What Do Mechanics & Attorneys Have in Common?

Probably not much at all except that you can say that both are in the business of delivering service.  As such, both can be called “vendors” although most attorneys bristle at the use of the term when applied to them just as most insurers bristle when attorneys refer to them as “third party payors.”

These thoughts passed through my mind last Saturday as I was driving home from my office.  I had turned on NPR and caught the end of Car Talk with Click and Clack. As I joined the program in progress, a listener had called in to complain that he had paid an auto mechanic in advance to diagnose and repair his vehicle. The mechanic had not diagnosed the problem let alone begun the repairs despite repeated entreaties by the listener. Continue reading

Reverse Auctions: Racing to the Bottom for Lawyers

A story in the August on-line ABA Journal* about “reverse auctions” in which a company will post a case online and then award the work to the lowest bidder gives yet another side to alternative fee agreements (AFA). The story line was about how law firms were chafing against the idea of having to engage in reverse auctions.

Reverse auctions are nothing new. I recall several years ago a big insurer engaged in reverse auctions for cases. Most defense attorneys found it to be rather unseemly. But the company nevertheless found any number of able defense attorneys who bid for the work.

That insurers or corporations would engage in reverse auctions points up to two facts of life. One is that many users of legal services are trying to find ways to staunch ever rising legal costs. Two is that the legal profession is such a crowded profession that, protests notwithstanding, there is usually no trouble at all finding any number of qualified lawyers willing to take on work at almost any cost. Continue reading

The “Does Anyone Have a Form I Could Use” Practice Section

Last year, I joined a particular practice section of my state bar association.  I won’t specifically identify this practice section except to say that many of its members are attorneys in smaller communities who basically take on anything that walks in the door.

This practice section has a very active listerv that is a real hoot to follow as lawyers sometimes send out desperate pleas for help with a matter they know virtually nothing about.   Those listserv postings invariably end with the plea  “does someone have a form that I could use?”  Thus, my pet name for the practice section.

These listserv postings point out a sad fact of life in the legal profession.  Lawyers often take on matters they probably have no business trying to handle.  But, these postings also point up another fact of life that is true in virtually any practice area:  an awful lot of legal work is done with forms or recycled work product! Continue reading

To Tell the Truth: Do Defense Attorneys Really Want Atlernative Fees?

Unless you are over 40, you might not have been around in the insurance claims business 15 years ago. At about that time there was a big push among many insurers to try to get their defense attorneys to move to flat fee billing especially for routine cases.

Not wanting to give up their hourly billing, many attorneys quietly complained to their state bar ethics committees about flat fee billing agreements seeking to have them declared to be unethical. I know this occurred because I happened to be on a state bar ethics committee that received one of these requests for an opinion.

While most ethics committees gave cautious approval to flat fee agreements, many committees did see ethical problems with flat fee agreements. Also state supreme courts in Kentucky and Montana found that flat fee agreements present ethical dilemmas for attorneys.

Fast forward fifteen years to the present.  Will attorneys this time say “yes” to insurers wanting them to move to alternative fee agreements, but work behind the scenes as their colleagues did 15 years ago to lobby state bar ethics committees or state supreme courts to determine certain types of alternative fee agreements to be unethical?

Stay tuned.