In a six-hour hearing yesterday, I learned the comparative measure of my worth.
Lawyer who has been on the case for six months: Bill is $29,000.00.
Lawyer who has been on the case for six weeks: Bill is $15,000.00.
Myself, on the case as Guardian Ad Litem for eight months: Bill is $10,000.00.
I watched the fees exhibits cross the judge’s bench. Offered, no objection, admitted, three times over. I realize that I valued my time as I saw fit. It’s customary for GALs in my county to bill at a reduced rate. But as a lawyer who doesn’t normally bill on an hourly basis, I set my rates according to antiquated notions, from a time when the attorneys here billed at $200 or $250 an hour. Now, they’re clocking it at one-third above those rates — $300, $350, or higher.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of my time being worth 200 percent of my client’s time. As a consequence, I’ve never made much money, nor risen above the middle-class values of my parents’ era. I don’t drive a fancy car or even one which I bought for myself. My furniture testifies to my father’s name for me: Second-Hand Rose, after the Streisand song. I won’t touch on the people who turn away when they realize that I buy my suits in consignment stores. But my clients love me. I fight as fiercely for them as I would if they had to liquidate their small savings accounts to underwrite my contract.
If I have a failing as a modern lawyer, it lies not in my lack of legal acumen but in my inability to see the practice of law as a business model. Even after twenty-four years running my own shop, I have only a vague concept of overhead and budgets. But this I do have: a heightened awareness of the need for an advocate’s avenging spirit. I often stare with blank dismay at the ledgers, but feel a tightening in my belly when a client receives a summons. How dare you mess with one of mine! Stand back! I’ve got this.
As I look forward six months into the future, when the Corley Law Firm will dwindle to the occasional letter or stray pleading, I find that I am satisfied with the measure of my worth. I believe that I have done myself proud. I have no complaints. I might not have succeeded by traditional standards, where the bank balance testifies to your virtues and the trappings of your castle proclaim your cleverness. But yesterday I got an e-mail from a satisfied client offering to come pay his fairly small bill in full. I’ll take it. Yes. And thank you.
It’s the seventh day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.