Why Family Law Lawyers Will Always Bill By the Hour

GEO CASUALI read a piece in the Huffington Post this week written by Jim Halfens of Divorce Hotel, who argued that it was about time that divorce lawyers charged a fixed fee for the legal work they perform, instead of sticking to the “old way” of hourly billing.

It will never happen and for good reason! If Mr. Halfen knew the frailties of the family court system and the opportunities for abuse and delay, he would understand. But let me paint you a picture of regular occurrences in the practice of family law;

A client asks you to draw up a comprehensive separation agreement or prenuptial agreement, which without complications will cost in the range of $3,000. The problem is that often clients will request the agreement, expend the funds, all without having any idea whether their spouse will agree or sign the agreement.

Of course, it is an utter waste of time to present an agreement to your spouse, the terms of which have never been discussed with him or her. My practice is to warn clients that they may be wasting money, if they haven’t bothered to determine if their spouse is “on side”.

Once the client believes their spouse will cooperate, it is a “go” for the agreement and usually clients want to know exactly how much it will cost and want you to guarantee that fee estimate.

But it can’t be done….because every agreement and spouse is different and you can never rely on a client’s advice that their situation is straight forward. For example, it is commonplace to ask your client to provide you with a list of all their assets, their estimated values, and also their debts and the amounts owing. You also need the same information from their partner.

Of course, you can’t forget to request their recent personal and corporate tax returns, and in the case of companies, the financial statements as well. While the client may imagine their financial situation is simple, usually it is not, particularly where there are more sophisticated assets, like trusts, annuities and off-shore assets. But you don’t know any of that until you receive all the documents and my experience is that you never get everything you need or it trickles in over a lengthy period of time.

Lawyers bill for their expertise and the time it takes them to complete a task for their client. In this agreement scenario, it would be foolish to quote a fixed fee for ten hours of time, when it may take you twenty hours, or more. Another difficulty is that once the agreement is complete, your client’s partner will take it to her or his lawyer to review and negotiate. That could take two hours or ten hours, because initially you don’t often know who your client’s spouse will retain. One thing lawyers know is the negotiation styles of their colleagues, some lawyers are known to be reasonable, but others are not.

However, the agreement scenario is a piece of cake compared to the living nightmare if you must enter the family justice system, once negotiation and mediation have failed.(Unless of course, you are smart enough to agree to a private arbitration, but that’s another article) If you thought your lawyer was expensive before, this calamity will cost you not only heaps of money but also your emotional and psychological sanity. Where to begin?

After all the negotiations and mediations are at an end, the first thing you’ll have to do is attend a mandatory mediation with a judge, who may or may not be capable of facilitating a settlement. But it’s not like you haven’t already been there, done that. This first step will cost you several thousand dollars and it is not optional in most cases.

Once that has been a complete bust, you enter the nightmare called family law litigation, an experience that frightens even those who are courtroom addicts. The first shock is that you must produce every single piece of paper that has anything to do with the issues in your case, and I mean everything: your kid’s report cards, your kid’s medical records, all paper that is related to your assets and debts, including statements for long-lost bank accounts, credit card statements for the past five years, business records and financial statements, tax returns, and all the damning emails your spouse has sent to you, but that’s just the beginning.

Speaking of emails, most lawyers spend a lot of time reading lengthy email missives from their clients, and also multiple strings of nasty emails between client and his or her spouse, many of which will be producible for court. Hard to predict in advance whether you’ll need to read a hundred emails or several thousand. And don’t forget your lawyer will regularly scour the internet for damaging posts and pictures.

You’ll need to hire appraisers: lots of them, to value your home, your summer cottage, your cars, your boat and trailer, your wine collection, art collection, antique furniture, and your pension. But none of those appraisals will be definitive because your partner will do the same, and if you have a business, you need to set aside $30,000 or more to pay a business valuator. Welcome to the battle of the experts!

Worse than all of that is that when you finally prepare to go to court, you’ll get there and sit in a courtroom all day, only to learn that you have to come back another day, because the judge ran out of time. More delay and more costs because all that work your lawyer did to prepare, must be redone to prepare again, after all, your lawyer has dozens of clients and with even a delay of one week will not remember all the details without another review. You finally get a judge and you learn that you won’t get a decision for weeks, even months.

Tell me honestly, how do you provide your client with an infallible estimate of what it all will cost? That’s right, you don’t, because you can’t.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Would You Hire a 101 Year-Old Lawyer?

GEO CASUALPhiladelphia lawyer, Murray Shusterman, loves the law and has no intention of retiring anytime soon, despite his pending 102nd birthday. A lawyer since 1936 he practices corporate and real estate law at blue-chip firm Fox Rothschild, a firm with 600 lawyers and 19 offices coast to coast. This remarkable man only stopped driving a car last year, the same year he packed in his golf game…leaves him more time to focus on his first love.

But Murray’s longevity as a lawyer also makes him one of America’s oldest citizens, one of only 55,000 persons age 100 or over in the United States today. While Murray’s energy has not waned, his hearing has, and he has wisely stepped down from legal commitments he undertook for years. For example, until recently he was an adjunct professor teaching corporate and real estate law at his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia.

His value to Fox Rothschild’s goes way beyond his legal skills. Murray’s knowledge of the history of Philadelphia and his dedication to community causes also propels his solid reputation. He has been a leader in the Jewish community and a trustee of Temple University, besides being a generous donor to the school. In 1994 he and his family donated $1 million dollars to Temple Law School where his name crowns the renovated Hall, and last year he gave another $1.1 million to the school to fund a professorship.

When asked for the highlights of his career he answered “There’s no such thing….the real secret is to be decent, to be fair and to be forgiving…and don’t take yourself too seriously”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: ALAN EAGLESON

_DSC4179 - Version 2Alan Eagleson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Law School and was a prominent Toronto lawyer and Member of Parliament in Ontario before he began his lengthy career as agent, promoter and hockey guru extraordinaire.

His accomplishments in the world of hockey were pivotal to the growth and stature of professional hockey and its players. It was Eagleson’s impetus to form a union for players that birthed the National Hockey League Player’s Association in 1967.

He became the NHLPA’s first executive director and held that position for 25 years. By 1979, Eagleson was providing financial services to some of hockey’s biggest stars, encouraging them to invest wisely in order to retire financially secure.

It was Eagleson’s foray into internatonal hockey, notably the 1972 match between Russia and Canada, that cemented his now international reputation. His esteem, in his clients’ eyes, was multiplied when he took on one of the off-ice hockey officials in the 1972 game insisting that the referees had missed a Canadian goal.

As matters escalated, soldiers of Russia’s Red Army began to converge around Mr. Eagleson. Canadian fans jumped from the bleachers to intervene on Eagleson’s behalf. After this confrontation he turned on his heels and “fingered” the Soviet hockey fans as he walked back to the bench.

As Eagleson’s power base grew, suspicions arose as to the inner workings of the NHLPA and several American sports journalists began investigating Eagleson and the NHLPA in 1989/1990. By this time, Eagleson was a living legend in Canada and vague allegations of mismanagement were ignored by Canadian journalists, many of whom owed favors to Eagleson. This year also saw Eagleson obtain the Order of Canada and admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The beginning of Eagelson’s demise occurred when evidence revealed that he had been playing around with player’s pension funds such that when Bobby Orr retired he was almost bankrupt, with significant unexpected tax liabilities.

Even more egregious was Eagelson’s skimming of funds from international games, money that was used to provide a lavish lifestyle for Eagleson. The players were told that their salary from international play would be deposited to their pension accounts. Instead, Eagelson embezzled the money for his own use.

Eagleson also defrauded injured players who sought to rely on their insurance funds when their playing days were over. He charged extraordinary fees alleging that it was only through his negotiation with insurers that the players received their settlements. None of it was true.

Eventually in 1993 Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran with the story and began their own inquiries. In 1994 Eagleson was indicted in the United States for racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud.

It was only after one of Eagleson’s clients wrote a book outlining his criminal conduct that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began their own investigation and in 1996 Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and theft.

Eagleson managed to avoid extradition to face the US charges for three years, using his considerable clout with Canadian authorities. He later plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in a Boston court and was fined $700,000.00

Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and embezzlement by the RCMP and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His disbarment followed, together with the withdrawal of his Order of Canada and his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To the surprise of many Americans, Eagleson was pardoned in Canada in 2005. Canadian pardons are a dime a dozen, since the central criteria is to “keep your nose clean” for five years.

Just another tale of greed that ruined Eagleson’s reputation and his life. The question is: Why do the most successful fall prey to this avarice?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it, it is never enough.”
Janwilliam van de Wetering, Dutch writer

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

What If Lawyers Had Written the Ten Commandments?

_DSC4851Here’s a few clever quotes about the learned and noble profession of law:

1. Imagine the appeals, dissents and remands if lawyers had written the Ten Commandments.
Harold Bender, Theologian

2. LAWYER: A professional advocate hired to bend the law for a paying client; for this reason considered the most suitable background for entry into politics.
The Cynic’s Dictionary

3. In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the Halls.
Lenny Bruce, Comedian

4. My daddy is a movie actor and sometimes he plays the good guy and sometimes he plays the lawyer.
Actor Harrison Ford’s son

5. Lawyers are: Those who earn a living by the sweat of their brow-beating.
James Huneker, American composer and music critic

6. The ideal client is the very wealthy man in very great trouble.
John Sterling, British author

7. A lawyer is someone who writes a 10,000 word document and calls it a “brief”.
Franz Kafka, German novelist

8. He who has said “Talk is Cheap”, never hired a lawyer.
Author unknown

9. Lawyer’s Creed: A man is innocent until proven broke.
Author unknown

10. Be frank and explicit with your lawyer….It is her business to confuse the issue afterwards.
Author Unknown

11. Make crime pay. Become a Lawyer.
Will Rogers

12. I’m trusting in the Lord…and a good lawyer.
Oliver North

Is there anything nice anybody has ever said about lawyers? God Bless Abraham Lincoln:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker a lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good person. There will still be business enough.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- The Series: Roy Cohn

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Roy Cohn was a Jewish lawyer from the Bronx who gained fame and later notoriety as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in his investigation into Communist activities in the 1950′s. Son of a judge and graduate of Columbia Law School at the age of twenty, Cohn had to wait until he was twenty-one to begin his legal career as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice offices in Manhattan.

Cohn worked on the Alger Hiss trial, an American lawyer, accused of being a Soviet spy, and was on the team of prosecutors who obtained espionage convictions and the death penalty for Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1951. Cohn often told others that it was his cross-examination of Ethel Rosenberg’s brother that sealed the convictions. He also bragged that it was his personal recommendation to the judge that the death penalty be imposed on the Rosenberg’s.

In 1954 Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation chose Roy Cohn over Robert Kennedy to act as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, the decision apparently made to avert any accusations of anti-Semitism. Several years later McCarthy and Cohn were investigated for the zeal they employed in the McCarthy hearings, including their condemnation of both communist sympathizers and homosexuals. Cohn bore the brunt of the criticism, while McCarthy’s career lay in shambles.

Cohn left the Department of Justice and went into private practice for thirty years, acting for high-profile clients such as Donald Trump, Mafia figures Tony Salerno and John Gotti, Studio 54 owner Steven Rubell, the Roman Catholic Diocese in New York and the New York Yankees Baseball Club.

In the 1970′s and 80′s, federal investigators charged Cohn with professional misconduct, perjury, witness tampering and financial improprieties involving city contracts and private investments, but he was never convicted.

However, in 1986 a five member panel of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division disbarred Roy Cohn for unethical conduct, misappropriation of client funds and pressuring a client to amend his will. The “will” incident happened in 1975 when Cohn attended upon a dying, comatose, multimillionaire client in hospital; lifted his hand, placed a pen in it and had him make a mark on a will that benefitted Cohn and his client’s granddaughter.

The official stripping of his license to practice law occurred in the last month of Cohn’s life in August 1986 at the age of 59. Mr. Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 but kept his illness a secret. It was reported that Mr. Cohn’s goal was to die completely impecunious, owing money to the U.S. tax authorities. He apparently succeeded.

Roy Cohn’s life and legacy survives in today’s popular culture. In the award winning “Angels in America”, written by Tony Kushner, Cohn was played by actor Al Pacino as a hypocrite haunted by the image of Ethel Rosenberg as he lays dying from AIDS. Characters modeled after Roy Cohn have also appeared in The Simpson’s, The X-Files, a Kurt Vonnegut novel and a song written by New Yorker, Billy Joel.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee

Celebrities With Law Degrees

GEO CASUALLots of people have law degrees but never practice law, or they work as a lawyer for a short time and then start a new career. There are dozens of career politicians and writers who left the law to pursue other ambitions.

There are also well-known celebrities who obtained law degrees before they became actors, singers, TV personalities, or authors. Some of the more surprising include:

1. JERRY SPRINGER

Yes, the guy with the trashiest talk show on television graduated from Northwestern School of Law in Chicago, before he began his political career (Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio) or became the number one news anchor in Cincinnati, winning ten Emmys. He has hosted a variety of other shows, including “America’s Got Talent” and is the subject of “Jerry Springer The Opera” which opened to good reviews in the United Kingdom, won Best Musical in London’s Westside and has been performed in the U.S., Canada and Australia. There is reportedly 8,000
obscenities in the show and it is rife with profanity.

2. JOHN CLEESE

Cleese, one of the funniest comedic actors, best known as part of the Monty Python troupe and the harried innkeeper at Fawlty Towers, obtained his law degree from Cambridge. His writing, directing, and acting credits are prolific. Fawlty Towers was named by the British Film Institute as one of Britain’s Top 100 British Television Shows.

He remains active with TV and film projects and in 2010 went on the road with his “Alimony Tour”, ostensibly to earn extra money after his expensive divorce from his second wife, who was a psychotherapist. In 2013 Cleese toured Canada with his “John Cleese: Last Time to See Me Alive” show, which played to sold-out audiences and critical acclaim.

3. ANDREA BOCELLI

Everyone’s favorite opera singer earned his law degree at the University of Pisa and practiced law for one year before he launched his extraordinary career in opera. Born with limited eyesight he lost his sight completely at the age of twelve. Bocelli has sold millions of records and performed all over the world. His early mentor was Luciano Pavarotti and Bocelli sang at Pavorotti’s second wedding and at his funeral.

In 2010 he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honour that pales in comparison to the accolades he has received from numerous countries, but particularly his home country of Italy. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 performing a recital of operatic arias. While popular with the public, opera critics have been less than kind to Mr. Bocelli, slamming his poor technique and shaky breath support.

4. JULIO INGLESIAS

Spanish singer Julio Inglesias, father of pop star Enrique Inglesias, attended law school in Madrid in the 1960′s. He has had a superlative career, producing 77 albums, recorded in 14 languages, selling over 300 million records.

His awards, honours and prizes are too many to list. According to Sony Entertainment, he is one of the top 30 recording artists in the world. In 2012 he performed a concert in Equatorial Guinea where tickets were sold for $1,000 each.

5. HOWARD COSELL

Legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell obtained his law degree from the New York University of Law and practiced as an employment/union lawyer in Manhattan. His clients included high-profile athletes including Willie Mays. Cosell was involved in Little League baseball and agreed to do a weekly radio show featuring these young athletes. He did the show for free for three years and then obtained a sponsor to entice ABC Radio to give him a sports talk show, which was the launching pad for his career as a sports journalist.

His relationship with Mohammed Ali brought him greater fame and fortune and he became a fixture on Monday Night Football.

Cosell was the first to admit he was arrogant and obnoxious and took pride in his nickname “the mouth that roared.” He died in 1995.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang