Friday, May 9, 2014

"Can You Give Some Quick Advice On Something?"

Being a lawyer was a universally horrible experience for me. Besides not understanding the fact that lawyers are paid for their time, lay people don't understand that being a lawyer does not mean that I want to give you advice on whatever petty problem you are having. The moment I told someone I was a lawyer, I often heard the nine words that I still despise to this day: "Can you give me some quick advice on something?" A lot of these people were friends of my parents. So, when I eventually started telling them to schedule an appointment to see me (for a fee, of course), they would inevitably tell my mom how rude I had been to them. "Why couldn't MA just give me some basic advice?" they asked her.  "Why is MA so focused on money?" they would say. My mom, not understanding why I couldn't just help her friends, would also give me the 3rd degree once she heard about what happened.

The worst occurrence of "give me some quick advice" was on an occasion when I decided to go to my parents' place for lunch after a long day at the office.  As I sat down with my plate, my mom rushed over and thrust the phone in my hand.  She silently said, "Just talk to him.  It's my friend's husband!" So after spending a whole day at the office, I was forced to listen to a man rant and rave about how he was unfairly terminated in a state where I was not licensed to practice. To get him off the phone, I explained the process to file his complaint with the EEOC. But, the man kept pushing me to tell him what state remedies he had.  I finally told him to go hire an attorney in that state and leave me alone to eat dinner.

Law school is terrible, but the pain doesn't stop once you've been sworn in. People all around you who have no appreciation for the fact that lawyers get paid for their time can't fathom why you can't be a pal and tell them exactly what to do so that they can turn their misfortune into a windfall or at the very least, get revenge on those who have wronged them.  Law school will ruin you financially, but will also greatly affect your social life. It is not for you unless you're one of those people who loves talking about the law every moment of every day and don't mind working for free after hours.  I just know that I couldn't do it.

41 comments:

  1. One semester in law school I had a roommate who was a psychology Ph.D. candidate. He once observed to me that while people assumed that psychologists and psychiatrists went to parties and analyzed people if you do it all day as work it is the last thing you want to do at a party.

    The worst thing is that a lot of people don't get that the reason we have trials is that there are some things to which there is no definitive answer. They want a yes or no and can get pissed off when you try to explain that there is no yes or no because they are often in a distressed situation when they seek out your advice and want easy answers.

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  2. This is one reason why I am so grateful that I practice in a state where none of my close relatives live. And caller ID is the greatest invention since the transistor.

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  3. I've practiced law for over ten years. From time to time friends-of-friends have asked for legal advice, and I've always been willing to talk with them for a few minutes, but usually ended up telling them that due to my specialty (I practice in a fairly narrow area of law) I wasn't able to give them substantive advice. I've never encountered anyone who expected me to spend a significant amount of my time on anything without getting paid. It would be like asking a doctor friend to operate on you for free. Maybe I've been lucky, or just have made it a point to have friends who are not that crass and obtuse.

    4:31 a.m.--yes, often there is no definitive answer, and all you can do is advise someone of their options. Sometimes there is no option that will please the client--no matter what they do they will have problems because they have screwed themselves and all the options are unappealing.

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  4. When I was married, my ex used to introduce me at parties as "my attorney husband." I absolutely hated it. I would be pestered for the entire party by people looking for free legal advice. I asked her many times to stop doing it and she would reply that she was proud of being married to someone in a "sexy and glamorous" profession. A year before we got divorced, we went to a party and she introduced me as her "attorney husband." I embarrassed her by saying, I am not really a lawyer. I work as a lowly clerk for the Court. People did not want to talk to me. I felt liberated but got shit from my ex all week for "humiliating" her in front of her friends.

    To this day, I avoid telling people I am a lawyer. During flights, people sitting next to me will ask what I do for a living and I tell them I am in "sales" and they stop talking about "professions." I hear doctors suffer from this problem too. I can imagine a doctor at a party being asked by another guest "hey doc, I have a skin bump on my buttock, can you take a look at it and tell me if it is a malignant or benign tumor?"

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    1. The doctor, however, can say something like: "Sure, drop your pants (or pull up your skirt or dress) lower your boxers/briefs/panties and we'll have a look."

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    2. Apparently she didn't know that by introducing you as "my attorney husband" she advertised herself as a real horse's ass.

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  5. Imagine if people - including friends, family members and friends or associates of your second cousin - asked plumbers to fix their toilet for free.

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    1. I have a long time friend whose wife is a highly accomplished organist. I asked her to play at my wedding and asked the fee. She replied that their gift would be the fee. As an attorney this made perfect sense to me but my wife was a bit annoyed by the concept. People who get a Friday paycheck will never fully understand.

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    2. What—your wife expected her to play the organ and give you a silver fish slice?

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  6. There's also the pleasure of having a relative tell you that, contrary to your advice, "there's gotta be a way I can get away with doing X" because this relative's auto mechanic/poker buddy/waitress/barber/etc. said he/she knows someone who saved a lot of money by doing X.

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  7. It's tough, b/c I don't wanna be an asshole. Sometimes it can be easy to spend a few minutes giving someone quick advice that will help them enormously. But on the other hand, it's frustrating how people don't understand that we spent a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money to get where we are.

    And I practice in Housing Court. Very often someone will simply ask "Are you a lawyer?" and then proceed to ask you questions as if we're somehow obligated to provide free advice to whomever asks. But then again, I don't wanna be an asshole.

    There was a Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David was in a lockerroom at some golf club or something, and he asked a guy (who he knew was a doctor) for some advice about an injury he had. The doctor turned to him and said something like: "You're a comedian, right? Why don't you write me a bunch of funny shit for free." Classic.

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  8. I rarely have a problem with people at parties asking for legal advice. I do have a problem with people calling my office and expecting free consultations on the craziest issues, and of course people expecting ME to pay the costs of prosecuting their cases. Just this morning, woman calls wanting to sue the manufacturer of a grill cleaner scrubber, because a piece of metal was dislodged from the cleaner, stuck to the grill, got on her meat and she then somehow ate it and it got stuck in her throat. I find to get rid of people, all you need to mention is you need a retainer to hire experts, etc., and that gets rid of them quick . . but often not before they say "but I thought you pay for that?"

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  9. By the way, I do try to be patient with people, because you never know when they might have a legitimate case they want to hire you for.

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  10. I think you could combine this OP with the last one about JD Advantage. In my last corporate job, I had a boss who always wanted free legal advice and assistance with his wife's frequent driving infractions and his kid's various criminal activities and arrests. Friends asking for legal advice may be problematic but it's nothing like having a boss or colleague ask for free legal work and you are not in a position to refuse if you want to maintain any kind of equilibrium at the office. In such case, the JD is an advantage as you will probably be able to keep your job because you are personally valuable to your boss, but at the same time, you are expected to do the work you are paid to do and additionally solve their personal issues. There is no extra compensation for the JD part and in fact, it could be a liability if you can't resolve their personal issues to their satisfaction.

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  11. There is an old saying, "A lawyer's trade is his time and advice". I've noticed that when someone wants free advice they address me by my first name and are friendly, when otherwise they pretend not to know me. It's trying to get something for nothing and if you are nice you hope that there is the possibility of future business. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't. There are those who remember you and those who don't. But most importantly, you have to know when a conversation turns into a consultation and end it or give them your card.

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    1. Another old saying that comes to mind: "Free legal advice is worth what you pay for it."

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  12. "... but at the same time, you are expected to do the work you are paid to do and additionally solve their personal issues."

    And if the best advice is 'don't have done that', ..........

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  13. As a solo, I consider friends/strangers at parties asking legal questions to be 1) pro-bono and 2) marketing. A majority of people do not have enough money to hire a lawyer, and do not have problems that can be solved effectively through the legal process. I tell them what their rights and obligations are generally, explain the costs of dispute resolution in the court system, suggest alternatives they can do themselves, but mainly tell them "tough luck" and empathize with the situation. Bringing up the cost of litigation early usually stops frivolous inquiries. I'll give them my card, and occasionally they or a friend will call later with something I can actually help them with and get paid.

    The law was traditionally a profession where the practitioners were not solely motivated by profits - they had a duty to society to use their skills for its betterment. Educating people about the law and disabusing them of the notion that litigation is a plaintiff's "get rich quick" scheme is an important role. It is a shame that the establishment has over-produced lawyers to such an extent that attorneys have to use every moment to scrounge paying clients or engage in mind-numbing drudgery merely to exist. At this point, where a significant portion of lawyers cannot command a premium for their time, it is understandable that they compare themselves with tradespeople, and are resentful of people asking, often-times, innocuous questions. This post sheds light on important issues in practice, but I'm not sure complaining about acquaintances looking for freebies is an effective endeavor.

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    1. These situations can also raise some tricky issues of professional responsibility. By listening to someone and answering his questions, have you unwittingly formed an attorney-client relationship? Have you conflicted yourself (and your firm) out of representing a person with adverse interests in the same matter? Is your conversation privileged? Do you have exposure for malpractice if the person follows your "advice" and has a bad outcome?

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    2. I don't think it is unwitting. I understand my professional responsibilities, have an idea when attorney/client relationships are formed, and can spot malpractice issues as they arise - that's what lawyers do. I freely admit that I don't know the factual specifics of their cases and tell them straight out that I will not take these cases (for whatever reason) and am not their attorney. If there is a serious question, I'll e-mail a non-retention letter the following day saying it was nice meeting them and good luck with resolving their problem. And, like I said, these peoples' problems could be big to them, but litigating them (other than in small claims court where they are specifically not represented by counsel for a reason) would be disastrous for everybody because of cost, so I'm generally not concerned about conflicts.

      It sucks, but, with few exceptions (personal injury, simple family law, BK, petty crimes, DUI etc.) private-pay lawyers are for rich people (at least very upper middle-class and above) and corporate business. The "rich" people I meet already have lawyers and know the drill. "Advice" for the rest is generally - "here's where you get small claims forms", "here's the phone number for the low-cost referral service and county self-help desk", "the local bar association has a low income law clinic", "talk to social-services, the appropriate county office, or the police","you likely do not have a large enough estate for a trust, here's the Bar association's website with a statutory will and instructions" or "you maybe right, but after everything, you aren't going to get enough to justify the hassle, but another attorney may think differently."

      And for everything else, there's malpractice insurance, but in 15+ years I've never had to make a claim . . . knock on wood.

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    3. As I've said for years, there ain't no justice under a hundred grand.

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    4. This is a very well-put comment. Yes, it can be annoying to be asked to counsel someone randomly. And it can be annoying to try and help them without putting oneself at risk for a bar complaint or legal malpractice. But it's not THAT hard. People come to me because they are stressed out about something in their lives. My answers often tend to help them. As a human being, I am gratified at playing that minimal role in someone's life.

      And as long as I'm giving advice about giving advice: this is how it plays out 99% of the time. Bob asks me for legal advice. I give the usual disclaimers, and then provide a four minute primer on the broad area of law implicated by his issue (divorce, contracts, criminal, blah blah), and then point out that getting an attorney to navigate this problem for him could possibly cost anywhere from Xxx dollars to xx,000 dollars, which strikes me as cost-prohibitive given the scope of his problem, but that I know lots of lawyers in town and can get him in touch with one if he wants me to. I always come off as having been helpful, with this approach. People are thankful.

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  14. Free advice...

    One of the most satisfying aspects of being a lawyer was helping someone genuinely in need, and making a real difference in their lives.

    But one of the most frustrating is when that pro bono matter or favor turns into a never-ending nightmare because the client isn't having to worry about the cost of your time.

    Example: I used to do lots of pro bono work for cancer patients who needed wills and other docs to get their affairs in order. Many were great to work with, but there were a few who abused the relationship. Instead of a basic will, they suddenly wanted the most elaborate estate planning services, and what was supposed to be a stopgap "leave everything to the kids in equal shares" type of affair ended up being a "leave 25% to X, 13.7% to Y in trust for Z, 18.64% and the fine china to W if she doesn't remarry, etc.". The complexity arose because the client didn't have to pay for the countless hours such ornate inheritance schemes entail.

    Giving out free advice is like giving out free anything - there's always a few greedy people who take as much as they can because it's free, not because they need it.

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    1. People with enough assets to warrant such complex estate planning should be able to pay for a lawyer themselves.

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    2. You run into this issue too when dealing with universities whose legal departments get involved. It is usually a mixture of a professor obsessed with some non-issue in the deal, who turns a simple arrangement into a saga - they simply have unlimited time to burn.

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    3. MacK, how true! Unlimited time leads to terrible legal red herrings.

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  15. You can avoid these discussions by saying that you'll have to do a conflict check before even listening to the person's issues, and then inviting the person to call you at the office.

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  16. Say, while you're all giving out free advice, please help me with one little question:

    Indiana Tech or Nova Southeastern?

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  17. What about when you give them legal advice and then they want to argue with you about how you are wrong.

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  18. The scam-dean of Crooklyn Law Skule is selling a 15% reduction in tuition as a measure to make law accessible to everyone, irrespective of wealth:

    http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2014/04/15/brooklyn-law-school-tuition-cut/?section=magazines_fortune

    Bullshit. The only reason for which this toilet of a law skule is reducing its tuition is that the number of applicants is declining to the point that there may not be enough asses (word used in more senses than one) to fill the seats in the entering class. This smoke screen of making law school affordable is pure eyewash: even at 15% off, Crooklyn is still unaffordable to most people, and also unjustifiably expensive for anyone who needs to have a job after graduation.

    "When people finish law school with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, 'they're not able to pursue jobs where they're most needed in law, perhaps providing affordable, quality services to individuals who don't have high net worth—or to small businesses,' he says. 'It means that they're not free, really, to follow their passion and pursue work in areas where they're most talented."

    The words "they're not free" dishonestly imply that students are turning down low-paying positions as lawyers in order to take up high-paying positions as lawyers. In fact, many of them are not getting work of any kind in law, and not a few are unemployed altogether. Indeed, tens of thousands of recent (and not-so-recent) law graduates would kill for either low-paying or high-paying legal work, to say nothing of the luxury to choose between the two.

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  19. I have encountered this problem a number of times, including a friend of my in-laws who needed a felony defense (8 months of work for $2000). The personal connection to family meant that I worked harder for less and got all charges dropped. She went from facing 1-3 years to getting her commercial driver's license suspended for two years and a few hundred dollars in fines and surcharges. No criminal record. And she still acted unhappy, as if I did amateurish work.

    I always recommend that people avoid business with anyone personally connected. Also, I have gotten much better with shutting down free advice requests with various lines (not my area of practice, I am not taking new cases).

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    1. I have become very careful about accepting work involving relatives or close friends. Too many things that can go wrong. As you point out they may be unhappy with the outcome even if you do great work. My policy now is that I will do it but only on very minor matters, minor enough that I usually dont even charge a fee except asking them to buy me dinner.

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    2. Back in 2007, I did a real estate closing for a relative. He bought one of those cookie cutter McMansions for $850K even though he was only making $80K a year. I told my relative that he couldn't afford the house and he accused me of being jealous. My mother got involved and begged me to do this relative this one favor. I couldn't say no to my mother so I went ahead and did the closing.

      In 2010, my relative lost his job. His house was foreclosed in early 2012. Now, this same relative blames me for allowing him to buy an expensive house he could not afford. He has even gone so far as to say that he will sue the mortgage broker and me for being complicit in mortgage fraud.

      After this incident, I won't represent any family or friends. If my own mother needs a lawyer, I will hire one for her but I refuse to do any legal work for family.

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  20. pure comedy in this article. nice spin too.

    "Law schools are under increasing pressure to diversify their classrooms and, in some cases, to fill their seats with highly qualified students."

    http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_25678046/law-school-path-opens-californias-community-college-students

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    1. Did the author use her brain at all when writing that article? She says that "[a] tough legal job market and rising law school tuition has put legal education -- and many aspiring lawyers -- in a bind", and she acknowledges that applications to law schools have fallen by a third since 2010, yet she doesn't even suspect that this new scheme/scam is designed merely to dupe people from community colleges into enrolling at humdrum law schools that are desperate to put butts into seats.

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    2. How on earth are they going to find highly qualified students? Anyone who falls for their discredited sales pitches is totally unqualified to be a lawyer. Fortunately for the California scampits, few of their graduates ever get hired, so no one ever finds out how utterly unqualified those graduates are. Kind of a neat solution, once you think about it.

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    3. I love that guy called "Spinal Fap" who commented at the original article. Now there's a real activist, generously giving his time to save deluded students from a horrifying life of servitude. That's exactly what 19th century abolitionists would be doing if they found themselves in the 21st century. The scamdeans and the jet-setting conference hounds? The Switzerland, Palm Beach, and Maui crowd? They're behaving a lot like slaveowners did in 1855. They've still got the federal government on their side, and no stale, fallacious argument is too putrid for them to embrace. After all, the money's too good to pass up. They have payments to make. If they don't do it, somebody else will.

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    4. Why, when you want "highly qualified students", the first place to go is a community college.

      Just ask the scam-dean at Indiana Tech.

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  21. Well, I guess that's one of the advantages to being a recent graduate and never having the 'opportunity' to get a job in this profession - no one asks you for legal advice because they know you don't work in the field.

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  22. The advice I was given by an aunt - was to tell people "my office hours are..." One point she made is that many people will already have a lawyer who is better apprised of the facts than you are - and they will inevitably go back to this lawyer and explain how you said they everything they are doing is wrong because ..... and another lawyer will think you are an arrogant prick and an idiot to boot.

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  23. Yet another desperate move? http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2014/05/08/ua-to-offer-nations-first-bachelor-of-arts-in-law

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