An attorney dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates. The attorney is no stranger to arguing his case to authority figures, and in life, he was a great litigator.
He begins to make his case to St. Peter: “You need to send me back to Earth. I eat healthily. I run daily. I should live to be at least 95. I died way too young.”
St. Peter is impressed by the attorney’s persuasiveness. He checks his records and tells the attorney, “You know, you are right, you are supposed to live to be 95 years old. And based on your billable hours, you are.”
If you have ever received an hourly bill from an attorney, the sticker shock makes the St. Peter joke either funny or painful to the pocketbook. Many attorneys charge an hourly rate in tenth-of-an-hour increments. So the bill will have line after line that reads: “0.4 hours Email client and opposing counsel. Review documents. $80.00.” Other attorneys work on flat fees (my personal preference) or contingency fees. No matter how you slice it, though, attorneys are very expensive.
Abraham Lincoln is usually given credit for saying, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Attorneys get paid for their time, advice and expertise in a specialized field, so I always like throwing out the Lincoln quote because being a lawyer doesn’t feel so bad when you are included with the likes of Lincoln.
When attorneys become members of the bar, we all take an oath to strictly observe a professional code of conduct. My experience has been that the members of the Utah Bar do an excellent job of encouraging and ensuring adherence to the code of conduct. Attorneys represent their clients zealously and to the best of their abilities. Yet, this is not all that we agree to work toward as attorneys when we take our oath. Part of the scope of an attorney’s duties includes the following:
“As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. ...
“A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance and therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence in their behalf to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.”
Having practiced law for more than 20 years, I know there are deficiencies in the administration of justice for the poor (and not so poor). While the state provides legal counsel for indigent criminal defendants, the public defender system is always strained. Legal aid services for the poor are severely limited by budget and time and the services they can render.
Most attorneys provide some pro bono work. The court system has taken up the slack somewhat by providing excellent self-help materials on the www.utcourts.gov/selfhelp website for many types of cases. Yet, as attorneys, we have a long way to go toward making the justice system fully available and operative for all citizens, not just the ones who can pay an hourly fee.
And that, unfortunately, is not a joke.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.