Litigation is Expensive, Buddy: A dialogue with the “Righteous Client”

So I have clients that are…less than thrilled with the amount of my recent bill.

“But we just paid $2,000!  Why do we have to pay another $2,000 this month?”

“Because you told me to be aggressive and refuse settlement offers to bring this matter to trial.  That’s the cost of me doing this.”

You didn’t tell us that!”

Followed by me responding with every email that contains one key phrase:

“Litigation is expensive.  It is not unheard of for a case going to trial to cost thousands of dollars a month while we are in active discovery, nor is it uncommon for the price tag of the entire matter to range in the tens of thousands of dollars.  It is my suggestion that we reach out to discuss a possibility of settlement once we have conferred regarding what an appropriate settlement amount would be.”

This is a regular thing.  It’s almost the hallmark of an hourly civil litigator to have to remind their clients of that one key thing:  Litigation is fucking expensive.

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Stop Oversharing: Clients Aren’t Your Bros

Alright, so let’s face the hard truth that in an over-saturated legal market there are plenty of lawyers out there who are willing to take on any case.  Let’s go even further and say that there are lawyers out there who are breaking the cardinal rules set at our monthly ritualistic sacrifice of an alleged tortfeasor (afterwards we have cocktails and network) by charging well under the basement-fees for our regions.  Let’s  just accept, in general, that to some extent a lawyer who has succeeded in getting a client on the hook by getting them in the door still needs to reel that client in and get them to sign the engagement letter.

Have you bought a car recently?  I sold those suckers for a bit, so I know a little bit about how it works.  When you bought the car did you notice the salesman had a picture of a kid on his desk?  Not necessarily his kid, but a kid, and you sure as hell assumed it was his kid, right?  How about the Bible sitting on the corner of the desk?  Everytime you had a story or comment about something that happened to you or a concern, the salesman had a story related to it about how he knows exactly what you mean because he’d been through the same thing, or knew someone who had.  You know that shit was all meant to make you feel close to him so he could stick your ass in the seat of a new-to-you, perfectly-functional-except-for-the-A/C 1997 Toyota Camry with low, low mileage of only 165,000 miles (they just don’t make engines that last that long anymore, I tell you what).  It’s a scheme, a way to ingratiate yourself to the buyer to make them feel a bond with you.

Lawyers are guilty of the same thing.

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Involuntary Pro Bono: When Clients Ignore Invoices

Here’s a rule of thumb to keep in the front of your mind during every client interaction:

Clients are scum that will take every opportunity to screw you over.

Clients will walk off with your invoices unpaid, taunting you to come after them. If you do come after them, clients will file unfounded bar complaints that you have to defend. If you sue a client for past-due fees, you’ll draw the ire of the local bar association because you didn’t submit to their fee-dispute mediation program. If you try to retain a client’s file to try and force the payment, they file a bar complaint. At the end of the day, trying to collect from a client who wants to avoid paying you is a nightmare for the lawyer, to the point that many of us look at how much is owed, figure it’s the cost of doing business, and write it off.

By the way, those written off fees?  They don’t count towards your pro bono requirements if you have one.  Ain’t that some shit.

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“The Customer is an Idiot”: Not being a client’s employee

There was a time when an attorney was a respected professional whose wisdom and advice was sought after by the members of the community.  We were more than sharks in suits who went after the highest dollar amount, we were learned men of an honorable profession.  Neighbors would come to our offices for not only legal advice, but life advice.  Our opinions were held in high regard, and we were viewed as trusted mediators and advocates for our clients.

Abraham Lincoln once said the following about lawyers:

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

First, WHAT THE HELL …Mr. President?  “Discourage litigation” is the worst business advice ever!  How on God’s green earth am I supposed to hit my billables if everyone is being reasonable about easily resolved legal issue?

Seriously, though, the very fact that quote exists tells you something about how lawyers used to be viewed.  We weren’t “legal services providers,” we were the educated men who solved problems in a fair manner and ensured justice was carried out.

I’m going to let you in on a secret of modern legal practice:

Our clients don’t respect us. At. Fucking. All.

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