the lawyer is professionally obligated to provide. The paternalistic monopoly is being chipped at and at the end of the day, money talks. Big money is wielding the sledge hammers so it’s going to be interesting.

        • justthebest

          I don’t understand what you’re suggesting, Susan. I feel like I spend most of my time trying to find a way to cut my clients’ legal fees without under-charging. There’s just no way to have a contested custody case, with proper discovery, with less than 30 or more lawyer hours (and I’m talking about a case that will settle, as 95% do). I do as much as I can to keep down costs, and use my paralegal as much as I think ethical, but at the end of the day, there is a ton of WORK to do for a client.

          • One of the major issues uncovered recently is that clients, before they ever see a lawyer, determine the value to them (what they will spend) to resolve a legal issue…including litigating divorce. It may not be based in any reality that you or I understand, but it is what motivates them to hire or not hire a lawyer. If someone puts an emotional or not fully educated cap on legal fees for a divorce, say at $5,000 and the lawyer doesn’t learn this about a client, the relationship doesn’t work. If a lawyer has a fixed idea in his head that in order for him to take on a client for a litigated divorce and the minimum he can afford to accept as a retainer is $10,000, it doesn’t work. This same lawyer, operating as if it were 1999 determines his expenses to bring on this client is $5k so he wants to make a $5k profit. This is the problem. If he operates his back office more efficiently enabling him to be equally or even more efficient in the delivery of his services, his costs to take on this same divorce might drop to $2K. Now, maybe he only needs a $7k retainer and then he can discuss with the client, educate the client to understand $5k isn’t reasonable for the amount of work and still maintain his same profit while delivering excellent advocacy. This is what I mean. It isn’t about cutting your hourly rate or required services to the client so much as cutting your expenses to do the same work while maintaining the same profit you would like or require.

            • justthebest

              I feel like we must be talking about vastly different types of practices. My bills are 85-90% just my time (and most of the rest is paralegal time). I use as little as I can to properly represent my client, but as I assume you know that has way more to do with the client, opposing counsel and his or her client than anything I can control. And the very idea that any lawyer is thinking in terms of “profit” is abominable. The profit is what is left after you pay everyone, and sometimes it’s not a lot. But, it never enters into the equation when considering a retainer. The retainer is nothing but my best (wild) guess about how much time this case will cost.
              I absolutely hear what you are saying about clients having fixed ideas in their heads about cost, but I do what I can to educate them when they come in about how much THEY will control that, and how little I can do to have any impact on it at all. That’s the most frustrating part. I can estimate a case will take 7-10 hours of time, but if the client calls and emails a lot, or is an idiot that has to be walked through every little step, or the opposing attorney is a jerk, or the other side is unreasonable . . . . etc., etc., that estimate is worthless. And, I have no control over those things at all. My greatest frustration is the failure of clients (and judges) to understand that simple reality.

              • No, I ran a family practice for years. Yes, when you calculate an hourly rate/take a retainer/value bill you do have to consider profit or you’re not running a sustainable business. But I’m talking about reducing inefficiencies in the back office. Learning to how to price the variables (opposing counsel is a jerk, the client needs his hand held, etc.) is about communication with the client about variables and setting the client’s expectations. It’s also about knowing when a client isn’t the right fit for your practice and more. That’s a total other subject. As to the back end, many family law matters do have similarities and their are products/services like Smokeball that can automate many of these documents yet tailor to your needs. This is a HUGE cost reduction. Law Practice Management software, etc. This is what I’m talking about.

      • So lawyers shouldn’t chase fees, and in effect they should simply price themselves out of the market. (I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, I’m just trying to take the logic to its eventual conclusion.)

        That simply won’t do for young attorneys or for potential clients with medium-sized legal issues.

        • I’m definitely not arguing that. There is clear demand for lower prices. And the huge gap between those who can afford a lawyer and those who are poor enough to get a free one means we need new ways to solve legal problems for less money.

          But as we figure out what to do about those problems, we should keep in mind that it may not be possible to solve them with lawyers, at least not without fundamentally changing the nature of the attorney-client relationship.

          • Realistic Lawyer

            I don’t think it is the attorney-client relationship which needs to be changed, but the payment model. We need, as a profession, to begin strictly enforcing the collection of our fees, and not shirk from being upfront about the need to be paid for our work. The law is one of the last professions which retains a distaste for admitting that it is a business. The biggest issue I see in many practices is figuring out how to bill a client and be upfront about the need to be paid for our work.

            I am a lawyer. I like to represent clients and help them resolve their legal issues. I do not like doing it for free, or on the cheap. When I first started practicing, I would often take small up front retainers, and send the clients bills to be collected later. I would work out payment plans of $50 or $100 a month to pay for their fees. I ended up writing off 70% of my billing in my first year practicing.

            Many of the lawyers that I know, even after 10 or 20 years practicing, end up writing off 30-40% of their fees and billable hours by the end of the year because clients refuse or forget to pay for the work performed. Often, the only money we ever make on a case is the retainer. I know very few lawyers willing to take a client to court to collect on unpaid legal fees, and I believe this is a serious mistake in our profession. No attorney that I know likes to tell a client that they want to be paid to give a damn about a client. We like to think of ourselves as a noble profession dedicated to upholding justice, and helping our clients navigate a scary world of strange laws. Talking about money takes away from that image, its almost dirty to talk about money with a client. Yet, it may be the biggest disservice we do to our clients because we refuse to admit the real marketable value of the service we provide.

            How much less could we charge if we had confidence on getting paid our full fee? Why do we assume its wrong for us to insist on payment, or force someone to pay us for the work performed? People do not expect their plumber, or their auto mechanic to work for free and they should not expect an attorney to work for free either.

            • justthebest

              I am one of those people to whom you are referring, RL. I long desperately for the days when the solicitor got the money from the client, and placed it in the pocket in the barristers hood (many academic hoods still have this small pocket). That is how professionals were paid. Doctors and lawyers, traditionally, did not ask for money, but were paid what the recipient thought they were due. That was plenty when people were wealthy, landed, and generous. Then, “everyday people” started needing lawyers and they didn’t know about how it worked. Lawyers had to start asking for money. It took a very long time for that to be a direct discussion though–it was still handled by the solicitor until the last hundred or so years. So, yes, I detest having to discuss money, and more than anything about this profession, I detest clients who think I am overpaid and don’t pay their well-earned fees. I have no doubt about the fairness of what I charge, but short of handing out some version of this article to all clients, there is a limit to what we can do.
              As far as suing for fees, I do it. My insurance carrier hates it, and I’m sure my rates reflect it. There will ALWAYS be a counterclaim for malpractice (because it’s their only possible defense, and they know it). So far, I have always been able to have those dismissed by summary judgment, but the cost of these suits is not insubstantial, and too often the judgments I get end up worthless. (Client bankrupts, has no assets, moves, etc.)
              We earn the money and we deserve it. We spend 2x the time we bill thinking and worrying about these cases. But, collecting money is the worst part of being a lawyer by far. It’s the only reason I am looking forward to retirement. If I knew I’d get paid, I’d work for many more years. But the battle is just not worth it.

              • Patent Attorney

                God bless you and your quest to hold people accountable to their agreements. You’re an asset to the profession. If people just paid like they promised, this would all be a LOT less stressful.

  • Of course many of us can increase efficiencies where possible. (ie. not charging clients .10 a page to kill trees when we can go digital)

    But this is so right on.

    We can go home, but we can’t put down your “cases”. We absorb our client’s problems. We wake up in the middle of the night sweating case strategy. We think through our cases in the shower. Before bed. At the dinner table. At the park with our kids.

    And we don’t bill for that. Or perhaps its built into pricing structure.

  • Jordan Furlong

    Sam, this is an excellent distillation of the tremendous value that lawyers bring to our clients. I agree that our primary service is to take the weight of responsibility in complex, high-stakes situations off our clients’ shoulders and place it on our own. That’s our key professional deliverable, and I’ve rarely heard it phrased better — nicely done!

    I do have one quibble, though — I don’t think that our value to clients is the main driver of the price of our services. I’d ascribe that primarily to the nature of the legal services market, principally the limitations placed (naturally or artificially) on the range and type of suppliers.

    Any product or service is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, no more and no less. If nobody can offer anything close to what lawyers provide, then we’ll continue to charge a lot for what we do, and rightly so. If someone can offer the same or similar services as lawyers, though, that changes the equation. It’s no coincidence that legal fees already suffer in areas where competitive or substitute services are available, while they stay elevated in areas where, either through regulatory edict or subject-matter complexity, lawyers are the only game in town. Many lawyers already charge less than they feel their services are worth because of these kinds of competitive pressures. That might not be fair, but markets usually aren’t.

    Your post is a terrific description of why people *should* pay lawyers a lot of money, and every lawyer should deploy it in fee discussions with their clients. But why people actually *do* pay us a lot of money is, I think, ultimately more a function of market realities. Our challenge is that a lot of people are pushing hard right now to change those realities — and they’re off to a pretty decent start.

    • Patent Attorney

      And what’s worse, the rules of ethics and license prevent lawyers from starting those competitive services like lay people are allowed to do.

  • Excellent article, thank you so much, Sam! This message must be spread. Do we have your permission to translate that article into German language and post it on our website http://www.viehbacher.com?

    • Sure, as long as you link back to the original here.

  • John Gordon

    This is such bull crap. Which lawyer on here actually has had a dream about their clients legal problems?? Which one said I want to go to law school to help people ? I doubt any.. Most if not all said let me go to law school for preatige , for money, for a nice title. I call bullshit on this whole article. A bunch of bull jargon. I have dealt with many lawyers and they were all worried about money. I paid 6000$ for a custody attorney that eyeballed my watch and bracelet in his office to determine how much he was going to charge. He just didn’t know I noticed. All for him to not even open the letter the g.a.l had sent him and almost cost me custody of my son. I run a small business and I have the same type of overhead any lawyer does. I place lawyers right next to politicians a den of thieves and this is how many if not most Americans feel trust me.

    • CMB

      Josh: to answer your questions:
      Which lawyer on here actually has had a dream about their clients legal problems?? Which one said I want to go to law school to help people ?

      Me.

      As an owner of a private practice, the amount of time I spend prepping and dreaming about a case far exceeds what I bill my clients. Although I can’t speak for every attorney, I do know there are many of “my kind” out there…and we’re usually not the ones making the big bucks. We do it for the love, not the prestige.

    • J Miller

      Mr. Gordon:

      I have had more dreams about clients’ legal issues than I can count. And yes, the lawyer’s obligation to a client plays very high on whether or not I take a case. Just ask my wife if it affects my sleep and my out-of-work family and social time.

      In most jurisdictions, if a lawyer decides he wants “out” of the case because of anything ranging from client isn’t paying fees to the client is a horrible client, only the Judge can decide if it’s ok for the attorney to be “out” of the case.

      If I could unilaterally pick to get “out” of a case at will; I would be able to afford to cut my hourly rate in half and I would take on MANY more questionable cases with the understanding to the client that the MINUTE you are late on an invoice I am out of the case. But, it doesn’t work that way (nor, I believe, should it).

      And frankly, in my jurisdiction, $6,000.00 isn’t even close to an “expensive” custody case to pay for a lawyer. I wouldn’t think a custody case expensive until it was into the $15,000+ mark. It’s not uncommon to see high five figure to six figure custody disputes. It all depends on how hard each side chooses to fight and how they expend their resources.

      I seriously doubt the lawyer changed his hourly rate based on your bracelet and watch. Your level of affluence, though, *might* have played into setting his initial retainer. Wives (or bio-mothers) of affluent families will typically hire stronger lawyers and fight harder than opposing parties with no financial resources. This means that your lawyer has to factor in a stronger fight (meaning more hours worked, more $ and time commitment).

      Not to mention, families with resources actually have something to fight about as opposed to families with little or no assets. I generally base my retainers off of my best guess of the case’s complexity (meaning, my firm’s time commitment to your case) in which I generally have very few data points to rely upon. Frequently, the retainer is the only amount of money I’ll make on a case even if I work more hours than the initial retainer.

      Lawyers are no different than any other profession; a few exemplary lawyers, many decent to good lawyers, and a few bad apples.

      • Guest Dude

        When this custody lawyer found out the client was self employed his fee went up. Self-employment can be a nightmare for child support issues because a large number of “small business owners” are tax cheats so determining income is extremely hard and involves the application of numerous rules as to what is and isn’t income. There’s another dimension to the fight he has to be paid for. And jerk former clients bad mouth you when they lose. I charge a jerk premium for certain people based on personality and how demanding they are. Telling me all about how she’s already making false allegations and the break up was all her fault? Price goes up.

        The truth of the matter is that I am a good enough attorney to work all the time whether this one client hires me or not. So I will charge what it takes to motivate me to put up with your problems and your problems that you most likely had a large hand in creating.

        • J Miller

          I missed that part of his post; my retainer definitely goes up if one or both of the spouses are self employed and there are kids involved. There’s always a lot of discovery and motion practice on getting the real picture of the small-business(es) financials.

        • ??

          Wait, WHAT? So you charge the “jerk” who vents a little about his wife more money than the guy who doesn’t? And…and HE’S the jerk? Look, I get it. You’re an attorney and not a therapist. But at the same time, divorces can be volatile situations and you’ve got to expect that sort of thing to some degree. Besides, maybe the “false allegations” thing is unfounded, exaggerated, or just altogether immaterial to the case. But perhaps the “break up” being her fault is something very relevant, something you need to hear. Was there infidelity, for example? But all you’re hearing is the cash register clanging because HE’S the “jerk” ? Don’t ever practice criminal law if that’s how you do business. My God, I’m actually horrified!

    • I don’t think you’re going to believe anything I say, but I don’t even represent clients very often these days and I still dream about my former clients’ legal problems.

      And for what it’s worth, many of my classmates went to law school because they wanted to work for non-profit legal services organizations, and did just that after graduation. Many others wanted to help people as a way of earning a living. It’s quite common.

      Actually, I’m probably the anomaly. I went to law school because it sounded interesting after I changed my mind about teaching, and I figured becoming a lawyer would probably enable me to buy me a Dodge Viper. I never bought the Viper (I drive a cheap compact), but I was right about the interesting part.

      • Thiago

        Nice to read somebody which had the same motivations as me (although I am more of an AMG kinda of guy) and ended up in the same place.

        Even after the desire for material goods has greatly diminished, be it because we grow older or wiser, or simply because we end up buying those things and not feeling fulfilled, the lure of Law School and the wealth of knowledge and experience it brings us still is more than enough to motivate a professional.

      • Joy Bertrand

        I’ve dreamt about my clients’ legal problems many, many times — when I haven’t woken up at 2 AM, turned on the light, and started writing out notes on the legal pad on my night stand

        • justthebest

          Happens all the time.

      • ??

        Interesting. I too found myself at the teacher-lawyer crossroads, but I chose teaching. I think that I would really, really enjoy practicing law, but I just wasn’t convinced that law school was a wise investment at around the time I was contemplating pursuing the degree. Sounds like it worked out for you though, so, cheers! And hey, if you’re ever in CT, let’s grab a beer and live vicariously through each other! Ha

    • Lawyer in Texas

      Jjohn, don’t judge all lawyers because you had a bad experience with one! You are just wrong. I dream about clients and worry about them all of the time. Oh, and I charge a lot more than $6000 for a custody case. Unfortunately, as Sam implies, you get what you pay for. Lower cost = less service and less quality.

    • I’ve dreamed about my clients’ cases. And I’ve awoke well after mid-night in a worrisome sweat trying to figure out a winnable argument. I’ve had a number of occasions where I stayed up well after midnight and woke up even earlier to finish a response to a brief or motion.

    • DCS

      John Gordon, you have strong opinions about this. However, we do dream and fret and lose sleep over our clients’ problems.

    • finnitastic

      Dude, your case probably cost more because you’re such an a-hole. That much is clear from your comment. Believe it or not, your lawyer probably dreaded talking to you and your case was probably a pain to handle. You obviously did not get along with your child’s mother either, if there was a contentious custody case. Maybe take a look in the mirror and try to realize that you are the cause of most of your problems, instead of whining about lawyers.

      • flashwins

        He sounds like an a-hole?? Pot / kettle. Your sound like 1000x the a-hole he could ever possibly hope to be, even if he went to school for years for it and passed a three day long a-hole test.

        • finnitastic

          Jealous? Insecure? Sounds like it. Lawyers don’t have to accept cases and they can set whatever rate they want on a case by case basis. Your attitude would probably also earn you an asshole surcharge.

          • flashwins

            Yeah? Except that I won’t deal with an attorney that doesn’t have an up front and transparent pricing structure. And jealous of what? You? LOL… you’re a dinosaur, and the way you “price” your services will be gone faster than you can say “douchenozzel”

            • justthebest

              “Up front pricing structure?!” I’m as upfront as I can be—I’m charging you by the hour. YOU control a lot more than I do how many hours that is. It’s YOUR emails and phone calls that run up the bill. It’s YOU not properly completing the paperwork or reading the “how to” sheets I gave you that run up the bill. It is YOU turning down a perfectly reasonable offer or wasting hours in mediation when you have no intention of settling that run up the bill. MY preference is to reach a reasonable settlement as soon as we can and get you the hell off of my caseload. YOU are the one with the unrealistic expectations. But, fortunately, I can spot jerks like you a mile away and rarely get stuck with them anymore. Tripling the normal retainer will usually get rid of cheap asses like you. Thank goodness.

              • flashwins

                Mmmhmmm. You sound like a caricature comprised of all of the absolute worst qualities people see in lawyers. The open spigot model is DONE FOR. Roll with it, or roll up under it.

                • justthebest

                  Assuming you are intelligent (I’m going to go with that for now), how do you not understand the simple math of “flat fee structure?” In every case, someone will be screwed. If the attorney under-estimated the amount of time it will take, s/he is screwed. And, exactly what quality of work do you think you are getting if the lawyer is working well beyond what he or she has already been paid for? If I thought it would take 10 hours, and due to your unreasonable demands, or your spouse’s, or his or her attorney, or the judge, etc. etc. it is taking 25 hours and counting, I am beyond angry and resentful. So, next time I over-estimate the time to be sure this doesn’t happen, and it works. I estimate 25 and it takes 10! Woo hoo. Windfall. Only, in my case, I feel awful, because my client has paid me for time I didn’t work. That is totally unfair to both of us. Flat fees are fine if you have a simple will or real estate transaction, but for something as open-ended as a divorce (especially if children are in any way involved) is grossly unfair to someone every single time.
                  And, for anyone who thinks you would get good at estimating after a while, that is not true at all. After 30 years, I have yet to come up with any way of predicting accurately how long and how much work any given case will incur, and have yet to meet the attorney who can do that well.

                  • flashwins

                    Making this about me and my intelligence won’t change the reality that I have attorney-clients that utilize limited scope / flat fee structured billing for full on litigation in divorce matters. They break up the litigation into stages; fact finding, discovery, motions and trial; and charge for each accordingly. The American Bar Association published a step-by-step guide to using flat fees in the litigation process, breaking up flat fee billing in litigation into 7 stages.

                    Whatever hang ups you have about flat fee billing, you need to get over them, or hope the public doesn’t catch on before you retire in a couple of years. I’m assuming you’re older, because it’s generally the geriatric demographic that is the most opposed to flat fees in my experience. I’m sorry that change is scary for you, but it’s real, and it’s happening much sooner than you would like, no question.

                    There is another article here on The Lawyerist entitled: Four Reasons Billing By the Hour is a Competitive Disadvantage. You should read it.

                    • justthebest

                      Sorry, I guess I used words too big for you. I will use simpler words: “It is UNFAIR to someone, every single time.” I’m sorry if that is too complicated for you. I tried to explain why, but you just don’t get it. It has nothing to do with age or fear–it’s about fundamental fairness to the client and the attorney.

                      I admit that educating dumb people or the willfully ignorant is not my strong suit. I’m done with trying to educate you, as you are clearly beyond any hope. (And people like you are the very reason why no smart lawyer would ever represent someone like you on a flat rate. You don’t know when to just stop and admit defeat. You have to keep on making the same bad argument over and over, without addressing the merits of the other side.)

                    • flashwins

                      I don’t think you are as smart as you say you are. You take the position that flat fees for litigation are untenable. I proved to you that the American Bar Association promotes this practice to the point that they have articles to this effect posted on their site. They have gone as far as publishing infographics to try and teach old dogs new tricks, but some of you sadly, are just too old and incapable. I am frankly surprised you have mastered the internets sufficiently to type out your useless and incoherent diatribes based on anything but reality.

                      There is another article here on The Lawyerist entitled: Four Reasons Billing By the Hour is a Competitive Disadvantage. You should read it. But you won’t. You will be the same old dinosaur plodding along, doing what he’s always done. Ignoring that huge flat fee meteor aimed right at him. Meanwhile your practice is sinking and you have no idea why.

                    • justthebest

                      NOT “untenable.” UNFAIR. Are you not aware of the difference? Good grief. So, if I charge you a rate based on the assumption of 20 hours of work, you pay it, and it takes me 8 hours, you wouldn’t be outraged? If that is true, you are very unusual.
                      (And you don’t need to worry about my practice. I turn away more clients than I take.)

                    • flashwins

                      Outraged? Why? If you got the job done to my satisfaction and the cost was reasonably commensurate with what it was worth to me to resolve the issue, FINE. If you got it done in half the time, EVEN BETTER. It’s called value based billing. Avvo offers it, so does Legal Hero and MANY law firms all throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, in various areas of law. Welcome to the future.

    • Impatient_Bostonian

      I graduated from law school in 1989. I owed $32,000 in loans, which I understand is peanuts now but it was huge back then. I took a job as a legal services lawyer, working for a non-profit that provided free legal services to poor people. My starting salary was $19,100 per year. My loan payments were about $450 (interest rate was over 7%). My clients were the poorest of the poor, in dire situations. I worked long, long hours because I kept thinking if I worked a few more hours I could take another case and keep someone in housing, or keep food on their tables, or help them navigate the legal system. I left after 7 years, completely burned out and went to work for the government. Did I dream about my clients’ legal problems? All of the time. I worried about them and their kids incessantly. There are plenty of big firm or corporate lawyers making huge bucks, but they worry and think about their clients all the time too. Most people hire lawyers for unhappy things. There are adoptions and real estate transactions that are good things, but if you think about what most lawyers do – ugly litigation, divorces, child custody battles, etc, most of us don’t spend our days doing life-affirming things. We clean up other people’s messes. It takes a toll on us, believe me. I am never going to be rich, but I didn’t get into this to be rich. I drive a baseline Subaru. I live in a 975 sq. ft. house. I don’t take vacations. I chose this life, chose to use my talents to make a difference and help people. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with the legal system, but I can assure you that there are more good lawyers, lawyers who worry about their clients and fret about strategy and panic over missing deadlines than there are worried about how big their next paycheck is going to be.

      • Jus

        There shoulld be more lawyers like you in Australia!!! There is a serious lack of good lawyers here. Most of them are interested in how much they can take from you….

    • anon

      I wake up thinking about my clients problems, and then working in the middle of the night when I have an idea all the time. My practice pays decently, but nobody would be in it if they didn’t care about the people they represent.

      Lawyers will always look bad, because we try and fix emotional problems with money. But you can’t fix emotional problems with money, so even when we win, our clients are still not put whole. We’re not like doctors who fix problems, we just try and give our clients enough money that their problems don’t seem so bad.

      I do what I do because I love it. I love working for my clients, I think I’m doing the right thing, I think I’m on the right side of the moral line. Yes, I’m in it because of the money, I need money to pay for my housing, car, food etc. But I’m also in it for the people. If I weren’t in it for the people, I would change careers to something that pays better with shorter hours and less stress.

      P.S. That lawyer might have been eyeing you, but not because it would change the bill, just trying to see who you are. As lawyers we get screwed by our clients from time to time, we size you up to prevent that from happening.

      • captain_quirk

        I would change “from time to time” to “frequently”.

    • T. Rose

      Bold statement. I’m sorry you had a poor experience. However, I will not “trust” you or your blanket statement claiming to know what lawyers dream about or what their goals are. We are humans. With kids, morals, loves, struggles, and goals of our own. We have an entire second exam aside from the bar exam that literally tests us on our own ethics code, a code that we must follow or face being disbarred. Ethics are a HUGE deal for attorneys. Our clients’ lives are our lives. We take every one of their burdens home with us every day. I am not a bargain basement flea market vender handing out half-price divorce settlements and no-bills. I am a person that chose to spend my entire career helping other people through some of the toughest personal battles of their lives. And you are in the wrong place to bash a profession you know nothing about.

    • jking

      As a small business owner, I find it hard to believe you can’t imagine where the rates come from. You clearly don’t understand the concept of your lawyer’s overhead. To represent his ungrateful client, he had to pay for his office space, computers, furniture, utilities, bar memberships, subscriptions to legal services like research sources, software license so that it doesn’t take twice as long to keep up with a paper file, salaries for paralegals and assistants (would you want the guy with your child’s future in his hands hiring the cheapest help available or the most qualified?) and yes he’s got to pay himself too.

      And if you’re a successful small business owner, I’d hope that you were smart enough to understand the difference between a retainer and the actual fees. I won’t waste the words trying to explain it here. And for a contested custody matter, $6000 is definitely middle of the road for a retainer throughout most of the country. And as a small business owner, I’m surprised it wasn’t more because you guys always seem to be the ones who fall on money troubles when something else goes wrong. There are also very obvious reasons that having a small business directly complicates a custody matter.

      And you further your display of absolute ignorance of the inner workings of what’s going on in your case if you think hearings are all lawyers do. If the hearings are the only thing you knew about, that means your lawyer did great prep work and didn’t have to bother you with the preliminary problems.

      Given your low opinion of lawyers, I’d be willing to bet that you’d take exception to one coming in and criticizing the way you run your shop without actually doing any research, so why not grant us the same courtesy?

      • flashwins

        It’s not his job to understand his attorney’s overhead. You just sound too pompous for words.

        • KyuC

          He doesn’t need to understand it, but has to pay/share in it just the same; just as you do for any other goods or service that you avail of.

          • flashwins

            Except with respect to those other services, my cost isn’t open ended like a broken siva. And what do you mean he doesn’t have to understand it? Why then are issuing itemized billing statements telling a client what you did every 6 minutes of every hour? The billable hour is going the way of the dodo bird. Value based AFAs are the future.

            • KyuC

              Would you demand accounting from McDonalds for their electricity bills, salary costs, taxes, cost of goods, etc…, and how they priced their Big Mac, when you buy a burger? If you think that burger is not worth the buck they are asking you to pay, you have other options. The itemised billing represent the service provided, which is what you bought from the lawyer. If your burger is missing a pickle, you can complain.

              • flashwins

                That is patently incorrect. The bill itself with only a total would represent the cost of the service provided. The itemized bill is the explanation.

                • KyuC

                  It may represent cost to you, but to the lawyer, their itemised bill represent the particular service provided, and the PRICE of their service. If they worked an hour on your matter (.10 on this, .20 on that, etc…), and their hourly rate is $600 – then the total price of their service to you is $600. It’s no different than McDonalds telling you the price of the bun is $.30, the burger patty $.1.50, the ketchup…, and thus the total price of the burger is $2.50. …but in that case, do you really think the price of the burger patty just covers the price of the minced meat when they bought it from the butcher? Of course it also partly covers overhead, and there’s mark-up – but McDonalds is not giving you an accounting for that.

                  • flashwins

                    If I need a document review, or an appearance, or a ghost writing assignment done, I don’t care how many paper clips you needed or sheets of paper you printed. If I am quoted a range, my lawyer better damn well be prepared to explain why and how the cost of his service went from the low range to the higher range.

                    • Patent Attorney

                      I’m happy to explain it all a second time, for a fee. I explained it in the bill. It’s right there. Read it. Pay it.

                    • flashwins

                      Flat fees, transparent pricing, reasonable and affordable payment arrangements that work for ME, or I go elsewhere. As do the thousands of clients posting cases on Avvo, LegalMatch, FindLaw, Nolo, Lawyers.com, etc etc etc are doing. Sorry old timer. It’s a new day. Welcome to the internets. Be sure to leave your stapler on the way out.

                    • Patent Attorney

                      I get it. You’re a cheap ass who thinks that lawyers are completely fungible and that the only thing they compete on is price. Good for you. I don’t want your business. I’d rather let you drive some other poor sap out of business by taking over his life and refusing to pay. I prefer the clients that value my time and efforts as positive contributions to their businesses.

                    • flashwins

                      A sad testimony to your level of professionalism and maturity. Insulting me personally and using vulgar language. You are a sad pathetic relic who is out of his depth in the information age. I feel sorry for you. I picture you in a basement office, wearing ragged threads, and wreaking of stale scotch. Get your self together, and read Four Reasons Billing By the Hour is a Competitive Disadvantage. It’s here on The Lawyerst.

                  • flashwins

                    There is another article here on The Lawyerist entitled: Four Reasons Billing By the Hour is a Competitive Disadvantage. You should read it.

              • flashwins

                Without googling tell me how long lawyers have been using hourly billing? It was a failed experiment. And it’s going away, I promise you.

            • justthebest

              Not in my lifetime, for damn sure. Clients have way, way too much control over how much time a case will take to ever offer a flat fee. No lawyer can last with that model for more than a year.

              • flashwins

                Yeah right. Plenty do. Avvo has a section on their site for flat fees. Legal Hero does as well. Many, many attorneys offer flat fees and more will follow. You are a dinosaur pretending that big rock coming your way won’t do much damage.

    • Guest

      You have attitude issues – not to mention the need for spell check. Just sour grapes like usual.

    • Mike

      You cheaped out on your custody lawyer. That’s a statement about your priorities, not on lawyers in general. Also, what kind of guy wears a bracelet?

      • Joe Churchwell

        Usually male bracelet guys are greasy, balding, ignorant fucks with small penises. How’s that for a generalization John Gordon? Let me guess; a big gaudy gold-nugget bracelet from 1986?

        • captain_quirk

          LOL!!! :-D

        • flashwins

          Wow. Very clever of you. No wonder the public hates lawyers.

    • C

      I quite commonly lose sleep over my cases as do a number if my colleagues – just as I imagine you lose sleep over your business. But this is not something that lawyers expect non-lawyers to understand. Is it too much to ask though that you don’t paint us all with such a generic and ill-informed paintbrush?

    • Damon

      That says more about YOU and the lawyer you chose. Most of my attorney friends that represent real people take on their clients problems in part. So if you noticed a scumbag eye-balling your watch you should have thought “let me find another attorney. ..fast!”.

      • Patent Attorney

        This attorney is not a scumbag, he got screwed. John is the kind of guy that comes in bellyaching about how wrong everything is and how he doesn’t have any money. The attorney looked around like “okay, so why are you in my office?” Then he saw the watch and the red flares went off like “there’s something wrong with this story”. The attorney ignored his gut, gave the guy a deal, and got royally bent over on the amount of time this case took versus revenue generated and THEN he’s got this guy running around trashing his work. This is why you either don’t take these guys like John on, or you triple your estimate.

    • thevisionist

      Please do not generalize, I guess it is the same in every industry or occupation, you have good cops and bad cops. You have doctors who want to save life and doctors who are money driven. Even if they are money driven, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It’s just who they are. You can call that money driven, or ambitious. It’s very subjective. Without ambitious people, you won’t get all the improvements in life now. You have people who are passionate in what they do, whether a lawyer or a cleaner. Don’t judge the writer just because of the bad experience you have. Every service has a price. There’s no free meal in this world.

    • Ms. A

      Its not bull. I lose sleep over cases, and I’m a litigation paralegal. There’s a voluminous amount of activity behind the scenes that you are not aware of. To get an attorney to a hearing or trial and fully prepared isn’t happenstance. We’re a team and its my job to lighten the load in the hopes he or she can get a little rest especially the night before a hearing. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m thinking about whether or not Federal Court is open the day after Christmas because I’m worried about missing deadlines too! It is completely ignorant to lump attorneys together and assume they’re all thieves! The majority conduct themselves ethically and frankly, $6,000 is a bargain.

    • Olga

      My attorney showed up late for my hearing and with stinky lunch breath;meanwhile I was sweating bullets. No apology for being late.

    • Antoine G.

      A lot of lawyers are very vested in their client’s cases. I know several who personally said they went to law school to help people, including me. And I’ve put that into practice working for Legal Aid in my state. If I went for prestige, money and a nice title I surely wouldn’t be working for a job that pays less than your average teacher.

      You came across a bad one, and if you hired him after knowing he was clearly out for money than you made a bad decision. I’m sorry for your situation, you cannot paint all lawyers, or even the majority of lawyers with a broad stroke because of your bad experience with one.

    • Clark

      I dream about files all the time. Sam is spot on.

    • Ron

      First, you did not have to hire that attorney. You could have found one that was less expensive or more to your liking. Next, I would have charged you much more, for a number of reasons (you’re a real jerk, likely impossible to work with and probably under claim your tax liability making for difficulties in assessing community property and support). To that end, I hope no one works for you again. You attitude is poor, you likely have problems often as a result and you lack common manners. I hope you raise your poor children with better manners than you possess.

      • Patent Attorney

        He already found the least expensive. You can bet on that.

    • Kerry O’Brien

      Find a better way to choose a lawyer. Unfixing life’s messes (e.g. a marriage with kids gone bad, a cirrhotic liver, etc.) costs money. You come to us with your life’s crap-bag in your hand and want us to fix it. Without us, you’re living with your crap-bag and sleeping with it under your pillow every night. The market thus speaketh.

    • Andrew Dosa

      Sorry to hear you felt your attorney did not take care of your case. But, back to your two questions, the answer is yes for me. Woke up at 3:00 am today thinking about two cases. And I went to law school because being an attorney was all I ever wanted to do and it would allow me to serve people. Just so you know.

    • flashwins

      Hmmm…. I went to law school PRECISELY to help people, and know many others who have as well. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but not all ships are built the same, you know?

    • michae1803

      It’s somehow not surprising that you were in an attorneys office for a custody case. Your cynical attitude would doom any intimate relationship. It is clear you have little respect for legal professionals — maybe because you read your own motivations into them. The fault, Mr. Gordon, lies not with your attorney, but with your self.

    • AOM

      You seem to be attracted to the wrong lawyers.

      I suspect you choose your lawyers based on whether they fit your bias of what you think a lawyer is and, as a result, you end up dealing with the few who do reside in the “den of thieves” with the bottom of the barrel of every other profession.

      If you saw the lawyer eyeballing your watch to determine what to charge you — next time, don’t pay it. Walk out of his office and go find one of the many honest and hard working lawyers who will charge you what they’re worth. The fact that there are people out there (you) who will pay these schmoes even when they (you) know they are rotten is why they are still able to practice. Stop paying them and start paying good lawyers and the bad ones will go away. Market forces at work.

      (Also, I talk to numerous law students every year who tell me they went to law
      school to “help people,” and I have co-workers who tell me about their
      dreams involving their clients’ legal problems.)

    • wcusmano

      Much more common, friend, is the lawyer who can’t imagine why his client can be so free with money in other aspects of his business life but who is so cheap when it comes to hiring the person he expects to solve his problems. Who doesn’t answer five phone calls reminding him to do stuff the lawyer needs to happen for the lawyer to do his job, but who then will call the lawyer immediately demanding to know why something isn’t done. Who has little appreciation for his own role in creating the “simple” problems he expects the lawyer to solve, blaming their intractability instead on the legal services. And then bellyaches about the bill. And when the lawyer cuts his fee, expecting no less, because lawyers are all crooks. As he sits in the lawyer’s office with his watch and bracelet.

    • Robert T. Hall

      You in a custody battle? With all that warmth, compassion and understanding?
      Hard to imagine. P.S. What, pray tell, is “preatige”?

    • Judy Flournoy

      The law is like any other profession. Some practitioners are good. Some are bad. I have personally known both kinds of attorneys. The good ones get
      Singled out by their clients who pass the word that they are conscientious and competent. They make a boatload of money but pay a higher personal price than most folk would be willing to pay. And, if you’re so sensitive to how your attorney decided how much to charge, why didn’t you leave your expensive stuff at home?

    • Facts&Law

      I can’t begin to adequately describe how much I agonize over my clients’ cases. I think about them constantly, and worry over every detail. I don’t bill 1/3 of the time I actually spend thinking about a case. That’s just the way it is. And when we sometimes get a bad result (which is inevitable) I beat myself up endlessly. Far more than is healthy. I’m an expensive lawyer. In at least one sense, legal services are like any other service: you get what you pay for.

    • Janey

      I frequently lay awake at night thinking of my clients’ cases and wondering what further actions I can take for them. I went to law school to help people but after several years of running my practice, I realized that I had to earn a proper living as well. I often give clients discounts because they cannot afford to pay regular fees. I work longer hours because of this. And there are times, when my client cannot afford to pay my fee, that I keep working in order to get a good result for them, trusting they will pay me after the fact, and then they stop paying their account and I am short thousands of dollars and they are judgment proof or they claim bankruptcy so that I never get paid. I totally understand that as in every profession, there are people who do not earn the fees they charge, but you cannot paint every lawyer with the same brush.

    • Dee

      I agree with Sam. You will probably not believe a word I say, but it needs to be said. Yes, there are a healthy quantity of lawyers like the one you mentioned. But trust me, there are MANY who are not like that at all. I went to law school later in life, and trust me…I did not do it for the money. In fact, I knew I wanted to be a public service attorney. And they do not make much. I worked so hard through law school it landed me in the hospital right after graduation. I graduated with honors, but nearly died, literally. Then I worked relentlessly in an enormously underappreciated job for years, serving the public and people who can not afford lawyers. You have no idea the seriousness of the obligations we have for our clients. I lose sleep constantly over clients, even some whose cases have been over for years. I cared too much, if that is possible. Once I opened my own small firm, I charged very little, but clients still expected the moon. It amazed me how grateful they were when I worked with them on price and payments [because no other attorney would do that], but then they NEVER gave me a break. They still expected me, alone, to do what big firms with tons of assistants do…and so did the Bar. People do not understand the pressures of being an attorney. You try to be a “good guy,” but clients expect miracles and the law does not work that way. You are honest with them about the law and they are simply mad as hell at you, like you wrote the law. They think you have a magic wand that you can waive and fix their lives, and when you can’t because the LAW will only go so far, they file grievances with the bar and you are in danger of losing your license to practice. [Not that I ever had that happen to me. But like Doctors, every client is a potential law suit or bar grievance and the pressure is great.] But I worked myself sick for people who only demanded more and more from me. But never wanted to pay much. I finally quit. Life is too short, and my health and happiness are worth more than this. I still have school loans to pay off, but I’ll suck that up for health and happiness. Again, people like you hire the wrong lawyers, and then complain. For now, I’m just over the whole mess.

    • justthebest

      You could not be more wrong. Most older lawyers were inspired primarily by Atticus Finch (the original one, not the new one), and I don’t know any lawyers that don’t spend huge amounts of non-billable time (awake and asleep) thinking about their clients’ cases. You are just determined to be cynical, which is your right, but you are dead wrong.

    • LouisaFinnell

      You may not believe me, but I’m in the business of lawyering to help people. I am the only attorney (also only one paralegal) in a small office. My clients are low income people who are mostly also victims of domestic violence, and they probably would not have an attorney if not for me. My fees are the lowest in town by far, and I will reduce them even further to help someone who really has nothing. Hate lawyers all you want. You don’t sound like you care to change your opinion. But I help people every day for low pay that is probably a LOT less than you make. Most of the lawyers I know are very decent people and they are not rich. They do a job they believe in. I’m certainly not rich. My Toyota Corolla is 17 years old, but I’m proud of what I do for people.

      I’ve never charged $6,000 for anything, but for a more typical private attorney, $6,000 for a custody case is pretty reasonable. I’m sure your attorney earned every penny of it.

    • I can tell you that I went to law school to help people. That was my reason; not to be rich, have a prestige, or a fancy title. Many of my colleagues were there for the same reason and still devote themselves to serving low income people who need legal help. They do this despite being able to leave and work for big firms or large corporations with a much bigger salary. I too have had dreams about clients legal problems, more than once. So you are wrong on your assumptions. You cannot judge or stereotype all lawyers based on the bad experiences you have had with one or two.

  • Just a guy…not important

    I wasn’t going to post here because frankly I don’t think you are interested in my thoughts. I apologize if I stumbled on to this post and all you wanted to do was pat yourselves on the back. There is no reason to take my words seriously. There is no reason to look within….

    Yet, I will say, it’s a little disheartening to read this and understand the mindset of an attorney.

    First, let’s be clear about something. Just because you hire an attorney, it doesn’t allow you to sleep easier. To say “your problem is now my problem”, doesn’t come close to understanding the issue from the clients perspective. At no time does the problem become your problem. How out of the realm of reality can you be? If the defendant loses, his issue hasn’t become your problem. You won’t be paying…. You won’t be spending a minute in jail. You just lose and have a large attorney bill, as well… It’s just wrong to say you take the burden because you don’t. If you lose will you pay the judgement or serve the time? In fact, I would say the majority of attorneys don’t even empathize with their clients issues. They go from client to client focused on the win. I’m not saying some might lose sleep thinking up strategy or even get a parking ticket to make court on time. Do you want an award for that?

    The story regarding an attorney abandoning his Ferrari to make a hearing is telling… I’ll tell you, I own a Ferrari. So, I’m not enamored by cars and could care less what someone drives. Yet, I’ve got to ask why would you drive a car like that to a hearing? I wouldn’t consider taking an exotic car on a day I had to attend a hearing. It really doesn’t show respect to your client of what your priorities are. The fact that he abandoned it to make a commitment is logical and understandable. It seems like you think an award is warranted here as well….

    But, those issues are just justification for high rates and do little to explain anything. I could discuss them further but I’d run out of room and what’s the point?

    The real issue is lack of accountability and cross interests. The client’s interest is in getting a win at the least cost. The attorney, working on the client’s behalf, interests are in winning and making the most money. So from the start there are cross issues. If you don’t see this you are kidding yourselves. You can call opposing council to discuss a matter and there is little motivation to keep it short and simple. There is little the parties can do to cost contain and the attorneys can feel good about their attention to detail representing their client.

    I’ll leave it at this.

    It isn’t the hourly rate that’s the issue, it’s the abuse/containment of hours, justified or not, that make litigation so expensive.

    Another issue that you could discuss in another story is how firms handle profits. I’m not talking small firms with a few partners. I’m talking about the firms that have many partners and retirees. Do they still profit from the firm? I mean, when you take an attorneys $500 hourly rate, where does it go, percentage wise?

    Just for the record, I’m not anti-attorney. Nor do I put all attorneys in the same category. Yet, you really should self reflect better if you think your profession doesn’t need a change.

    Maybe something to think about….

    • you really should self reflect better if you think your profession doesn’t need a change

      I absolutely 100% think our profession needs some change. But when we’re talking about change, we should be honest about the other things we are talking about. One of those other things is changing the fundamental nature of the attorney-client relationship. There’s just no other way to solve the massive access to justice problem and get legal services to everyone who needs them but can’t afford current prices.

      There is certainly some overbilling and waste, but eliminating that alone isn’t going to get us to real savings. I don’t think there’s nearly as much as you think, even at the big-firm level.

      • Patent Attorney

        I’m always amazed that every single case that comes in the door can be “relatively easy and cheap”. So where are the “relatively hard and expensive” cases?

    • Ron Mexico

      If you present the way you write, then any attorney you meet with sees you coming a mile away. And what they see coming is “difficult pain in the ass client”. No retainer will ever be cheap enough, no result will ever be favorable enough.

      When deciding whether or not to take a case, I can and do evaluate the client personally. If the case interests me but I get the impression that the client will be a hassle, then I can and will build a “difficult client tax” into my fee. Sometimes, sadly, the potential client still says “yes”.

      Just from what I read of your comments above, that tax would apply to you. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to cross your path who thinks that way.

      • flashwins

        “difficult client tax” …. do them a favor and refer them to another attorney.

        • DD

          You simply don’t understand what that means. You have never been an attorney and had many client’s lives in your hands…only to have one or two clients sucking up MASSIVE amounts of time essentially complaining and whining and wasting VALUABLE time that NEEDS to be spent saving someone from prison… etc. You have no idea what we mean by that term, and how impossible difficult clients make properly serving ALL of our clients. You have NO IDEA the stress of being an attorney. And the enormous obligation. Non-attorneys just don’t get it. I never did…until I became an attorney in my 40’s. Trust me, you have NO IDEA.

          • flashwins

            You just wrote an entire paragraph exalting and mystifying the legal profession. Get over yourself and treat your clients with the dignity and respect they deserve. They are paying you.

            • Machiara

              Yes, they are paying me to do my job. But you generally wouldn’t stand over your mechanic and critique his every move, or your plumber, or [insert skilled worker here]. You are hiring me for my expertise, and that’s what you are entitled to. And you’ll get it! And you deserve to be kept up to speed on what is happening in your case, what our tactics are, and to have that explained to you. And you are generally my best source of information about the case and the parties involved, so we’ll be talking extensively about that.

              But I have had more than one client with zero legal training whatsoever who has wanted far more than that. Many of them think they are legal experts when they are anything but. These are the “difficult clients” he’s talking about. They second-guess you and want you to do things that THEY think are a good idea but which YOU know would never fly in whatever court their action happens to be in.

              Gently convincing these clients that their ideas wouldn’t work takes a lot of time. Then you have the clients who nitpick the bills. I try and break mine down into easily-understandable chunks so the client knows exactly what he’s getting. But if we’re dealing with, say, a hefty summary-judgment motion complete with experts, reams of documents, and plentiful deposition testimony, you shouldn’t be surprised if the total time spent on the motion exceeds 50 hours. It just takes that long to do a good job and present our best legal arguments to the court in a forceful, cogent manner.

              And if we have an important deposition coming up, it might take a few hours to prepare for it. It depends on the witness, but depositions are some of the most important things we do, and we only get one shot at it. You don’t want a shoddy deposition–you want your lawyer prepared. Some clients understand and appreciate this. Other clients need to have this explained to them, and even then act like you’re somehow picking their pocket.

              I’ve taken up too much time with this already, so I’ll just leave it here. But there are definitely difficult clients. Eventually most of them come to trust me. Those are the clients I love.

              • flashwins

                You charge your clients $15,000 to work on a motion? (300/hr x 50). Does this sound reasonable to you? One thing is certain, any client you chose not to work with, you are doing a tremendous favor.

                • Machiara

                  Not EVERY motion, flashwins. But we’re talking about “a hefty summary-judgment motion complete with experts, reams of documents, and plentiful deposition testimony.” Remember, this is a motion that can win you the entire case!

                  Such a motion includes:

                  Legal Research on the various legal issues raised in the motion, which oftentimes requires a visit to the local law library. It also requires the review of dozens if not scores of cases, and the Shepardizing of each of those cases to determine how the courts have subsequently treated the holding on which you’re planning to rely.

                  A well-edited and organized 15-20 page memorandum of points and authorities.

                  Various expert declarations, which require not only a scrutinizing of the expert reports but talking with the experts themselves and back-and-forth with them until you have something they’re comfortable signing that also fits well into your argument.

                  Review of discovery documents for information supporting your summary-judgment arguments.

                  Review of hundreds of pages of deposition testimony for information supporting the summary judgment arguments.

                  A separate statement of undisputed facts pin citing the court directly to the portion of the reference where support for those facts can be found, with facts specific to each cause of action split up into separate headings.

                  A declaration attaching a boatload of documents for the court’s review.

                  So yes, in that case, 50 hours no problem. Of course, I’d talk with my client about it before I went ahead and put that kind of time into a motion. A lot of it depends on the demand. If there’s a demand of $50,000, then you’re generally not going to want to spend much at all on the litigation if you don’t have to, so a motion which takes that kind of time just doesn’t make sense.

                  But if there’s a demand, say, for $500k or higher? And you can spend $15,000 for a motion that might have a 40%+ chance of getting rid of the claim entirely? Seems like money well spent to me. YMMV, of course.

                  • flashwins

                    $15,000.00 motions. OK champ. I’m sure your local bar association will be rapping on your door with nonsense like that.

                    • Machiara

                      Did you even read my post, Flash? If you can do all that–and turn out a high-quality product–in less than 50 hours, you should go to law school and undercut the competition. But until you do my clients pay the bills for my motions without complaint because they can see the work that’s gone into them. And like I said, if the motion gets your client out of a case that has a $5 million demand, or cuts the demand in half during settlement negotiations, it’s money well spent.

                    • flashwins

                      Okay we are making alot of assumptions here. First you are assuming I did not go to law school to do exactly that (what you may call undercutting the competition, I call encouraging excellent service, fair pricing and access to justice). Also, assuming you are drafting all of of your own memorandums of points and authorities, and not having your paralegal (who you are paying 15hr) do it for you. Assuming I have not drafted enough of them to know what it entails and who actually does the majority of the work on them. And you are assuming the case is worth millions of dollars. And you are assuming a 40% getting rid of the case completely, and that those odds can be substantiated. Look…. I’m not arguing that every client should be standing over your shoulder acting like a lawyer. I am simply arguing that clients deserve transparency in pricing and billing, and respect from the attorneys they pay to represent them. Is that really too much to ask? I don’t think it is.

                    • Machiara

                      And if you had just said that, I would have agreed with you. But what you said was that spending 50 hours on a motion was per se unreasonable and possibly an ethical violation. My point was that in certain situations–and here is where the “assumptions” come in–it is not only reasonable and ethical, but necessary. Not every situation, of course. But certain cases will call for that kind of investment.

                      But you’re kind of burying the lede here. You have paralegals write your motions?!?!? I’ve never had a paralegal do any drafting of or research on any motion I’ve ever submitted to the court.

                    • flashwins

                      Nope. I was drafting them for the law firm I was working for in law school. The law firm I was working at is fairly high profile has a case they litigated published in most Con Law books so let’s not feign indignation. Google: paralegals drafting points and authorities and you will see it is as common as wearing church clothes on a Sunday. I am really pleased and encouraged to see you agree with transparent billing and respecting clients though. Kudos to you sir.

                    • Machiara

                      Well, that’s interesting; I’d actually never heard of that before. Law clerks I can understand, since they’re in the midst of their legal training and need to have some (highly-supervised) experience in what a lawyer does. But I’ve never even considered having a paralegal write a brief, and honestly I’m still not much taken by the idea. YMMV, of course.

                    • Joy

                      Wow.
                      You need to calm down!
                      When someone’s risking years in prison I doubt $15,000 will cause suicide.

                      I think you’re irrational and really aggressive. You also shouldn’t argue with a lawyer.

                    • flashwins

                      Is suicide the marker we are using to determine if rates are excessive? I think you need to calm down. Why shouldn’t I argue with a lawyer? He’s a legal professional, not the pope. No more liquid lunches for you.

              • ??

                It’s like anything else, I suppose. A client needs to educate himself on all the work that goes into drafting motions and such. If my attorney charged me a couple thousand dollars for some complex summary judgement motion, yeah, I might not be surprised because I understand the work that goes into something like that. If my attorney charged me several thousand dollars for a motion to continue or a fill-in-the-blanks discovery motion, no… that’s not OK. I wouldn’t be happy. And also, like anything else, you can choose to forego the cost entirely by rolling up your sleeves, hitting the books and doing it yourself. Actually, if more people did that, they would probably understand just how difficult “lawyering” is. I’ve done it myself, and it was tough — doable, but very, very tough (and time-consuming) . I also tried to work on my own car before, albeit with less favorable results lol

      • Suzanne

        I think your comments sum you up perfectly. This is exactly why your profession is partly loathed and treated with contempt. You are educated people supposedly and above emotion and snap judgements, if you are not, then with the fees you charge at least you should be. I imagine you annoy most people who come into contact with you. Heaven forbid you have someone as a client who questions what you and your ilk do in your shady profession. Making deals behind clients backs, and then getting upset when they don’t take them, as the only winner would be you lot of mean spirited oiks. There is no empathy, because you don’t gauge people’s character, what is trivial to you is life and death to them, and you need to remember that.

    • dskattorney

      What about when a client decides that they “cannot” pay their bill and, as such, force the attorney to file for either fee arbitration or breach of contract? Even if the attorney wins, they can still lose when the client inevitably decides to get a “fresh start” by declaring bankruptcy. Additionally, many attorneys are forced to continue on cases for non-paying clients because the Judge has the final say-so when it comes to “permissive withdrawal” (a lawyer may only ‘fire’ a client, without Court approval, in certain limited circumstances). Let’s not forget either the reflexive action of filing a malpractice counterclaim as soon as an attorney sues a client for fees. All of these costs of doing business are just that, business (if a Fortune 500 company gets hit with a large jury award, the cost is passed onto the consumer) – that is just the way business is. Attorney hourly rates increase just as in any business, to cover the costs of dealing with the 10% of clients that are horrific.

    • Alaina Sullivan

      I struggle when my clients just stop paying simply because they do not get the outcome they want. I cannot even begin to tell you the nights I have gone over and over what I could have done differently, the times I have been crushed after receiving an unfair guardian ad litem report that causes my client to lose custody of their child. I’m sure my husband, who has seen me torn over the possibility of losing a case and worrying about the effect it will have on my client and her children. I carry it in my heart. Many of us do, in fact, take on these problems. We put our whole heart into it and certainly do not just walk away once the case is closed. However, I still have the pay my bills and take care of my family. I have a solo practice and my fees earned ARE my income. So I have to collect the fees even if I have to watch my client fall apart because of an unfair court ruling. I don’t have a choice, and I certainly don’t just walk away without a second thought.

  • Shannon

    This article is great. I would like to add that the cost also has to do with who we can not represent after signing a client. When an attorney is in one specialty, signing one client often means not doing work for another company.

  • bill holston

    excellent article! A couple points: 1. Lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession, by a large margin, and individual lawyers are consequently taking on the cost of providing no cost services.
    Second, I completely agree about your points, but I do think that the cost of litigation has become prohibitive. I used to try jury trials in the 80’s for a few thousand dollars, now that doesn’t really happen and I think technology has been a huge reason for the increase.

    • J Miller

      Isn’t it more the trend towards more liberal and thorough discovery and “rules creep?” I’m a younger lawyer so I’ve never known anything else. But a huge chunk of fees in my jurisdiction is discovery objections and related motions.

      Frankly, I’d like to see discovery rules have more “un-objectionable” rules like Texas’ Request for Disclosure where the lawyer just gets to demand those items, no objections allowed.

  • James

    Leave it to people on the internet to make a mountain of hate out of a molehill of a simple issue, simply stated. Fees, charges, time: it’s all a very complex mix that attorneys have to figure out every hour of every day. One thing I know for sure, when I was in private practice, I spent at least the same amount of non-chargeable time as chargeable time on many matters – but the clock didn’t stop – which reduced my ability to earn a living proportionately. Then there were the pro bono matters, and the friends that “just had a quick question” and my family members (all of whom believed they had a right to free legal services) and people that paid me for one thing that led them to believe they were entitled to unlimited refills (haha). So while the author didn’t mention any of those items he could and should have. The lesson for young lawyers is simple – don’t UNDERPRICE your services, because you are just going to resent/regret it later. I exited private practice and now am happily employed as a Chief Legal Officer for an international financial services firm, and am very happy with my decision! Nice article. Many lawyers have huge hearts, much to their own financial detriment! Just like in every other profession on Earth, there are good and bad apples.

  • John Gordon

    There is no way to justify a 5000$ legal fee for 3 court appearance’s which is typical of most clients 3 appearances whether custody or divorce or criminal and your paying a paralegal to file the majority of your motions. So can someone please disect the reason for this high absord fees. As soon as 10yrs ago a custody case was typically 1500-2500 dollars a misdemeanor was 500$ a low level felony 1000-1500$ Now its 1500 per misdemeanor which entails basically 1 court appearance for you the attorney and maybe 1 phone call to the prosecutor. A felony is now between 2500.00- 10,000.00 and that entails 2court appearances by the attorney one at preliminary and another at trial. A couple phone calls to the prosecution. It’s just hard to comprehend. Even the best lawyer can only do so much and either the client is in the right or the wrong.

    • Jonathan Warner

      I almost laughed out loud reading your screed. You are demanding a justification for the validity of a $5,000.00 attorney fee in consideration for legal representation in a matter as complicated as a child custody case? Given that most New York attorneys won’t even take on a child custody case for less than $5,000.00 up-front (not including their hourly rate), and assuming the other person in your picture is the child in question, I’d say your attorney’s fee can safely be considered the opposite of “absurd”.
      Further, I take offense to your labeling the legal profession a “den of thieves”. Thanks to your attorney, you’re now guaranteed the opportunity to direct the upbringing of your child. If you amortized the benefit of raising your child over the next ten [10] years, it would work out to $500.00 per year – or a little more than $40.00 per month. Is the benefit of raising your kid worth $40.00 per month to you? I’ll bet you pay more for high-speed internet service.
      You should be worshiping the ground that your attorney walks on.

    • J Miller

      Mr. Gordon:

      Most criminal cases are high-dollar flat fee and are billed the same whether there was a trial or not. This is because a judge is NOT going to let a lawyer “out” of the case unless there is a replacement lawyer. So the lawyer is stuck, whether or not the lawyer earned a favorable plea deal (that the client then refuses).

      $5000 for a 3-hearing family law case is quite common especially if each hearing is contested and not a prove-up. You may only see the one hour at court, but you didn’t see the 5 hours the paralegal did and the 3-8 hours the lawyer did to prepare for the hearing, (times 3 hearings), plus discovery motions and responses between the hearings, plus the myriad of phone calls and e-mails from the client complaining about the spouse or ex or whomever, (some complaints are legitimate and help the case, but most complaints just run up billable time and don’t change the outcome). It all adds up and the lawyer has little to no control over ‘what’ adds up. Are you aware that some divorces with kids will run into $100,000+ *per side* in attorney’s fees?

      In my jurisdiction, the first hearing in a family case is the most important; so, you prepare for it as if it was the final trial in many circumstances.

      Lawyerist’s argument is precisely this: the obligation to the client is high, therefore the fee is high.

    • Madrone

      John Gordon: I am a criminal defense attorney. Your perspective on the work we do is laughable. First, your costs are wrong (at least locally to where I practice). Market rate for a competent private defense attorney can be $2500-$5500 for misdemeanors; and $6500 to way above $10,000 for felonies.

      But the funniest part is the made-up amount of work you believe is entailed. Out of 100 cases, I might get one or two that resolve with one phone call and a court appearance. Most misdemeanors I handle take 6-12 months, multiple court appearances, and many hours of investigation and negotiation. I have felony cases that take two years to resolve. And I am absolutely one of those attorneys described above who loses sleep over cases.

      So, take a $10,000 felony where the person faces years of imprisonment. Obviously the stakes are high. Then stretch that fee over 18-24 months and a hundred hours of work (not at all unrealistic for a complex felony). Now you’re talking about attorney fees of $100/hour. Compared to the hourly rates of most other attorneys, this is bargain-basement. And if the result is a trial win, or a reduction to a misdemeanor? That is money well-spent. Given that the hourly rate for criminal cases actually ends up being quite low, most private criminal defense attorneys make their money by working at higher volume than other attorneys.

      Frankly, I have had plenty of clients just like you. You come in to our first consultation, tell me what my job entails, and complain about how much it’s going to cost. (And the whole thing is someone else’s fault too.) Guess what? You’ve just earned yourself a higher fee quote, because I know that I’m going to have to put up with this for the next year or more. And I know that regardless of how good the outcome is, you’re going to complain about something.

      Now that you know how your bad attitude can cost you, you have two choices: Improve your attitude when dealing with people who are trying to help you. Or keep the bad attitude and keep complaining. I can take a guess which option you’ll choose, but that’s up to you.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        I find it remarkable that you’re willing to admit out loud that you engage in price discrimination on the basis of snap judgments during an initial consultation. No doctor, lawyer, mechanic, plumber, or therapist could do the same thing and get away with it. So while the lawyers sit around writing learned articles about how price discrimination law applies to everyone but themselves, they themselves engage in it without apology. Good to know.

        http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/43/4/articles/43-4_Gifford-Kudrle.pdf

        • Madrone

          You link to a law review article on price fixing. That article describes price fixing this way: “When economists use the term, they mean that two or more similar goods are being sold at prices that bear different ratios to their marginal costs.” In other words, when the same item is sold at different prices, this could constitute price fixing.

          What I am talking about is quoting a higher flat rate for service to a client who will require a greater amount of work. (Note that we are talking about a service here, not a commodity.) This is not a snap judgment, nor is it price fixing. This is a product of years of experience with hundreds of clients. Experience dictates that some clients come in with unrealistic expectations and a chip on their shoulder. These clients take substantially more work than others. Therefore, they earn a higher fee quote.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Many people in many fields could say the same thing as you’ve just said. The examples I gave were examples of services, not commodities. And yet doing what you do in those professions would be considered price discrimination. So: Would you be willing to endorse the principle that every other service provider should be allowed to make snap determinations about what fee quotes they can give, based on their personal, subjective judgments about clients’ unrealistic expectations? That would be consistent.

            Experience, by the way, dictates a lot of things. One thing it dictates is that when people set their own prices and can increase their fees without transparency, when no one is looking, their supposedly centuries-old experience can be totally ad hoc and arbitrary. It’s called being a judge in your own case, and thousands of years of experience tells us that people are very bad at it.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Just to be absolutely clear and specific: would you be in favor of a physician’s or a therapist’s right–with no legal oversight whatsoever–to bill patients and/or insurance companies added fees, over and above the customary fee, for “patient with unrealistic expectations”? Better yet, let’s make these added fees undisclosed, so that the physician or therapist just adds extra fees to the baseline fee on an ad hoc basis, as she determines, “experientially,” that the patient has expressed yet another “unrealistic expectation.” The same for plumbers and mechanics, and all the rest. Can colleges and universities start increasing the tuitions–in the form of “fees”–of students with “unrealistic expectations”?

            For that matter, isn’t it “unrealistic” for someone with a prior medical condition to expect the same coverage as someone without any? Coverage for the one is certainly a “dissimilar good” from coverage for the other. So why not up the price so as to make coverage prohibitively expensive for those with prior conditions? Strangely, it’s precisely the lawyers who don’t seem to want to let that happen.

            Apparently, there are hitherto unheard-of bonanzas to be made in a wide variety of fields: all one has to do is to bill for “unrealistic attitudes,” which are in abundant supply across the land. If things were that easy, we’d all be rich. But my point is that we’re not–because it’s not. Unless you’re a lawyer.

            • Madrone

              I am not familiar with how therapists bill, but I think we all know the billing practices in the medical field. If you want to find out how much one single procedure will cost? Good luck. I’m not sure that comparing the billing practices of doctors to the billing practices of lawyers is that beneficial to your argument. One single doctor can have many multiple price points for their services, depending on which insurance company they are negotiating with, whether the patient is uninsured, on Medicaid, etc.

              The issue here has to do specifically with the billing practices of criminal defense attorneys. Most of us do not bill hourly because to do so would be inconvenient (if not impossible) and would leave the clients with no idea what their final cost will be. It is appealing for all sides in this type of representation to have a set price up front. That set price will depend on the going rate in the local market. (Some attorneys will work at below-market rate & higher volume, some will have higher rates & more limited clientele.) In this specific billing arrangement, the attorney has to be able to determine if a given case is likely to require more work than the norm. This could be because of the facts of the case, the client’s criminal history, or (gasp) the client’s attitude toward their representation.

              If a potential client feels that a flat-rate quote is too high, it is relatively easy for them to shop around. None of this is a shocking or lawyer-specific as you make it out to be.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        Sorry, obviously “lawyer” was a typo in my second sentence.

    • finnitastic

      I would definitely charge you more based on your poor attitude. You just don’t seem like someone who would be pleasant to deal with and more stress for me = more money. I might also charge you more for wearing a bracelet to our consultation. That just screams d-bag.

  • John Gordon

    Very well said “just a guy”

  • Daniel Lane

    Hah, about dreaming about the work. I’m not a lawyer but I absolutely know the feeling. I’m a programmer and believe me, dreaming in code is a very weird experience.

    Anyway on the issue of affordability, if a case costs a significant portion of a persons yearly income – it’s expensive. You need to understand that it’s hard for people who aren’t lawyers to appreciate the value of the profession. On the flip side most clients will use their own income as a baseline. If a court case costs £15,000 and the client earns £20,000 per year and the case will last a month you’re asking a client for 3/4 of their yearly salary for a month of work.

    It’s all about baseline perspective.

    • Patent Attorney

      But they don’t blink when their HVAC, plumber, electrician, roofer, or mechanic bills that. How much do you think your employer is charging out for your time? If the business is still open, then it’s at least double what they’re paying you per hour worked.

      • James Jensen

        There’s a big difference with these though. I can have an electrician rough-fit and finish wire an average 4-bedroom house for $5-6,000 at a fixed cost. You know what you’re getting into, and you have the benefit with other workmen of being able to observe (and time) them working. They can’t hide how many hours they’ve worked from you, or make up stuff well after they performed the work. The attorney has much more leeway to bill as he sees fit, and much of it can’t be accounted for in the way that it can with a physical worker.

        I can understand that an employer needs to make money and if he’s charging me $50 and hour for a workman, that he’s probably paying him $25. How do you explain a solo practitioner, that has no paralegal or secretary (i.e. he is a one-man operation) charging $300 just like larger firms with legitimate overhead do? It’s simple. He’s charging it because he can get away with it and preying on his clients.

        • Patent Attorney

          1. Find an attorney that’ll give you an estimate. Problem solved. Your personal trust issues? Those are your issues, not your attorney’s problem.

          2. The solo’s overhead isn’t legitimate? I don’t believe that you run a business now. I’m in a big firm. That means that my office space costs a few hundred a month because it’s a corner of a much larger office negotiated at bulk rates. My westlaw access is pennies because we have so many accounts. My health insurance is group rate. Solo’s get no discounts, and share with no one the price of the office bathroom footage, the kitchen footage, the foyer, etc. On a per hour basis, their fixed costs are much, much higher than in a big firm. The difference is, we’re paying for capacity with our staff instead of paying large fixed costs. You sure you run a business?

          • James Jensen

            Yes, I do. I also happen to own the property the business sits on. I’m well aware of overhead costs, because unlike the solo I have employees as well. I never said their overhead wasn’t legitimate, but there is no one else on the payroll. So the solo is the only one that pays rent/insurance/utilities? Your point is…?

            Let me put it this way, in my line of work I can charge either fixed-cost or hourly depending on what the client wants. For a senior guy, I bill up to 75. For a junior one, $30. There is a big spread of expertise, and I don’t charge the same amount for even a senior guy if he’s working on a project that’s not in his expertise. The solo charges $300 per hour no matter if he’s researching, drafting, answer emails or phone calls, making copies, or driving to court. There is no unbundling of the cost of these services. To compare it to the medical profession, a routine office visit is valued (and billed) at the same rate as surgery.

            If he has to get up to use the restroom during our meeting, then I am paying $300/time in bathroom for the privilege. In my line of work, for hourly billing my guys have to clock in with a desktop application and if there is no keyboard/mouse input for 5 minutes, the clock stops.

            If I send someone from the office out to buy lunch for a client (or prospective client) I don’t bill them for his/her time. I’ve never had an attorney offer to pay for a meal, or offer anything other than water or coffee, ever!

  • Jon K

    This author comes across like he has never heard of the stresses and obligations of virtually any job. Even people working in retail stores, as janitors, or at mcdonalds stress about work, lose sleep, and feel a certain level of commitment to do a good job and take on the burden of a client (or anyone using their service or work). Sure, some of them do a bad job, but some lawyers do a bad job too.

    To any non-lawyer reading this article, the author would come off as completely patronizing. He is essentially justifying lawyer costs only by saying what a lawyer does (take on legal problems). That doesn’t justify the cost, it just explains where the cost goes. Nothing in this article in any way correlates the price of a lawyer to the quality or value of the service. It reduces a hugely complex issue to “lawyer work is hard and stressful, so don’t blame lawyers for wanting lots of money”. This is an antiquated notion and only further explains why the public despise lawyers.

    Mr Glover, who are you to say the stress from your job is worth 500 an hour, but the stress faced by a nurse is worth less? Or the stress faced by a caretaker? Or by any other worker? I’m sorry to say, but nearly every other industry justifies their costs based on the value of the product or service. Yes, you have lots of professional obligations that go beyond other professions’ obligations but those obligations do not single-handedly justify the cost of legal services. Clients aren’t asking you to stay up at night thinking about them, just to do your job. Your stresses are similar to those faced by any working individual and you do not deserve extra compensation for them. If you want to correlate price to level of obligation all you are saying is that getting a good, dedicated lawyer can only ever be for the rich.

    • Brick

      Your post just simply points out the fact that you do not understand the work of a lawyer.

    • finnitastic

      You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • justthebest

      You think your doctor, plumber, or accountant is losing sleep over your life? It’s not the LAWYER’S life/job he is dreaming about (as in your other examples)–it’s YOUR life he’s dreaming about and worrying about at dinner with his wife. I have trouble sleeping because I am worried my client will lose custody of his son if I don’t turn over every leaf and find the ream of facts I need to win that case for him. The author’s point is that this is different from another job because you ARE asking us to think about your case all the time. You don’t know it, but that’s part of being a lawyer–we are always thinking about what needs to be done to help our client get what they want. It is not possible to leave it at the office, because there is too much at stake and the more we think about it, the more ideas we have for how to “win” the case. (I practice family law, so I don’t usually think of “winning”–there are no “winners”.) You don’t know it, but you need us to be thinking about your case all the time, and WE know that.

  • Davis

    “To reduce the cost of legal services past a certain point, you probably have to reduce the lawyer’s obligation to the client.”

    This is probably the best point of the article, and one of the truer ones as it establishes a minimum amount of compensation we pay to get the obligation.

    Now the other aspects of the article such as “absorbing a parking ticket” or other business expenses. We all know that that lawyer passed that cost to the client.

  • Arsalan Shirazi

    As a Lawyer, I find this article to be incredibly self serving and un-critical. Are there factors relating to professional obligations that make hiring a lawyer expensive, sure.

    But to completely gloss over some of the most critical issues like the challenges of hourly billing rates vs. project fees in an adapting economy, or the legacy costs of traditional legal practices and firms which may simply not make sense today for certain clients…while making a pitch for high prices, is just irresponsible.

    Using anecdotal stories over statistics to make a point like this is lazy writing. So some lawyer left his ferrari in a rainstorm therefore I shouldn’t make a more concerted effort to explain to my clients exactly why they are paying what they are paying?

    You make your clients problems your own? You think about work while you are with your family? You stress out about your responsibilities…Gimme a break! What makes that so different from an accountant responsible for someone’s tax obligations? Or a start-up who has taken a considerable investment from a VC? Or a nurse who takes care of babies on life-support?

    At the end of the day, even considering fiduciary duties, Lawyers are providing a service, like many other businesses. And most rules of professional conduct only hold lawyers liable, financially or otherwise, if their conduct was negligent…so as nice as it is to stay up at night thinking about your clients problems, most lawyers have a level of protection that many other service providers don’t have if a client is unhappy with the end results.

    • As a Lawyer

      I’m not questioning this. Only a lawyer would capitalize a word like lawyer for no reason at all.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        Only a lawyer would regard a response like that as a rebuttal.

    • captain_quirk

      –“And most rules of professional conduct only hold lawyers liable, financially or otherwise, if their conduct was negligent…”

      Absolutely not true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about lawyers having their license suspended for months — even years — just because of some hypertechnical violation of some arcane rule that harmed no one and didn’t even put anyone at any risk. It may not even be the lawyer’s fault, but he still gets his license — his ability to make a living — suspended.

      Few other occupations have such built-in difficulties, risks, and stressors.

  • Concerned in Cleveland

    I have known the benefit and piece of mind of consulting with an attorney. However, I believe I have experienced the same value in dealing with those in the medical profession. Those in the medical profession also have “the considerable cost of acquiring a [medical] degree, malpractice insurance, business overhead, etc.” I would say that they too make untold sacrifices for their patients, do loads of pro bono work, and carry the burdens of their day home with them. Yet, we as a society accept payment caps and intense payment regulations for doctors. Why? The reason we accept these is because we believe access to their services is important.

    If you get what you pay for (as the article suggests), we would get better medical care by increasing the cost that our doctors charge. However, as a society we have seen fit to heavily regulate the medical industry, and as a result we have a shortage of doctors in our country. believe that access to the law is as valuable as access to good medical care. So, I would say if the article’s line of reasoning holds true we either need to impose intense payment regulations on the legal community or we need to remove them from the medical community. These two industries are not all that dissimilar.

    • First, you are mixing up the cost to the client/patient with the compensation to the lawyer/doctor.

      While it is expensive to hire a lawyer, about half of lawyers make $40–65,000 before taxes. Those lawyers are certainly expensive from the client’s perspective, but they aren’t making much money.

      Second, all I wrote about was why lawyers are expensive (some of the reasons, anyway). I don’t think I wrote that making lawyers more expensive would result in better legal services. There is a range of what legal services cost, and that range is expensive by most people’s standards.

      If you impose “intense payment regulations on the legal community” that regulate lawyers’ compensation too far below that range, watch as the lawyers disappear. (Then again, if your idea is regulating lawyers so we are compensated like doctors, sign me up!)

      Finally, there is no legal insurance industry the way there is for healthcare. I’m not sure you can really compare the two in the first place.

    • finnitastic

      In what reality to lawyers make as much as doctors? Sure, at the top of the food chain big firm partners make tons of money, just as plastic surgeons and highly-specialized doctors do, but among the rank and file there are tons of attorneys making less than $50K/year and I doubt you can say the same about doctors.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    Everything you’ve attributed to lawyers is also attributable, with appropriate changes, to psychotherapists. They acquire advanced degrees, they need malpractice insurance, they have office overhead, they solve people’s problems, and they take those problems home. Like lawyers, their obligations are bundled into the therapist-client relationship by professional rules of ethics. They get calls at home at odd hours, and they have to be “on” both in the therapy office and during a client’s crisis in the so-called off-hours. How many lawyers have to deal with clients who threaten suicide? How many are expected to talk the client off the ledge? For that matter, think about court-ordered counseling, the means by which therapists are supposed to solve the problems that lawyers don’t even pretend to know how to solve.

    http://forensicpsychologicalcenter.com/2013/12/17/court-ordered-therapy/

    As for salaries: For therapists: mean annual wage of $73K. High end: $110K.

    http://work.chron.com/salary-psychological-therapist-4286.html

    Lawyers? Median salary at $113K. High end: over 188K.

    http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/lawyer/salary

    Comparison of lawyers to Uber is an obvious non-starter. Comparison of lawyers to therapists is not. What explains the discrepancy in income?

    One hypothesis: price inelasticity of demand for legal services in a climate where lawyers make the rules and then claim to protect you from the rules that other lawyers have made. Since we’re all ruled by lawyers (they populate the legislatures and the executives of our government), they legalize life by insisting on the need to generate legal rules to regulate everything under the sun. Having legalized life, they then hire themselves out as the answer to the over-complexity they’ve introduced. And then they expect gratitude for their services. In other words, we’re supposed to be grateful to a cartel for acting like a cartel. Therapists lack comparable access to political power (especially therapists who are not MDs, i.e., not prescribing psychiatrists). A consideration to ponder: relative access to political power, not relative value of the services, explains the discrepancies in income between the two professions.

    Here’s a simple definition of price inelasticity of demand:

    http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/inelastic-demand.html

    It’s a definition, of course, not a justification.

    • Those US News numbers on lawyers’ salaries are LOLtastic. Try these: http://www.nalp.org/salarydistrib

      About half of lawyers are making $40–65,000 before taxes.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        Maybe you’re laughing so hard that you haven’t quite read the page you just cited. Here’s what the note under the 2014 graph says:

        “Note: Graph is based on 21,545 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. A few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 17% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by just over 5%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.”

        Question 1: The claim is that about half of reported salaries are within the $40-65K range. Is it your claim that half of therapists’ incomes, reported, comparably, are higher? If so, could you come up with the statistics that show that? Because if you can’t, it’s a real mystery what you’re trying to say. All that I’m assuming is that therapist incomes are lower. You haven’t even pretended to dispute that.

        Question 2: The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160K or above accounted for about 17% of reported salaries. But you didn’t laugh at my therapist income statistics, which reported almost NO salaries at that level. The note goes on to say that the right-hand peak is underreported; if accurately reported, the second average would rise. (True to lawyerly form, you didn’t mention that your statistics involved two different averages. Ah, the adversarial method at work. I guess there’s no equivalent to Brady disclosure on blogs.) But my point is that there is no comparable peak for therapists. So how have you responded to my claim, much less rebutted it?

        Question 3: If your source admits that “relatively few reported salaries are close to either mean,” which one of us should be laughing at whose statistics? (Answer: I should be, if only any of this were funny.)

        Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics on psychologist income:

        http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm

        Median: $67.7K.

        Here is BLS on laywers’ income:

        http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm

        Median: $114.3K.

        By the way, if we really wanted to split hairs, I would make the point that a JD is not comparable to a PhD in clinical psychology. A JD takes three years, a PhD takes four to seven. So we really ought to be isolating the PhD therapists, and then discounting for the lost income of the lost three or four years of income in their cases.

        The bottom line is that unless you have some way of demonstrating that lawyers make less than therapists, your “LOLtastic” point is a blatant evasion that doesn’t even pretend to deal with what I said.

  • D.V.

    Well in my country we, lawyers , do not get that many money like in the usa, and people still think that they are paying a lot. AND i went to law school, because i want to help people. If you didin’t- it is ok. But saying all lawyers are like you , it is invalid. And yes sometimes i spend a lot of time outside work to think about a case and what i cdan do so my client is happy with the result.

  • GadF1y

    Why such disingenuousness Author? Given the ubiquity of stories regarding lawyer incompetence and negligence, and some of my own experiences with same, we both know that this article is BS.

  • I always thought lawyers were so expensive because we were able to artificially restrict entrance into the market.

    • Madrone

      Artificially? Like requiring expensive training and years of experience in order to adequately perform the work? Restricted? Yes. Artificial? No.

      Unless you have a proposal for a way to open the market while also guaranteeing that the new entrants are qualified to provide the service?

      • “Artificial” as in made it produced by humans rather than occurring naturally—naturally through the free market, that is. So, yes, artificial.

        You’re debating whether the artificial barriers to enter the legal profession are a good or bad thing. That wasn’t the point of by comment. My point was that we charge a lot because we can. We can because we’ve made it illegal for most of the population to do our work, regardless of their competence to do so. By restricting the supply of lawyers, we’ve necessarily skyrocketed the price.

        • Madrone

          I suppose that is a matter of belief as to whether the “free market” is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. You appear to believe that it is. I would disagree in that the free market is just as much a human product as the regulations that control it.

          “We charge a lot because we can.” Or, you could say we charge a lot because the stakes of what we do (keeping people out of jail, protecting their livelihoods and property, fighting for custody of their children, etc.) are extraordinarily high. Yes, as a matter of public policy, lay people are not allowed to dabble in circumstances where the stakes are this high. Nor are they allowed to perform brain surgery. The tone of your commentary suggests you believe it should be otherwise.

          • Those might be the reasons why we do charge high prices (or perhaps how we justify it to the client), but they’re not the reason why we can. The stakes of a job, standing alone, are not enough to cause our prices to be as high as they are. Otherwise, we would see paramedics, nurses, members of the military, or police officers getting paid $400/hour. We don’t, even though the stakes in those jobs are arguably higher than many of the things lawyers do.

            I’m not arguing whether it’s a good or bad thing. But we should be honest with ourselves why we can charge high prices: we’ve stacked the deck in our favor. Sure, doing so has increased the training and experience of lawyers generally (although, if you’ve read enough legal writing you know that idea is questionable, at best), but it has also given our group somewhat of a monopoly that allows us to jack up our prices.

            Clients need us. We’ve written laws for ourselves that severely restrict the number of people in our profession. Combine demand with restricted supply and you get high prices. Simple as that.

            • Marie

              This is actually the most sensible answer for the article’s question. Thank you.

  • Guest

    Although this was poorly written article, as a lawyer, I can confirm everything Sam said. I often lose sleep over my clients problems, and my clients take precedence over everything else in my life. It is not that I dislike my wife and kids, it’s just that lawyers deal with things that are really important…to their clients. When my client needs my time while at dinner or putting my kids to bed, they are trying to reach me to discuss something with massive consequences, so you cannot say, “Well, I am having dinner with my wife, can I get back to you later?” It would be unacceptable and should be. The client hired a trusted confidant who is there to shepherd them through an unfamiliar, stressful, and often, adversarial process. This often means the client calls you upset or distraught and you are the first person they take it out on. If you are a good attorney, you bring them back from the brink and help them start to think about the issue rationally, so often you are the only one who gets yelled at, cursed at, etc., and must make peace for your client’s sake. All of this makes the job very stressful, which is why lawyers are among the top professions for divorce, substance abuse, divorce, etc. When you hire a lawyer, you want every ounce of that person in your corner, and that commitment can be expensive.

  • christy

    I’m sure his poor little Ferrari was insured and he got another one just like it a week later.

  • Mike

    If you’re justifying your fees by bragging how many hours you clock, it might not be the best strategy. A person hires legal counsel based on experience, expertise and history of outcomes that are similar to one’s own personal issue. THAT justifies the fees. Moreover, an intangible reason people hire one attorney over another is chemistry. For me personally, the fact you’re unable to focus on your kids or wife is an incredible turnoff. I would never want a lawyer who value an engagement over his family and puts more focus into a client than his own children. Additionally, as a client, I’d be extremely concerned about time managements issues.

    • Patent Attorney

      hours worked, not billed. Read.

  • Claire

    I don’t disagree with the fact that lawyers should make a decent amount of money for what they do. However, as a psychiatric social worker doing mental health counseling, I think there are many more professions that work JUST as hard, lose JUST as much sleep, making FAR less money…. At least lawyers are paid on a scale that is in line with the amount of work they put in.

    • Lawyers are expensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are well paid. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere in these comments, about half of lawyers make just $40–65,000 before taxes. Check out the salary distribution curve.

      • Jamie Sutton

        The fact that you don’t consider 40-65,000 well paid is kind of telling though Sam. It can admittedly be a relative measurement, but that’s around or above the median. As someone who was raised in a household of 5 with an annual combined income of 21,000 a year, hearing fellow law students and recent graduates say they “can’t possibly” live on 40k a year is mind-boggling, and a little insulting.

        I was having a meeting with a local attorney around here about a modest means clinic concept, and she said “You have to understand, for most of us there’s not really any difference between working for 25 dollars an hour and working for nothing”

        Class privilege, of the highest order, and it’s very common among older attorneys. Only someone who has never actually had “nothing” could say something like that

        • It’s a fair point that $40–65,000 could be considered a pretty decent income in America. At the same time, it should be neither mind-boggling nor insulting to hear a law-school graduate say they can’t live on $40k now that they have six figures of school-related debt.

          Nobody goes to law school expecting to make $40-65,000. (Or almost nobody, anyway.) In fact, I bet if you surveyed clients—even those who think lawyers are too expensive—to see what they think would be a fair income for a lawyer, the average would come in comfortably above that range.

          • Jamie Sutton

            Fair enough on most points, particularly expectations however, I don’t really feel like six-figures of school related debt should be the excuse it used to be. Perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, sure. But now with the Income Based Repayment Plan, Pay as you Earn plan, and variations, I personally don’t know anyone, even with six-figures of debt, whose student loan payment is unreasonable or burdensome. Now the fiscal responsibility of those plans might be debatable by wiser heads than me, but I know plenty of people with 100k+ in student debt paying no more than 100-200 a month.

            The simple fact is, lawyers have priced themselves out of the market, and the market they have left is ever-shrinking .Every client from the lowest indigent to the top fortune 500 corporation is demanding lower and more efficient legal pricing. Hell, most LAWYERS can’t afford lawyers these days you point out, if an attorney is making 40k a year, they’re not going to be able to pay 300 an hour for an attorney either.

            Whether or not lawyers “should” charge those rates is completely beside the point – it’s completely unsustainable on every level in the reality of the modern world.

  • Robin

    My experience as a young advocate (basically a trial attorney) is that clients approach litigation self – righteously. By that I mean they believe they are in the right and have been wronged. They expect their lawyers to take on that approach. They also expect not to be charged for being represented because after all, they’re the good guys. When my doctor mentioned that lawyers charge so much “and they charge for every little thing” I asked whether our consultation would be free or discounted, as it was “only a little thing” that I saw him for. My doctor was horrified at the idea. He also missed the irony. I worked damn hard for my degrees and I pay through my teeth for the privilege of practicing. I don’t run a charity, but I do work to help solve people’s problems as best I can. I eat, sleep, dream those problems and should be paid accordingly. I have no shame in that. It’s a shame we are all painted with the same brush as sharks and usurious bastards.

  • Area Man

    Nice try. I’m an IT Director for a large law firm. I deal with the same stress levels and have had similar nightmares about missing deadlines, system outages etc. I deal with it 7 days a week 365 days a year. My iPhone is never out of reach and is expected to be answered any time of the day or night. I’ve left my child’s birthday party, a Christmas party and countless other random social gatherings in order to address an “urgent” problem. 75% of the time, these urgent problems were simply the case of user error, a complete lack of basic common sense and/or 7th grade level computer skills on the part of the attorney. I’ve also eaten parking tickets (and speeding tickets) that were due to the need to get to the office quicker due such issues, or the occasional legitimate systems or network problem. I always heard Lawyers work crazy hours, and I’m sure some do, but at my firm the parking deck is mostly empty by the time I make it to my car. I could go on and on, but the point is, get over yourself. This article is almost as absurd as the ones where someone is trying to rationalize CEO pay of 500-1000 times the wage of the average employee because “they’re under a lot of stress.” Please, sell crazy somewhere else-we’re all stocked up.

    • Inspector Clouseau

      I would say part of your personal stress is because you work for a law firm, that level of urgency is not present in most other IT positions from my pre-attorney experience. Also, you state that 75% of your urgent problems are simple fixes. There are very few simple fixes in an attorney’s life. But I do agree that caring about clients is not justification for high pay. There are plenty of individuals in many professions who stress and think about their jobs; from IT Directors, to teachers, or auto mechanics – to me that is just an indicator that you are passionate about you do. A big difference though is that as an IT person, you would have to do something amazingly wrong to be legally barred from ever practicing in your field again or to be held personally liable for something going wrong. Attorneys on the other hand, can lose their license, be sued for malpractice, or face many other possibilities for missing a deadline, not spotting an issue, or making a typo. That makes a huge difference in the level and type of stress that attorneys face vs many other professions.

      • James Jensen

        I’ve hired an attorney before that regularly made typos (in important court filings, mails to opposing counsel, and settlement documents. He even mixed me and the person I was pursuing up in the settlement document!), sent me an email meant for another client (and vice versa, we had the same first name and he couldn’t be bothered to proof read the address field),

        I was always billed in at least 15 minute increments (though it’s common here to bill in 6, and that was our agreement), but rarely anything less than 30 minutes, for even a simple 2 minute phone call, or 2-3 line email.

        In addition, I was billed for the time to come into his office and dispute my bill. Most other times that he asked me to come in, he wanted to show me photos from his various family trips (must be nice to have that sort of disposable income to jet around the country with family in tow) and talk about his daughter’s soccer team. Most of what we needed to talk about took only 15-20 minutes, but he very cheerfully billed me for two hours!

        We had a very long and drawn out dispute over his billings, I complained to the bar about his numerous failings and mistakes, and nothing happened. He did not lose his license even though I was able to document his more than twenty typos and inadvertent sharing of privileged information. They called the mistakes “innocent”, but when I’m being charged $300 per hour, I expect perfection, not hastily done. Many very hardworking people don’t even make 10% of that an hour and give a lot more attention to detail.

  • ewe2

    For a person–like most regular people–who make if they are fortunate $25 an hour, or $15 an hour or $8 an hour like many do, the cost of a lawyer is extraordinary. (If court reporters fees are costing $15 grand that is just another thing wrong with the system.) I’m certain that a lot of lawyers making $375 an hour are not losing sleep over their clients’ cases. That’s what my lawyer cost when I went after a former (20+ year) employer for severance pay. For a few letters, it cost me $1,500. (His strategy didn’t work to well, either.) Maybe half of that cost I could have understood. But it was a rip-off. I hate to think about how it is for people who really seriously need representation.

    • For the record, my court-approved hourly rate was $350/hour, and I lost sleep over every single one of my clients’ cases.

      Keep in mind that your lawyer’s hourly rate doesn’t necessarily reflect his or her income. Expensive hourly rates don’t always equal rich lawyers.

      In many practice areas you can only bill a few hours a day, on average, so you have to make the most of them. Or in my case, I might not actually get $350/hour at the end of the case, because I was working on contingency and had to take my fee out of the settlement.

  • Marie

    Hmm (good) teachers also spent their dreams planning lessons, and assessing homework and comforting students and their parents, they are paid nothing. Though you might not get to jail (at least directly) if they don’t do their job well.

    • If you’re arguing that most teachers are underpaid, then we agree.

      • Patent Attorney

        The irony is that it’s for the same reason – all of the revenue gets spent on overhead and administration.

  • lol lawyers

    do most lawyers even work? I’ve seen some legal bills that itemize things like the following.

    Receiving inventory list in regular mail, 0.2
    Opening inventory list, 0.2
    Reviewing inventory list, 0.2
    Preparing to revise inventory list, 0.2
    Revising inventory list, 0.2
    Dictating inventory list revision, 0.2
    Updating revised inventory list, 0.2
    Reviewing updated revised inventory list, 0.2
    Dictating updated revised inventory list, 0.2
    Placing the inventory list inside an envelope, 0.2
    Licking the glue on the envelope, 0.2
    Walking the envelope out to the mail box, 0.2

    Receiving email, 0.2
    Preparing email response, 0.2
    Dictating email, 0.2
    Sending email, 0.2

    “The hearing will be at 3pm, please review the copy of the revised inventory list I sent you. See you then!”

    So yeah, gimme a 1,000 bucks for reading some emails and rearranging some lists of stuff.

    Lawyers get paid because entire legal system in this country is built around esoteric practices and procedures that are 90% window dressing and 10% actual legal argument.

    • justthebest

      You know what? I do not believe you. Not one bit.

  • I have used lawyers to right injustices that have occurred in my life. I have used them to settle differences between parties. They have value in our society and there is much good that can be done by a good, studious, caring attorney.

    There is also a lot of things that can go wrong.

    There is a lot of power in the hands of an attorney. There is a great potential for greed and control. There are way too many lawyers that have changed our society to think that any misuse is grounds for winning the lottery. The reason a lot of our medical bills and prescription medication has gone so high is because of this thinking. Granted it isn’t just the attorneys who are at fault as it is also a society that has some rather ridiculous expectations.

    But what really needs to change is the law. We need to make it so if you lose a case, you are responsible for the payment of the opposing sides attorney fees. This would bring things back to a more fair system and not be able to rush out and sue somebody for absolutely anything. We need to change this system because our country’s future is at stake. Of course the attorney won’t like such as a system and will show cases where things would be different if this was enacted, but the reality is we have a ridiculous system of “justice” in our country today that is not based on justice but on money.

    The scriptures severely condemn a society that has misplaced its priorities from what is right to what will bring the most money. Here is just one of many that could be listed- Isaiah 1:23 “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.”

    There are a lot of things that need changing in our society, but this is one at the top of the list.

    • Sgt_Beerhead

      Dear Mr Smith, I am entirely on your side here. Though I must admit I don’t really know how attorney fees work in the US (or even the UK, for that matter), I have the image in my mind that you are allowed to bargain your payment with your client quite freely, which feels quite strange to me.
      Just for perspective: I am a lawyer in Germany (so please excuse any spelling/grammar/use of idioms mistakes) and here, the law states exactly that: if you lose a case, you have to pay for the opppnent’s lawyer.
      This regulation works fine because of another law, which states exactly how much a lawyer is allowed – and required – to charge for his services (only as late as 2006 has the law was modified insofar that a lawyer is also allowed to bargain a higher fee than the legally prescribed one – but it is forbidden to charge less). And the losing party of a case is only obliged to pay the opponent’s/winner’s attorney fees up to the amount prescribed by the law and not a cent more. Any bargains exceeding the legal fee remain to be paid by the winning party itself.
      This includes not only court cases but any and all legal… happenings (?). If I successfully get my client out of a bad contract without going to court, the other half of the contract is obliged to pay my fees (because through their wrongful behaviour they have caused my client the need of hiring me) which I then charge to him directly (often, though, this is the point where things begin to get uncomfortable and can well lead the case into a courtroom, even if the main issue is already dealt with).
      Through this, the cost of legal proceedings becomes highly calculatable for anyone involved because on one hand you know that you will have to pay for the opponent’s attorney if you lose but on the other hand you know exactly how much the cost will be and can calculate the risk. And lawyers can do a much better job of counseling you as to file an action before court or better try a more diplomatic approach. And because these regulations are accompanied by quite generous social system (the instrument is called “process cost help”, Prozesskostenhilfe; persons who cannot afford a lawyer get the layer paid fort by the state) it is possible for virtually anyone to claim their rights before court, regardless of their personal financial situation.
      So, just something to think about and a glimpse at the lawyer work on the continent. I am aware that such regulations would be decried as “socialist” in large parts of the US. But I also think that anyone should be able to claim their legal rights in order to prevent large chunks of the population from not being able to get legal help at all, thus making them effectively helpless in the face of companies, banks, frauds and all the other kinds of creepy figures that one gets confronted with over time.
      PS: Interestingly, “pay on success”-fees (I don’t know what they are called in English – “if I win your case I get a percentage of the judgement”) are also forbidden in Germany. The paradigm is: “One who has the right to something must a) have the chance to claim that right as a whole and, in case that a court and a lawyer are required in the claiming, it is b) absolutely not acceptable that the existing right is in any way diminished by the costs of legal procceedings.”

      • FreedomFromIgnorance

        Your English is sehr gut. Also, thanks for the insight into Germany’s system, very interesting!

    • Patent Attorney

      Maybe juries should just stop the ridiculous awards, then those contingency cases wouldn’t be brought and the problem would right itself. The problem is the public at large who are ultimately deciding what the limits of the law are, not the lawyers working within the law.

  • James

    You are so detached from reality if you think that your clients ‘go home and sleep soundly’! The stressful situation that i am in hasn’t just gone away because I’ve engaged a lawyer… Not to mention the mounting legal fees to top it all off. I really hope my lawyer doesn’t feel that way :(

  • bryan

    I’d be okay with my lawyer missing a hearing and not abandoning his car if I didn’t have to pay him enough to buy a FUCKING FERRARI

    • FreedomFromIgnorance

      I drive a $10,000 car and don’t miss hearings. Just saying

    • Patent Attorney

      We get it. The guy you entrust you most important matters to should be the poorest guy you know. If he was smarter, would he be the poorest guy you know?

  • Dar501

    What arrogance… charging a “jerk premium” & more “to put up with a client.” What a gem of a judgmental personality you must be. Lawyers get paid whether they win or not & are incredibly sycophantic to local judges. My experience & understanding of others’ dealings with lawyers is all bad: that they generally extract the maximum fee they can based on false promises & fear. I know some very ethical & dedicated lawyers: they give the worse accounting of their own colleagues possible, describing them as greedy, self-serving & arrogant. Perhaps the lawyers who read & contribute to this blog are of the dedicated ethical (& still young?) variety? But well established partners charge high fees for one reason only: because they can; because their clients can pay & think they are getting better service than they would from a less expensive lawyer… which there usually is not available as they all tend to price fix. Huge sham & scam. Smoke & mirrors & obfuscation. With few exceptions lawyers in America are Shakedown artists preying upon the Byzantine bullshit of the legal system. Not sleeping “thinking of cases”? Maybe it’s what is left of your tiny conscience? There are some good lawyers. God bless you. But so, so, so very few.

  • LBJP

    I suppose it depends on the lawyer. In all fairness, I can’t paint all of them with the same brush. However, based on my experience I can say that after I signed the retainer agreement, my problems were still my problems, if not more so because now not only were they still my problems but I was being charged an expensive hourly rate (which increased stress and acrimony revolving around the whole situation). Not only that, in my case, I was dealing with a lawyer that at times, took days to respond to phone calls and emails. He also arrived late for appointments but still charged me for the time he was not present. Moreover, he would also do other tasks that had nothing to do with my case but on my time and dime. The efforts that I made on my own facilitated my case far beyond much of what he did. He in the end sold me short behind closed doors to save face and accomplish the most minimal goal. In the end, despite all the stress I endured, thousands of dollars lost, he demonstrated that he could not adequately stand up to an inexperienced 5th rate lawyer. After having gone through such an experience, I’m quite confident that I could represent myself much more efficiently and adequately.

  • Shawn Weber

    John- I can assure you that I have personally done all of those things. Don’t be a hater. You have an alternative– do it yourself. But then of course you will have a fool for a client.

  • Dawn Koris

    There’s a lot of baloney in this article. The story about the lawyer who abandoned his Ferrari to make a hearing sounds like the exception rather than the rule.
    I can tell you a story about a lawyer who was sanctioned by a state superior court judge for missing a case management conference. This was the SECOND time the same lawyer missed such a hearing in the SAME judge’s chambers in less than four months … while representing the SAME client! He actually had the nerve to file a motion in the case to get the sanction overturned by claiming that he didn’t know the meeting was being held. The judge denied his motion and simply cited all of the places in the court’s docket system where the notification about the conference had been posted.
    Asking why lawyers are so expensive is a perfectly legitimate question. The legal profession is probably one of the few industries where someone like this can be gainfully employed.

    • Patent Attorney

      And how many hearings did other lawyers regularly attend that day all across the country?

  • Dragon’s Nightmare

    But most of the lawyers has to pay heavy sacrifices like those mentioned above for just a paltry sum of salary from their employer.

  • Bradley B. Clark

    You nailed it Sam.

  • baylorattorney

    well written.

  • gerryoginski

    Sam, the question in the headline is the wrong question to ask.

    Instead, you must ask a potential client who has a legal problem what it’s costing them to stay where they are. Obviously they have a problem. They need their problem solved. If the pain to get themselves out of that legal problem is not that bad, they will never recognize the value you provide with a solution.

    On the other hand, if their ‘pain’ of being in that legal problem is bad and will only get worse, then it is that client who recognizes that any amount of money you ask for will be a bargain compared to the constant pain they are in.

    The fee to have an attorney resolve your legal problem is all relative to the pain you’re in and the pain you will have if you don’t resolve your legal problem.

    The discussion about justifying your fees and overhead is irrelevant once you focus on your client’s pain and what it’s costing them to stay where they are.

  • HillAppealing

    While I don’t necessarily agree with all you said about the lawyer’s value proposition, you do have a good argument. To those who think lawyers are too expensive, though, I’d ask: “Have you tried representing yourself?” If you think lawyers are too expensive, you should give this a try.

    For the record, I had a prior career in another field and I DID pursue a law degree to help people.

  • Dave

    My divorce cost nearly $30k, but my attorney was awesome. Now I have my kids 50% of the time because the judge saw that I was being completely reasonable in my requests and not letting my resentment toward my ex wife enter into my case, thanks to my attorney’s arguments. Worth every penny.

  • john

    So you’re a lawyer and you are giving yourself a pat on the back for showing up to work on time and checking email outside of the office? Congrats, that’s called doing your job.

  • flashwins

    “Unbundling can make a lot of sense for some things, but it is not a panacea for lowering the cost of legal services.” … I respectfully disagree. I believe that it is exactly that.

    • Okay … why?

      • flashwins

        The entry point for engagement is no longer cost prohibitive. Pricing becomes more transparent, giving more power to the consumer to shop for the best value.

        • Unbundling is hardly the only way to make pricing transparent. Flat fees do that, too.

          And just because you can set a fee for a defined service, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. You’re just transferring the lack of transparency from the fee to the service.

          But you can’t always give someone a certain fee. Sometimes you can set flat fees on litigation, for example, but sometimes billing by the hour is actually a better value for the client. And sometimes it’s just impossible to know until you dig into the case. Negotiations are often similar. It’s often impossible to know how long it will take, and a flat fee can be less certain than an hourly fee.

          Unbundling is great, but it’s not always the best option for the client.

          • flashwins

            I agree that unbundling is not the only way to make pricing transparent, since it is patently untenable for contingency cases (as you mentioned) and criminal or immigration cases, where it is not allowed. But over all, it is gaining alot of ground and clients appreciate it.

            Flat fees are great as well. And the more attorneys that follow this lead, the better. Alternative Fee Arraignments are the future.

            “Law firms have been providing AFAs for commodity personal legal services, such as residential conveyances and wills, for years. But that’s not the case for most business law and litigation work. Clients are asking for AFAs in these areas, but law firms aren’t rushing to offer them. This drives clients to look for options, and forward-thinking small firms are increasingly using AFAs to steal large clients away from big law firms.” – the American Bar Association

            http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2012/july-august/win-win-alternative-fee-arrangements.html

  • flashwins

    Reading the patronizing posts, and shaking my head in disbelief. Technology and innovation are going to disrupt the practice of law, sooner than later. All of you condescending mopes will see the light, or expire in the dark.

  • Doug Scott

    Always interesting to hear Lawyers defending their fees. We have this bill, that bill..blah blah blah. You act like your the only ones with bills. Somewhere in here an auto mechanic was referenced. Now, lets consider this is someone that is taking “your” life into their hands. Your typical repair shop charges between $65 – $85 an hour. Do you think the shop owner, a small business owner, has bills? Rent, electrical, computers, software, insurance, tools, supplies, etc. etc. Do you think he pays less for these things because he is a mechanic and you are a lawyer?

    Now, lets talk about the brief conversation I just had with a lawyer about an easement. He wants to charge me $300 an hour for a consultation. So if I was said mechanic, charging the rates as stated above, how many hours would I have to work to cover the $300 per hour fee after I paid all of my bills??? Quite a few, right?

    Here is what I am going to tell you. I will not pay this guy $300 an hour. So yes, he has just lost me as a potential client and any referrals I may have had, and yes I network. Fees like this are very short sited. And although in the grand scheme $300 may not seem like a lot for most of you, it is a lot. You need to look at what the average person is earning these days. How much is being sucked out of paychecks by this lovely administration and understand that no one is interested in buying their Lawyer a Ferrari so that he can abandon it in lieu of a court case.

    • FreedomFromIgnorance

      My legal research bill every month is more than your mortgage, I promise you, and my practice isn’t as research heavy as many others. The overhead for a law firm is far higher than virtually any other business. I get billed out at a rate you would consider high but I don’t make all that much money. You simply don’t get the reality of all the costs associated with legal work.

  • Lei

    So what? I put that level of dedication into my work, and I make 60k a year.

    • FreedomFromIgnorance

      You make more than me and I’m an attorney that works 60 hours a week minimum. I charge less than I’m worth because I intentionally want to help my clients who are often poor and can’t afford what other attorneys charge. My ethical obligations are completely independent of my fees, something few other professions experience. Non-lawyers really don’t get why our profession is so uniquely stressful. We DO care about our clients, but clients don’t know enough about our work to realize it sometimes.

      • justthebest

        +1

  • Thank you to the lawyers who went far beyond to help their clients. They are like the family or friends you have to help you get through the difficult time in your life.

    However, it does not mean lawyers can ask fees that are way too expensive. I understand that a laywer wants to be compensated fairly for all the hard work but I hope that lawyers can also see through their hearts that not everyone who deserves justice has money to defend themselves in court. May they be enlightened enough to see the need to balance their interest and their clients.

    That is I why I have the greatest respect for the lawyers (and on other professions too) who dedicate their life to serve the voiceless, the harmed, the weak and yet do not ask too much in return.

    PS
    I know the Ferrari example was to show how the laywer would leave anything for his client, but I apologize because the first thing that went to my mind was, “He probably got the Ferrari from his exuberant fees. And that client is his biggest cash cow.”

  • If you want to hire a young, inexperienced lawyer, you can hire one for beer money. If you want an old, experienced lawyer, who can handle your complex litigation or transaction and throw tons of man-hours at every aspect of your case, well, you are going to pay. A lot.

  • Jus

    load of crap, most lawyers , especially in Australia, only think/dream about how much they are going to charge you.

  • Majorine Patriot

    Nope. Still doesnt explain a thing. Truth is, lawyers are blood sucking scums out to take advantage in a facade of mumbo jumbo.
    Abandoning a ferrari justifying it? This Just shows how much a scum they are. He got that ferrari from dubious means anyway.. probably put a rapist back out on the street and got paid for it with alot of money that was used to buy a ferrari.
    They manipulate you , use smokescreen and deceit. A good lawyer is a dead one.

    • FreedomFromIgnorance

      You’re simply a fool.

  • Bruce Gambill

    Oh really? Lets get real here. Why are Lawyer fees so high? It is because in the end they rarely get to keep them all, over and above the mere actual cost of the litigation. Where do the rest of the fees go you ask? Well then let me present this to you, why is it a standing rock solid rule in every Bar Association that no lawyer shall say anything about or bad about another lawyer? No matter if the other lawyer is a flagrant crook and gutter scum creep that betrays his own clients. Because that is the first phase of reporting a corrupt lawyer or Judge, and that just cannot be tolerated or the whole thing , the scam , the fraud would come apart at the seams. Serious consequences for those of who that feel they do not have adhere to that rule . And why is it that the Judiciary always tells a pro-se he or she needs to hire a good attorney? Even if they are doing just fine and have the law, the facts, the truth and the evidence on their side.
    It is because the same reason why that same pro-se never wins his or her case. Because the judge needs a liaison he can control and that is bound by fear of retaliation by the Bar Association . A point man that the judge can trust to get a portion of the enormous lawyer fee back to him in the form of cash for rolling the case.
    I would wager that during any case of caliber, an audit of an attorneys bank records and deposits from clients, there will always be large cash withdrawals, noted for outside expenses. Unless the attorney is so well healed that he has access to his or her own personal cash stash for this purpose, thinking that the other money can be moved around at a more appropriate time in the future. The blatant truth in a nut shell.
    There are dozens of professions out there that are dangerous, technical, tedious and require long hours or tremendous physical effort put forth that do not even come close to demanding the fees of an attorney.
    The BS gets so deep at times that rolls out of some judges mouths that I would think they would be held liable for not warning the litigants to wear hip boots when entering a court room so as to protect their socks. Because it just gets that deep at times.

    • [W]hy is it a standing rock solid rule in every Bar Association that no lawyer shall say anything about or bad about another lawyer?

      That is not a rule in any bar association. Quite the opposite, lawyers have an obligation to report unethical conduct by other lawyers.

      And judges recommend that pro se parties hire lawyers because pro se parties are almost universally a pain in the ass in the courtroom who generally do themselves more harm than good. For some reason, the ones doing themselves the most harm tend to think they are doing great and don’t need help.

      As for bribing judges, that’s a fast-track to jail for the lawyer and any judge who accepts such a bribe.

    • Patent Attorney

      You have the rules exactly backwards bud.

      • Bruce Gambill

        Exactly, which Rules would those you refer to be Mr. Patent Attorney? Or should we just call you Pat? At this point I do need to offer my apology for not completing my post as I indicated that I would. I am fighting a war of Criminal RICO Corruption within the Judicial System here in Washington State. I will do my best to try and get back at it, so as to make my position abundantly clear for you all to understand. I most certainly am not inclined to make unfounded scattershot accusations attempting to stereo type each and every one of you. But in truth, every lawyer out there is aware of the situation and condition of both the State and Federal Judiciaries , knowing full and well not to dare say anything publically regarding it . At least you better not any where within the hearing distance of the WSBA, because if you do, just plan on making a major career change soon. You will be suspended from practice or disbarred faster than good weather leaves Seattle. That is a FACT.

  • Bruce Gambill

    It most definitely is a common knowledge unofficial rule amongst attorneys. Check and see just how many times WSBA rule 8.3 has been Officially filed in an ethics or fraud case. What is your view of the Unlicensed Practice of Law? The WSBA views it as a Criminal act, and that is their official published opinion.

    • It most definitely is not any kind of rule. Or if it is, it’s awfully strange that I don’t know about it and neither do any of the lawyers I have ever met.

      Rule 8.3 is not the sort of rule you would see “officially filed” because it is a directive to report violations of other rules. If you were looking at an ethics investigation, those other rules would be the ones mentioned. But if you are asking how common it is for lawyers to report other lawyers, the answer is that it happens all the time.

      • Bruce Gambill

        Mr. Glover, I understand your point regarding the directive verses the actual rules violated being listed on record. If indeed your ethical outlook were in reality the Case at hand here in Washington State, that needless to say would be proper and ideal. But in truth, that unfortunately is not the shared outlook by the vast majority of attorneys here in Washington. At the moment I am hard pressed for time and I will have to finish this reply to you later this evening. Be rest assured that I do have relevant verifiable example of this situation which is on Official record.

  • FUCK u SA

    Wow, that was deep. I noticed in law school that lawyers are not intellectuals. They are paper pushing little smurfs with the back bone of a small arm chair.

    I got a suggestion – lets reform the legal process. That’s worth writing about.

  • oldprof101

    What no one has stopped to calculate is the enormous value of the cost of problems avoided by consulting a lawyer before you act. Each year that I practiced I learned new things that helped me to advise my clients. Consequently, my advise got more valuable as I got older and my rates went up. There were always younger lawyers who charged less and I never put a gun to anyone’s head to make them hire me. When I needed back surgery I went to the best doctor that I could find because I wanted the surgery done correctly to give myself the best chance for relief and recovery. I have always given some amount of my time away for free and now that I am retired I do so regularly. Last week I spoke to a businessman with a complicated financing issue. He was quoted thousands of dollars by lawyers to research his problem. I told him that I had researched the same problem in the 1980s. I told him what to do and sent him on his way. If you don’t appreciate what a professional actually does, it is because you are hiring an amateur. Experience is valuable in any endeavor.

  • Don

    Lawyers are expensive because the legal system is highly inefficient and unnecessarily contentious. Discovery is unnecessarily rancorous and voluminous, motions excessive, judges delay decisions, trials never are held as scheduled and litigation is a process of grinding the other side financially into the ground. The standard of practice (just looking at the grammatical quality of most briefing) doesn’t support the idea that lawyers are dreaming of their clients.

    More important, any professional would serve himself poorly if he did not draw proper boundaries in his personal and professional life. You seem to glory in the fact that you fail to take a healthy approach to your work . Many attorneys do not have work-life balance, but it is exceedingly odd to find one who takes pride in it, and claims this “virtue” is so universal that it drives the market. Maybe you should pick up a psych textbook, followed by an econ textbook. As a matter of economics, the hours you spend fretting about work aren’t somehow magically folded into the hours you actually bill. As a matter of psychology, you have worked yourself into a self-righteous persecution complex.

    • Patent Attorney

      Work life balance is a misnomer. That’s the point. For attorneys, work is just a part of life. There are no boundaries. You expect your attorney to answer the phone whenever you call or email.

  • Steph Nagin

    This poster’s insightful perspective — one that raises financial, economic, regulatory, personal, professional, and societal issues, especially in circumstances in which the lawyer is not performing a service that is price-insensitive — suggests that the closer one works on the continuum of services from bespoke… to standardized… to commoditized, the more price sensitive clients become.

    Consequently, the poster’s novel suggestion that the Rules of Professional conduct may warrant modifications to accommodate variances in expectations among the full continuum, warrants reconsideration by State regulators of law licensure.

  • fireice2

    I have this criminal case that I lost recently. I was representing a family of accused, six in total. Initially, we were on the road to acquittal until two of our material witnesses died for various reasons. I was unable to convince the court to acquit my clients.

    I was certainly worried, disheartened and lost for my clients despite the fact I’m only paid $30 per hearing.

  • RutgersKev

    You are also hiring the lawyer’s support staff.

  • Denis Kleinfeld

    I think we should be clearer as to what a lawyer is expected to do. In my view a lawyer is to advise a client as to how the law applies to his particular circumstances and what the client’s rights and obligations are in those circumstances. We represent the client but must always remember that we are not the client. We play a role in the legal process by representing one side of a case whether it is a transaction or a litigation.
    It is part of human nature that each of us approaches a professional relationship in different ways. Some are quite dispassionate and others become psychologically more involved. We all deal with cognitive biases. We all have our own personal reasons for practicing law.
    It is true that the costs of legal practice are significant. Fees are a matter of the free-market ever since the FTC won a case that prohibited the Bar Association fee schedules.
    The Supreme Court added to that by declaring that advertising was a matter of free speech and that Bar rules limiting that are unconstitutional. With those in place, the practice of law moved from being a profession to being, as a practical matter, just another business.
    I think we should recognize that the relationship of a lawyer to the Bar Association is one of contract rather than an ethical or some sort of fiduciary obligation. Lawyers are granted a license and in return agree to perform those services in accordance with the rules. The Bar then is obliged to make sure those rules are followed.
    I do not think that the neither the Bar nor the courts has done a very good job in doing that. Most prominently, it seems to me, is the failure to deal with the problem of fallacious and overly contentious litigation.
    Fueling this ongoing and every present problem are the politically driven complex laws and regulations that create vast amounts of work that truly serves no possible gain for society. What it does is create endless conflicts, hurdles and difficulties. Lawyers are not responsible for this war, but are only soldiers fighting for one side in the battle.
    Where the Bar has not focused is on having a well-educated judiciary. I believe that judges should be licensed. They should be required to have special additional education and be required to show their fitness by passing written and oral examinations periodically. The judiciary should be tasked as one of their primary duties to the legal system and the administration of justice with making sure the application of the legal process is efficient and within the rules. Since most legal work does not involve work before the courts but is transactional in nature, legal work is actually governed by the free-market. Lawyers who do not operate their legal business well do not survive.
    In sum, I am of the view that the legal business will continue to have these unresolvable difficulties and conflicts as it always have but that it can be reduced substantially by recognizing that society will be a lot better off by having a system where the referees in the litigation process were much more reliable and consistent in making sure that the process is efficient and effective. Additionally, the plethora of law and regulations should be dramatically reduced. This could be achieved by requiring that all statues and regulations, for example the federal tax code, were written in plain English as one cohesive document. Federal statute already requires regulations be written in plain English but that statute is ignored.
    These are two steps that likely would be well received by the public and most lawyers. Obviously, the judiciary and the politicians would have great difficulty with them having a significant vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
    How each lawyer decides to operate their own legal business is a matter of free choice as it should continue to be a matter of personal preference as long as it is within the bounds of the contract by which lawyers are granted a license which is their work permit.

  • Lance Corvette

    “Your problems are now my problems” is probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard a lawyer say, and I hope nobody thinks this is the correct way to represent a client.

    This is why civility is declining to all-time lows in litigation, because attorneys take on their clients position as if the potential loss would be their own, as if they themselves are being charged with the malfeasense, negligence, or crime. It’s not. Your clients problems remain their problems. Your job as a lawyer is to help them manage, solve, reduce the problems. Your job as a lawyer is to be a buffer – a *calm* buffer – between your client and someone badgering your client so that your client can have a breather, time can pass, and cooler heads prevail. So that you can *calmly* and *dispassionately* discuss the legal and factual issues with opposing counsel and hopefully come to a reasonable solution.

    A lawyer undertaking his client’s problems “as his own” would be exemplified by the lawyer who screamed at me in the courtroom in front of the judge, followed me into the hallway screaming, into the elevator, onto a different floor (still screaming), and into a different courtroom. And all I did was appear for a buddy and ask for an extension of a discovery deadline.

    Bad advice.

    • I don’t think what you are describing is what I meant in this post.

      When clients come to you, they have a legal problem to solve. After they hire you, their legal problem is yours to solve—calmly and dispassionately. That is literally your job as a lawyer. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

      That is different from the behavior you describe. Maybe lawyers behave that way because they take their clients’ problems personally. Maybe they have their own emotional problems. Maybe they are just assholes. I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I agree with you it isn’t an effective way to advocate.

      • Lance Corvette

        Good recovery, I’m actually glad you didn’t mean quite what you typed.

        • I meant exactly what I typed. I think you misinterpreted it.

          • Lance Corvette

            My fault, got it.

            You could have chosen to not respond. Instead you chose to make sure you were right and lose a customer. Or did I misinterpret that too?

            Lawerist is one less blog I have to follow now.

            • That’s a strange response, especially considering how you started. When opposing counsel argues you misinterpreted a rule, do you stomp out of the courtroom? I doubt it.

              I’m not trying to attack you. I’m just disagreeing with you.

              You wrote “I’m actually glad you didn’t mean quite what you typed.” Well, I didn’t mean to concede any such thing, and I don’t want anyone digging this deeply into the comments and accusing me of taking back my words. I think you misinterpreted them.

  • T Hal

    There are certainly strong feelings on both sides of this affordability/diligent-services debate. Perhaps a new public access to legal representation model in the US is warranted, because as it stands, regardless the justifications of current legal fees, the vast majority of citizens in desperate need of legal services just never get them because they can’t afford them. Worse, not able to afford necessary legal intervention, they then suffer further catastrophic life costs. A vicious cycle that too often ends in circumstances many can never remove themselves from, thereby threatening the stability of communities and the nation.

    I agree that the business of practicing law is time-intensive, and that few would choose to do it if they weren’t compensated sufficiently (to them) well. Nonetheless, the legal system in the USA is broken, and there’s no better an indicator of that than the association between one’s access to justice and one’s bank account. Justice ought not to depend on national economic circumstances, like the massive displacement of traditional jobs that allowed citizens to save for emergencies (like legal services needs) by the current, growing barely-survival-wages service industries jobs which, even with excruciatingly frugal living, don’t permit building the enormous emergency savings required for legal representation. I don’t know what the answer is, but as things stand now the law works disproportionately for the wealthy–an increasingly marginal minority of this nation’s population. When the law fails to address the survival needs of the majority of citizens, drastic change seems, judging from history, inevitable.

  • Vrinder Singh Randhawa

    This is an utterly self serving article. The legal system in the US is crazy. The simple truth is that there a areas where the system could put into place controls i.e. landlord deposit control systems (like the UK), which are fixed costs mandatory mediation systems that serve the public, not the lawyers who rack up 10s of thousands of $, where the sum in question is only $2,000. Medical litigation for small claims doesn’t need 10s of thousands of $s.

  • jp

    One month before I moved out of my old house the landlord refused to fumigate the house via tenting because of the termites. I did not want to bring the termites with me in my furniture and subsequently hired a law firm to draft a two page letter stating the statutes and that he had an obligation to provide pest control which I signed in the lease. The two page letter cost $500!!!! That is complete and utter bullshit for something that I could of done by looking it up on the internet. Lawyers are greedy hungry assholes. You get a lot for the money? Go buy another Ferrrari.

  • Fred

    I left practicing and resorted to my CPA work. I found that in our geographic area many people are without much disposable income and savings. I have bills to pay too so simple economics dictates that I provide my knowledge to the sector that values my services. Value means appreciate what I bring to the table (and most do) and understand the nature of my representation (which we go over via fee agreements) and pay for it. In the end, if the client feels wronged in court they don’t care about any of the above. I value my J.D. and am thankful I expanded my knowledge base but the practice seems disjointed with reality. The reality being many clients want to pay for Miller Lite but really want to drink champagne. And I get it. But this is a business. People go into business because of the profit motive. If there’s little to no profit, there’s little motivation. When the bar associations and licensing bodies address this then maybe the profession can do a better job with pro bono work. Many sole-practioner lawyers I know are doing de facto pro bono work as it is because the client means well but cannot pay their bills. The legal process can be ardous, complicated, and not always ending in a positive result. I’ve explained this to clients and some forget that discussion later. In the end, I had to go where the money is.

    • Patent Attorney

      “Sometimes” forget the discussion? I’ve found that total amnesia is far more common than reported in the medical journals.

    • justthebest

      I don’t think profit is always the primary motive for being a lawyer. More than any other profession, I think we do it to help others. And, as I would think you know, lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession—and I mean the intentional kind, not the usual kind where we just can’t get the client to pay for the work we did. (We all do WAY too much of that!)

  • Asking1

    So what’s the difference between this and paltry fees that architects get? The massive knowledge, the massive liability, the incredibly long and irregular hours, managing dozens of groups, stress, etc.?

  • Amber3

    Glad to see you changed your mind about teaching because you’d get all of the downfalls and none of the benefits. This actually sounds exactly like my life – except I teach. You could replace ‘client’ with students and you’d be about right. Same about the abandoned car, except make it a 20 year old ford. It’s interesting how they decide who should get paid how much…

  • Melanie

    After reading the comments below, I am staying away from attorneys…including myself!

  • Wayde Bardswell

    I am happy reading this article. It put into perspective the stress and burden of being a legal counsel and why our fees are expensive. Thank you. I could not have explained it better!!

  • RealKiwi

    I’ll tell you guys a true story my uncle told me.
    My great grandparents lived in a small rural community
    In the thirties where everyone knew everybody’s business.
    Two local farmers had a dispute over property boundaries as farmers do.
    One day they check the mailbox and a letter addressed to one of the local lawyers
    to the other lawyer.
    My great
    grandparents decided after ” tremendous” moral deliberating did the old steam the envelope over the kettle trick and read the content.
    As it happens these two were the others opposing legal council for the boundary dispute.

    To quote one line it read “We have two woolly sheep, you fleece one and I’ll fleece the other”