What Does Good Lawyering Cost?

dollar signs

Ms. Moran, how could this bankruptcy case have cost as much as your fee application asks?

That’s the harping voice in the back of my head as I write fee applications.

That’s the question that my written application had better answer before I step to the lectern in a courtroom.

It’s impolitic to say my client’s an idiot or the records are a shambles,  or the law was written by random monkeys at typewriters, which may describe some of the problem.

As an alternative, I have taken to totaling up the time my staff and I spend getting the petition, schedules, SOFA and means test on file.

The number is frequently eye popping.

And unless your judge is both a recent appointee AND an experienced consumer bankruptcy lawyer, they have no idea about the process from client info to well-done schedules.  None.

Your mission has to be to educate them.  In furtherance of making a living.

Education of the bench is seldom a one time proposition.  Sometimes, it feels more like water dripping on stone.

But you know if you don’t do it, compensation of the bar will not soon match the cost of providing good service.

Once upon a time…

Your fee application has to tell a story.

I open my fee app with a paragraph about the debtor, their situation, and the complicating factors:

  • self employment
  • multiple or episodic sources of income
  • non filing spouse
  • rental or investment property
  • on going litigation

The application goes on to briefly describe the issues or the challenges in getting the case on file, be it time pressure, the state of the records, or the state of the (means test) law.

It then says:  by the time the documents necessary to initiate the case were prepared, reviewed, and filed, Applicant and her staff had spent X hours worth Y dollars.

Often I find that the cost of preparing schedules is one half to two thirds of the total fees I’m seeking.

This isn’t every case, and it may happen more often in my shop than in yours, but take a look at how your efforts are distributed.  You, and your judge, may be surprised.

And your judge will never know unless you tell them, in writing, in public.

Image courtesy of Truthout.org

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  1. I’m sure if I filed long forms in all my 13s I would blow out the no-look fee at least 70% of the time. Unfortunately, most debtors want predictability which is not easy to do with long forms. So, I end up taking the no-look fee in all but small business cases.