June 27, 2005

On Lawyers

It seems Phin got Madame Sadie to thinking about her new profession:


{...}In general I've found that most people hate to ask for help; especially to resolve a situation we've screwed up. Personal observations have lead me to believe that once we've shit the bed we're typically not happy until we've also to flung poo into the ceiling fan trying to take care of the problem ourselves. We'll finally quit when we're neck deep in our own crap with no way out and we call somebody else to clean up it up. It's that moment of being helpless, when we realize that we can't solve the problem and we've made it worse, that causes us to loath lawyers.


{...}With divorces so commonplace these days (Everyone's doing it, didn't you hear?), and most people thinking they got screwed over royally in the legal process, of course lawyers are disliked. Especially when one considers that it a divorce essentially results from the ill contributions by both parties, and not everyone is willing to admit that they failed in love. Add children to the mix, and it gets even stickier. Interestingly enough, the criminal law judge that I once worked for had just transferred off the domestic docket, and he pointed towards the relative civility of the criminal defendants in relation to divorcing couples. I do suppose that since most criminal defendants opt to plea bargain, they must be rather content with the relatively lighter punishment they receive at the hands of their attorneys. Heh. On the other hand, an attorney certainly isn't a marriage counselor, no?

When lawsuits are resolved by negotiation or mediation, there is possibility for solutions that perhaps might benefit both sides. When things get to a lawsuit, only one party technically "wins," although that party may not be as big a winner as they had hoped. So right there, that's at least fifty percent of people involved in litigation at any given time that would tend towards disliking lawyers. With multiple lawsuits and lower verdicts than ever these days, it's easy to see why more parties see themselves as "losers" in the fight against lawyers. {...}

There is much truth to both what Phin and Sadie have written, but as one who's been on both sides of it---working for lawyers and having to have my beloved represented by one---I think there's a wee bit more to it than just the inherent odds of the situation.

Lawyers are a specific breed: they are there to mediate your troubles away. And it's important to realize that they are there to mediate. To negotiate a compromise to a conflict, and to do it within the reaches of the legal system. That's why you hire them. They attempt to solve your problems to the best of their abilities. Now, many people don't realize this. They want the problem to go away and they expect to win. There is no compromise where these people are concerned. They believe they're right, the other party is wrong and that's the way it should be seen by everyone involved. Duh. So, to that extent, I will agree with Madame Sadie.

Where I disagree, however, is in how some lawyers conduct themselves. The good ones will lay the odds out on the table for you, first thing. They will say this is where we have the best option of saving grace, but to save said grace, we will have to give something else up over here. They will make it clear from the get go that there will be no winners, and hopefully everyone will come out of this without feeling like a loser. These are the lawyers who will work their butts off to resolve the situation. They will throw themselves into defending your side of the equation.

These are also, it should be said, the lawyers it costs an arm and a leg and part of the other leg to hire.

The bad lawyers, however, are the ones who promise the moon and the stars. They can make it go away, they'll say. And they'll do it for x number of dollars, which is not cheap, but is a more reasonable number than the other prices you were quoted. You, who are in the desperate situation, want to believe them, and you're really grasping for hope, so, despite your better judgment, you do believe them and you fork over their retainer. Then after a brief flurry of activity on your behalf---announcing to the court that they're your counsel, copies of letters they've sent to the prosecutor proclaiming the same, copies of police reports, etc.---you can't get them on the phone. Suddenly they're "in court" all the time. Their paralegals have no time for you, either. You only see them when you have a court date and then they spend as little time as possible telling you what the deal reportedly is. They scoot off as quickly as possible because they have some other pressing matter to attend to. These are the guys who have subscribed to doing their business by volume. And I'm not only referring to ambulance chasers here, but respectable firms, with nice offices, friendly, well-coiffed receptionists and a big, impressive client roster. These are the firms who strictly keep their eyes focused on the bottom line. You, to them, are a commodity, not a client. Yet another sucker who's gotten themselves into trouble and you are, in their eyes, just another way to make some coin. Hence, all their promises about the moon and the stars and your freedom, which is something you value highly, suddenly disappear. They've baited you, and now they're going to serve up a monster switcheroo: your case is worse than they originally thought. They believe this plea bargain they've arranged is the best option for you to take and they'll push for it. And if you want to take another option, and fight it out, well, it will cost x amount of dollars more than what was originally agreed.

And you'll say, "Hey! You can't do that! I signed a fee agreement where you promised these services, should it come to this, and you now want more money for them? Well, no. That's not the deal we struck. Damnit, live up to your end of the bargain." And they'll say, "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but you weren't exactly honest with me (which you were, but apparently that's not the way they see it) when you signed up and you can feel free to find other counsel. Which is generally a bad idea at this late date. And by the way, don't bother suing me for breach because I'm a lawyer. I'll just countersue claiming that you breached the original fee agreement by not divulging certain information. This is what I do for a living. I sue people. Do you really want me suing you? I didn't think so. Really, it's not that much time in jail. Or on probation. Just take the deal because the deal with evaporate if you fire me. Then you're back at square one and the prosecutor will be pissed off, too, and won't be so generous the next time around, I promise. Just take the deal. If you don't, you'll find yourself in a whole mess of trouble."

Have I mentioned that this particular type of lawyer is also the kind who will send you a bill for their services and will then bill you for the postage which enabled your bill to work its way through the postal system? I just flat-out love that. It's just so brazen! So brash! So fucking arrogant! If the rest of us tried this sort of thing, we'd be beaten within an inch of our lives. So we don't do it. But that doesn't stop them. They're entitled.

Not only have I worked for this particular breed of lawyer (I was the low woman on the totem pole in the office: I was the one who had to add the cost of a stamp to every client's bill), the husband has also been represented by their ilk. And I despise them. They are so desperate to increase their bottom line, they will violate any and all trust that they've established with you to get what they want, which is maximum money for minimum effort. And they're not above using coercion to get it. The judge that Sadie refers to was so surprised at how agreeable criminal defendants were compared to divorcees. This is because, I believe, by the time they actually get before the judge to enter their plea, some criminal defendants have been beaten into submission by their lawyers. They're tired of it. They just want to get it over with. They've been abused already and what's one more whack when it's all said and done with?

Do I sound bitter? I'm sure I do. When you've paid thousands of dollars for ineffective, lazy counsel who did much less than they promised, you'd be bitter, too. Money doesn't grow on trees, after all, and when you've been suckered one too many times, it stings. Not only in the pocketbook, or because they did what they did, but because you let them get away with it. You may not have felt you had a choice in the matter, but you did let them off the hook nonetheless. You didn't call the Bar Association to complain, because would they actually listen to your petty complaints? No. Did you tell the judge? No, because why on earth would they believe you an "alleged" criminal. It's a "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," situation. And the shame of it is huge. Because not only have you been stung financially, you've lost your freedom as well. It's, ultimately, your own damn fault because you were stupid enough to believe them in the first place.

So, while I'm sure I sound bitter, let it be said, however, that we have had good experiences with lawyers, too. One in particular who saved the husband's bacon with his felony dwi. He was one of the aforementioned "good lawyers" who laid everything out on the table first thing. Not surprisingly, he also cost an arm and a leg to hire, too. He bluntly told the husband he could not escape jail time. There was just no way to do it. But he worked the situation and he worked it hard to make sure it was the most positive outcome he could deliver. He answered questions. His paralegal answered questions. He updated the husband on the developments in the case without having to be prompted. But, most importantly, HE DIDN'T FUCKING CHARGE FOR THE POSTAGE HE USED TO SEND OUT HIS STATEMENTS. He was worth every dollar we paid him. And he'll probably be hired again soon when the husband applies to the court to be released from his sentence. Because the husband has been a good boy and has done everything the court has asked of him. He thinks he has a fighting chance of being released early from his probation, and with this lawyer on his side, I, too, think he has a decent chance. But what's really important is that if the husband doesn't have a good chance, well, this lawyer will tell the husband that flat-out. He won't "try." He'll either do it or he won't. And he won't send us a bill, either, to tell the husband that.

So, to wrap up this bit of longwindedness, yes, lawyers perform an important task. No, they don't all deserve the bad rap they receive. But there are plenty who do deserve the bad rap and they're the ones who ruin it for everyone else.

Posted by Kathy at June 27, 2005 12:14 PM

Damn woman! I think I just received a crash course in professional ethics.... You definitely made your case. Just damn!

Yeah. We all know that the pricks are out there. I just hope like crazy that I'll never become one of them.

Posted by: sadie at June 27, 2005 02:25 PM

The toughest thing to do is that which the client needes most--the attorney's unvarnished assessment of where things are and how much it will cost. I do not sugarcoat anything and if something sounds like a bad idea, I will tell them that they will be wasting their money. Sometimes, I have to preface it with something like: "while my kids will appreciate your willingness to put them through college . . ." Clients appreciate it when you give it to them straight, even if the news is not what they want to hear.

Posted by: LMC at June 27, 2005 03:10 PM

Sadie: you won't. I'm sure of it.

LMC: I knew you were one of the good ones ;)

Posted by: Kathy at June 27, 2005 04:01 PM

Being that I work for attorneys also, I've found that the easiest way to separate the wheat from the chaff is ask a few trusted lawyers whom they would hire to represent THEM.

Posted by: Margi at June 27, 2005 09:35 PM
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