DregLaw and the Infinite Averageness

Mr. 162 Columns, Lawyer 26 Comments

Being low man on the totem pole at a boutique law firm requires the type of lawyering easily understood by John Q. Public. Laymen can wrap their heads around what I do because I’m the definition of what Hollywood portrays a lawyer to be. The type of law I handle is familiar to every Joe the Plumber. I’m also the guy they’re talking about when people call lawyers “greedy bastards,” “bottom feeders,” or “scum.”

The idea of a corporate lawyer doesn’t register with the average Joe. While I know what you guys do (memo to file; case law research; 10,000-page doc reviews), John and Jane Doe have no concept of this type of existence. So, when people hear someone say he or she is a first year associate working on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, they don’t equate that to the actual responsibility, which is binder-making and typo hunting. They just assume it’s big shit, so they’re less inclined to ask that person to help fix a parking ticket. I, however, am at the other end of the spectrum.

Despite having undergone the same three years of legal training as every other first-year lawyer, I am the person someone feels comfortable asking every insipid, inane legal question fathomable.  I’m your nerdy younger brother. I get thrown the stuff no big law lawyer could ever imagine. I exist in the toxic waste of the legal world: cases that are lose-lose, petty, undignified, and just plain bad.

What guys like me have to learn in order to make a living worthy of what people assume all lawyers earn is to be lean and mean. Without the giant corporate resources of the Bigs, turning profit means being creative. And how do we do it? By being willing to take on the reputation of “greedy, bottom-feeding bastards.” I absorb the misconceptions and wear the negative labels to get the job done. And I love it.

Last month, a merchandiser got into a fight with one of his suppliers. It was nothing more than a pissing contest, but as a part of this spat, he stiffed his supplier $24K. In response, the supplier simply charged the amount to the merchandiser’s Centurion AMEX.

Now, does Skadden have a credit card dispute department? Uh, no. So they came to me, and I drafted a beautiful four-page letter to AMEX letting them know exactly what state and federal laws they were breaking by charging my poor client. CC the vendor. Seacrest, out.

Generally, the client’s wishes are what paint us boutiquers with such a bad brush. For example, I represented a man who’s wife, while eight-months pregnant, flipped out on her next-door neighbor, and some stuff went down. My neutral assessment: hormonally imbalanced woman starts trouble with neighbor. But a pregnant woman is a lawyer’s dream and can do no wrong. (Never, ever shout at a pregnant woman, no matter how wrong she is.) So, she’s pissed off, and the guy wants to “stir the pot.”

Enter the young associate.

Ever wonder how easy it is to get a restraining order in Los Angeles County? Just ask me. Nothing makes a respondent dump in his or her pants quite like a sheriff serving a TRO and a court summons. Would it have been my move?  No. But am I going to turn away a huge fee and fun sh!t-starting by advising against it? Absolutely not. Their wishes. My job. Impersonal.

Which doesn’t mean there aren’t situations that tug at the heart. Because even “greedy bastard bottom feeders” have emotions.

I have an elderly client who we’ll call Margret. Margret was a career secretary who amassed about $500K in savings—all from her modest income—by the time she turned 60. Over the course of three years, Margret invested her life savings with a real estate developer who promised her 12% and total security in her investments. Sound familiar?

When the real estate market turned south, she asked for her money back, and the guy reneged. Took her whole life savings and is now hiding in bankruptcy court. While I said I keep it impersonal and try not to care about the outcome of cases, the system is not working for Margret. She’s too trusting and naïve. And there is no excuse or justification for what has happened to her. I don’t care about the guy’s story or what happened to his other investors, I want to get Margret her money back.

My boss would only take Margret’s case on an hourly basis. (Would you take a Madoff case on contingency?) So we filed a complaint—fraud, breach of contract, unfair business practices—and over-pleaded the heck out of it. More than enough to make a case. But the asshole filed BK.

Not fair. NOT FAIR.

Who invented this horrible system? This POS does not deserve any protection. All of you BK lawyers out there from big to small: You are all officially on my shit list. Y’all do not serve justice. Nobody ever wins but the lawyers, and it’s no wonder people hate us. There is no excuse for BK.  None. It’s the biggest fraud in history.

Being upset for Margret already, it gets worse. Margret pays every cent of every bill we send her. Thousands of dollars.

Let’s be clear: Nobody pays 100% of their legal bills. Even big corporate clients whose general counsel was in the same fraternity as the lead partner at the BigLaw sweatshop they farm out their legal work—even they nitpick and whittle down their bills. But not Margret. Payment remitted within 30 days. Ugh.

Eventually she runs out of money and has no way to pay. But her sense of right and wrong won’t allow her to even call us to discuss the damn bills because she thinks it’s going to cost her $395 to talk to me for an hour.  Me, a 27-year-old punk who doesn’t make 10% of what I bill. She can’t talk to me because of this fucked-up system that puts wall after wall between her and me. This whole system preys on people who follow the rules and do right by their fellow man.

Which, I guess, makes me a wolf that feels for the sheep.

I called Margret last Friday, talked to her for 90 minutes and didn’t bill her a dime. We talked about her issues, and I gave her my best advice given the situation. No matter what, she loses. She’s got a dead-bang winner of a case, but she’ll never collect on her judgment. Makes me sick.

At the same time, those situations can’t allow me to drop my guard because for every Margret, there are more clients who welsh on their bills. And being creative about that means my boss never pays client’s costs. When court reporters, videographers, etc. send us bills for services, we pass them on to clients. No mark-up—just sending the bill to the person who owes it. When they don’t pay, my boss tells the vendors to pound sand. Well, “he” doesn’t. I do. Because I’m the legal garbage disposal.

They have their accounts receivable people work on us for about a year, then they turn it over to a collections agency. The trick is to immediately respond to their collection letters with some BS letter on nice letterhead. The nincompoops at a collection agency crap the bed when they see a real law firm on the other side. A 200-word letter will generally buy you another 4 months. Fair on our part? Not sure. But it’s necessary.

Sure, I might be the stereotype. The one who’s living out the very perception of what every Tom, Dick and Harry non-lawyer assumes attorneys to be. But buried within is an art. A craft. A true survival instinct that few Bigs will ever develop because the listless bosom of their shut-up-and-be-a-cog employer coddles them. I’m the street fighter no one thinks they ever to be, but when they’re in trouble, they want me on their side. And, to me, that’s what being a lawyer is all about.

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  • BL1Y

    Just being small doesn’t make you a boutique.  You have to be small and specialized.  Also, LBI bankruptcy isn’t 10,000 pages, it’s more on the order of millions of documents, probably more than 10 million pages.

  • Lily

    OMG, you are the most literal dbag I’ve ever laid eyes on.

  • Guano Dubango

    It is of course possible to feel good about yourself to work in small office.  In my country, there are no such thing as firm.  All advocats are independent, each must work like burgeoning leopard to get client who can pay for service.

  • BL1Y

    Burgeoning leopard?  I have no idea what that means, but I laughed.

  • Alma Federer

    For once I agree with all of the posts.  People who work in smaller law firms should not feel inferior because they are lawyers, and members of the bar.  I had a choice when I graduated whether to go to a big firm or a small intellectual property boutique.  I was unsure whether I wanted to practice intellectual property, (though I did a paper on trademark law that got an A+), so I chose big firm law.  I have really not looked back, because if I did, I couldn’t do anything about it anyway.  I don’t get to meet as many quality people as I thought I should, particularly men, but I am not sure I would be doing any better looking at trademarks all day or interfacing with the guys at the PTO.  So I have to say that I can only hope for the best, and hopefully I can find a man who respects me for my mind, not just my beauty.  I am going to the US Open this weekend, but I am not related to Roger Federer.

  • Al

    Lily is right, BL1Y. This is why nobody likes you.

  • Schadenfreude

    BL1Y, You don’t get laid an awful lot, do you?

  • BL1Y

    Dude, it’s been so long I don’t even remember what goes where.

  • Bandit

    Who thinks that Guano Dubago is actually Alma?

  • Atticus

    Alma, WE GET IT.  Christ, every post is you whining about why quality men won’t sleep with you.  Why don’t you just suck it up and seduce a meat-head 2L who will stay at home and raise your demon-spawn?  Powerful, confident, intelligent men don’t need the aggravation of a whiny 130+ IQ woman who is guaranteed to critique their salary and say things like, “well, if I were still a lawyer, I’d be making more than you by now” You want to find someone:  Get hot and get nice.  Right now, you’re 0-2.

  • esqsss

    Cudos for not billing Margret for the 90 min call.  I agree that small firm practice is harder and more fulfilling, plus eventually upi get to be the one who always sees the office is a comfortable temp for everyone – still steaming over the FL guy whose boss is too cheap for a/c for anyone but himself.

  • EngineerdLawyer

    Maybe I am getting soft and weak but that Margret post almost bought some kind of guilty conscious. Almost. But then again..God have mercy on this soul.

  • Anonymous

    Well said!

  • NotALiar

    I’d feel bad for Margaret, but what investment makes 12% with no risk?
    As they say, you can’t con an honest man.

  • LawGrrrl

    Perhaps if the author had less blind and ignorant rage toward bankruptcy attorneys, it would have occurred to him to talk to one and figure out that he needs a nondischargeability action.

  • anon law chick

    I worked for an atty just like this guy in college.  And I loved it.  I respected him b/c I knew he would get in there and do some ethically questionable things (if those were the clients’ wishes).  He practiced LAW -all kinds and I learned a lot.  I have absolutely No clue as to why anyone would want to work for a large firm.  Seriously, money just isn’t worth it!

  • BL1Y

    anon law chick: Not everyone can afford to pass up big law money.  If you have $200k in debt, your career choices are a bit stranged.  LawGrrrl: This guy needs to realize that bankruptcy attorneys are also the people who represent the creditors getting stiffed.

  • manda

    i completely agree with everything you said!  billing sucks. 
    however, if you did bk, you would see a lot of those cases are people with crazy medical bills that they can’t pay, although there are just as many losers whose eyes were bigger than their wallets.

  • Anom

    Alma until you find someone remember drugstores have things you can buy for satisfaction until the real thing comes along.

    Today make a buck anyway you can big or little firm.

  • Marlon

    ya, biling does suk!

  • You are a fu*king moron

    “There is no excuse for BK.  None. It’s the biggest fraud in history.”
    Fu*k you you worthless scumbag, you shoudl have told Margearet the truth BEFORE you charged her for a hopeless case. YOU are the worthless thief here.

  • Another anon

    Uh, dude, ever hear of a complaint for nondischargeability (adversary complaint)? Or motion for relief from stay, depending on how far along the state court case was? Just hope the deadline for filing has not passed.

  • TTTrash

    Ah the good old complaint for nondischargeability…
    Nothing brings me greater happiness than the reaction of shock and horror I get from the smug assholes who think they’ve beat the system by filing a BK after screwing my clients.
    It’s right up there with the feeling I get when I start finding fraudulent transfers and pointing them out to the guys who think they’ve pulled a fast one by shutting down their LLC.

  • Ellen

    These post’s are OLD! FOOEY! Fooey! I want to read NEW things, not old and bitter post’s! FOOEY!

  • http://www.markblum.com Mark David Blum, Esq.

    this essay is brilliant. i am now a 20 year litigation veteran and i have CHOSEN to live my life and career like your writer. to me, it is much more fullfilling to be down in the trenches, up to my elbows in slime and mud, and duking it out. criminal law is my personal favorite. as a mentor once told me, “all law is criminal law; everything else is other people’s money.”

    while i lack the lifestyle and income of big law, i dont work 40 hour days and i sleep very well at night. my clients love me (or hate me) but not having to nickle and dime them to death to meet a big law timesheet gives me so much more professional satisfaction.

    so yes, i am among the scumbags, the bottom feeders, the assholes who will send you a letter followed by a summons and complaint because you pissed in my client’s front yard. i spend more energy talking people out of wasting money on lawyers than i try to close the deal. that is my insurance that the client is fully informed ahead of time and is not suprised when it costs what it does.

    dont fret son; you may find you enjoy this work. it is the Lord’s work. after all, someone has to represent the 99%

  • http://businesslawspot.blogspot.com Knute Rife

    You hooked Margret without fully informing her of the high likelihood of BK and the necessity of filing an adversary proceeding to block discharge of her claim? And then you didn’t even bother to file the AP? Sounds like you’re part of the problem.