Foreclosure and Jimmy McGill

post26Probably the most authentic picture of what it’s like to run a small law firm is Better Call Saul. No, this has nothing to do with working with someone like Mike, or filming 2 am attorney ads surreptitiously on Air Force bases, or any one of his dozen other antics.

And, it’s not any of his personal quirks: the flashes of legal genius, his skill as a flim-flam man, his deft touch with the elderly client.

What makes Jimmy McGill real is his need for clients and that which comes with them and allows lawyers to continue to be lawyers – money. Jimmy needs every retainer he can lay his hands on. Paying for parking is a stretch for him.

It’s a well-kept secret in the TV/movie/streaming content legal world that (a) attorneys arebetter-call-saul business people and (b) they need to be paid to continue to be (a) above.

One of Connecticut’s best known criminal defense attorneys just wrote this in his weekly New Haven Register column: “Almost ever lawyer I know is struggling to keep the lights on these days.” That’s Norm Pattis, and while he is somewhat exaggerating (the column was an attempt to explain the appeal of Donald Trump) and ‘struggling’ is a very, very subjective term, he does underscore the much overlooked truism of the practice of law: lawyers need to be paid like everyone else who works for a living.

prodigalparent2No one ever saw Perry Mason or any of the guys from LA Law scrambling to pay the bills. As a matter of fact, Della Street seemed remarkably well paid for a 1950’s solo practitioner’s legal assistant. Popular culture portrayals of lawyers almost never even hint at the business side of practice. When they do, it’s almost universally about a poor but noble lawyer working a case without hope of payment.

Attorneys are not like doctors, they are not locked into a ‘specialization.’ As a matter of fact most Bar Association rules in most states prohibit attorneys saying they specialize in any aspect of the law.

Do you know what the equivalent title for Neurologist/Oncologist/Orthopedic is in the law? Attorney.

Attorneys are taught to think like an attorney – that’s it, that’s what law school is all about, thinking. Studying for the Bar means studying every aspect of the law. Torts, Bankruptcy, Easements, Constitutional, Criminal. Everything.

You pass the Bar, you’re a lawyer, there are no restrictions on what you can do, no restrictions on the license. It’s like the woman doctor repairing your ACL checking and treating the troublesome looking freckle on your forehead.

Here’s something that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone but frequently is: lawyers have student loans, lawyers need to eat, lawyers can accept any case they want as long as there’s no looming conflict of interest.

Most lawyers stay with what they know and are comfortable with. It’s smart, minimizes potential problems, allows for real expertise (although, per Bar rules, no one can really say they’re an expert) and rapport with the court and ‘the other side.’

When lawyers go ‘outside the box’ they usually do so for one of two reasons: a friend or relative needs help; they need the retainer to ‘keep the lights on.’ They are especially apt to do the second if they don’t see the area they are about to stray into as challenging.

In other words, they are more likely to stray into foreclosures than a civil rights action. Which is, of course, a misconception that can only arise when a practitioner is unfamiliar with, well, foreclosure actions.

The problem is, foreclosure law, like bankruptcy and a host other, looks – very much on the surface – like an orderly, procedural driven process. A -B-C … Z, keep the house.

This would be great if it were true. But, it’s not. Foreclosure defense is fraught with little hiccups and steep, nasty pitfalls that don’t show up in the manuals and guides – on-line and off. The only way to know where they are is to do it every day for hundreds of clients in a hundred different scenarios with scores of banks, mortgage companies, and lawyers on the other side. And, that doesn’t include knowing the judges, clerks, mediators in each court.

The learning curve in foreclosure court is steep, the timeline is restrictive, no one should go through it with the additional stress of watching their attorney catch up on the fly.