Are Lawyers Truly Greedy? An Analysis of Relevant Empirical Evidence
Paul F. Teich
New England Law | Boston
October 9, 2013
19 Texas Wesleyan L. Rev. 837 (2013)
New England Law | Boston Research Paper No. 13-15
A serious and widespread complaint about lawyers is the charge that they are motivated by greed. More than half of Americans polled during the past two decades have agreed with the following statements: "lawyers are greedy", "lawyers make too much money", "lawyers charge excessive fees", and "lawyers are more interested in making money than in serving their clients". Today, Americans commonly assert that lawyers cheat their clients by hiding the reasons fees are imposed and charging for services that have never been provided. Serious examination of the charge is overdue. If lawyers frequently swindle clients, a pressing ethical problem exists that bar authorities, the police, and criminal prosecutors have to confront and eliminate. Further, the public's concerns affect the business of law; the presumed cost of representation is the principal reason Americans avoid soliciting legal help. Despite the very recent downturn in demand by consumers for legal services, demand has risen dramatically during the past thirty-five years overall, and aggregate demand is significantly higher today than it was several decades ago. During the past two decades, complaints about lawyers have also grown more strident. This Article addresses a single question: Have lawyers exploited the increase in demand for their services by adopting increasingly grasping practices such as price gauging, overbilling, and aggressive collection strategies? This Article examines relevant empirical evidence and proposes an answer: the term "greedy" unquestionably fails to describe average practitioners. The great bulk of practitioners are careful to control annual increases in the size of lawyer and paralegal fees; fee averages have increased only very slowly over decades throughout the country. Practitioners frequently provide free services for which they do not bill and typically avoid overbearing collection practices (a very large share of billed fees commonly are not collected), and practitioners collectively perform hundreds of thousands of hours of community service and pro bono work annually. The value of their donated services can be conservatively estimated to be over $1 billion annually. It is also true that the evidence fails to support the view that lawyers routinely overbill. Finally, the moderate real income increase that has been experienced by the average practitioner over the recent past, while greater than that of the average American worker, is explainable as the result of two factors: an increase in productivity and relative insulation from the forces of global economic competition.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 63
Keywords: attorney fees, attorney greed, attorney income, fee collection, demand for lawyer services, fees, free legal services, lawyer civic work, lawyer community service, lawyer fees, lawyer greed, lawyer income, legal services, overbilling, paralegal fees, paralegal income, pro bono work, price gauging
JEL Classification: C00, D21, D43, J31, J44, L13, L84
Date posted: October 17, 2013
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