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Everything I needed to know about the practic of law, I learned from Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and
angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws
himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.
I grew up as the son of an Idaho lawyer, and my notions of the practice of law were shaped by that upbringing. Idaho is about 20 years behind the times on a good day, and that is particularly true with respect to lawyers. Boise was small enough that most lawyers knew each other on some level, and many of my family friends were lawyers. Lawyers mostly represented people, and most people could afford an attorney when they needed one.
Things have changed. There are so many lawyers in Seattle that I know only a tiny percentage of them. Most are good people, but the relationship is now all business. And the law is a business too.
When I left Idaho in 1982, most attorneys still did not charge by the hour. They charged by the type of case, the amount involved, and, ultimately by the result. Without having a sliding scale, most lawyers had a sliding scale, charging what people could afford.
These days, I don't know how I could afford a lawyer, and I am one. Even a relatively simple case is going to cost $50,000 through trial, double that with a large downtown firm. The system is broken.
Lawyers also are the last people on the planet getting away with unrestrained time and materials billing. If a plumber came to your house to fix a drain and said that he could not say how much it would cost, but that he charged $80 per hour, and it might take a day, a week or a month, no one would hire him. But ask a lawyer how much a case will cost, and just watch the hemming and hawing. Estimates that are offered routinley are way low, but by the time the client finds out, it is too late.
By the way, hourly rates in Seattle are unusually high. Many attorneys now charge north of $600 per hour. For everything. And the junior lawyer who helps them charges $300. I typically charge $335 per hour when I work on an hourly basis. It is outrageous, but considerably lower than prevailing rates.
I do as much work as I can on a flat fee or blended basis. There is a charge for the effort and attention that a case will require, and an additional fee if the result is good. We have a special ethics rules for flat fees to ensure that clients don't pay and then get no work.
Most of my work now is appeals of court decisions, mediation and arbitration. Almost all of it is focused on real estate. Real estate disputes are common, and the rules are pretty well established. They have not changed much for 400 years. When a judge gets the law wrong, an appeal has a good chance. And appeals are easy to handly on a flat fee basis.
My firm also offers mediation and arbitration of real estate disputes. Usually mediation takes place long after a lawsuit has been filed, and the parties could have purchased a car with the fees they have paid. We offer two alternatives.
First, the parties can mediate early, even before a lawsuit is filed. Many cases settle, and in those that don't both sides at least have a much clearer understanding of their legal position. We mediate cases where parties are represented by attorneys and cases where the parties do it themselves.
We also arbitrate real estate disputes. In a mediation, we act as a conduit and honest broker of information between the parties, but in an arbitration, we act as the judge. And the decision is final. No appeals are allowed from arbitration. At the same time, you get to pick your judge instead of having one assigned, and you have the assurance that the arbitrator will understand real estate law. As with mediation, we arbitrate cases where the parties are represented, and cases where the parties represent themselves. Parties have a right to be represented in arbitration if they choose.
Over 20 years, I have handled about 40 appeals and tried well over 100 cases. I have had a lot of normal results along with some spectacular wins and some devastating losses. Trial is a terribly random process. We never know if the judge or jury is following everything or what they might find significant. Even the strongest civil case probably has no better than an 80% chance at trial even if it is tried extremely well. Few people would have surgery if the doctor said that they had a 20% chance to die even if everything was done correctly. I try not to take too much credit for the wins, and to limit my pain and self doubts after losses to five years.
I can't help you with an arrest or a divorce, but if you have a real estate dispute, I can offer an alternative to an unlimited ongoing tab and an 18 month process. The outcome of every real estate dispute is going to leave at least one person unhappy, and I cannot guarantee that you won't be that person. But most of my clients feel like they had their day in court so to speak.