Pay Now

Unconventional warfare (United States Departme...
Pay me everything upfront. Or else. Image via Wikipedia

A few blog posts today centered around upfront payment for Criminal Defense Lawyers. In particular, both Brian Tannebaum and Scott Greenfield riffed on the subject.

Their posts focused on the willingness of some lawyers to take payments over time during the course of representation (i.e. $1000 upfront and $500 per month for the next 6 months, or something like that). In most civilian courts, this is dangerous because your representation generally gets locked-in by the judge the moment you enter an appearance on behalf of a client. In other words, if you don’t get the money upfront, you likely won’t get it at all, and you’ll be stuck representing a non-paying client.

Military courts allow for more flexibility, as representation is generally not locked until the beginning of trial. After all, the client may rely upon the appointed Trial Defense Counsel in the absence of civilian counsel. So, it is not unusual to make an agreement for $X prior to the Article 32 Hearing, then $Y at least 3 weeks prior to the trial (or something similar). The consequence of not making payments is that representation will be withdrawn. Period. This is explained, usually in writing, before representation begins.

At the same time, for those of us who want the privilege of representing someone in trial, it is still preferable to dispose of money conversations prior to representation. I hate talking about money issues when I really want to focus on the merits of a case. I do what is necessary to balance all interests, but I take steps to separate fee collection from representation. Upfront payment eliminates any ongoing or periodic awkwardness.

Finally, never forget to listen closely to those who earned their LLB through an apprenticeship with Clarence Darrow. Their stories speak volumes. Check out this anecdote from Scott Greenfield:

I remember a client appearing at the start of jury selection, the trial fee unpaid.  He wore a brand new orange pimp suit, a la Suger Bear in Starsky & Hutch, complete with matching hat.  I asked him where he got the suit, and he informed me that when I told him to wear what he might wear to church, he decided to one-up me and look his “best”.  I asked him where he got the money to buy the suit, and he told me that “you know, I had a few dollars saved,” and decided that it was put to better use buying some fine looking threads than paying his lawyer.

He then asked me if he could ask me a question.  I told him questions were for paying clients. Ask his suit.  He offered me the suit after the trial was done.  I declined. He was acquitted. I never heard from him again.  I assume he still has the suit.

For what it’s worth, that story is worth more than the price of representation to us relative youngsters. Then again, most mentorship is.

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One thought on “Pay Now

  1. It’s like I told Clarence, “clothes make the man. Now be careful with those cigar ashes or you’ll burn a hole in your vest.”

    Clarence turned to me and said, “lulz.” It was the first time I ever heard anyone says “lulz.” He wasn’t always pedantic, you know.

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