The intercom buzzed and the receptionist's voice blared through my phone that Mrs. Somebody was on line 3 with a question. I pushed the blinking line and the non-client woman proceeded to ask me, in a rapid-fire, no-nonsense voice, a legal question.
While I knew the answer to her question, I didn't want to answer it. As an attorney, if I give someone wrong advice and they attempt to use that advice and get burned, I can get in trouble for it - in the form of a legal malpractice claim or a bar complaint, or both. It was a fairly innocuous question, so I gave her a one-word answer. However, that wasn't enough. She then proceeded to ask me where an action could be filed - in Georgia, where she lives, or in South Carolina, where the other party lives. I told her that is a question that would require some more information about her facts (which she was ready to give) and some legal research. She asked if I would do the research. "For a fee," was my response. She didn't like that and she hung up on me. Fine.
I don't mind helping people. I rather enjoy answering questions. But there is a point when my knowledge is worth something. I went to law school - I'm still paying for law school. When Mrs. Somebody goes to the grocery store, she knows she will have to pay for the food she buys. When Mrs. Somebody goes to the doctor and has an exam, she knows she will either have to pay up front, pay a bill when it is sent, or pay for the insurance that will cover the visit. So why does Mrs. Somebody feel as though she can call me, rely on my education and skill, have me do work in the form of research, and not have to pay me for that work? Just because she can't see what I do or touch the information I produce, doesn't mean I'm not entitled to compensation for my efforts.
Now, friends and family, that's a little different. I either wouldn't charge for my services, or would charge well below what my going rate would be. But I'm also pretty confident that if I draft a Will for my Dad, his beneficiaries won't sue me if I do something wrong. [An aside... I'm an only child, so it's not likely that I would sue myself if there is an error in his will.] That's another thing people pay for when they retain an attorney - the attorney knows that there is a possibility, no matter how large or how slight, that he or she could be facing a lawsuit or bar complaint due to something the client was unhappy about in the course of representation - that retainer is to make risk worth it.
So, if you have a question for me, I will try to help; but, please don't be offended if I reach a point where I feel as though I have to say, "For any more legal counsel, I'll have to send you a bill." I am worth something.
Our Last First Day of School
6 months ago