My Litigation Philosophy
I am confident that my approach to civil litigation and the non-traditional ways in which I charge for my services can lower your legal bills and reduce your litigation risks, without compromising the sense of security you have when you know your interests are being represented by a highly effective and competent law firm. What follows is a brief history of my background and of my approach to civil litigation and billing.
After approximately five years of practicing in medium/large law firms, I formed a two-person partnership, Johnson & Spurr. My partner and I had both practiced for a number of years at large civil firms where we had garnered a great deal of experience litigating and trying a variety of civil cases, both large and small. During that time, I developed substantial expertise in securities, franchise, landlord-tenant, collection, and commercial contract litigation. I felt that I had more than enough experience, expertise and ability to successfully handle a broad array of civil litigation matters, particularly with the advances in technology.
While I was confident in my abilities and competence, I was also aware of the institutionalized fee structures and billing arrangements that make hiring a large law firm to handle almost any litigation matter a very expensive proposition. Most large firms handle the majority of their litigation matters on an hourly billing arrangement. The $250 (for lawyers barely out of law school) to $450 hourly rates these firms charge for the services of their attorneys are as high as they are because of the enormous overhead the rates must cover (e.g., expensive office space, salaries for non-billed staff personnel, expensive computer networks, artwork hanging in the hallways and lobbies). In addition to charging high hourly rates, many large firms mark up overhead-type items and bill them to their clients as “costs” (e.g., photocopies, faxes, staff messengers and word processors, computer research, long distance phone calls). Thus, even if the attorneys working on your case are relatively efficient, the legal fees and costs charged by a large law firm can add up very quickly.
While high hourly rates and marked up “costs” contribute to the high cost of legal services, the huge legal bills generated by large firms are perhaps more often the result of what I euphemistically refer to as “institutional inefficiencies.” Law firms put tremendous pressure on their salaried associates to bill hours (most medium to large firms have minimum yearly requirements in excess of 1,800 billable hours), and frequently compensate partners based partly on the number of hours they bill. If your case is being handled on a typical, un-capped hourly basis, what concrete incentives do the working attorneys have to be innovative, efficient, and to take hard looks at the time charged and cut that which is excessive in light of the task performed? I do not mean to suggest that large law firms deliberately or consciously overwork and prolong cases; I simply point out that they often lack the economic incentives to avoid doing so.
Free from staggering overhead and institutional inefficiencies, I believe in fee structures and billing arrangements which incorporate proper incentives and allocate litigation risks fairly between lawyer and client (e.g., $100-$150/hr. plus 10%-15% of every dollar recovered/paid over/under X). I believe that the fees charged on a given matter should be tied to the results obtained, and I am willing to negotiate firm caps and fixed fees in appropriate cases.
More importantly, however, I believe litigation matters should be handled aggressively, efficiently, and expeditiously. Litigation is seldom pleasant, and the toll it exacts on a participant’s time and emotions is often more taxing than the legal bills that must be paid for the “privilege” of engaging in it. Prolonged, discovery-intensive litigation is rarely a profitable endeavor.
If you have never been shocked or disappointed by a high legal bill and you are perfectly satisfied with your current legal representation, then you probably would not be reading this. In the likely event that you have had the kind of disappointing experience I have described and you are interested in trying a new approach to civil litigation, I invite you to give me a call.