Cheap, Honest Lawyer
I have grown embarrassed by my profession. Touted as professionals devoted to public service, lawyers have waxed meretricious, bragging about their ability to bill at $1000 an hour. Clients are treated as cash cows; ordinary folk are afraid to go to a lawyer because they are afraid it will cost too much. This runs against my grain.
In recent years, I have tried to do what I can to make legal services available at a reasonable price. To counterbalance my profession’s trend, I have developed a number of flat rate services, including my Fifty Dollar Special:
For Fifty Dollars I Will Look at Any Piece of Paper You Have and Tell You Whether it is Safe to Sign or to Give to Someone to Sign.
The most I’ve ever saved someone with that deal is $200,000. He thought he was acquiring a non-performing half-million dollar secured real estate, but in less than 15 minutes I had determined he was buying a non-existent non-performing note secured by nothing. With over fifty years of practice litigating against a wide variety of scoundrels under my belt, I can often just take a good sniff of a deal and tell whether it’s rotten.
Beyond simply charging hourly rates that are significantly under market, there is my abiding notion of thrift: the game must be worth the candle. I will not take on a plaintiff’s case where the costs of litigation are disproportionate to the value of the claim, and where I represent a defendant my goal is to get my client out of the case as cheaply, quickly and effectively as possible. Even when I charged rates as high as the average lawyer, I was frequently the cheapest lawyer on the case. An example was a case where I was representing Washington Mutual Bank. In Texas, when you do not pay your homeowners’ association dues, the HOA can foreclose on your home and sell it to someone else. Under the governing Texas statute, however, the homeowner has six months to pay and redeem his home. In this case, everyone dropped the ball and failed to notify the homeowners about the foreclosure and his right of redemption. The homeowners were thus shocked when six months after the foreclosure, they received the new owner’s notice to vacate their home. It was a mess, a four-party lawsuit with everyone pointing their fingers at everyone else. The house was valued at about $150,000 and when we paid off the purchaser to get the home back, my fees were about $18,000. Because someone at WaMu had cluelessly signed a document obligating the bank to pay another party’s attorney’s fees, the big firm representing that party demanded its fees from WaMu. Those fees at that point amounted to $92,000, over five times my fees. WaMu did not pay any of those fees, but I was enlightened about the way the big boys bill their clients.
How I got WaMu as a client is another interesting story of cheapness. You need to understand that large corporations, giant banks and the other behemoths of our economy do not hire solo lawyers. They trust the brand names of Brobdingnagian law firms. A colleague of mine referred me a small real estate problem from an out-of-state mortgage lender. I solved the problem and sent a $400-500 invoice for my work. The mortgage lender was a subsidiary of WaMu. They Had Never Seen So Small A Fee From A Lawyer. Thereafter and until their demise ten years later, WaMu kept me very busy.
I was cheap before cheap was cool.