Concern for bankruptcy clients who weren’t well represented by brand new bankruptcy lawyers got me started with this project. As I told colleagues, some of the lawyering I saw was so bad that we needed to either teach the newcomers to be better lawyers or run them out of the practice, because they were unwittingly victimizing debtors.
Recently, I’ve seen at least two cases of the reverse: rookie bankruptcy lawyers being victimized by more experienced lawyers. Each case involves an older lawyer choosing a rank beginner as co counsel or as counsel for an affiliated party in a case far more complex than the young lawyer’s skill set warranted.
The only conclusion I can come to is that others expected to get a “yes man” in situations where independent thought and action might be required.
This kind of thing happened to me when I first started practicing law, back in the days when Selectric typewriters roamed the law office. A local real estate transaction involved trust created at the death of Northern California doctor. The realtor and the buyer needed counsel for the widow in New York, the trustee of the seller-trust. I was flattered to be asked to handle the seller’s side of the deal.
I’m sure the assumption was that I was either so new, or so eager to be asked to do this again, that I would simply go through the motions of protecting the seller’s interests. Well, I didn’t and I discovered that the seller’s realtor was in bed with the buyer and the sale price for a small building in downtown Palo Alto was criminally below market.
So when newbies get asked to represent the shareholder in a multi million dollar Chapter 11 or to put an asset protection corporation into Chapter 11 for a fee less than what I charge for the simplest Chapter 7, you have to smell a rat. The new lawyer was not selected for demonstrated expertise in bankruptcy; he was far more likely picked for his lack of expertise.
Thus, my charge to those of you who are just beginning this practice is to be wary of the case, the client, the referral that is just too good to be true. You may have been chosen to be the patsie, not the hero.
Image credit: derekb (Flickr)
See also: New Bankruptcy Lawyers Targeted Trustees