WHY are attorneys so expensive?
WHY does my divorce cost so much?
WHY is my attorney bill so high?
WHY can’t you tell me what it’s going to cost me to (enter your legal action here)?
WHY do lawyers get paid so much?
WHY do I even need a lawyer when I can represent myself?
WHY is litigation so expensive?
WHY? WHY? WHY?
I hear these questions on a fairly regular basis, from clients and people without experience in the legal world as well as people to whom the legal experience is not new.
So, in a multi-part series, I am going to offer some of my insights of WHY.
PART TWO: Attorney Experience: the Been-There-Done-That Factor
Upon passing the bar exam, at least in California, there is a limbo period when someone is a J.D. who has passed the bar exam but not yet a licensed attorney. The difference is getting sworn in; taking the attorney oath is required in California before getting the coveted attorney bar number. Attorneys are considered officers of the court; when I passed the bar, which seems like about a hundred years ago, the oath was, ““I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counselor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability.” This oath is based on California Business & Professions Code §6067.
Then, because not every lawyer apparently conducted him or herself in accordance with what one would expect of an officer of the court, the California Supreme Court added one more promise to the oath, which took effect as of May, 2014: “As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy and integrity.” As of the drafting of this blog, the additional language is contained in California Rule of Court as Rule 9.7.
Okay, so now an attorney is licensed. What’s next?
After passing the California bar exam and being sworn in, a lawyer can hang out a shingle and say, “I’m open for business.” But, would you entrust your legal affairs to someone with limited, little, or no real-world legal experience? Most people would not; and with good reason.
Then how does a newbie attorney become a seasoned attorney? Pretty simple: experience. The benefit of been-there-done-that and here’s what works and here’s what doesn’t only come from doing. Therefore, most attorneys spend years getting the experience for their chosen field, whether that experience is through a law firm or in the public sector with an eye on eventually going into private practice. Every experience over those years, from court appearances to filing of pleadings to interacting with judges, court personnel, other lawyers, witnesses, and clients provides a benefit to every future client.
But it takes time to gather the experience and confidence needed to be a truly competent, confident legal representative. Experience is what differentiates a really exceptional lawyer from “just any” lawyer. Law school does not teach lawyers how to be lawyers. In fact, law school does not really teach law – it teaches legal concepts. Knowing the technical aspects of the law is all very well and good, and that is certainly important to know how to pass the bar exam, but knowing the practical sides of what wins, when to bluff, and when to fold is just as important, if not more so, than being able to recite legal references to codes or cases.
As attorneys, we have a specialized knowledge of everyone’s rights. The average person has no idea what his or her rights are, other than what they’ve seen on t.v. or read on the internet. As far as I know, neither Google, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, nor any other media outlet offers a law degree. Pretty much everybody knows that what is on the internet is not always correct and therefore is not reliable. Now, that does not stop a whole lot of people from thinking, “Hey, I can just Google the answer to my legal problem, for free”, but most people know better than to rely on the internet for advice, legal or otherwise.
It is absolutely true that people have the right to represent themselves, and often do. I have seen mixed results when someone decides to represent him or herself – and when the results are negative, they are usually really negative; when the results are positive, they are usually mediocre at best. By analogy, for most people, jumping into the legal system representing one’s self is like jumping into the deep end without having had swimming lessons. Why is this?
Because the average person does not know or truly understand legal concepts, their application as law, the legal system, or what works and what doesn’t (and why). Essentially, the average person does not have the training or experience to secure successful results from the law. Unless someone is involved in a lot of cases or litigation, most likely, someone’s foray into the legal world is his or her first and only experience with it.
Circling back to the question of WHY? Good attorneys have years of experience (this author has over twenty years in the profession), and the longer in practice, the more experience there is under one’s belt. It is more than likely that the experienced attorney has already seen and dealt with the issues in your case, or at least issues similar to what is in your case – in other words, you are likely not going to be a guinea pig for an attorney who hasn’t already been-there-done-that.
With experience, of course, comes know how and that specialized knowledge I talked about earlier. That experience and specialized knowledge has immense value, which is what is charged to you, the client. The more experience and specialized knowledge an attorney has, the greater value that attorney is to you, and therefore the more seasoned attorneys charge more for their expertise.
In Part Three of this blog, I will examine the legal responsibilities with which an attorney is charged, including the risk of malpractice claims. Coming soon to a blog near you!
This publication is not intended to provide legal advice.