“Fees Fi Fo Fum”: Lawyer Fee Arrangements, Part 2 – The Billable Hour

Welcome back to the Lawyers & Liquor discussion on fees!  So last time we talked about the historical difference between the American Rule and the English Rule, which is essentially the difference between you paying someone to kick you in the nuts and someone else paying to try to kick you in the nuts.  A brief summary of our last post is as follows:  In America, lawsuits require that you bear all of your own expenses, paying the lawyer out of your own pocket even if you win, with a rationale of “access to justice.”  However, the traditional rule on most Common-Law countries, and indeed in a lot of the world, is that the loser in a civil action will pay reasonable attorneys fees for the winning side, the idea being that it’s the losing side’s fault the matter was in court at all to begin with.

This isn’t a new thing.  America deviated, as we talked about, back in 1796 in a Supreme Court decision that found making the loser pay up may actually dissuade people from going to court and asserting meritorious claims and defenses because of the specter of the money-grubbing attorney in the background.  We also talked about how that decision is a remnant of a time when it was completely acceptable to pay your lawyer with a side of beef and a fresh coat of paint on his palatial farmhouse in the country.  America, it seems, never got the message that when a ham has less monetary value and doesn’t stretch as far, a refiguring of the way we award fees may be needed.

So what does this mean for you, the lawyer or layman in the good old U.S. of A who may want to make sure at some point they see a payment on a fucking bill or, in the case of the latter, may want to know what they’re getting into when they hire a lawyer?

It means we have a sort of complicated set of “ways to pay for shit” that clients can utilize.  Which we’re going to talk about today, starting with the Billable Hour.

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When the Check Goes *Boing* – Lawyers and Credit Cards

Hey hey, it’s Wednesday here on Lawyers and Liquor and that means…what exactly does that mean anymore? I don’t know guys, I’m ankle deep in a ton of litigation stuff right now, and as I swim through the sea of stupid that is email and text message review in discovery, I find myself drifting back to a happier time. A nicer time. A more genteel era.  I am, of course, talking about the time when your clients paid their damn bills in full and on time.

Alright, so, a little background here.  My office, when I came into it, did not accept payment in any manner except check or cash.  Now, because I have a bad tendency of representing people, and because people aren’t exactly known for their tendency to carry around thousands of dollars in cash, this meant the majority of my clients paid with a check.  I know, there’s a younger generation of people out there going “What the fuck is a check? I just figured out those squares with the faces of dead guys on them last year, now you’re telling me there’s some other bullshit way of old-timey paying for goods and services?” Here’s the explanation: A check is like a paper version of a debit card that takes three-five days to hit your bank account.

You may be familiar with these if you’ve ever worked for someone that feels Direct Deposit is a tool of the devil or you have a grandmother that refuses to send cash through the postal service.

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Young Lawyers: You Won’t Get Rich

Face the facts, folks, law school isn’t cheap.  Unless you’re at an in-state school paying in-state tuition for a decent in-state program, expect your three year journey through the fires of hell to cost you somewhere in the realm of six figures, if not more.  The freshly minted attorney will step blinking from the birth canal of the bar exam owing as much to the federal government, or to private student loan lenders, than it would take to buy a house in most parts of the country. But, of course, it will all be worth it because once they have the ability to earn in the legal field, those young bucks and buckettes will rake in the dough hand over fist, right?

Oh you poor, poor deluded asshole.

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Four Hard Truths Behind Going Solo

Hey and welcome to Wednesday on Lawyers & Liquor, where the coffee flows like brown, muddy, too strong wine and the mumblings of the week have hit their zenith.  It’s all downhill from here, folks, and speaking of downhill, remember a while back when I told you about the times you should be looking to bail the hell out of your law firm?  No? Well, you can go read that little gem here.  In fact, I’d sort of suggest that you do that before we get the ball rolling here, because today we’re going to talk about the second half of the crappy “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” equation, which is “Can you afford to get out the door and go it alone?”

Sure sure, there are plenty of legal jobs out there in the world, if you particularly enjoy taking a pay cut or secretly trying to apply to other firms without the word getting back to the bosses that sign your paycheck that you’re in the market for a change.  I mean, just ask any recent graduate how many awesome jobs are beating down their doors to hire them.  I mean you could…hold on, let me take a look at my LinkedIn “Jobs For You” section…be a paralegal.  Or…a paralegal.  Oh, wait, here’s one for an insurance salesman.  Well isn’t that all just fine and fucking dandy, huh?  There are plenty of jobs out there for a lawyer looking to move around, so long as they don’t want to be a fucking lawyer.

So…maybe you should go solo then? Maybe you should snag the pictures from the walls and run  into the night, calling each of your clients individually to scream “I’m free, motherfucker! Follow me!” You can hang a shingle somewhere, be a real rainmaker. Right?

Oh you poor fucking fool.  I’m gonna give you Four Hard Truths about going solo, and you can see if you’re a smart man.

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Like A Lamb to Slaughter – Are you being placed on the altar?

Well well, it’s Wednesday and once again I neglected to post jack on Monday. I’m a bad person. But I’m a busy person this time of year as cases keep piling up for low dollar amounts and the office is churning files to try and get things done. So it makes some sense I’ve missed a couple of posts here, among the other things that I have to do on a daily and weekly basis, and sometimes even a monthly basis, to keep a roof over the head and food in the fridge. Ain’t life a bitch?

So this week a few things happened that made me think: firms, especially big firms, really tend to take advantage of that “new associate” smell, don’t they? The new associate smell is sort of like the new car smell, except instead of rich leather and factory goodness, it’s a whiff of desperation mixed with a heavy dose of what pure anxiety and worry would smell like if it was distilled into a scent and called Eau de Associate. New associates are, by and large, the brand new bitches in a stable of abusive pimps known as the Senior Partners. And unlike Tony, the pimp with a heart of gold that cares for all of his “employees” and takes good care of them, thank you very much Daddy, law partners have absolutely no attachment to their associates when the fat gets in the frying pan.

Don’t believe me? File a meritorious and likely to succeed motion to sanction opposing counsel at some big firm and see who shows up. It sure as shit ain’t gonna be Mr. Senior Partner in his $2,000 handmade suit that’s been strutting his shit around the courtroom and depositions for the past several months. It’s going to be some harried looking kid, fresh-faced but quickly developing the thousand yard “oh shit” stare, that wanders in trailing behind their client. They’ll look like they’re about to wet themselves and soak straight through the off-the-rack Joseph A. Banks suit that they bought on sale (or that they bought a few months prior when they graduated law school). They’ll be wholly unfamiliar to you, and to the judge, and likely will have forgotten to do minor things like entering their appearance on the case. Everyone in the room, except the poor kid shuffling around in their far-too-optimistic litigation bag, will taste the tinge of blood in the air.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the sacrificial lamb.

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