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Unfinished Business

In the May 2014 edition of this journal, Network President Marty Hayes asked attorneys to help answer a member’s question about how much it would cost to field an entire legal team as he had described in the April 2014 edition’s lead article, Meet Your Legal Defense Team (see

Perhaps the question bordered on the unanswerable, owing to huge variations in fee structures from one locale to another and the specific needs of various cases. One attorney, our Advisory Board Member James Fleming, suggested the following—

Frankly, I have no idea how anyone with any level of experience would go about trying to do an accurate estimate of this kind. No attorney in their right mind is going to handle a case of this type on anything but an hourly basis, and attorneys bill at different hourly rates, depending upon the attorney’s level of experience, client ability to pay, and what the market is in their specific area. I might bill an elderly client on limited income $175 per hour to handle some real estate dispute. I might also charge $300 per hour on a criminal vehicular homicide case involving the son of a wealthy CEO.

How many hours will a case take? No one knows, and I mean no one. Will there be discovery proceedings, researching, preparing and conducting hearings on pre-trial motions of an infinite variety, how much time will I spend dealing with my expert(s), discussing and negotiating with the prosecutor, or opposing civil counsel, interviewing witnesses, etc.? Each case will have its own complexion and obstacles.

Will there be a need for more than one attorney? Who knows? Big law firms love to get junior attorneys involved, so they can show they have a “defense team.”

They also like to bill the snot out of hapless clients for all those suits. Most of the really good attorneys are very comfortable handling the case on their own, to maintain proper control (particularly during the trial), and to keep the fees down for the client. When an individual is on trial in a criminal case, having multiple attorneys sitting at counsel table also sends a really bad message to jurors, most of whom could not afford a flock of suits if it were them on trial.

There may be a need for an investigator, there may not. Who that is, what they would be tasked to do, and how much they would charge, will vary from case to case, and area to area.

Paralegals and legal assistants are the same thing, just different titles. I taught them for years. Same skills, different titles, often depending upon the area of the country they are in. Again, impossible to estimate without knowing what it is that they would be doing, and whether the firm charges for their time separately or not. Some do, some don’t. Some paras are very good, some are not, and some are on staff only because they are banging a senior partner and have no other skills at all. I know that sounds incredible, but I have seen it in practice on numerous occasions. So has my daughter who is a supervisor of paras in the legal department for the Union Pacific railroad in Omaha. She complains about this constantly.

A specific case might need a reconstruction expert. And, depending upon the locale, case law and judicial attitudes, that expert may be allowed to testify, and then again, they may not. If the judge decides (as has happened so many times before) that the expert’s testimony will not provide anything beyond what a normal person already knows, it won’t get in. The appellate courts are very deferential to the discretion of trial judges, and so those decisions are rarely overturned on appeal. So, what you would use that expert for may vary greatly from case to case.