Recently a prominent female Philadelphia lawyer was quoted in a newspaper article about an equal pay settlement she had reached with her former law firm, stating that she would never encourage her daughter to become a lawyer. Her opinion surprised me because her career was commendable and encompassed practicing with a large national law firm, having a top position as a lawyer in local government, and starting and operating her own law firm. I don’t agree that law is a poor career choice for women, but it is definitely a difficult career which requires working long hours, suffering frequent stress, and sometimes receiving little gratitude from the very people lawyers try to help. As a result, it is important for lawyers to develop thick skins in order to receive the most job satisfaction from practicing law.
There are many areas of legal practice, and not all of them involve dealing with the general public and/or regularly appearing before courts and legal forums. Often the stress of law involves being expected to bill a certain number of billable hours. Depending on one’s area(s) of practice, there are two primary means in which lawyers receive payment. They either bill in increments of an hour at an hourly rate, or if there is a contingency fee agreement, they collect their fees at the end of a case, it is tried or won in court. Sometimes there is a hybrid arrangement, which is the combination of the above two kinds of billing.
I have retained and paid lawyers for legal matters, so I am in the same position as my clients, but I respect lawyers, even if I wasn’t thrilled with the results, or I wasn’t pleased that I had to hire lawyers, because I felt the lawyers provided me with the best service they could. LET ME BE CLEAR—VERY FEW PEOPLE ARE HAPPY TO PAY THEIR LAWYERS. But, lawyers have to work within the legal system, which makes many demands on them. Although I respect lawyers, that respect is often lacking in others. Most lawyers have been on the receiving end of comments from former, current and potential clients which are rude, obnoxious and abusive. I can’t think of any other profession whose members have to endure this type of behavior. This abuse generally arises because: 1) the client is not happy with their situation or the legal process, and takes it out on the lawyer; or 2) the client is trying to avoid paying their bill and comes up with every excuse under the book to avoid payment.
For some reason clients forget or ignore that law firms are businesses, and not charities. I would love to be able to call the IRS and all of my creditors and tell them that as they obviously have a lot more money than me, so they should waive what I owe them. Of course this is ridiculous, yet it is a request I hear every so often after the client has exceeded their retainer and requests or requires additional services. Recently a client stated that it was not Godly and moral for me to request payment, after owing us an amount for years, because she allegedly can’t afford it. Although we are often willing to work within a client‘s budget, our bills must be paid. We have salaries and bills to pay, an office building to maintain, and we also support other businesses whose services we use for supplies and various reasons. It is not fair not when clients ask us to feel their pain, but they don’t feel they have to treat us fairly.
Here are common questions clients have about bills:
1.) Clients sometimes express surprise that lawyers charge for phone calls and e mails on hourly rate cases, although this occupies a large part of their day. With the advent of e mail, clients often send many e mails a day and expect a quick response. Our fee agreements clearly states that we bill for these services. Let’s see how it works out if we didn’t charge for this time. As an example, let’s say there are 7 billable hours in a day (although my days are far longer), or 420 minutes. If I spend time on behalf of 15 current clients for e mails, or I spend time on calls with or regarding them, and I spend an average of 12 minutes on each call or e mail, that is 180 minutes or 3 hours. If 15 potential clients call or e mail me and I spend an average of 6 minutes speaking with them, that is another, 1½ hours or 90 minutes. That leaves 150 minutes or 2½ hours for me to attend meetings with other lawyers, clients or staff, or dealing with correspondence or legal documents. Using my $280 billable hourly rate for 2013 (which, by the way, is far too low based on my level of experience), and I don’t charge for the 3 hours above, I am losing potential fees of $840 a day, or $4,200 a week, or $210,000 a year. I would never ask my clients or any other professionals to work 3 hours a day for free.
People don’t often realize that lawyers, including me, contribute a great deal of unpaid time as they don’t charge for every minute of their time, they try and counsel people who aren’t certain how to deal with the legal system for free, and they often do some firm of pro bono work. WE NOT ONLY DESERVE SOME RESPECT, WE DESERVE A LOT OF RESPECT!