Legal Fees: Could you afford you?

Last week-end, I was attending a Vintage Airstream rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as mentioned in a previous post.

Because our “new” vintage Airstream is still being built and our “old” vintage Airstream was totaled from our December accident, we could not stay at the rally, but had sleeping quarters about 10 miles away, a short car ride. To get there, we had a short stint on Highway 550, a heavily trafficked thoroughfare in the area, so I’m told.  As we got close to our destination, I noticed the highway was streaming with police. It looked like a major car accident; as I got closer, it looked like a disaster. I could tell the roadway had been narrowed by cones and police cars into one lane. And as I approached the head of the line, a policeman approached me. Suddenly, I realized that I was in the middle of a road block!

The officer spoke. He asked if I had had any alcohol that evening. Those of you who know me, know that I am always the “designated driver.” I have nothing against alcohol or those who enjoy it. I’ve never developed a taste for good wine or other spirits. Thus, drinking good wine is “lost” on me.

This evening, however, a friend at the rally had bought a bottle of red wine, a favorite of theirs and my wife. To be part of the group, I accepted a “short” glass and had a few sips — well, o.k., I had one glass of wine. Several hours later, our evening ended and we drove … until we were stopped at the road block. I told the officer the truth.  He pulled me out of line, told me to shut off the engine and turn off the lights.  Not having driven this car before, I fumbled with the lights. As a former prosecutor of DUI/DWI defendants, I knew this was not looking good. A drunk will usually fumble with the lights.  I laughed it off, attempting to be casual with the officer.

He gave me the eye test. I got a bit nervous, contemplating the balance of the field sobriety test..Have you ever taken that test … while sober? It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when filled with anxiety “in the field.” Though nervous, he could tell I was sober  … or at least not under the “influence.”  And we drove on …

As I was thinking about this, on the scene, I had visions of needing to call an attorney in the area to come bail me out … or at least defend my good reputation to keep me “clean” with the Bar, that is to make sure I didn’t have a spot on my record that would impact my license to practice law and my license to drive a car.  Could I afford to hire a lawyer in today’s economy. Of course, we might say that is the wrong question. Could I afford NOT to hire a lawyer is the better question.

For those in need of a lawyer, it is clear they have a need. And, from my perspective, it’s clear that lawyers provide substantial value to their clients.  From the client’s perspective … and this is the only perspective that is important … they too often are confronted with a large bill they did not expect … and an inability to reconcile the value of what was done for them and the fee they now have to pay. That is the fault of the lawyer. It’s up to the lawyer, the professional, to educate the client about both the value of the service to be performed and the anticipated cost of delivering that value.  When that is done, the client will be satisfied no matter what the dollar amount may be.

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