Why are lawyers so expensive?

Throughout my legal career, people would ask me about my hourly rate and, after telling them, they would say something like “It must be nice!” I’ve always responded that it’s easy to charge whatever you want. The difficult part is collecting the fee.

How many times did I have to write off incurred fees and costs because a client couldn’t or wouldn’t pay? I have great sympathy for clients who can’t afford to pay–I some-times joke that I can’t afford an attorney. But the cruel reality is that when clients don’t pay, the mortgage company and the lien holder on the car still expect their money. They have better ways of getting their money than attorneys do.

Sam Glover posted in The Lawyerist an article titled “Why are Lawyers So Expensive? I’ll Tell You Why.” Glover explains that attorneys are expensive because attorneys take care of their client’s problems. Clients get to go home and sleep at night. We don’t. We front or absorb costs. Other professions don’t. We have a high obligation to our clients, therefore, our fee is high.

Glover’s right, in many senses. But it seems to me that other professions take care of client’s problems, absorb costs, and have high obligations to clients. Someone who fixes my broken pipe at my house allows me to sleep better at night. Folks in the construction business (and others) often front or absorb costs. Accountants must make sure that taxes are calculated and submitted properly.

I’ve known attorneys who charge $1,000 per hour and some who charge nothing. All have the same responsibility to their client. I was chastised once because the costs on a pro bono case were getting too high. I understand that. Firms are a business. Firms have people, benefits, and rent to pay.

I agree with Glover that attorneys are problem solvers. That’s how I always viewed my practice and that’s why, I think, people paid me. I helped them solve their problems.

But I hope that the next time someone remarks on “how much attorneys charge” that there is a follow-up with “how much do attorneys collect?”

How to quit your job…as an attorney

One of my favorite magazines is The Atlantic. Recently, Leigh McMullan Abramson wrote an article for The Atlantic about quitting your job as an attorney. The article touches on a number of points that I’ve heard from some of my fellow attorneys, but by no means all of them (or maybe not even a majority of them). Abramson’s article is a good read about the industry that surrounds attorneys to help them out of the profession.

From my own experience (talking with other attorneys) and what Abramson confirms, it seems that some enter law school not knowing what they want to do after undergrad, or not realizing the adversarial nature (and the necessity for good business skills) required to succeed in law, or both. The practice of law is demanding, exacting, and difficult. Is there prestige that goes along with the title “attorney”? Of course there is (or why else would so many television shows feature attorneys and the justice system)?

Is law the only profession with a surrounding industry to help people quit? I doubt it. I’m sure there are engineers, accountants, nurses, and doctors who aren’t happy with their particular job or their particular profession.

To me, I think it’s important to enjoy what you do and to have a sense of purpose in life, recognizing that some days are tougher than others on the job. Every job has its bad moments and days, but I’m convinced that if most of your days are good, and you enjoy working with most of the people who surround you, then you’ve found your professional sweet spot.