Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bring Your Cheque Book - Sep 23

That's probably the most profound lesson I learned last week. My paralegal studies are going well. I've finished with the Microsoft stuff (7 weeks), Bookkeeping Fundamentals (2 weeks) and Simply Accounting (also 2 weeks). On to the good stuff!

What was my teacher referring to when he said that? In the legal field, no lawyer or paralegal opens a file and begins representing that client until they get their initial retainer fee. Its all business which is how it has to be. Anybody in the legal field who started working for a client before receiving their retainer monies has lived to regret it. There can be no "I'll pay you later" or a pay-as-you-go system.

Why the rush for money first? I was shocked to learn that my lawyer teacher (who specializes in family law) charges $300 PER HOUR! On a per diem basis, lawyers can charge well over a $1500. A client on a working wage has to beg, borrow or steal to get the necessary funds. He might have to dip into your RRSP's or ask his parents (or family member) for a loan. He may have to take out a second mortgage or cash in his investments. Getting legal help can drain a man's financial resources rather rapidly.

Why Not Represent Yourself?

Seems like a good idea at first glance, particularly if you feel you have a strong case. Those who do are often bitten by the pride bug, thinking "I'll show this smarmy lawyer. I'm gonna put him in his place." This however is an astonishingly bad idea. Not only will you botch the case, your slam-dunk case can quickly go south. Having trained counsel on your side is therefore crucial. An untrained layman entering a courthouse without first doing the diligent legal research (and citations) is looking for trouble. Nor should you bring along any friend or family member to defend you if they are unlicensed. The presiding judge may not even consider your case if you're not represented properly. Please choose wisely if you need legal help. Get legal aid (paid for by the Ontario government) if need be but above all DO NOT attempt to navigate the judicial system on your own.

Rebounds and Appeals

Keeping with the basketball theme, it's critical to understand why you must retain competent and licensed counsel when you first enter the system. As I said, an apparent slam-dunk case can go quickly south if it is sloppy and disorganized. Appealing the decision of the lower courts is going to cost you even more time and money. Lawyers love it when they see prideful people crash and burn in a court setting. More money for them! In an appeal case, a client can use up twice as many hours for a lawyer at twice the rate of pay. Such services can quickly add up to a hefty bill. Sin is indeed expensive!

Life Isn't Fair: The Market System

Why is it that guys like Mark Texeira of the New York Yankees can make in excess $20m a year yet a medical doctor who saves lives gets 'only' a six-figure salary? Who's more valuable to society, a guy who swings a wooden bat or someone who saves human life? Subsequently, how is it that a lawyer (or paralegal) can charge a working man who makes a tenth of what he makes? How can anyone justify a $300/hr. rate? I'll tell you why. Because the free market says so. I know that sounds like a terrible answer and perhaps even a cop-out. Yet any system that doesn't use free market methods impoverishes all those who chafe under it.

I've no plans to bankrupt myself by charging rock-bottom rates to future clients once I get my P1 license. Nor will I gouge them either. But most definitely I will charge them what the market can bear. I've worked 11 years in what turned out to be a dead end job making $14/hr.. So I know what its like to be part of the working class. Indeed I still identify with them. When I got laid off I decided early on that I didn't want just any job. I wanted a career with a future, one that would dovetail with my personal values, abilities and interests.

Knowledge Becomes Power Only When You're Willing to Apply It!

So let me be clear. By no means has the love of money entered my heart. Jesus is still number one. But why not use my God-given gifts to further myself? Money to me has always been a means to an end (and therefore not an end unto itself). It buys you nice things. It allows you to travel to places you've always wanted to visit. It widens your perspective. Money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the problem. I have no plans to fall into that trap.

Father, I pray that I will be able to use my gifts wisely to help others. I pray also that I do not fall into the false worldview of materialism and humanism. Let all my efforts glorify your Son, Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate price on the cross for man's sin. He is the Judge of Judges and our one True Advocate in the Heavenly courts. In His name I pray, Amen.

Johnny Cash

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