HBO Comedy-Drama succession There has been a powerful incentive for family-owned businesses across America to consider who will take over upon the owner’s death or retirement. That issue is the basis for today’s story, which began with an email from “Robin” about how ethical issues in the legal profession could affect his firm’s succession plans.
Robin wrote, “Mr. Beaver, I am the President of a market research/marketing firm owned by my family. At some point, I want to hand over the reins to my twin sons, both recent college graduates who were in a prelaw program and were quite surprised to be lawyers. They told us how great it would be to be a lawyer, described lectures by their teachers and guest speakers who were lawyers who painted a rosy picture of the legal profession. As we needed frequent consultations with legal counsel, I made him this offer: ‘I will pay for your legal education. After you pass the bar, get some experience working in a law firm that handles our type of cases, and then become our corporate lawyer, and when I retire, you take over.’ He agreed, but then I brought up a point he hadn’t even thought about.
“We are a very religious family. Can they survive in an environment where lawyers, in general, have a bad reputation for ethical behavior? I’ve read your articles over the years, especially about the highly dishonest behavior Many in – padded bills, fake invoices – and would appreciate your insight.
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some saints hold bar cards
It’s no secret that the law profession has a bad reputation. Note that I did not say “legal profession”. Many writers feel that law ceased to be a profession when the US Supreme Court legalized attorney advertising in 1977. (opens in new tab),
This was followed by an increase in applications for admission to law school, leading to an influx of attorneys across our country and what we see daily on television: the never-ending parade of attorneys after your personal injury case.
but a Possible Answering Robin’s question – can his boys survive in the environment of the law? — came from a long phone call I received from “Darren,” also a longtime reader who taught prelaw courses at a well-known Midwest university for years. (I cross-checked Darren’s using a variety of research tools, so his call was valid.)
Darren decided, ‘Why not?’ and became a lawyer
“I ran my own prelaw program for several years,” Darren said, “and I had good relationships with local law firms, who sent attorneys to talk to our students.” He always presented the most positive outlook of the profession imaginable. Over the years, I have read your column and confess not to believe the stories of bill padding, invented billable hours and other ethical and illegal violations brought to your attention by law clerks and recently hired attorneys. . I thought they were the product of disgruntled employees, but no more, Mr. Beaver.
Then Darren recounts the painful history of what he learned about the firm reality of law. His comments match those of other disillusioned prelaw teachers-turned-lawyers I’ve spoken with over the years.
“I studied law at night, passed the bar the first time and got hired – part time – by one of the firms that sent me a guest speaker. The first two weeks I saw the same things you wrote about! Digging up the article – you were so right! And then some of my former students, who worked at this firm for about a year, said, ‘Professor, let’s have dinner and talk.'”
‘It’s playing havoc with my sanity’
They went to a restaurant out of town. Darren said, “And these two young women were close to tears telling what was expected of them.”
“We bill clients for over 2,000 hours a year – meaning you worked on client cases, which is impossible. If I spent one hour on a client case, I would be asked to write three – and it goes like this Keep going!” said one of the women, according to Darren. He said, “This is messing with my conscience and my marriage! But I have over $150,000 in student loans to pay off! I’m working over 80 hours a week here!”
And another alumnus?
“She showed me billing sheets for multiple clients’ court appearances on the same calendar call,” Darren said. He said he explained, “I was told to bill each client for the full time — two hours — rather than a fraction, as is legally required, and that’s theft.”
‘We can wear them down and settle for pennies on the dollar’
Darren further said, “I came across a file in which we represented a commodity buyer who repeatedly harassed many farmers for many years. Our client was owed money — there was no justification for refusing to pay. So, I asked a senior partner about it, and his answer was, ‘We do what our clients tell us to do. So we delay, delay and bill the farmers, and eventually they settle for cents on the dollar.
“With a big smile – making this sound like a joke – I said, ‘So, like at Nuremberg, I was just following orders.’ He laughed and said, ‘How else can we keep the lights on? Listen, Darren, right and wrong, basic ethics don’t matter in this business.'”
Can someone with high moral and religious values survive in law?
Darren stayed at the firm for six months, “to observe as much as possible that I could bring to the classroom—to give my students an honest dose of the negative side of the law.” During that time, I grew more depressed and depressed. Was in the company of the saddest people I’ve ever met – they’re all lawyers.”
We end our interview with Robin’s recommendation for his sons:
“This business easily corrupts your moral compass. If honesty, integrity and keeping your hands and soul Case in point, I would tell his boys to do their research on these important issues.
Above The Law Excellent Website Is A Good Place To Start (opens in new tab),
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, California, and welcomes reader comments and questions, which can be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to . [email protected], and must visit www.dennisbeaver.com (opens in new tab),
This article represents the views of our assistant advisor and was not written by Kiplinger’s editorial staff. You can view the advisor’s record with the SEC (opens in new tab) or with FINRA (opens in new tab),