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Argument – Access to Justice

Lawyers Against Access to Justice – a business problem.

This article is what happens when Lawyers don’t look at their practice as a Business. It’s wrong on several levels, and I will dismantle it in a moment, but the author is starting with the premise justifying his high cost, and mostly fails to acknowledge the problem. If you start with the problem, then distill it to a market need, basic business sense fills in the rest.

1) If you break wealth down into 5 groups (quintiles), only the top 20% can afford legal help with guys like this, doing what they do. The bottom 20% can get some free legal help as indigent. That leaves 60% in the middle – and that’s 60% of incomes, not population! This is a very large group.

2) Access to Justice is about lowering the total cost of legal services. Lawyers like Mr. Glover are fixated on justifying their hourly billing rate, but don’t look at their business efficiency. It’s the total cost of litigation that kills people, not the actual hourly rate of the attorney (but that rate is a factor).

3) Every lawyer who commits to making legal services available to the middle income groups, manages to do so without falling into poverty themselves. It’s a matter of the Lawyer making the decision to recognize a problem, and then to do something about it.

Now, for Mr. Glover:
A) “Even $400 is too expensive” So we know that a huge majority can’t produce the $6000 most lawyers want up front, and he cites half who don’t have $400 – but ignores the 30% who have maybe $1-2K. He jumps to the bottom to rationalize not doing anything to help those who have assets, but need a lower cost solution. The people who can’t put together $400 are likely to qualify for free legal aid, so they aren’t the problem that Access to Justice is designed to solve. Straw-Man argument.

B) “Value, Not Affordability” This is a sales pitch used by premium luxury automobiles, and that makes sense because that’s what most lawyers have become. It’s an easy insulation to say, “they just don’t recognize the value” – but this falls apart when you compare legal costs in different regions. In Houston Texas, you can take a dispute all the way to resolution for less than $5000, but in Phoenix, it’s north of $7000 – for the same legal conflict! That’s a market failure, not a value problem.

Most people recognize the value of something they can’t afford – I can’t afford a new Mercedes. I simply do not have the money. It’s not failure to recognize the value of the luxury car, it’s the fact that in Phoenix, there is only the luxury cars and the city bus, and nothing in between. I recognize the value of having more price-points in the market.

C) “DIY Fail” This is a non sequitur. The problem is NOT a lack of do-it-yourself forms. Arizona has great DIY forms, that is not legal assistance. Access to Justice is about contact between middle income clients and licensed attorneys, not forms.

D) “Pro Se by Choice?” Non-argument. He states that 80% are pro se (no lawyer, representing self), so maybe all of them are doing that by choice? No. No they are not. I deal with these people every day, and it’s apparent that Mr. Glover has never had a conversation with any of these people. In the end, he concedes that some percentage don’t want a lawyer; no one argues otherwise, we are dealing with those who WANT help, and have money, but advice is too expensive.

E) “Who Really Wants a Cheap Lawyer” I would think that Mr. Glover was, at one point, a salesman for a luxury car dealership – this is exactly what you are trained to do to keep a fence-buyer (one who can just barely afford your luxury model) at your dealership and away from the Chevy dealer across the street. Mr. Glover is more likely familiar with this pitch, because he upgrades luxury cars every year. He uses the word “Cheap” to indicate something shoddy, of poor quality, rather than what the issue is – Less Expensive. Let’s try it with the word-change: “Who really wants a less expensive Lawyer (fully licensed and qualified, just like Mr. Glover)?” A lot of hands go up.

People want help with their problem. They need a solution, and they need market-priced options. Who really wants a cheap car? People who need to get to work so they can feed their kids. Who really wants a cheap parachute? Well, my other option is assured death, so yes, I will take a cheap parachute over nothing. When I meet a client with less assets, I tell them where we are going to cut corners so they can get what they need. These clients are grateful.

F) “It’s Complicated” No. No it is not. It’s a matter of taking a few business classes to understand how to manage expenses. Lawyers get to pass 80 – 90% of all expenses on to clients, so they don’t even look at their expenses. Most lawyers don’t know a fixed cost from a variable cost, and they haven’t been trained to streamline a process to cut down overhead. I learned this starting companies back in the 90’s, and it’s basic stuff for any business other than a law firm.

I take a client from start through trial and full resolution for about half of what the other side charges. My rate is a little below the other lawyer, but it doesn’t account for the huge savings my client enjoys – that’s just my firm managing excess costs. My take-home pay is in line with where a solo in his second year should be. I’m not starving myself, I’m not suffering, I’m just being smart about how I spend my client’s money. This isn’t complicated at all. It’s taking my client’s financial problem as seriously as I take their legal problem, and I acknowledge that the problems are related.

Also, I win. I cost half as much, and I win. That’s Value.