The Road Less Traveled?
Recently, I met with a potential client about a problem in her apartment. I give reduced rate consults on landlord/tenant cases. It was $50 for a 1/2 hour, but it took 75 minutes. I still only charged her the $50.
We developed a tentative plan - I was going to do some digging before there was a formal pitch, but it looked like the way to proceed was with an A.R.S. §33-1361 notice and then an attempt to negotiate a resolution directly with the owner of the property. A couple of letters and a notice sounds like about an hour at the usual non-discounted rate. Cha-ching, right?
The next day, the apartment offered a fix. She asked me what she should do. I laid out her options, and suggested that she put my involvement on the back burner and let them fix it. No money for me, but it either solves the problem, or puts her in a better position to get out cleanly if it doesn't. I told her I hoped she didn't need to involve me later and wished her well.
With some time to reflect, it occurred to me how different my career might have been if I had followed the example of my first two "real" bosses and their approach to clients and money.
One guy would take any case if the client walked in the door with money. Merits were irrelevant - we'll take this case and "win" it. There were a lot of loser cases with unpaid bills as a result. We were in too deep in the trial calendar to get out most of the time.
The other guy never met a retainer check he didn't like. The bills came fast and furious on the front end - better to burn through the cash before it was too late to withdraw.
Both had creative approaches to addressing delinquent accounts. I'll explore that another time. Neither of them would approve of how I handled this one. They would assuredly ask:
- Why the discounted rate/flat fee for the consult? That should have been $325.
- Why not get the notice/letters paid in advance? Maybe a $500 advance fee deposit.
- Why not an hourly fee arrangement? There will definitely be memos and research and office conferences.
As a solo, I understand the visceral imperative of cash flow. I understand the churn of case evaluation, and the lure of "get paid now, drop them later." I just can't do it. I did swear an oath to protect my clients' interests in three states. I did accept the charge of Richard Enslen, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan: a lawyer's role is not to earn fame or riches. Those may come, but the point of the endeavor is to help people solve their problems. That's it.
Silly me, I took Judge's Enslen's words to heart. As a result, I don't work for those guys anymore, and our parting was somewhat abrupt. I don't have a million dollar Paradise Valley mansion standing as a monument to my lawyerly greatness. (Or as an object lesson in separating clients from their money.)
Eddie Martel: This doesn't change anything Falco! I'm still an All-Pro quarterback with two Superbowl rings. You'll never be anything more than a replacement player.
Shane Falco: Yeah. Yeah, I can live with that.
What I do have is people I don't even know telling people like the tenant that she should talk to me before she did anything. Not talk to a lawyer - talk to me. And I can only surmise that it's precisely because I helped someone else solve their problem and they didn't feel bled dry in the process. I'll figure out some way to pay the mortgage but still face myself in the mirror.
Yeah. Yeah, I can live with that.