My Shingle

The Smallest Things Have the Biggest Impact

by Carolyn Elefant on December 17, 2006 · 16 comments

in Celebrating Solos, Encouragement, MyShingle Solo

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When I reflect on my thirteen years as a solo, what comes to mind first aren’t my major victories, but instead, my small moments.  I actually have at least three small moments that have influenced the course of my practice, but today, I’ll discuss just one:  the day I changed a judge’s mind.

Back in the early days of my law firm, I handled court appointed criminal work, about ten to fifteen cases a year, primarily to get hands on experience in court.  After a year, when I had some experience under my belt (but still remained awfully naive) I was assigned to represent a sixty something, petty offender who’d just been released from jail (for some drug or petty theft) and had been arrested in a drug buy, found with a syringe in his sock.  In an effort to secure his release on bail (he’d only been out of jail for a few months and did not want to go back), I concocted some story about how he had the syringe as part of a needle exchange program, and also argued that with his many ties to the area, he wasn’t likely to flee.  I secured my client’s release pending trial.

Now, my client had more experience with the “system” at that point (his
“rap” sheet, i.e., his list of priors dated back to the 1970s and was 4
pages long).  He told me that he’d be off parole in 6 months and that
we needed to postpone any trial until after that, because, otherwise,
he’d face a more severe penalty.  I agreed to follow this strategy
(besides, from what I had already learned, it often took more than 6
months to get to  trial anyway).

A few weeks later, I showed up in court with my client for a routine
status hearing.  My client kept falling asleep and snoring loudly and
though I’d nudge him and tell him to wake up, his behavior persisted.
Eventually, the judge took notice and ordered my client to the back of
the court to take a drug test.  When status call concluded, the judge
called me to the bench.  “Your client’s a walking pharmacy,” he said.
I’m going to lock him up pending trial.”  “Your honor,” I exclaimed,
“My client is entitled to a hearing.”  “Well,” said the judge, “You can
have a hearing if you want, but my mind is made up!”  The judge set a
hearing for after lunch.

Now, I knew if my client was locked up, our delay strategy wasn’t going
to work any more.  Plus, I thought that the judge was unfair.  My
client’s release was not contingent on passing a drug test and my
client was undergoing treatment, trying to break a decades old habit.
During lunch, I called my client’s drug treatment counselor and
gathered statistics on the success of older addicts in breaking their
habit.  I called the client’s daughter and gather information on how
difficult it would for her father if he were sent back to jail.

When we returned from lunch, I put on a rousing argument for my
client.  I quoted the statistics and the daughter, I shared my personal
experience about the client and his intelligence and effort to get
himself back on track.  I must have spoken for fifteen minutes because
when I finished, the prosecutor whispered to me “wow – that was great”
and he didn’t oppose my request.  The judge said “I was prepared to
lock your client up, but you changed my mind.”  And he told the client
he was lucky to have me as his attorney.

The hearing was entirely inconsequential – just a hearing on whether my client would remain in jail pending trial.  Just a silly, small thing.  But that hearing made me realize that I have the power to move people, to change a judge’s mind.  And whenever I go to the line for my clients before a judge or a jury, I remember that day and try to summon that power.

As solos, what we do is small by biglaw standards.  No multimillion deals, no mega corporations as clients.  We represent individuals, small companies, often helping them with day to day matters that aren’t earth shattering the greater scheme of things.  And yet in our small way, we make a big difference.

What’s your small moment?  Please share it below or in a cross post at your blog.

  • http://wanderingbell.blogspot.com Bill

    The case that made me realize what an impact I could have was my fifth pro bono case. I was still looking to join a firm at that time and was taking pro bono work to beef up my resume. The previous four cases I had disposed of in pretty quick order. Like the previous four casese, it was an unlawful detainer (eviction) case. My previous four cases had all ended in negotiated settlements which left my clients in their apartments.
    As a reward, they promptly dropped case five in my lap. The client was a twenty-two year old woman with four kids who had never been off public assistance in her life. Nice woman, nicer kids. And she was a couple of thousand dollars behind in her rent. She had also defaulted by failing to answer the complaint for unlawful detainer.
    Now, she should have never fallen behind in the rent in the first place. She had a section 8 voucher, but somehow everyone had been miscalculating her share of the rent based on her reported income.
    To add to her family’s misery, the date the case was filed against her was just after her twin girls had been born. Both were very, very premature and both were very sick and having to undergoe experimental treatments at the time to keep them breathing. She also had absolutely no money because her public assistance was being held up by a SNAFU.
    Anyways, the file was dropped in my lap by the staff attorney with a comment along the lines of “one more and you would have had a set of steak knives.” I did a quick site visit hoping that there would be something to use as a defense for her. What I discovered was a practically brand new, low income housing project. The worst that could be said for the unit was the crayon on the wall from the middle daughter who was four.
    So, no defenses. I called the landlord’s attorney to see if maybe we could hold off the eviction long enough for her income problem to get corrected. Landlord’s attorney didn’t even let me get past the name of the case, telling me to go pound sand.
    Fortunately, someone else at the pro bono group was listening as I was brainstorming with some of their housing people about what to do beyond the obvious Motion to Vacate. Her expertise was in SSI/SSDI law and she was head of SSI for kids project. When she heard that the kids were in the ICU and premies, she offered to partner up with me. She would take on Social Security while I bought time.
    So I went in, got the emergency stay of eviction and filed my motion to vacate. The other side opposed and lost. We filed an answer. I essentially postured like hell since there was very little to defend her with. But we were going to force a trial.
    My partner in this had by this time gotten the SSA people to take notice of the case and presumptively approve her kids, even if they were not going to get about to resolving their mother’s appeal. With the staff social worker, we got Catholic charities to help her with a loan for the back rent.
    Eventually the other side gave in and my client and her children stayed housed and to my knowledge is still housed today. Maybe it wasn’t a solo solo moment, because I had a lot of help when it came to hooking her up with services. Hardly a big case, but for her and her kids it was the difference between them staying together or the kids being taken away.

  • http://wanderingbell.blogspot.com Bill

    The case that made me realize what an impact I could have was my fifth pro bono case. I was still looking to join a firm at that time and was taking pro bono work to beef up my resume. The previous four cases I had disposed of in pretty quick order. Like the previous four casese, it was an unlawful detainer (eviction) case. My previous four cases had all ended in negotiated settlements which left my clients in their apartments.
    As a reward, they promptly dropped case five in my lap. The client was a twenty-two year old woman with four kids who had never been off public assistance in her life. Nice woman, nicer kids. And she was a couple of thousand dollars behind in her rent. She had also defaulted by failing to answer the complaint for unlawful detainer.
    Now, she should have never fallen behind in the rent in the first place. She had a section 8 voucher, but somehow everyone had been miscalculating her share of the rent based on her reported income.
    To add to her family’s misery, the date the case was filed against her was just after her twin girls had been born. Both were very, very premature and both were very sick and having to undergoe experimental treatments at the time to keep them breathing. She also had absolutely no money because her public assistance was being held up by a SNAFU.
    Anyways, the file was dropped in my lap by the staff attorney with a comment along the lines of “one more and you would have had a set of steak knives.” I did a quick site visit hoping that there would be something to use as a defense for her. What I discovered was a practically brand new, low income housing project. The worst that could be said for the unit was the crayon on the wall from the middle daughter who was four.
    So, no defenses. I called the landlord’s attorney to see if maybe we could hold off the eviction long enough for her income problem to get corrected. Landlord’s attorney didn’t even let me get past the name of the case, telling me to go pound sand.
    Fortunately, someone else at the pro bono group was listening as I was brainstorming with some of their housing people about what to do beyond the obvious Motion to Vacate. Her expertise was in SSI/SSDI law and she was head of SSI for kids project. When she heard that the kids were in the ICU and premies, she offered to partner up with me. She would take on Social Security while I bought time.
    So I went in, got the emergency stay of eviction and filed my motion to vacate. The other side opposed and lost. We filed an answer. I essentially postured like hell since there was very little to defend her with. But we were going to force a trial.
    My partner in this had by this time gotten the SSA people to take notice of the case and presumptively approve her kids, even if they were not going to get about to resolving their mother’s appeal. With the staff social worker, we got Catholic charities to help her with a loan for the back rent.
    Eventually the other side gave in and my client and her children stayed housed and to my knowledge is still housed today. Maybe it wasn’t a solo solo moment, because I had a lot of help when it came to hooking her up with services. Hardly a big case, but for her and her kids it was the difference between them staying together or the kids being taken away.

  • http://www.schomerlaw.com Scott Schomer

    I was referred an individual who had been defending a civil lawsuit with a rapidly approaching trial date where the plaintiff was looking for a six figure judgment. Although my client had spent hours trying to resolve the matter he had not been successful. My client was also desparate because the lawsuit was preventing him from launching a new business venture. I jumped in, filed a simple motion for permission to file a cross-claim along with a proposed cross-claim. Within a few days and with very little effort, I had the matter settled for less than $.05 on the dollar. My client thought I was the greatest attorney in the world and still sends me clients.

  • http://www.schomerlaw.com Scott Schomer

    I was referred an individual who had been defending a civil lawsuit with a rapidly approaching trial date where the plaintiff was looking for a six figure judgment. Although my client had spent hours trying to resolve the matter he had not been successful. My client was also desparate because the lawsuit was preventing him from launching a new business venture. I jumped in, filed a simple motion for permission to file a cross-claim along with a proposed cross-claim. Within a few days and with very little effort, I had the matter settled for less than $.05 on the dollar. My client thought I was the greatest attorney in the world and still sends me clients.

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    One of my most cherished memories as a practicing lawyer came when I was representing the owners of a $10M family business that was in the throes of insolvency.
    As you can imagine the family that controlled the business was really bummed-out and not making the most rational business decisions, which only exacerbated the legal, financial and ongoing decision-making problems.
    At some point I realized what they really needed was some of the “counselor” from my “attorney & counselor at law” letterhead. So I asked the clients to a meeting in which without violating anyone’s privacy or disclosing any identities, I share some stories from other business owners I’d represnted in similar circumstances to let this client know they were not alone. The thing I told them that they still remind me of everytime they refer clients to me, even still today when they know I don’t want any more legal work is that their business is not who they are, it is not the relationship they have with their loved ones and it is not their baby. It is their mule which exists to make their lives better, and when it ceases to do so, it’s time to make rational changes.
    That client eventually lost their company but now has a multi-million dollar internet business and they practically cry every time they see me and thank me for helping them. And I practically cry because I know how much I really did.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    One of my most cherished memories as a practicing lawyer came when I was representing the owners of a $10M family business that was in the throes of insolvency.
    As you can imagine the family that controlled the business was really bummed-out and not making the most rational business decisions, which only exacerbated the legal, financial and ongoing decision-making problems.
    At some point I realized what they really needed was some of the “counselor” from my “attorney & counselor at law” letterhead. So I asked the clients to a meeting in which without violating anyone’s privacy or disclosing any identities, I share some stories from other business owners I’d represnted in similar circumstances to let this client know they were not alone. The thing I told them that they still remind me of everytime they refer clients to me, even still today when they know I don’t want any more legal work is that their business is not who they are, it is not the relationship they have with their loved ones and it is not their baby. It is their mule which exists to make their lives better, and when it ceases to do so, it’s time to make rational changes.
    That client eventually lost their company but now has a multi-million dollar internet business and they practically cry every time they see me and thank me for helping them. And I practically cry because I know how much I really did.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.bksanchez.com Benjamin K. Sanchez

    I believe that the law is truly still a profession, and those that make it out to be just a business are missing out on what the legal profession has to offer in career satisfaction and fulfillment of purpose. In furtherance of that professionalism, I regularly take on pro bono cases through established pro bono programs, such as the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program and Dallas Volunteer Attorneys Program (back when I was living in Dallas for a few years). I find that many of those small moments that Carolyn writes about come in those pro bono cases.
    One such example for me was my last case for DVAP prior to moving back to Houston. That client was a mid-50s gentleman seeking a divorce from his wife after 17 years of separation. Although he had mentally and emotionally moved on with his life, he had yet to make that final cut, the legal one. The case included some problems with service on the wife and her unwillingness to agree to a final decree. The final hearing was set for the week of Thanksgiving. We concluded the case that week with a decree. Due to 17 years of separation, there were no assets or debts to split, so the case wasn’t tough legally. I finished the hearing and handed the client a certified copy of the decree before he left the courthouse that day. He was so grateful to me for helping him finally conclude that part of his life. I remember walking down to the DVAP headquarters that morning and turning in my completed file, feeling a sense of accomplishment not only for the client but also for myself in having completed the case prior to my leaving town. I was proud to have completed every case DVAP gave to me, especially knowing that wasn’t always the case with the volunteer attorneys.
    Although I was pleased with DVAP’s graciousness for me having completed the case before I left town, what happened next truly made the case special. The day before Thanksgiving, I received a call from the client again thanking me for my work, but also asking me to come over on Thanksgiving morning as he was going to deep-fry a turkey for me and my family. I went over to his home the next day (he lived with his sister) and met with him and his sister. He had such a smile on his face, as well did his sister. Although only my client and his sister were at the house at the time, the home was full of warmth, love, life, and happiness. The aroma of the cooked turkeys and the jovial conversation I had with them that morning of true, heartfelt thanks has been one of the most rewarding moments of my career. I will never forget leaving that home with a smile on my face as I drove away. That smile lasted not only that day, but throughout the holiday season that year!
    I encourage every attorney to regularly take on pro bono cases, because my story is not unique for those of us who regularly do so. I wish everyone a career full of hope, happiness, and compassion!

  • http://www.bksanchez.com Benjamin K. Sanchez

    I believe that the law is truly still a profession, and those that make it out to be just a business are missing out on what the legal profession has to offer in career satisfaction and fulfillment of purpose. In furtherance of that professionalism, I regularly take on pro bono cases through established pro bono programs, such as the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program and Dallas Volunteer Attorneys Program (back when I was living in Dallas for a few years). I find that many of those small moments that Carolyn writes about come in those pro bono cases.
    One such example for me was my last case for DVAP prior to moving back to Houston. That client was a mid-50s gentleman seeking a divorce from his wife after 17 years of separation. Although he had mentally and emotionally moved on with his life, he had yet to make that final cut, the legal one. The case included some problems with service on the wife and her unwillingness to agree to a final decree. The final hearing was set for the week of Thanksgiving. We concluded the case that week with a decree. Due to 17 years of separation, there were no assets or debts to split, so the case wasn’t tough legally. I finished the hearing and handed the client a certified copy of the decree before he left the courthouse that day. He was so grateful to me for helping him finally conclude that part of his life. I remember walking down to the DVAP headquarters that morning and turning in my completed file, feeling a sense of accomplishment not only for the client but also for myself in having completed the case prior to my leaving town. I was proud to have completed every case DVAP gave to me, especially knowing that wasn’t always the case with the volunteer attorneys.
    Although I was pleased with DVAP’s graciousness for me having completed the case before I left town, what happened next truly made the case special. The day before Thanksgiving, I received a call from the client again thanking me for my work, but also asking me to come over on Thanksgiving morning as he was going to deep-fry a turkey for me and my family. I went over to his home the next day (he lived with his sister) and met with him and his sister. He had such a smile on his face, as well did his sister. Although only my client and his sister were at the house at the time, the home was full of warmth, love, life, and happiness. The aroma of the cooked turkeys and the jovial conversation I had with them that morning of true, heartfelt thanks has been one of the most rewarding moments of my career. I will never forget leaving that home with a smile on my face as I drove away. That smile lasted not only that day, but throughout the holiday season that year!
    I encourage every attorney to regularly take on pro bono cases, because my story is not unique for those of us who regularly do so. I wish everyone a career full of hope, happiness, and compassion!

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    In Mr. Sanchez’s post he makes the statement:
    “I believe that the law is truly still a profession, and those that make it out to be JUST a business are missing out on what the legal profession has to offer in career satisfaction and fulfillment of purpose.”
    Please note that I added the emphasis on the word “just”. And that I am in no way, shape or form trying to criticize Mr. Sanchez nor demeaning the value he and I both place on helping the most needy within our communities by performing pro bono services. Rather, I wanted to point-out an often-overlooked opportunity too many lawyers never discover, to have much more enjoyable practices that make them happy . . .
    There is a great opportunity to be a happy lawyer that reveals itself when we stop arguing about whether the law is a profession OR a business. Why is it so difficult for some lawyers to come to terms with the idea that the job of being a professional is not mutually exclusive from the responsibilities of running a business?
    Can you be an ethical, professional lawyer who helps the most vulnerable in your community AND still make a great living, doing work you enjoy for clients who appreciate you while also having enough free time to spend with your family?
    Having been a solo practitioner who did just that, a Practice Management Advisor with The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service where I had the unique opportunity to work with thousands of other solos who were at every end of the spectrum (happy AND rich — miserable AND broke), and in more recent years in my work with private Rainmaking Clients, I submit that professionalism and good ethics actually go hand-in-hand with good business.
    In my experience, the best way for a lawyer to provide truly valuable pro bono services, and loads of them, is to take it upon him/herself to learn how to manage the business of running an efficient and profitable law firm business so as to create enough excess capacity to be able to not only take on a pro bono case, but to really offer those clients the same top notch service as if they were paying your premium rates. That can only happen when you have the foundation of a solid law firm business supporting you with efficient systems & procedures and enough stable, predictable cash flow to support your family.
    This comes from a lawyer who has provided probably into the thousands of pro bono services throughout my career and I’ve even been publicly thanked by a number of pro-bono organizations for my work as a lawyer and as a consultant to show their volunteers how to have it all.
    Anyway, I just didn’t want any solos reading this to feel like you have to make a choice between being a “professional” who does good in the world OR having a profitable business that does good for your family.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    In Mr. Sanchez’s post he makes the statement:
    “I believe that the law is truly still a profession, and those that make it out to be JUST a business are missing out on what the legal profession has to offer in career satisfaction and fulfillment of purpose.”
    Please note that I added the emphasis on the word “just”. And that I am in no way, shape or form trying to criticize Mr. Sanchez nor demeaning the value he and I both place on helping the most needy within our communities by performing pro bono services. Rather, I wanted to point-out an often-overlooked opportunity too many lawyers never discover, to have much more enjoyable practices that make them happy . . .
    There is a great opportunity to be a happy lawyer that reveals itself when we stop arguing about whether the law is a profession OR a business. Why is it so difficult for some lawyers to come to terms with the idea that the job of being a professional is not mutually exclusive from the responsibilities of running a business?
    Can you be an ethical, professional lawyer who helps the most vulnerable in your community AND still make a great living, doing work you enjoy for clients who appreciate you while also having enough free time to spend with your family?
    Having been a solo practitioner who did just that, a Practice Management Advisor with The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service where I had the unique opportunity to work with thousands of other solos who were at every end of the spectrum (happy AND rich — miserable AND broke), and in more recent years in my work with private Rainmaking Clients, I submit that professionalism and good ethics actually go hand-in-hand with good business.
    In my experience, the best way for a lawyer to provide truly valuable pro bono services, and loads of them, is to take it upon him/herself to learn how to manage the business of running an efficient and profitable law firm business so as to create enough excess capacity to be able to not only take on a pro bono case, but to really offer those clients the same top notch service as if they were paying your premium rates. That can only happen when you have the foundation of a solid law firm business supporting you with efficient systems & procedures and enough stable, predictable cash flow to support your family.
    This comes from a lawyer who has provided probably into the thousands of pro bono services throughout my career and I’ve even been publicly thanked by a number of pro-bono organizations for my work as a lawyer and as a consultant to show their volunteers how to have it all.
    Anyway, I just didn’t want any solos reading this to feel like you have to make a choice between being a “professional” who does good in the world OR having a profitable business that does good for your family.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.bksanchez.com Benjamin K. Sanchez

    No offense taken, Rjon. I would like to add two replies.
    First, I DO believe that law practices are businesses operating WITHIN a profession. In other words, I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive. I have seen firms operate solely from a profit, business motive with little thought to professional duties to the community. In my first firm practice, I was not allowed to take on pro bono cases. That same employer also declared a moratorium on taking CLE courses. While I continued to do both, I had to do so “underground” so to speak. That firm operated solely as a business without regard to the greater good that we could bring to the community or the firm’s own attorneys and staff!
    Second, being that I started my legal career as a solo practitioner, I had no experience and less training in the business aspects of a law practice. While I have always taken on pro bono cases from day one, it wasn’t until I joined a firm that I understood the power that a successful business could have in allowing me to pursue those pro bono cases. In other words, the resources of a successful firm allows individual attorneys of the firm to better contribute to the community, whether it be through pro bono cases, non-profit boards, bar leadership positions, or special initiatives and projects.
    As a solo, I used to get pissed at the large law firms that were always congratulated for the large amount of pro bono work they handled and other contributions they made. I used to tell myself that those firms didn’t deserve all of that praise because, of course, it was easy to handle that volume of pro bono cases due to the size of the firm. I used to begrudge the fact that solo or small firms wouldn’t get as much volume-based recognition. Having been a part of two firms now and interacted with firms as opponents for the last four years, I now understand what good such successful firms have to offer the legal profession and the community we serve. I no longer begrudge those firms and instead want to help grow a firm that will help make such an impact in the world. I don’t aim to have such a large firm, but a firm nonetheless. Rjon, I do know that to build such a firm requires a business approach to practice management and financial accountability, including the building and retaining of clients!
    Bringing this back to Carolyn’s original post, I hope that I can build a firm that will offer many such “small moments” for everyone in the firm (attorneys and staff alike) and be a leading example on how to best combine professionalism and business in an atmosphere that is not based strictly on the bottom line!

  • http://www.bksanchez.com Benjamin K. Sanchez

    No offense taken, Rjon. I would like to add two replies.
    First, I DO believe that law practices are businesses operating WITHIN a profession. In other words, I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive. I have seen firms operate solely from a profit, business motive with little thought to professional duties to the community. In my first firm practice, I was not allowed to take on pro bono cases. That same employer also declared a moratorium on taking CLE courses. While I continued to do both, I had to do so “underground” so to speak. That firm operated solely as a business without regard to the greater good that we could bring to the community or the firm’s own attorneys and staff!
    Second, being that I started my legal career as a solo practitioner, I had no experience and less training in the business aspects of a law practice. While I have always taken on pro bono cases from day one, it wasn’t until I joined a firm that I understood the power that a successful business could have in allowing me to pursue those pro bono cases. In other words, the resources of a successful firm allows individual attorneys of the firm to better contribute to the community, whether it be through pro bono cases, non-profit boards, bar leadership positions, or special initiatives and projects.
    As a solo, I used to get pissed at the large law firms that were always congratulated for the large amount of pro bono work they handled and other contributions they made. I used to tell myself that those firms didn’t deserve all of that praise because, of course, it was easy to handle that volume of pro bono cases due to the size of the firm. I used to begrudge the fact that solo or small firms wouldn’t get as much volume-based recognition. Having been a part of two firms now and interacted with firms as opponents for the last four years, I now understand what good such successful firms have to offer the legal profession and the community we serve. I no longer begrudge those firms and instead want to help grow a firm that will help make such an impact in the world. I don’t aim to have such a large firm, but a firm nonetheless. Rjon, I do know that to build such a firm requires a business approach to practice management and financial accountability, including the building and retaining of clients!
    Bringing this back to Carolyn’s original post, I hope that I can build a firm that will offer many such “small moments” for everyone in the firm (attorneys and staff alike) and be a leading example on how to best combine professionalism and business in an atmosphere that is not based strictly on the bottom line!

  • anon

    A question about discussing fees with potential clients:
    Say in a lawyer’s community $225 an hour for a solo is reasonable for a matter that might take 15-25 hours of work. Since 99% of new clients come from referrals, the following approach, while true, is slightly “misleading.”
    Does the lawyer tell the client that his “usual fee” for this type of matter would be $275 an hour, but since you (Mr. Potential Client) are a friend of a friend, I’d be able to handle the case for you for $225? In other words, does that technique really work (make the client feel like he is saving $50 an hour)? Or should the lawyer just say my usual rate for this work is $225 and then be firm about it, because lawyers are not used car salesmen and like Foonberg says, if you negotiate after quoting a price it looks like the lawyer was trying to rip off the client in the first place?
    Or should the lawyer be even bolder, following the “don’t compete on price” approach, and say his “usual rate” in this type of case would be $325 and hour, but since you’re a friend of a friend I can do it for $250? Will the client “bite”? (Say $250 is a reasonable rate–I’m not talking about “ripping off” the client, of course.) If so, this client is paying $25 more per hour to the lawyer but feels like he got a $75 an hour not just $50 an hour discount.
    (Say also that even something like $150 an hour would be profitable enough to the lawyer, in all honesty. Is it true that a client would rather pay $225 than $150 because the idea that “you get what you pay for” is a trueism as far as client psychology. A client wants a $40,000 BMW, not a $15,000 Ford Focus?
    In other words, say the lawyer is not greedy and would be more than happy with a mere $150 an hour, but the lawyer does not want to lose the engagement but because of this BMW psychology factor the client is actually more likely to hire the lawyer at $225 than $150 because “you get what you pay for” and a lawyer who quotes only $150 must not think too highly of himself? In other words, quoting $225 gets the engagement but quoting $150 loses it–win-win for the lawyer.
    Or are clients not that un-savvy and do other research to determine the experience and ability of the lawyer and darn sure would rather pay $150 than $225 or $250 (with the $75 “discount”).
    Also, what about bulk pricing. My dentist did it to me, and it worked. I don’t have dental insurance. I got a procedure where the dentist told me it would be $1200 but if I paid it all in advance I’d get a 10% “discount,” and I paid it.
    Can I do the same thing with law clients.
    In above example, say total fees would be between $5,000 and $15,000 at $225 an hour. Can I tell the client exactly that and then offer to let him hedge his bets (deal or no deal?) by paying me $8,995 as a flat fee? Will the client take the deal? It’s all a matter of risk. He can either have a guaranteed $8,995 now or perhaps end up paying only $5,000 but he might pay $15,000 using the hourly method.
    I apologize for putting this question in a pro bono post. Please address this question, if you deem it appropriate, in a future post.

  • anon

    A question about discussing fees with potential clients:
    Say in a lawyer’s community $225 an hour for a solo is reasonable for a matter that might take 15-25 hours of work. Since 99% of new clients come from referrals, the following approach, while true, is slightly “misleading.”
    Does the lawyer tell the client that his “usual fee” for this type of matter would be $275 an hour, but since you (Mr. Potential Client) are a friend of a friend, I’d be able to handle the case for you for $225? In other words, does that technique really work (make the client feel like he is saving $50 an hour)? Or should the lawyer just say my usual rate for this work is $225 and then be firm about it, because lawyers are not used car salesmen and like Foonberg says, if you negotiate after quoting a price it looks like the lawyer was trying to rip off the client in the first place?
    Or should the lawyer be even bolder, following the “don’t compete on price” approach, and say his “usual rate” in this type of case would be $325 and hour, but since you’re a friend of a friend I can do it for $250? Will the client “bite”? (Say $250 is a reasonable rate–I’m not talking about “ripping off” the client, of course.) If so, this client is paying $25 more per hour to the lawyer but feels like he got a $75 an hour not just $50 an hour discount.
    (Say also that even something like $150 an hour would be profitable enough to the lawyer, in all honesty. Is it true that a client would rather pay $225 than $150 because the idea that “you get what you pay for” is a trueism as far as client psychology. A client wants a $40,000 BMW, not a $15,000 Ford Focus?
    In other words, say the lawyer is not greedy and would be more than happy with a mere $150 an hour, but the lawyer does not want to lose the engagement but because of this BMW psychology factor the client is actually more likely to hire the lawyer at $225 than $150 because “you get what you pay for” and a lawyer who quotes only $150 must not think too highly of himself? In other words, quoting $225 gets the engagement but quoting $150 loses it–win-win for the lawyer.
    Or are clients not that un-savvy and do other research to determine the experience and ability of the lawyer and darn sure would rather pay $150 than $225 or $250 (with the $75 “discount”).
    Also, what about bulk pricing. My dentist did it to me, and it worked. I don’t have dental insurance. I got a procedure where the dentist told me it would be $1200 but if I paid it all in advance I’d get a 10% “discount,” and I paid it.
    Can I do the same thing with law clients.
    In above example, say total fees would be between $5,000 and $15,000 at $225 an hour. Can I tell the client exactly that and then offer to let him hedge his bets (deal or no deal?) by paying me $8,995 as a flat fee? Will the client take the deal? It’s all a matter of risk. He can either have a guaranteed $8,995 now or perhaps end up paying only $5,000 but he might pay $15,000 using the hourly method.
    I apologize for putting this question in a pro bono post. Please address this question, if you deem it appropriate, in a future post.

  • http://www.richardsly.com Richard Sly

    In the world of Social Security Disability practice, with some outstanding exceptions, most of the people who do this work are Solos. Much of the probono work they do is inadvertant. However, because the people they represent are commonly on the bottom of the “class” rung, the “economic” rung, the “social” rung, the “educational” rung, and any other “rung” you might define and because they have no income, no health services and. often, no food, the solo attorneys in this field are morally driven to perform extraordinary and purposive freely given services to try to alleviate this status of their clients; sometimes alone, sometimes with the surruptitious aid of the local Legal Aid services. Doing this is one hell-of-a-lot more satisfying than preparing memos as an associate in a blue-sox law firm about the constitutional rights of the managing officers of USA corporations in the course of their paying bribes to foreign manufacturers in order to obtain goods in violation of one of the trade acts; work that I did years ago as a new and idealistic,naive , law journal graduate working for the “man” prior to working as a prosecutor, a G.P.(a status which no longer exists in any numbers), a plaintiff’s journeyman trial lawyer,a workers injury advocate, and now SSD laywer in my dotage. I’ve been honored by local bar association peers for doing “pro bono” work; honors which quite frankly were no more deserved than a thousand others who received no recognition. You will find that when you represent the individual who is overlooked, despised, a “loser” in society and obtain for them even a slight piece of self-belief or selfworth, or some access to food, or access to a doctor, or a place to live and do so with a sense of enthusiasm, a joy of advocy, a desire to “win” for them you then become the winner; and surprise surprise you find that somehow you are not only not poor emotionally you are not poor economically.

  • http://www.richardsly.com Richard Sly

    In the world of Social Security Disability practice, with some outstanding exceptions, most of the people who do this work are Solos. Much of the probono work they do is inadvertant. However, because the people they represent are commonly on the bottom of the “class” rung, the “economic” rung, the “social” rung, the “educational” rung, and any other “rung” you might define and because they have no income, no health services and. often, no food, the solo attorneys in this field are morally driven to perform extraordinary and purposive freely given services to try to alleviate this status of their clients; sometimes alone, sometimes with the surruptitious aid of the local Legal Aid services. Doing this is one hell-of-a-lot more satisfying than preparing memos as an associate in a blue-sox law firm about the constitutional rights of the managing officers of USA corporations in the course of their paying bribes to foreign manufacturers in order to obtain goods in violation of one of the trade acts; work that I did years ago as a new and idealistic,naive , law journal graduate working for the “man” prior to working as a prosecutor, a G.P.(a status which no longer exists in any numbers), a plaintiff’s journeyman trial lawyer,a workers injury advocate, and now SSD laywer in my dotage. I’ve been honored by local bar association peers for doing “pro bono” work; honors which quite frankly were no more deserved than a thousand others who received no recognition. You will find that when you represent the individual who is overlooked, despised, a “loser” in society and obtain for them even a slight piece of self-belief or selfworth, or some access to food, or access to a doctor, or a place to live and do so with a sense of enthusiasm, a joy of advocy, a desire to “win” for them you then become the winner; and surprise surprise you find that somehow you are not only not poor emotionally you are not poor economically.

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