Today, I realized that it is the 10 year anniversary of my riding up one of the most famous mountains in the world, Alpe d’Huez!
I rode a major mountain here in California earlier in the year, Mt. Figueroa about 1/2 hour north of Santa Barbara. It is the same mountain climb that many professional cyclists ride in the early months of the year to train for the Tour d’France and other major races. When I reached the top, the coaches at CTS Training (Chris Carmichael, then the coach of Lance Armstrong) assured me that this climb confirmed that I could climb any mountain in France. Well, in some disbelief, I made reservations the following week to go to France in July 2002. And I did climb several of the other major climbs in that year’s Tour, as well.
It’s now 10 years later; time has taken its toll. But, I did start training to climb Mt. Fig. again this year. Wish me luck, though I’ll need more than that …
What’s in your bucket list? What are you doing to achieve your goals?
Recently my article about Who Sets The Lawyer Fees was used as a guest blog by Alan Weiss. The blog discusses the recent Wall Street Journal article about the Justice Department’s attempt to control fees that the bankruptcy lawyers seek, and the possibility that the U.S. Trustee Program may now be entering the fray.
In case you missed it, here’s the link to Alan’s blog: bit.ly/KoDDLx
In the Wall Street Journal, staff writer, Jacqueline Palank discusses the Justice Department’s attempt to control fees that bankruptcy lawyers seek. Creditors and employees may, at times, be a bit disgruntled by such fees. So, now, the U.S. Trustee Program appears to be entering the fray.
Before going further, it should be noted that i) any fee sought by an attorney must first be approved by the client going into bankruptcy; ii) the fee cannot be paid before a Bankruptcy Court Judge approves the fee request; iii) the legal fees most often are a pittance compared to the debts of the company and thus have little or no impact on either the creditors or the employees. In fact, the current proposal is limited to companies whose assets and debts exceed $50 million, hardly your “normal” bankruptcy.
The only reason for focusing on the legal fees is that this is a topic that makes good reading in the tabloids, including the WSJ. While the quoted hourly rate received by some attorneys seems high, it is insignificant in comparison to the compensation received by incompetent CEOs and others in the C-suite offices. Why don’t the tabloids focus on the cause of the bankruptcy? Why not focus on the compensation of the management team, which often is at astronomically higher multiples compared the lowest paid employees of the company? Why not seek redress against the management that is responsible for bringing the company to its knees? Although this focus may have more positive economic impact, it clearly is not sexy enough to sell many papers.
The U.S. Trustee is proposing, according to the writer, several new approaches to control lawyers’ fees, including:
•Though the lawyer applicant must disclose his/her hourly rate now, the Justice Department wants the lawyer to disclose the lowest, highest and average hourly rates the law firm charges in all its matters.
•The Department wants the lawyer applicant to create and disclose to the Court a budget for legal expenses. This budget would, necessarily, disclose to all involved, including the creditors who are adversaries of the bankrupt, the client’s planned legal strategy.
In the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that it was anti-competitive for bar associations to maintain a listing of suggested fees for different types of work. Such a listing, in particular, helped younger and newer lawyers set their fees at rates that were more in line with more senior lawyers. Not having such a list would compel lawyers to set their own fees, the theory being that lawyers would then be more competitive with one another to the consumers’ benefit.The Trustee by its first proposal ignores this. The existing disclosure already provides information that tends to be anti-competitive. Law firms can see what others are charging and price their own services accordingly, causing rates to slowly increase in lockstep over the years.
Intruding into the fees charged for practice areas, such as general business matters, estate planning, tax work, and other areas of work performed by the firms who also do bankruptcy work has no bearing on the special expertise of large company bankruptcy lawyers. No area of law other than bankruptcy requires such disclosure for court approval. Fees are left to be negotiated between attorney and client. Other than precedent, there is no reason disclosure should be made here either and the process should not be extended. “Transparency” is a bogus issue. There is no backroom conspiracy on how bankruptcy fees are charged. All the proceedings are public and must be approved by the Court before attorneys are paid anything.
Budgets are good. I recommend them to my attorney-clients with whom I consult. Budgeting is a process, however, between the client and the attorney. By requiring that bankruptcy budgets, which reveal legal strategy, be made public, the U.S. Trustee is saying that bankrupt companies have no rights. They have no right to advocacy; they have no right to develop a strategy that might affect creditors’ claims; and they have no right of confidentiality. This is clearly contrary to the U.S. Constitution and our entire judicial system. While the bankrupts, and their inept management, may have proceeded down an economically unwise path, they still have rights to seek the best windup of affairs in their economic environment.
Don’t worry about the lawyers’ hourly rates once the bankruptcy petition is filed. They are regulated first, by the client, and second, by the Court. Who is watching the compensation of the management team before the company entered bankruptcy? Why are inept executives not punished with fines, or worse, for malfeasance and negligent management tactics? Why are they allowed to benefit so expansively at the expense of their workers? Why don’t the tabloids focus their sharp light there? Oh, I forgot, the tabloids need to sell papers, they are part of the industrial complex that both Presidents Washington and Eisenhower warned us about as they left office.Perhaps the fact that quite a few newspapers and newspaper chains (Tribune Co. and papers in Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and many other cities) have been mismanaged and had to file for bankruptcy has something to do with it, too.
NALP survey suggests that 2% of 2008 graduates opened a solo practice within 9 months of graduation! That’s a lot of folks who will be representing clients without prior experience either in the management of a practice or much experience in the technical practice areas (tax, family law, bankruptcy, etc.).
I wonder what kind of representation their clients are receiving … and how does one interpret or define "competence?” What do you think?
There is a movement afoot to create an apprenticeship program for lawyers. Georgia and Utah both require first year associates to enter a mentor program; of course, there is no requirement that senior lawyers be mentors, so I’m not sure how their programs work in actual practice.
And Howery has recently announced an apprentice program that is getting a lot of attention. Their new hires will split their time between shadowing senior partners, taking classes and working on "low-grade" client matters, being billed out at very low rates.
The recession/depression ("The Great Reset") has provided the excuse for a recalibration of the economics of law practice by many, both clients and law firms.
NEW ONLINE FORUM LAUNCHES FOR LEGAL PROFESSIONALS
Ed Poll Unveils LawBiz® Forum as New Online Community
VENICE, CA MAY 5, 2009 – Nationally recognized law firm management expert Ed Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, announced today the launch of www.LawBizForum.com, an online destination for lawyers, sole practitioners, partners, managing partners, of-counsel and in-house counsel, and others who are members of the legal community providing services to the American people.
LawBiz® Forum will promote discussion about issues that enable lawyers to more effectively and efficiently deliver their services to their clients, such as management, marketing, technology and finance, and others. LawBiz® Forum is a place where the legal community can exchange ideas and techniques in order to improve the personal and professional lives of its members.
“Law is an honorable profession. Only lawyers are given the unique responsibility in the United States Constitution to help those accused of a crime, a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens,” remarks Poll. “This helping, caring nature of the legal community sometimes is forgotten by the psychological, social, and economic pressures facing lawyers, and I created this forum so that we can care for each other.”
LawBiz® Forum will have several levels of membership. All visitors to the site can review the discussions at no cost. However, members will be able to contribute to the discussions, participate in exclusive webinars, and have online access to Poll’s books and audio products.
Ed Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a nationally recognized expert in law practice management. He helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability consulting with them on issues of internal operations, business development, and financial matters. Poll brings his clients a solid background in both law and business. He has 25 years experience as a practicing attorney and has also served as CEO and COO for several manufacturing businesses. In 1990, he founded LawBiz® Management Company and is now focused on coaching lawyers, speaking, and writing.