"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, January 18, 2007

News Flash: Lawyers Want More Money

Our local "alternative" paper, Style Weekly, recently ran an article rehashing the complaint that court-appointed lawyers don't get paid enough. The story is replete with the usual tales about lawyers handling a case that takes more time to prepare and try than the court-appointed fee caps adequately compensate for.

What's ignored by these types of advocacy pieces is that basic economics are at work: court appointed attorneys do this work because it is profitable, or they would not do it. How is it profitable? Because for every under-compensated case there might be ten that are adequately or even over-compensated. That is, since the vast majority of criminal cases are uncontested and only involve plea negotiations, they can be handled relatively quickly. In many cases, an attorney can meet his client, talk to the prosecutor right before court, and negotiate a plea and/or a sentence, and spend only an hour or so of his or her time.

Thus, by taking a high volume of these cases, an attorney can make a viable living while absorbing the occasional "under-compensated" appointed case that requires more time and effort than is reflected in the fee-cap. Many lawyers use their court-appointed practice to supplement their more lucrative ambulance chasing personal injury or divorce family law practice.

I don't necessarily oppose allowing judges more latitude in waiving the fee cap in particular cases, but I can't see that the quality of representation has suffered because of court-appointed fees being too low.

In fact, it is always the case that competency counts more than compensation. One can pay a lawyer a lot of money and get horrible representation. Believe me, it happens frequently. Some very bad lawyers are very good salesmen of their services. On the other hand, in our area, the court-appointed bar is of very high quality. These lawyers know quickly what a case is worth, whether any issues exist that need to be tried, and they have for the most part good rapport with the prosecutors. Cases are very efficiently shepherded through the system in this way. When the occasional case needs to be tried, these attorneys are just as tough as the highest "paid" lawyers around, and often, much better.

So these "the sky is falling" articles are fundamentally dishonest in my view. Sure, everyone would like to be paid more. Public Defenders want more money; yes, prosecutors would like more too ; believe it or not, despite their god-like authority, their life-tenure, and numberless perks, even Supreme Court justices and federal judges want more money. And guess what? Every group argues that the justice system will just implode if they don't get more money.

When there are no competent lawyers becoming prosecutors, public defenders, court-appointed counsel, and judges, then bring on the advocacy journalism.

Until then, please, don't insult our intelligence.


AustinDefense said...

Hope you don’t mind a slightly different take on this issue…

AustinDefense said...

Well, I screwed up the html, sorry...