It’s A Long Way Down

Why are some defense attorneys so expensive?IMG_2925-e1508532095556-300x239

Willie Nelson has a great answer to a similar question: Why is divorce so expensive?

Because it’s worth it.

Several decades ago, my friend was the best criminal defense attorney in Orlando–charging $15,000 down on a misdemeanor.  In today’s dollars, that would be $43,447.  Yikes.

Who throws around that kind of money on a misdemeanor?

And, who has the balls to charge that much for a misdemeanor?

That being said, a Hermes Birka bag will set you back $65,000.  Yes, a purse for $65,000.  If you were to try to go buy one now–you can’t.  Sorry to get your hopes up.  As the story goes, Hermes pretends to be sold out even though the store always has a couple new Birka bags in the back.  Hermes purse pricing strategy is similar to my friend’s pricing strategy–except that my friend was worth every penny.

Ok, back to my very expensive defense attorney friend.  He “had it all.”  A house in Windermere? Check.   An expensive boat? Check. An airplane? Check.  No, he wasn’t secretly some closet personal injury lawyer (that’s where all the money is–for those of you who know anything about criminal defense work, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme).

So, after years of commanding top dollar, my friend’s fees dropped dramatically.

A first time misdemeanor DUI that may have cost $20,000 was now running $7,500.  And a year later, that same first time DUI fee plunged to $2,500.  I’ve been charging about $2,500 for a first time DUI for over 15 years, go figure….

My first question was, why are some attorneys so expensive?

My second question is, what would cause those fees to come down so drastically?  (a) Too many law students finally passing the bar?  (b)  the practice of law has become a commodity?  (c) has artificial intelligence and internet services like LegalZoom driven prices down? (d) Do people think every lawyer is the same, and similar to the commodity comment, but if that were the case, everyone would elect to have a public defender.  Neither OJ nor Casey Anthony nor other folks with money elected such. I’m just saying.  I was a PD at one point, started back in 1993, so don’t hate.

Before we delve further into legal fees, let me tell you about my old paralegal.  I had the best paralegal on Earth, before he passed in 2013 (My “new” paralegal Kaye is ‘the best’ as well, and I promise you  I’m not that guy that tells every waitress “You’re The Best” after they refill my Coke without me asking.  I hate that).

My old paralegal was Ed Leinster.  Before getting underpaid as my paralegal, he was the best criminal defense attorney in Orlando–until he received his fourth DUI.  With every new arrest, Ed’s prices plummeted. He went to prison for five years on his fourth DUI, and it should come as no surprise that he was kicked out of the Florida Bar (how he survived the first three DUI convictions without being disbarred is a story for another day).

When he got out of prison, he needed a job.  I could afford to hire him to help with my cases.

I learned more from Ed than in I did in grad school getting my masters degree, or in law school getting my Juris Doctorate (Subtle virtue signalling there, did you catch it?  My web people love it when I talk about degrees, or any sort of bragging, really).  Mr. Leinster was a legal genius.  I’m sad that his addictions brought him down, but I am happy to have caught a glimpse of the genius at work.  Sure, I’ve worked with excellent attorneys in the past.  I’ve worked with great attorneys.  I’ve never even seen genius like Ed in the legal field.

For many years, Ed found a way to practice while addicted.  Don’t know how he did it.  Actually, he was arrested 20 times.  The interesting thing was, his performance in court did not seem to suffer as a result of his alcohol problems.  In other words, he was so good that he could win a case drunk.   A circuit court judge here in Orange County was questioned about Ed’s sobriety while in the courtroom, yet she shrugged off these concerns, explaining that  “a drunk Ed Leinster is a better attorney than most of the sober attorneys that appear in my courtroom.”  Yes, he was that good.  Imagine that.  A judge knows you’re drunk but you’re just so damn good that no claim of “impairment” will bear out of the transcripts.

But there were a couple of things Ed couldn’t do around the office.

Namely, I never let Ed speak to any client that may be going to prison.  Why?  Ed had no empathy (and empathy is everything!  Please, leave your criminal defense career behind when you run out of empathy, or just hire a bunch of associates who still have some left in the tank). Ed did five years in prison.  He just didn’t think prison was that big of a deal.  Shocking, right?  He didn’t think it was difficult.  As he would tell me many times, “I had nothing to worry about for five years.”

And, this is coming from a guy with a big house in Windermere, a big boat and an airplane.  It’s a long way down, right?  Not for Ed.

Ed didn’t think the prison food was as bad as everyone claims.  Basically, Ed would not sympathize with anyone about to embark on a prison journey.   What Ed didn’t realize is that he was treated far better than most prison inmates.  The reason is simple:  Outside of prison, Ed would charge you $85,000 for your appeal.  A felony case could easily cost $50,000.  His fellow prison inmates knew their bunk mate was the best lawyer they couldn’t afford, so all the inmates wanted to get on his good side in order to have him draft their appeal.  In prison, he might draft your appeal for a few Twinkies per week.

Somehow, all the misfortune didn’t drag Ed down as far as you might think.  I don’t get it.  If my internet goes down, I’m in a bad mood.  If a potential client hires some other attorney who sucks, my ego is bruised for days.  If my car doesn’t start, I’m downright pissy.  Ed lost it all, and remained chill.

It is said that folks should practice poverty.  Jesus once said that the poor in spirit are not just blessed, but they will inherit the Earth. That’s a great deal, for sure.  The stoics spout similar wisdom, with Seneca stating that we should “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest far, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while ‘Is this the condition that I feared?”

For most of us, and most of my clients, prison is that fear of which Seneca speaks.  Yet, Ed found a way thru it, and came out the other end better because of it.

I miss you Ed.  Please, tell me how you did it.