Do the Math

In my practice, I write a lot of sternly-worded letters, attend a lot of mediations, and engage in a lot of litigation. A lot of these actions are expensive, both for me and my clients. For that reason, an important part of my practice is actually discouraging people from hiring me at all.

There is an incredible amount of injustice in this world. Every single day, innumerable people are done wrong by somebody else. And not just annoyed, but legitimately abused or exploited in violation of the law. Unfortunately, fighting injustice isn't cheap, and it certainly isn't free. Court and litigation costs are high, and lawyers have to pay rent and eat like everybody else. Despite the stereotypes, most lawyers these days aren't rich fat cats who bill $500 an hour and drive Maseratis. Some are, but the vast majority aren't.

So when a person has been wronged, they have to consider the cost of seeking redress. Many times, it's worth it. They've suffered such severe damage to their person or property that the cost of litigation is a mere drop in the bucket. Other times, the law is tricky and success isn't guaranteed, but the potential recovery is so great that they'd be silly not to sue or otherwise press their case.

Other times, however, it's not worth it. Perhaps you got a parking ticket you feel you didn't deserve. Is it worth hiring a lawyer to fight it for $150 when you can just pay $15 and be done with it? Or, maybe you've been denied unemployment benefits and want to sue for them. But if your termination was complicated and the amount of benefits you stand to recover aren't significant, is it really worth paying an attorney thousands of dollars in fees and costs to litigate?

One of the most common situations I encounter involves police officers overstepping their bounds. It is unfortunately not unusual for even routine traffic stops to become violent, and for citizens to accuse officers of yanking them through open car windows, or shoving them roughly against the hood, or otherwise mistreating them. And in a lot of those situations, the police are in the wrong, and have violated someone's Fourth Amendment rights. But you still have to do the math: if you haven't been seriously injured, or the overall circumstances of the stop were generally reasonable, or if you have a severe criminal background that might not make jurors very sympathetic to your plight, it may not be worth it to pursue legal action. The potential recovery is so low that it can't justify the high cost of litigation.

I've made it my personal duty as an attorney to fight injustice wherever I see it. But that duty must be fair to my clients and potential clients. Wasting a client's time and money is also a form of injustice, and that's why I spend a lot of time counseling people not to hire me, and to move on with their lives the best they can. I hate to let any injustice go unfought, but piling another injustice on top doesn't do anyone any good.

All that said, don't let me talk you out of consulting with an attorney when you feel like you've been the victim of someone else's intentional or negligent behavior. You should still seek out legal advice. But when and if you do, ask your attorney up front if further action is really worth it. I promise I'll always be honest with my clients and potential clients when it comes to doing the math.