Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

My First Client

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Total Black: $59.57
Total Red: $230,644.12

I met this afternoon with the former pro bono client to discuss her lawsuit.  I touched on this matter in Pro Bono Publico, but didn’t give the whole story.  She had been evicted in 2007 and spent much of that year trying to get her personal property out of her former apartment.  Her landlord, and the building superintendent, however, made life miserable for her and routinely denied her access.  Then one day the building superintendent removed her property and put it into a self-storage facility, but under his own name.  When she came by with a moving van to retrieve her property, neither the landlord’s management company nor the super would tell her where it was.  Instead they demanded money, presumably to cover the storage costs.  Using the process of elimination, she tracked down the storage company in the area and demanded return of her property.  But since the storage company had a contract for storage space under someone else’s name, they wouldn’t release her property.  Months later, after the storage bill went unpaid, the storage company sent out auction notices.  They were about to sell all of her personal belongings to the highest bidders to recoup the unpaid storage costs.  That’s when I, as an associate at a large law firm, was brought in to stop the auction and help her recover her property.  Unfortunately, it morphed into a lawsuit and now, over a year later, I’m back in the driver’s seat of this case, steering it to some sort of resolution.  Given my own recent interaction with corporate landlords, I’m determined to see her prevail.  When did running a business become anathema to decency and respect?  Or maybe they never went hand-in-hand?

It was good to see my client today.  When I was laid-off a year ago, I worried what would happen to her case.  As it turns out, the firm really did nothing on it for much of the past year until about a month ago when they missed a court date, which resulted in her lawsuit getting dismissed.  The next day  I got an unexpected call from the managing partner, reaching out to me to discuss the merits of her case—just moments after, I learned today, trying to convince the client that she didn’t have a case and should just “move on.”  When I didn’t budge about its meritoriousness, he seemed even further annoyed.  But once I suggested taking the case over, he was too quick to accept my offer and had the client on the line within a few seconds.  Of course, once she agreed to the change in counsel, the partner informed me about the “lemon” I just bought.  The case had been dismissed.  I guess he thought he could just push the whole matter off on me and leave it to me to work on getting the case restored.  I’m a bit too honest, however, and in subsequent conversations with a paralegal at the firm, I intentionally tipped my hand and suggested that the firm get the case restored, otherwise the client’s only resort would be to sue the firm for malpractice—a headline I’m sure no large, corporate law firm would want to see plastered on blogs and other gossip sites: Former Associate Sues Law Firm For Malpractice.  Besides, getting the case dismissed and then pushing it off on someone else, just after trying to get the client to drop her claims altogether—it just seems unfathomable.  Anyone who knows this partner would say it’s a new low even for him.  Clearly the firm would have had to concede liability; the only dispute would have been over the amount of damages.  I suspect that’s what the partner was trying to feel me out over: what the case could really be worth.  Missing a court date, which then results in your client’s case being dismissed, is clear malpractice.  You can’t get any more fundamental than going to court.  That’s just something attorneys do.  It can happen if you’re a solo practitioner, but not as a large, international, corporate law firm.  There’s too many fail-safes that should have been in place.

Since this will my first client, it’ll also be my first fee arrangement.  An associate from the law firm, someone who had also been laid off, will be helping me with the case.  We discussed details on Friday and we both agreed that we’d take only 10% of any compensatory damages she received but take 25% of any other damages, punitive, nominal, and so on, up to $100,000.00.  The thought being that compensatory damages are there to compensate her for her losses whereas punitive are meant to punish the tortfeasors.  The client seemed ok with this arrangement.  That would be amazing if I were to earn a $25,000 fee.

But before we get anywhere close to fees, I’ll have to cover all the costs upfront.  I’ll soon need a job for that one.  I’ve got two more interviews with temp agencies tomorrow.  I’m feeling better about things overall.  Something’s just around the corner.  I can feel it.  Perhaps today’s bit of news is a sign of that: the blog is now listed with the American Bar Association’s Blawgs Directory website.  That hopefully will route a lot more traffic to the site.  For about a month now, google searches of “penny” or “beer,” especially via just google image searches, led people to my blog.  Not sure how that happened.  It’s now stopped as suddenly as it started.  I suspect that a good portion of the nearly four thousand hits weren’t really from people interested in what I’m sharing.  But, any traffic is better than no traffic, I say.

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