Date: February 26, 2020Author: Joshua Denbeaux
Why I give legal advice away for free … a longwinded essay on Why I do what I do.
The legal system is our society’s system of dispute resolution. It is fundamental to our way of life, business and personal.
That system should be egalitarian, but it’s not. And this is in large part because the industries that prey upon consumers work very hard to impose burdens to access to the court system.
Without a legal system to resolve disputes, people would be taking things into their own hands. That kind of self-help is prohibited in most circumstances – because it leads to chaos and disruption – and we have created a complex system for resolution of the disputes in which people find themselves in our complex society.
As might be expected, industries pop up which utilize – sometimes abuse – the system to the detriment of people … of consumers … in other words, you and yours. Banks, mortgage servicing companies, hedge funds, large scale debt buyers … these are all examples of industries which exist to use and abuse the Courts to the detriment of consumers.
A law degree is required to represent people in the dispute resolution because the system is so complex. Through the years, centuries going back to old England, the experts in the dispute resolution system worked out compensation generally through hourly billing.
“Farmer Brown, it took me 10 hours of time to get the Judge to agree that that field actually belongs to you. So, you owe me x.”
The problem with this system is it only works for those people who have the resources to pay the expert for the necessary assistance.
If you – meaning you generally, not necessarily you the reader specifically – lack the financial ability to enforce your rights then, under that method of compensation you do not have any help navigating the increasing complexity of the Court system.
So, over the centuries, the legal system has slowly created multiple mechanisms to allow people with fewer assets that the industries preying upon them to fight back.
One of the early changes was the contingency arrangement. This is now so common in our society that people think it always existed, but it didn’t. That is how people injured in car accidents and by professional malpractice end up with great attorneys.
“Mrs. X, the doctor did you wrong, and I will try to help make it right. Whatever we get, I get x% right off the top. Until then, I don’t get paid. OK?”
That change, that method of compensation for attorneys was revolutionary when it started. It was fought tooth and nail by the monied interests because it posed a threat to the control the financial interests had over the court system. It was a challenge to the method of controlling consumers and victims through the court system. If the only way to pay an attorney to help prosecute consumer rights was by the hour, then so long as the victim lacked sufficient money to pay by the hour they were easy victims.
When our nation was formed, we fairly quickly shifted away from the “Enligh rule’ and to the ‘American rule’ regarding attorney’s fees. Under the English rule, the losing party has to pay the legal fees and expenses of the victor. This posed an even greater disincentive for the consumers and victims to stand up and fight back in court. It, essentially, barred the doors of the courthouse to the consumers.
Later, and much more recently in our system,
Other changes followed, including in the 20th Century, laws changing the American Rule … but only for the benefit of the consumer.
In such consumer protection laws, consumers are specifically afforded the right to collect attorney’s fees from the bad actor … but the bad actor is NOT permitted to collect counsel fees from the consumer.
These, also, were revolutionary and these laws are under constant attack by the financial industries, their counsel and their lobbyists throughout the country. But they exist today.
And they provide a mechanism for attorneys like me to represent people through the court system.
So when you talk to me, or any of the attorneys with whom I work, you are talking to people who have dedicated their professional lives to taking on cases for people, and doing our best to make the banks, and the car dealerships and the debt collectors pay our fees.
It is because we have a deep-seated belief that the American Court system is not egalitarian, but it should be, and we are each doing our best to provide everyone a right to an excellent lawyer to fight for them and to sue the monied interests that otherwise have far too much control over our Court system.
Because it is our Court system. And we take it back for our clients, one case at a time.