By Philip E. Goss, Jr., Esq.
In a follow-up to last month’s What Your Attorney Doesn’t Want You to Know, here’s part 2:
6. Your Attorney Likely Bills You for Travel Time
Many attorneys will bill you their full hourly rate for travel time to and from events related to your case. I do understand the argument that every minute spent toward your case is appropriately billed. However, I don’t agree that all circumstances support that theory.
Every time I attend court in downtown Miami, I leave my home office two hours before the appointed time. I drive to public transportation and then ride the Metrorail to the court’s doorstep. If my client chose to retain a lawyer with a downtown office, her travel time could be as little as five minutes.
What is fair in this situation? For this reason, I do not charge for my travel time.
This is not to say someone who charges for travel is unethical or necessarily wrong. I’m just saying that this is an issue that should be addressed up front so there are no surprises. In situations where long-distance travel is required, such as when travel must be done by aircraft, a clear discussion of travel expenses and fees should be agreed upon in advance.
7. We Want Excellent Attorneys to Represent the Other Side
While this may sound incongruent with your best interests, it is not. Typically, excellent attorneys have nothing to prove. They also will have strong practices and will not be tempted to create unnecessary work to generate additional time and expense to their bill. Also, an excellent attorney knows the law and has the experience to predict where a case is going and how best to get there (see #9, below).
Currently, I have two cases pending where opposing counsel is quite poor. While they are members of the Florida bar, neither of them has conducted the research to fully know their cases or the applicable law. Each is lazy and confrontational. (Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction.)
My efforts to work with them have been met with obstruction. As a result, my clients have incurred far more stress and expense than is necessary. Hence, an excellent lawyer on the opposition is far better than a silk-tie-wearing buffoon.
8. Very Seldom do Attorneys Start Any Project with a Blank Computer Screen
Most everything that comes down the pike is similar to, or, in some cases, identical to other situations or cases previously handled. If the rare unprecedented case comes along, there are still a multitude of forms available to get a strong starting point to complete the project.
If you ever receive a document that references a strange name or fact inapplicable to your case, it shows that your attorney is not a perfect proofreader.
9. Our Best Value to You is to Reasonably Predict the Future
Attorneys must live with the facts given in a particular case. Never are the facts perfectly clear and overwhelmingly positive. If that were the case, likely an attorney wouldn’t be required. While identifying facts and crafting a legal strategy is vital, being able to manage your expectations is just as important.
You need to know what the likely outcomes may be, so you can decide if spending a great deal of money is worth the likely outcome. These things are 100% experience-based.
An attorney with years of experience in the area of dispute, knowledge of the assigned judge and a clear grasp of the facts can then, and only then, provide you with an educated opinion of what to expect. At that point, it is your call.
10. As a General Rule, Lawyers are Not Much Smarter, if at All, Than the Average Person
The bar exam is an examination administered in each state to assess whether or not a candidate is competent to practice law in that jurisdiction. We are highly trained in a specific area and, up until a few decades ago, people didn’t always need to attend law school to sit for the bar exam and practice law. Some of the best lawyers and judges I ever met were non-law-school graduates. On average, college professors, medical professionals and engineers stand above the intellect of the typical lawyer.
As a general rule, I believe most motivated individuals with the intellectual prowess to earn a college degree — and with access to a strong bar-review course — could pass a bar exam. We’re not superstars - just hardworking people well-versed in the law and with the desire to help solve your legal issues.
Attorney Phil Goss, Jr. welcomes any email comments or questions at [email protected] and will attempt to respond personally, time permitting.
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