By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."
Okay, I’ll admit it, I simply hate lawyers. Where to start? Let’s begin with the “system” they have set up. Their degree (JD) is considered a “terminal degree.” So they equate themselves with PhDs, MDs and any other pursuit of education in which you are considered “done” when you get this degree. How pretentious is that?
My problem with this is that although there are some fine law schools and quite a lot of law students who work very hard, I don’t equate someone going to school for three years as the same thing as the four or six years it takes to become a doctor or a PhD in some high-end science. And these others, who get complex advanced degrees, pursue post-doctoral studies for years. Sometimes they don’t really enter the work force until their mid-30s.
Next, whenever you have the unfortunate requirement to hire a lawyer, the deck is stacked against you. The poor schmuck who hires one is first greeted by, “I need a retainer,” which is a simple way that they insure they get paid no matter what you’re hiring them to do or how well they do it. So they get paid before they lift a finger to “help you.”
Now there are the lawyers I call “ambulance chasers.” These are the real “bottom feeder” folk who hang around emergency rooms “fishing” for clients who get injured. Even before the accident victems are stitched up the lawyer is pushing a card into their hospital gown saying, “I can get you a lot of money.” Just watch the movie “The Rainmaker” based on the book by John Grisham. Here Danny DeVito teaches newbie lawyer Matt Damon how to “land an injured client.”
While these folk don’t typically get a retainer (and for the most part these unfortunate accident victims don’t have the means to pay a several thousand dollar retainer), the lawyer works on a contingency. Typically they get anywhere from 30% up to 50% of the settlement.
In addition, if you have any “means” at all, the lawyer gets his “expenses” along the way. These “expenses” include any and every cost they incur in pursuing a case. The joke amongst large big city law firms is that when several of them go out to lunch, they are “billing” a client. Big City Law Firm rates can be as high as $1,000 an hour – so if you have three or four lawyers having lunch discussing a case, they can run up a fee of thousands of dollars plus the $300 for lunch.
At these larger firms, they hire a dozen or more new lawyers from the top law schools each June. The “rule” for these newbies, is “bill or leave.” In order to even be considered to move up from “associate” to “junior partner” they have to work like dogs for at least 2,000 billable hours per year. If they can get to 3,000 hours per year, they are starting to “get the idea.” (Note, 2,000 hours is considered a normal “9 to 5 work year” for most people.) New “associates” are usually asked to give up their personal lives in order to “get ahead” in the firm.
Another great book by John Grisham is "The Firm." The movie and book have excellent examples of both these outrages (the client billable lunch and the associates working themselves into a coma).
That’s still not what I dislike the most about lawyers. As I said, the “system” is stacked against you. When you hire one, no matter how badly they screw up what you’ve asked them to do, say write a real estate purchase and sale agreement, the “standard official” response from them is “you were not specific enough in telling me what you want me to do.”
Now this is a real estate agreement – something any lawyer has probably done hundreds of times. They have a computer full of existing agreements. They’ve encountered every imaginable event in such a transaction. These existing agreements have clauses that cover all conceivable situations.
I argue that after a few minutes of talking with the client, the lawyer should know exactly what the agreement needs to be. Do they give you a discount for using an existing agreement as the template? Hell no! – More billable hours!
So the result is the lawyer continues their hourly billing until you, the client, is satisfied. Whatever such a “subjective” standard is. You’d think that the lawyer, if even only half human, would accept part of the responsibility of the miscommunication, but nooooo, they are on the clock until you are satisfied they are finished.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a half dozen really good lawyers, mostly in corporate law situations. But I think the percentage of lawyers in this category is far too small. There are simply too many lawyers out there. I’ve read that for this reason, law school enrollments are declining. Law school graduates have a tough time getting jobs.
Last, I would like to talk “ethics.” There are hundreds of rules about lawyer “ethics.” I’ve not met a lawyer when first confronted with an ethical problem, discusses (again you’re paying for this time!) how to get around it. This is instead of stopping in their tracks and not pursuing the matter any further because it would violate their sacred “ethical rules.”
As Shakespeare said, "Start by killing all the lawyers." Danny DeVito paraphrases it in the movie "The War of the Roses." He asks, “What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?” The answer is, “A good start.”