In an attempt to get more cases coming in the door, my partner and I both placed ourselves on various court appointment lists. This was no easy task. But after lots of letters and phone calls we managed to make our way on to a few lists. These lists have kept us extremely busy. In the month of September alone, I’ve been appointed on over fifty cases so far. We can get off these lists at any time. So the question becomes: are the cases worth the stress?
The Benefit of Experience
Court appointments have been a huge boon to my experience level both in and out of the courtroom. Due to the sheer number of clients, I’m in court frequently. And due to the sometimes unfamiliar areas of the law I’m appointed on, I spend a lot of time preparing for hearings. I’ve touched cases I would have never dreamed of marketing myself for. I’ve gained experience in new areas of the law, and found those areas rewarding. I also have the opportunity to handle larger cases than I would likely get any other way.
The Time Suck
With all of these cases coming in, I end up spending a lot of time in court. That’s great. Except I don’t spend a lot of time in the courtroom. Instead, I wait in the hallway with all the other lawyers. There’s no wi-fi in the courthouse and it’s almost impossible to do other work. Meanwhile, some of these appointments happen at the very last minute. Last week I got a phone call in the morning for a case that afternoon. I get it, it’s the nature of the business.
Whether it’s the norm or not, this practice makes scheduling a nightmare. As a result, some of my private clients have gotten bumped or moved around to accomodate my court appointed clients. I’ve also gotten double–booked by two different judges. Luckily, the other attorneys who handle court appointments have been very helpful in covering for me when necessary.
I’m in a geographic area where almost all court appointments are paid hourly. That makes all the hallway time much easier to handle. But it also means I can’t do other work while waiting for my case to be called. If I do I have to come off the clock, and it can get a bit tedious to track all of that. Regardless, I think the hourly rate is fair. Of course it’s not what I would get while working for a private client, but it’s still a reliable paycheck.
The Problem Client
Unlike private practice where you can get an idea about a prospective client before she hires you, court appointed clients come as-is. If you don’t get along with them or they become a problem client, there isn’t much you can do. The court has to let you out of the case. And if they let you out, some other attorney will just have to get up to speed, and bill the court to do so. I’ve run into a few of these issues so far, and they definitely make it difficult to stay on the appointment list. But at the same time it’s a form of experience. Experience in dealing with very tough clients.
Overall I’ve found the court appointment work rewarding so far. Like many new solo/small firm practitioners, I will continue to take the appointments until I can’t adequately represent the clients while building my own practice. The pay isn’t great but it’s consistent. The hours are frustrating but that’s the nature of the beast. For the few problem clients I’ve encountered, I’ve also met lots of interesting clients and helped them with their troubles.
Do you take court appointments? Did you at any point? Let’s hear about your experience in the comments.
Read the next post in this series: "I’ve Got Underwear Older than You: Dealing with ‘Senior’ Members of the Bar."